Finally bit the bullet

One week ago today I made a decision to stop procrastinating and buy a better board.  Not just a better board but possible and arguably one of the finest inflatable boards on the market.  I spoke to the very helpful staff at New Forest Paddle Sport Company no settled upon the Starboard Astro Racer 12’6″ X 28″.  It is a serious bit of kit and was even more delighted that I got a deal that included a paddle bag, starboard coiled race leash and also a Starboard Bolt Hybrid Carbon race paddle.  

I have to say that this is serious stuff….I am now committed to training hard and ensuring that the investment will not be wasted.  I could not wit for work to be over on Friday evening, racing home to see my kids and racing out the door to pick up my new kit.  Sean at New Forest Paddle was spot on and did not open anything, handing me the Stanley knife as soon as I walked through the door and pointed me to the box in the corner of the room…It was Christmas, going through all the packing and revealing MY new board.  I was so excited, I think I hid it well, my instinct was to go YIPPEE and dance around the place, but I resisted the urge.  Once the board was unpacked came the next big task, measuring and cutting the paddle down to size.  I was left to do this myself and I am glad I was, it is akin to. Samurai forging his own sword or a Jedi making his own lightsaber.   A right of passage that, if possible and confident all paddlers should go through.  I careful wrapped electrical tape around the shaft, took the saw nod me my guidelines.  Then the job was done.  A spot of glue and the paddle was ready for the water.

I rushed to the waters edge at Keyhaven and pumped up the board, the glorious new board smell wafting on the summers evening.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it to be when I tested it a month ago.  The difference is this time the board is mine.  The board coupled with the phenomenal paddle was amazing.  Unfortunately, my balance was slightly off as I was coming down with a cold so was not at 100% and took a tumble into the drink.  Fortunately the water was warm and forgiving.  I enjoyed my paddle and enjoyed testing the paddle and the board and together they make a fantastic coupling.

The paddle!

Let me tell you about the Starboard bolt paddle.  It has an oval shaft, which is so very comfortable to grip, it has been designed in conjunction with Connor Baxter and carries his signature, it has a rough edge by the top of the handle which always for grip if performing his ‘choke down’ paddle stroke.  (There is a you tube video of Baxter being interviewed and he demonstrates this technique better that I can explain it https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7PG-0PrPoQ ). The bode is a composite of carbon fibre and foam and is amazingly light, I mean really light, it feels like your holding a fluffy cloud!  Despite it weighing less than a feather blowing on the breeze, it is possible to get quite sensational power through it.  Set a 10 degree angle the catch is phenomenal and it glides through the water with ease, delivering amazing control and thrust.  I have used 6 paddles in my time paddling, each one better than the last.  But this will quite frankly never be beaten.  It is sensational, it is feather light, responsive and a pure joy to use.

The board!

For me, space constraints require me to have an inflatable and I can’t imagine any other board being quite as good as this.  With a FCS fin box system it beats, hands down, the slide and clip of my old board and some other race boards out there.  It is light when inflated but has near the rigidity of a hardboard.  The dual stringers running down the centre provide strength.  The board itself when paddled is best paddled at speed , it likes to go fast, after last that is what it is designed to do.  But, it always is forgiving at low cruising speed.  When I toppled off, I was at a 80 degree angle to the water almost vertical before the board released its grip of me and drop me in the water.  People had time to mock, jest and offer advice before I eventually went in. 


The future’s bright!

I am still in training for the Bournemouth Pier to Pier as the original date was cancelled due to bad wether and now re-arranged for  August 7th.  Father that the training begins to use this board with the most appropriate gusto that it deserves.  I am planning on a winter training schedule and possibly some winter races with BaySup.  But I think my announcement on to the race scene will be Head of the Dart 2017.  That is my aim, that is my plan…..bring it on!

SUP guide to buying a first board.

With some many companies and so much choice out there to buy a board is a disaster waiting to happen.  I bought my first board 8 months ago and I will be honest I had no idea what I was doing….I was clueless and now I am paying the price. It is a huge investment and a rewarding one, but get it wrong as I did is to risk throwing money down the toilet.  If I knew then what I know now I would have made a very different decision.

I got the SUP bug whilst on holiday and was determined to buy a board but my funds were limited.  So I shopped around, read widely about boards and found a company run out of a guy’s apartment who imports their own brand of boards. Great, I thought, low overheads give low prices and also it is supporting a local business and I am all for that.  I arrived with pockets bulging with cash ready to be impressed, I guess my inexperience and naivety led to me falling for the patter of the sales man, and guess what I was sold a dummy!

Buying a SUP is akin to buying a car….. The person selling it makes money if they convince you to part with yours, but like a car you need to try before you buy.  After all you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, one should never buy a board without testing it on the water.  This is lesson 1!  A bad board will dump you in the drink, no matter how accomplished a SUP rider you are, if the rocker is tippy or the design poor then it will be unstable and if that happens then no matter how good your balance is you wil never successfully ride that board.  

What makes a good board? Well, the best thing to look for is Research and Development, also have a look at the brands doing well in professional competition. Chances are they will have put a lot of time and effort into research.  As I write this the top brand on the circuit is Starboard, followed by Mistral.  It sounds like a cliche but the bigger brands spend a lot of time and resources making the best boards.  It is difficult to see how smaller home based brands can spend the time and money researching and developing good performing boards.  It is not possible they don’t have the research budget as a result they are bad boards.  

Let me tell you what is wrong with my board then maybe that will give an indication on what to look out for.

Rigidity:  one of the key things is how stiff the board is, many inflatable boards have an issue that they are not stiff enough.  In fact my board bounces around all over the place.  If a board is not stiff enough then it will be unbalanced and balance is everything when remaining upright.  

Tracking:  my board has 3 fins, a central large fin and 2 smaller ‘thruster fins’,  in a perfect world this gives stability and tracking, in reality the thrusters are made of such soft plastic that they curl and I paddle in circles.  It takes a lot of effort to keep the board tracking straight so constant adjustment is needed which takes all speed out the board.  This is a major design flaw but not one that is covered under the warranty.  

Shape:  ask yourself what you will be using the board for, flat water, surf, race, yoga?  There is a shape for every activity and the difference between them is vast.  I wanted an all rounder so had a rounded nose.  This is probably the best board for most.  But is the nose doesn’t have the right angle it does not cut through the after and tends to cut into the after and nose dives, meaning constant adjustment of stance, not ideal for the beginner.  

They are the key things to look out for.  I spent a great deal of time in the water because my board is imbalanced, the rocker is tippy and threw me off.  I have got the hang of my board though and as a result I can ride nearly anything because I have developed a great sense of what the board can do.  This is the positive of a bad board…..if you can handle a cheap bad board when you do upgrade and go for something better then you will be well practiced.  

So here are buying points:

  • Try before you buy
  • Don’t fall for sales technique
  • Try before you buy 
  • Research the board and company
  • Try, try, test and try
  • Cheaper is not better
  • Find what is suited to you and what you want to do with it
  • Try it on the water – that’s is where you will use it so try it!
  • Talk to more experienced boarders and what they use.
  • Don’t fall for sales as they want your money

I have had to learn the hard way and I did wrong and now I’m stuck with a poor board.  Don’t make the same mistake.

Lots of paddle time 

It is long time overdue I gave an update on events and what’s been happening in my little paddle world.  I have managed to get out and get some great sessions done, lots of long distance stuff and lots of water time, which is a joy.  I have also been hard at training for the Bournemouth Pier to Pier and the journey towards that event has wielded some great results regarding weight loss.  So much to say I don’t know where to begin?

I gues if I start at the weight loss… I have now lost 5 st 7 lbs and in the best shape of my life so far, I am not content with that yet, I have a long way to go and have hit a wall regarding my diet.  I put it down to the incredible amount of exercise that I am attempting to do, I am swimming for 70 minutes 3 times a week and covering a distance of 2.5 km, I am also going to the gym for 2 hours 3 times a week and burning roughly 900 kcal each session.  This massive increase in activity has done wonders for my general well being, my blood pressure is way done as is my resting heart rate. My body is going through significant changes and I am getting a great deal of definition and something that I have previously never had.  I am happier in myself, calmer, healthier and generally well.  But, I am getting frustrated that for the past 3. Weeks my weight loss has stalled despite what I do to change up the diet or what I eat.  I have ramped up the exercise and kept up with the swimming.  I am now 3 weeks away from the big swim and it is very daunting.  A new friend, someone I met recently on the paddleboard trail, is an old hand at charity events and physical challenges told me the other day that to ‘approach any event with a sense of trepidation is a good thing.’  And I can see his point, approaching the big day, and it is coming up quickly, carefully and with a sense of dread keeps me from pushing too hard, my instinct is to train hard, and as the event gets closer to train harder.  But, part of me is holding back in case I get injured.  And that is my concern, a lot of people have sponsored me and I have raised a significant sum so far, I don’t want to let them down. So, gingerly I train, careful I improve and hopefully will make it through In one piece.

So what’s next?  Once the vent I have trained for for the past 6 months is complete what do I do then, and this has also played on my mind. I have a had a few too many thoughts on this subject and what I would like to do is get in on the emerging Paddleboard race scene.  Living as I do a 10 minute drive from Bournemouth beach I am ideally situated to get in on an emerging race scene.  There is some discussion as to what size board should be used and that is confusing me, guaranteed I will fork out for a race board and it will be the wrong size!  The debate is between 14′ and 12′ 6″boards.  My instinct is to go with a 12’6″, why?  Because a 12’6″ gives more people the opportunity to participate, they are smaller, more manoeuvrable and easier to handle in a turn.  Many races have buoy turns and to successfully mange that on a 14′ you have to complete a very tricky and advanced kick turn which involves raising the nose of the board by standing over the back fin and balancing whilst turning at speed.  Whereas the smaller board is an turn easier on a cross bow turn or hard paddle turn.  I have to say that until this week I have never attempted a kick turn and the thought was daunting, but after some exceptional instruction from http://www.thenewforestpaddlesportcompany.co.uk/ I gave it a go and although I got a bit wet was getting the hang of it and definitely have the confidence to give it a go. I also tested a race board with them.  I tested the Starboard 12’6″ Astro Racer inflatable and absolutely fell in love with it.  It was sublime board, it cut the water like a fish, it responded beautifully and was very responsive.  It opened its arms and said ‘trust me, paddle a bit harder, paddle a bit faster I won’t drop you in the water’, a reaction my current board does not have, my current board has an anti rider repellent on it, as soon as you get on it wants to throw you off. The Starboard encouraged a faster paddle. And as I shortened and quickened my stroke the nose started to rise from the water and my word did it go!  I vowed that that would be my board of choice.  Only problem is that to buy one I need £1090 and I can’t justify spending that kind of money right now.  Hopefully It won’t be long before I do get one, lots of saving to be done, maybe selling some bits on eBay but I do have to get that board.  The only way I can describe it is going from an Aston Martin to a Ford Fiesta.

Riding a board like that really illuminates the faults in my current board. Faults I had hitherto not known about.  I had thought that my board was not bad and any problems in manoeuvrability to stability were down to the rider.  But the instructor who showed me kick turns had a go on my board and could not believed that I was able to do half the things that I have been doing on it.  The flex in the board was astounding when watching someone else ride it, it wobbles around like a nothing I have seen before.  Rigidity is nothing it bounces up and down more than a trampoline.  Handling and tracking are just abysmal.  This is a hard lesson and one I didn’t realise I needed to learn.  When I bought the board I found an online company that offered boards cheaply and claiming a good quality board.  I went, looked and purchased the board without ever getting it on the water.  I did not try any other boards because they were out of my price range and I was desperate to take up this sport that I fell in love with.  So I bought the board and had many many misadventures in falling in before I got the balance and knack of using the board.  The lesson is try before you buy and don’t rush into any decision.  Also, cheap does not mean good, in fact when it comes to something you are relying on to keep you. Out of the water and safe the lower the quality the more at risk you put yourself in.  All things I did not know.  When I bought the board I knew relatively little about paddleboarding but I did know a lot about the water.  As I Kew nothing about the sport, what I wanted to do in the future and much about board design and construction, I ended up throwing £400 away on a board, that I have had fun and learnt lots, but ultimately ended up being shit.  Well, lesson learnt! The hard way!

Paddleboarding is a way of life , it’s a community and there is a comraderie between riders.  A friendly hello to those you pass or pass you on the river or sea or wherever you SUP.  In that spirit I have joined some very friendly chaps on a regular outings.  I paddle with the owner of a SUP specific brand of clothing called Hutch SUP wear and they offer some fantastic clothing at a reasonable price.  They are also a good laugh and good company.  We often paddle first thing in the morning heading out at 7 am and that has made paddling very pleasant for me as before I as lays went out solo.  I have explored new places done many new things on a board and advanced how I paddle.  Check out the range of clothing at http://www.hutchsupwear.com.

So, that is where I am at.  Paddling a lemon wanting to paddle a race.  Hopefully, that Starboard will be mine soon and I can train hard for the BaySup frostbite series in the winter and enter Head of the Dart and Battle of the Thames next year.  I also have grand plans for some long distance endurance SUP’s in aid charity and as I get more planned I will update.  So I hope lots of you are out on the water and staying safe doing so.    Oh and here is the link to the board I tested. http://star-board-sup.com/2016/boards/12-6-x-28-inflatable-racer/