Stand up paddle boarding – or SUP’ing as we’re going to call it from here on out – is a sport that has been catching on with increasing popularity in recent years. It’s an activity that is easy to begin with virtually no barrier to entry and the fitness benefits are potentially huge. From cruising around a local lake or reservoir to being in open ocean to longer trips down a river, SUP’ing is here to stay and with good reason.
When Red Paddle Co. sent us the 11′ Sport model to try out, I was very excited to get out on the water and try it out to see how far inflatable boards have come. It was also a chance to indulge my love of the water since I grew up in southeastern Virginia where water is everywhere – quite the opposite of Boulder, Colorado!
First and foremost, you should know that the 11′ Sport is an inflatable SUP. Now, rigid boards have been around for a long time and remain the standard by which inflatable boards are measured. With that being the case, when inflatable SUP’s first began showing up they were criticized for being saggy and very underperforming relative to their solid-body counterparts. Things have changed a lot since then.
First, the dimensions of the board: As the name would suggest, the length of this board is 11 feet. The width of the 11′ Sport SUP is 30 inches and it’s 4.72 (150mm) thick and it holds up to 300 liters of air. The interior of the board, which you will likely never, ever see, is built using a process called Tec Air. In this process, each of the dimples on the board’s surface has a non-linear fiber connecting the top to the bottom (see video) rather than much weaker, linear construction.
The rails of the 11″ Sport SUP – which are typically the weakest part of a board – are quadruple layered in addition to the “board within a board” construction of the rest of the SUP. Additionally, Red Paddle Co. adds their Rocker Stiffening System (RSS) to the middle of the rails. This is a system where rigid battens are inserted into the side of the board making it that much more stiff. In fact, in our experience and from what we’ve seen elsewhere, most people aren’t aware that they’re riding an inflatable board rather than a rigid board because the stiffness and response is so on point (more on this below). One possible obstacle with the RSS battens is that they can be challenging to insert. According to the board’s instructions you’re meant to inflate it to the point where the board takes shape and then insert them but for some, the pocket is still very tight.
Inflating the Red Paddle Co. 11′ Sport is something that you’d think would be a big task – and it can be. The pump included with the SUP that we tested is the new Titan Pump which is a dual-chamber pump that can be used in two configurations to make pumping much more quick and easy. After locking the pump nozzle into the board with a twist-lock hose attached to the valve which can be one or two-way depending on the military valve. In the first configuration, both chambers of the pump are engaged which makes pumping much faster – but at a point, the pumping becomes quite difficult with two cylinders putting air into the board. This is where the second configuration comes in; In this case, a simple plug near the pump handle can be removed which disengages the second chamber making only one of the cylinders operative. This doesn’t put as much air into the board but the effort is much lower making getting the board to its optimal PSI much easier and more efficient. Even at close to 200 lb., I found it near impossible to get the SUP inflated to the desired range with both cylinders engaged – even with my full weight on the pump handle so the single-chamber came in very handy.
The underside of the 11″ Sport SUP rocks a low-profile, US box fin system. This setup makes the traditionally shaped, single fin very simple to get in and out. The surface of the board is a very durable vinyl which to me feels pretty well bomb-proof and means that taking along the gear dog, Sadie, didn’t give me a second thought about claws. The standing surface is a textured pad that measures 72 x 24 inches giving a good amount of area in a sweet-spot for controlling what is a very agile board. In front of the standing pad is a crisscrossed bungie cord perfect for holding down a waterproof pack or anything else you can squeeze in. For me, the bungie also made a great spot for Baby Gearist to hang on when
she came along. Rounding out the top of the board is a center-mounted carrying handle which made getting the SUP in and out of the water simple.
Also included, and probably one of my favorite aspects of this package, is the Ultimate Bag for carrying. This is a wheeled bag that can hold the SUP, battens, fin and even the pump. It’s wheeled for easy transport but it also has hideaway straps if you want to throw it on your back and carry is backpack style.
This isn’t exactly your typical performance feature but I feel like mentioning the packability/portability and inflation process of 11′ Sport SUP is integral to the character and performance as a whole. First the packability/portability: The ease of packing this board away is as simple as locking open the inflation valve (which is loud so don’t be surprised when some passersby stare for a second!) and rolling the board up from the nose to the tail, then using the included strap to hold it in a cylinder. That whole process takes maybe 2 minutes (after letting air flow out on its own) which makes short workouts/rides a real option. Packing it away in the Ultimate Bag is just as simple and the internal space makes putting your pump (even the larger Titan Pump we have) inside as well quite simple.
The inflation process is also remarkable easy and quick. When I first got the 11″ Sport, my instinct was to use the full-on dual-cylinder operation of the Titan Pump the entire time because it simply throws much more air at the board. However, that process is also MUCH more difficult that is necessary. Once I figured out that I could get the board to a certain point with the dual-cylinder setup and then just swap to the single and take it easy I exerted far less effort and had a great time of it. One of our other testers, Rachel, who is a small woman and doesn’t have nearly the weight that I do to throw behind the pump had an easy go of it. Take a look at the video below of Rachel’s first time inflating the board:
Now for the on-water performance. First, the rigidity of this board is pretty damn epic. I’m close to 200 lb. as I mentioned earlier and never once, even in windier/choppier conditions, did I feel any flex or give in the board at all. Likewise, Rachel was impressed with the stiffness and the fact that the 11′ Sport felt like a rigid board underfoot. The 11″ Sport is a narrower board than some in Red Paddle Co.’s line but its balance is still quite good for general cruising and even some racing. One of the stand out aspects to me and Rachel both was the agility when needed. The only challenge for me was the balance when wind and waves were coming at my side rather than head or tail but that would be the case on most other boards as well.
Also, the bungie cords on the deck came in very handy on all of my excursions. They’re tight enough to hold in place something as small as a water bottle and have enough stretch to hold a 100L waterproof pack. Of course, in the case of the 100L pack, since there was some significant weight in it it can shift the balance and behavior of the board so it’s worth getting used to the pivot points before setting out if you’re in that position.
First, I should extoll the virtues of SUP’ing as a workout which are many. Primarily, the balance and core strength training is awesome and being out on the water to get something like that is priceless to me. Second, this board is super portable so even if you’re an apartment dweller (I’m looking at you NYC) you can still have this around without taking much space at all. At $1,450 for the 11″ Sport board, Ultimate bag and Titan Pump may seem a bit pricey (see links for places to buy below) but for what you’re getting – and after looking at its peers – this thing is a good deal, especially for something that’s going to last a long time.
If you’re a first-time SUP’er or even one who’s pretty experienced, I have to say that this is such a solid board it’s tough to ignore it. If you want something with a bit more beam (width) or simply a different length, Rad Paddle Co. makes boards 9’2″ up to 14′ race boards so there’s definitely something for everyone [LINK].
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).