Written by Clarke Graves
Let me just begin by saying two things...
Ok, so I am someone who has always paddled a hard-glass SUP board. Tippy, fast and far is always fun for me. But I really love the idea of heading on a road trip, and stopping to paddle with friends along the way, or explore new waters every chance I get. So when I recently found myself going on a road trip from San Diego to the Russian River in Sonoma County, with stops in Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Monterey Bay and San Fransisco, I knew I had to find a way to paddle as much as I could! But alas, my van was super full of Cali Paddler gear, and the roof was occupied by a roof case and there was no room for a board up there. Plus I would be driving through hot temperatures and didn't want t put a board through the 1500 miles of travel and elements. What was a paddler to do???
Well, I did the unthinkable...I looked into inflatable board options. And boy am I glad I did!
Full disclosure - I reached out to one of Cali Paddler's advertising companies, XTERRA Boards. They are a California based company that has been supportive of many local races I enjoy, bringing their inflate-able rec and race boards and their multi-person boards and sponsoring the events. I felt if there was a company that supports our community, that was what I wanted to paddle. So I reached out and borrowed one of their demo board packages. Their smallest 10' model so as to minimize the space I would need. Having had the chance to paddle an unlimited SUP most recently, I knew this would be a shock to my speed senses, but the portability trumped it all.
So I set out on the road, to see what the times to inflate it might be, if it was a pain to do breakdown afterwards. And if the benefits of portability would be worth the trade-off in performance.
The Package: So I was given a quick overview of the process to inflate it while at the XTERRA showroom, but made a point to not ask too many questions, so I could be a total newb when I had to get it rigged and ready by myself, as most customers would be. The kit came with the board, pretty small with a strap holding it rolled up, the center fin with locking mechanism, a leash, an adjustable paddle in separate 3 parts to break down small, a pump, and a pump hose. All of which came in a really sturdy backpack with solid straps and the top being sturdy mesh to moisture problems at bay. The backpack was certainly heavy to lift, but once I put on the backpack was surprisingly comfy to walk to my car with. One I got to my car, I put it in the backseat of my car and was off to load into the van for my trip.
Setup: When I got to my first stop of the trip, I was in Long Beach. It was evening and I was ready to have a relaxing trip around Naples Island. I unpacked the goodies in the parking lot and proceeded to put it all together, paddle, pump, and fin, then started the process of pumping up the board. At first the pump's built in PSI gauge didn't change. But I pumped on, noticing the board was in-fact unrolling and inflating. The supplied pump was pretty comfortable to use and has two airflow modes. 2-way and 1-way. In 2-way, air is pumped on the lift AND the press down of the pump handle. Cutting the time to get the board in half. When things got tougher and the gauge started to show some actual PSI I switched to 1-way mode and let my body weight help. note, I have had back problems in the last few years and was concerned about hurting myself during this process. However, being mindful to use good body alignment, I had no problems inflating the board. All in all I was done in around 5 minutes. I was eager to head out, but made sure to fill it to the pressure the pump and board say to fill to, even though it 'felt' full enough. I later came to find out on a subsequent pump that if you don't inflate enough, it will be more sluggish. So put the extra 30 seconds in. :)
Paddling: So, the board was ready, the paddle and leash attached, and I had my personal waist-worn inflatable PFD on. Please note this is the only item not included. I understand fully why, as the type of preferred PFD is different for each paddle, and can add significant cost. So, you will need to factor that in to your budget. But the leash was included so I know they take safety into account. I dropped the board in the water, and off I went.
Naples Island in a summer evening is a great place to enjoy. I spent my time chasing boat wakes, ducking under a bridge, looking at mansions, and honestly forgetting that I was on an inflatable SUP. I didn't wear a GPS watch or my SUPerior Motionize so didn't really know my speed, but I felt like I normally do on a SUP, which is slower than my OC1. :)
I was able to hop into a couple fun little boat wakes during the paddle and even though it was a 10' SUP, could muscle into the next gear as needed to make sure I didn't get in the way of a crossing boat. Or more importantly, hop into their trail and draft. The board was super wide so at not point did I feel like I was unstable.
Breakdown: After my paddle, I deflated the board with an initial roll up, opened it up and then rolled up tighter a second time, something I do with sleeping pads, old habit. Packed the board, fin, leash and paddle back in the pack with the pump, and was on my way to loading it in the van again, in around ten minutes. I might have been quicker, but since it was a borrowed board, I was careful to not have rocks or dirt roll up with it from the parking lot I was on.
Over the course of the next week this process was repeated a few times. When my family and I got to the Russian river, my two daughters made themselves right at home playing on top of it once inflated. It was like an instant baby-sitter! Bouncing and dropping their toys on it from different heights to see it bounce. We took it out on the river for the family test. The lovely wife took it up river. Then down river. Then we put the oldest daughter (age 5) on it and she paddled it more easily than other boards she has been on due to the wider and stable dimension, and being shorter in length was better able to turn it. Then we put the 2 year old on it in the shallows and pushed her around the area, even lettering her stand up while we were sitting behind her. They each loved it. Mom logged 3 miles. 5 year old logged .25. 2 year old logged 10 feet. The following day, it was my turn to really put it to the test!
Our cousin Adam, who has paddled all over California (check out his paddling the Sacramento River article), came and brought his surf-ski. Together we left Casini ranch and setup out to paddle down river, but due to the convection winds, into a really gnarly headwind! One of my first rules of paddling, especially SUP is always start with the head-wind portion. Well, I can tell you this, chasing a surf-ski, on an inflatable 10' SUP into a headwind is really hard work! But the XTERRA Board did really well. I would hop in to draft as often as possible, and we tried to keep to the mellows parts of the winding river. But it was a battle for sure. 3.5 miles we ended up paddling down-river. Until we came in sight of the highway 1 bridge the goes over the river. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, we mercifully turned around and looked forward to the tail-wind push we would enjoy. Well, as so often happens to me, the wind mellowed out as evening overtook the afternoon, right when we turned. So we then paddled up-river back home, without the aid of the wind. Sigh. That said, I managed hard 7 miles on the inflatable SUP that day, and didn't die in the process. So this means the board passed my grueling grind test with flying colors. Throw in the good company of my paddling co-hort who made a point to never paddle to far ahead of me, and it was a really awesome time on the water. Nature. Water. Redwoods. Birds. Fish. EPIC. And I would never had such a chance to enjoy it all without the board. My trip would have been full of me whining about "I wish I had a board to paddle that river/bay/lake/ocean" if I didn't have the board. So my family was as grateful as me so they didn't have to hear me whine.
Pros: Packs small, can fit inside car. Paddles like a normal SUP. Pretty affordable pricing (see below). More rugged than one might think, I paddled over trees that would have scratched my race board, this just absorbed and never ripped, without a mark. Comfortable to wear when in bag. GoPro mount, cargo straps, repair kit, and a breakdown paddle for all the wanted perks!
Cons: Takes time to fill up and break down. Has a little more bounce to it than normal board. Slower, (but really when do SUP boards feel fast). Heavy to lift the pack. Not more than a hard board.
Recap: I am really stoked on the board. And sad to have to return it. I loved the ability to have on the trip even when driving through 100 degree temps through the valley, or when parked in public places. Never worried about board getting de-laminated or stolen. While the speed was a little slow, I did pick the small 10' versus their 12'6" race boards so wasn't too surprised. I am now officially a big fan. This thing will fit on a ferry boat to Catalina, in your small rental car on a trip, or store in your garage when not in use. Yet will be a great asset next time you camp or travel along water, or just want to always have in your car for those impulse paddles we sneak in during a lunch break. While I would never replace a race board with one of these, I would certainly recommend this being my companion board, or recommend to someone who wants to get on the water, and isn't planning to race all the time.
Special offer and link: XTERRA has create a special page for Cali Paddlers who want to get a great deal on their products! Visit https://www.xterraboards.com/collections/capaddle to get the board and package I sampled, normally $1200.00 for only $492.00. We don't get any commission on this so don't think we are trying to rake in bucks. Just passing along a cool deal they wanted you to have!
See you on the water!