Being a tester means that most people assume my garage is crammed full of all the latest and greatest gear. Perhaps strangely, they also assume that at the slightest sniff of wind I go to my garage, choose whatever item takes my fancy on that day, and head to the beach. And in many ways, they’re right. Last time I checked there was a nice selection of quad-fin waveboards and freerace boards, race sails, wave sails, carbon booms, enough carbon masts to suspend the National Grid and ... four canoes!(Well, at least that’s what they looked like wrapped up in their packaging.) The truth is that I don’t get to choose much of the equipment we test. It’s usually a combination of the biggest group sellers, products that the majority of readers are going to be interested in, and occasionally what the editor decides we need to focus on. And that’s where it all went wrong for me...
Thanks to his influence I can no longer get to the sparkling selection of carbon waveboards at the back of my garage, because parked right in the way and fitting as awkwardly into the available space as a trident submarine at a Greenpeace demo, are four SUP boards.
That’s right, you read it – stand-up paddleboards. Now, before you close the magazine and draft the complaint letter, let me tell you that these aren’t strictly SUPs. They’re windSUPs, and that means they have mastbase attachments.
“So what?" you might say, and frankly that echoed my sentiment when the editor told me he wanted us to take a closer look at these boards.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time on longboards, having raced them for many years, so it’s nothing to do with not liking longboards. In fact it’s probably quite the opposite. Having sailed some of the most high-tech longboards on the market I really didn’t have much interest in sailing something that just seemed to be pretending to do the job. I mean these windSUPs don’t even have daggerboards! What’s more, while I strongly believe that windsurfing also needs to be considered as a non- planing sport, I was pretty sceptical that these boards would be the answer.
At first inspection they don’t really seem to have capitalised on any of the developments of the last 15 years of our sport – and I mean any of it. For instance, they’re very long and relatively narrow, quite heavy, have small fins, and in most cases don’t even have footstraps. Hell, they aren’t even sized in metric! I couldn’t help but feel that windSUPing was ultimately just our fantastic sport of windsurfing quietly selling out cheap to another sport.
But having been introduced to windSUPing last year on light wind days in Baja, our editor had a much more enthusiastic take on these boards. Despite my negative ramblings and objections, he stood his ground and left me quite firmly with the parting statement: “Just try them. You’ll be surprised!"
So ‘just try them’ we did. Now, it seemed rather pointless to do a full-scale test on this group of boards, because ultimately what most people (myself included) want to know at this stage is “are they worth considering".
After sniffing around a bit I discovered that windSUPs are available in a range of sizes from around 9' (2.75m) up to approx 12'6" (3.8m). Boards of 12'+ are generally regarded as ‘beginner / improver’ boards, 10'-11'6" are the all-rounders, and 9'-10' boards are the wave / progressive sizes. The most popular size of SUP / windSUP board seems to be around 10'4".
So, rather than pitting one brand against another in our usual test fashion, I decided to take a selection of sizes irrespective of brand and just see how they performed for different tasks. This was therefore a test of the windSUP concept rather than a test of products.
To help us conduct the test we chose to use a Fanatic 9'2", RRD 10', JP 10'8" and Starboard 12' to give us a picture of how each size would perform.