Practical Boat Owner Magazine by Alison Wood
Paddleboards are now lighter and more compact than ever. We tested these 2021 SUP boards in Dorset and had a LOT of fun!
Getting ready for a winter paddleboard in Poole harbour.
Paddleboarding has been one of the lockdown success stories of 20/21, and with the easing of restrictions, you can now paddle outdoors in groups of six (the rule of 6) or two households.
We tried out paddleboarding during February half-term. It was my kids’ suggestion, and seeing as we live walking distance from the beach and a short drive from Poole and Christchurch harbours, I thought, why not? It’s easy to learn, boards are portable and inflatable, and it’s an activity the whole family can enjoy.
I take my three kids paddleboarding and wild swimming in winter, but it does take a mammoth effort to pack…
With summer on its way and lockdown restrictions easing, paddleboarding is a great way to find adventure close to home,…
Inflatable SUP (iSUP) sales soared last summer after the first lockdown and continued right through winter, with suppliers having record sales.
“We’re normally very quiet in January and February, but this year we can hardly keep up with the demand!” says Emma Jones of SUP Inflatables in Dorset.
Having started out as a watersports shop, SUP Inflatables switched solely to selling iSUPs four years ago, recognising the huge appetite for a board you can unroll, pump up, and take on adventure.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Shark paddleboard
SUP Inflatables leant us our first three boards, already inflated, for our day out at Sandbanks in Poole harbour.
Despite packing our gear the night before, it still took forever to get all five of us in our wetsuits. After carefully planning our arrival for high water, I watched in dismay as flocks of oyster-catchers and turnstones scurried around the edges of the speedily retreating tide.
By the time we got on the water it was an hour after HW. We had barely 3ft of water and a 15-knot onshore wind, so every time we got deep enough to paddle we were blown back ashore. Nonetheless, we did have lots of fun.
Emma gave me the Touring Shark 11’8, a board designed for lighter paddlers, which is faster than the 10’6 version and has a maximum rider weight of 75kg. “As a shorter rider, the narrower, 30in width gives you a straighter paddle stroke,” she explained.
Longer still for extra glide and a faster paddle was the Gladiator Elite 12’6, which was 32in wide for my husband (though does come in a 30in width). This board can be pumped up to 25 PSI for maximum stiffness (other boards tend to be 15-18 PSI) and is designed for those who want to get a bit more speed from their board, whilst still being easy to paddle.
Meanwhile, Brenin, my 9-year-old – who wanted to paddle by himself – was given the Gladiator Pro 10’6, a nice stable, all-round board for riders right up to 120kg.
Given the conditions, the time of the year, and having young kids (aged 4, 7 and 9) it was hard to draw any comparisons between the boards. We just splashed around, paddled, swapped boards, and laughed at Brenin, whose board was like a magnet to one particular sandbank.
Although it was February, blowing around 15 knots, and the water was 8 degrees, none of us got cold, which I ticked off as a success. My two hours spent in the understairs cupboard the night before, digging out (and improvising) bits of clothing, had been worthwhile. From rubber gloves to woolly jumpers, boots, rashvests and buoyancy aids (around ‘50 pieces’ altogether) our clothing alone took up most of the car boot.
SUP surfing in Sandbanks
Whilst the kids had hot chocolates on the beach, huddled up in a Red fleece-lined changing robe, I saw my opportunity to escape. I took the Gladiator Elite through the narrow passageway across the peninsula to the open sea.
Wow, what a contrast! It was exhilarating. Now facing south, the ‘onshore wind’ had become an ‘offshore wind’ and I was soon blown over the small, but breaking, waves into deep water. I was glad I’d left the kids on the harbourside with my husband. It was time to have fun by myself and I was surprised how easily the board bobbed over the waves, and how stable I felt, even side-on. With just the gentlest paddle I could catch a breaking wave and surf right into the beach.
Red SUPs in Christchurch
We returned the boards, and waited a few days for storms to abate. Our next adventure was at Christchurch harbour, which, though still shallow, is deeper at its fringes than Poole. It also had the benefit of a large green for setting up, excellent crabbing on the quayside and, like Sandbanks, toilets, a cafe and a lovely children’s park. All important considerations when you’ve kids in tow.
We launched at Mudeford and I took my 4-year-old daughter Fearne out on Red Paddle Co’s new Compact 9’6. Weighing in at just 8kg, it’s lighter than the popular 10’6, which I’d tried (and loved) the summer before with a friend. It folds in half lengthways before rolling, and is Red’s most compact board yet, fitting into a high-spec backpack with adjustable shoulder and waist straps, measuring 56cm x 42cm x 32cm, which in SUP-carrying terms, is pretty small.
Fearne insisted on taking a bag of zoo animals for the ride, and made me paddle to every fishing boat (and the odd floating wreck) so we could peer inside. She was desperate to swim, and I finally let her do so in about 2ft of water. She didn’t seem to notice the cold but complained it was too shallow.
My husband tried, rather unsuccessfully, to take both boys out on the Compact 9’6. Whilst it’s perfectly stable with one child, two was just too many, and they had a few fun capsizes, which shortened the outing to around 30 minutes before they got cold (and also because we spied the parking attendant and hadn’t enough change for any longer!).
Mum and son adventure
The following weekend the sun came out – reaching a ‘scorching’ 14 degrees for February, so I went out just with Brenin, my 9-year-old. When we arrived at Mudeford, there must have been 30 or more SUPs spread out across the green, some being blown up straight from the packaging, others being deflated and hissing like snakes (quite an alarming noise if you’re not expecting it).
In that way peculiar to sun-worshiping Brits, some paddlers were wearing nothing but boardshorts. I even saw some young kids on the back of boards barefoot, wearing shorts and t-shirts. No matter how warm the air temperature seems (and, really, 14 degrees is not that hot!), I make my children wear wetsuits. It doesn’t take much to get cold, especially if they fall in, or have to wade out to the board. Imagine, all that pumping for nothing – just a shivering, miserable kid who’s begging to go home.
Being right at the top of 60kg weight limit, I had a go on the Snapper too, just for fun. I loved how fast and manoeuvrable it was, though wobblier than the Compact, with the water at times swirling over the rails. This was understandable as a rider of my weight should be looking at a board at least 3 times body weight in litres (ie. 180l) and the Snapper, being a kids’ board, is 150l (see table below for more specs).
Of course, Brenin, being just 30kg, found the Snapper no problem at all and much easier to paddle (though less stable) than the Compact. He really did enjoy himself, but when the wind picked up he decided he was too tired to paddle. We attached the two boards together with the leash, and he hopped onto mine so we could paddle back together – but not before we’d stopped on the beach for sandwiches and hot chocolate.
Eek! Runaway SUP
Feeling confident with my paddling by now I decided to take the Compact 9’6 on the sea again, this time at Mudeford
Brenin and I had a bit of fun together inshore, but he soon got cold so I decided to go out further by myself. I put on my buoyancy aid and paddled out to a group of SUP-ers having fun on a break out to sea. It was thrilling to be on the waves, and somehow less daunting than being on a surfboard – where you’re paddling face-first, not feet first. The board seemed to bob over breakers that you’d normally duck on a surfboard, and it was really good fun simply trying to stay upright (though actually catching a wave like the pros around me proved elusive)!