Wind Not So Sure

Monday, June 14, 12021 HE

I had my second dose of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine scheduled for today. I was a bit leery as last time I had the vaccine I had done a big weekend of paddling and I was sore afterward. I wasn’t sure which was the culprit, the paddling or the vaccine. Most likely it was the combination of both.

So, despite knowing that I had my vaccine booked I did a bigger weekend of paddling again (Saturday‘s and Sunday‘s paddles). And then when my vaccine appointment went off without any delays, in fact, I was finished early, and I had a small window of unexpected time I did the most logical thing. I booked a one-hour paddleboard rental at Windsure.

I have been wanting to try some different boards for some time to see how much of a difference I notice for speed and stability compared to my current boards. I have tried some friends’ boards recently, a Level Six Ten Seven Powershell and an airSUP 12’6″.

And then in my recent SUP lesson, I got to ride a Cascadia XR4. Each had its own feel with pros and cons. Here are two good summaries of the pros and cons for inflatables versus hardboards from Pumped Up SUP and Blue Planet Surf. Pumped Up SUP skews more toward inflatables whereas Blue Planet Surf skews toward hardboards. And here are two good comparisons of the speed differences between iSUP and hardboards from Isle SUP and surf and SUPboarder. The results from both is a speed difference ranging from 5-10% slower for the inflatables in flatwater conditions.

Source: https://www.cascadiaboardco.com/products/xr4

So when looking up SUP board rentals a while back I was super stoked to see that Windsure had a “Special Equipment” rental. The site description for special equipment is “specialized paddleboarding equipment, including touring and racing boards (lighter, thinner, longer, etc.)” (Windsure, 2021). Another search result that I had come across for performance paddleboard rentals was the Locarno Club. Their site lists the SUPs available in their fleet, but unfortunately, it is membership-based. I am not looking for a membership rental system as I only want to demo a few boards to know what, if anything, to purchase in the future. However, after seeing the available fleet through the Locarno Club I assumed that Windsure would have a similar arsenal. I think I assumed part because they both operate out of the Jericho Sailing Centre.

The online booking process with Windsure was super simple. I did it outside of the Vancouver Convention Centre post-vaccination. When I arrived at the location for my booking it was a pretty seamless operation too. The representative was able to find my account and get me ready to head out on the water quickly.

Anyone who knows me knows I love my semantics. It seems that my understanding of “touring and racing boards” was perhaps different or at least at odds with the meaning that Windsure (or perhaps the sales representative) that I was dealing with had in mind. Loosely, my definition of a touring board would be a board that is longer and thinner (i.e. narrow) than an all-around board and that perhaps has more attachments for fixing gear to the deck. From my brief encounter with the Windsure representative, I was left with the impression that his interpretation of a touring or race board was a hardboard. I don’t know if that is my interpretation of his understanding or the companies overall view too.

In any case here is how I concluded that we had a semantical divide.

After covering all the legal and safety procedures we made our way to the board rack where the hardboards were stored. There was a fleet of inflatable Red Paddle Co. boards out on the beach which I had seen walking over to the location. The hardboards looked a bit older and short in my opinion. But what do I know?

Perhaps sensing my apprehension the representative offered that some of their other performance boards were out on the water with their instructors. Given that the day looked to be slower with the earlier threat of rain they had decided to take the boards out not thinking that there would be (m)any rentals. That’s unfortunate, I thought to myself. I asked how long the boards were but when I noticed a slight look of confusion on the rep’s face, I offered him a range of nine to ten feet to select from. He suggested that they were likely in that range. He went on to say that the green decked boards they had were the fastest, followed by the similar but slower blue decked board, and then finally their inflatables. He would be setting me up with a green decked board.

He guided me down to the water with the board in hand highlighting the board’s shape and its relation to speed. And here is when my bullshit sensor was starting going off a bit more uncontrollably. From all that I have read, touring and racing boards usually have a more pointed nose – a displacement hull. From what I could see these were more all-around boards with a rounded nose – or planing hull. But given my recent paddle on the Cascadia XR4 which was a planing hull, I couldn’t dismiss what he was saying full stop. Maybe I was missing something. My bullshit censor waned.

As I set up my leash the rep gave me a quick overview of the weather conditions and then wished me well. As he walked off I set up my GPS to record my paddle. I was curious what my speed statistics would be. One thing that I regret from my SUP lesson with Mike is that I didn’t record any GPS data. As a result, I can only speculate that it felt like we were travelling at a good pace on the XR4s, but I really have no idea.

I placed the board down in the water and climbed aboard onto my knees. It felt a bit tippy. The price for performance, I thought. As I attempted to climbed to my feet it was very tippy and I was surprised at how low in the water the board was. In fact, I was almost submerging the board I thought to myself. As it dawned on me that the board was much too small for me and I was sinking I crouched down to regain my balance. I could hardly kneel on balance so I went to seated and awkwardly paddled back to shore. Thankfully, the representative was watching and had come to the same realization. We met at the shoreline and he offered me the slower but bigger blue decked board. I tried it, but much to my dismay I found it nearly impossible to balance. Was I being humbled by the (dis) advantage my wider more stable board had been providing me? Was my balance much worse than I thought? Or were all of these boards ill-suited for my size?

I know that for a lot of the performance boards I had checked out online the weight capacity was limited for the narrower boards. And I often was at the cusp of that weight capacity or above it. So, maybe I was just too big for these boards? That is what my SUP balance ego was screaming internally.

The rep offered the (slower, though he didn’t say it at this point) inflatable boards as a solution. There was a 14-foot inflatable or the Red Paddle Co. Sport board, which he was sure to emphasize was still part of their performance fleet. The suggestion of the 14-foot inflatable piqued my interest since part of my debate for a new board is whether to get a performance-oriented inflatable (e.g. Starboard All Star Airline) or a hardboard (e.g. Starboard All Star). The tradeoff is a sacrifice of performance for the former and convenience/storage for the latter. I have preemptively measured our current yard space for storage and 14 feet is incredibly long when measured out in my backyard!

I opted for the 14-foot giant banana I could now see standing vertically next to the hardboard rack. We made our way over to it and I could see it was a zray (I searched for the specific board later and found that it was the zray R2). I noted the 28-inch width specification on the rail of the board. I had read somewhere that dropping more than four inches on SUP board width was very challenging. This would be a six-inch drop from the 34-inch width of my Blackfin XL. Let’s hope the extra two and a half feet of length keep my SUP balance ego afloat, I thought.

As I paddle away from the Jericho Beach shoreline on my knees initially this was already an improvement from my first two attempts. I then rose to my knees. It was less stable than my Blackfin, but with a little more concentration I didn’t feel at risk of going for a dive. The board felt a bit sloppy in the water and I wondered if that was the length, construction, or inflation. The board felt thinner than my board, but at the same time, it didn’t feel fully inflated.

I set my sites on the lighthouse off of Spanish Banks. The tide was low and looked to be going out. In my haste to set up this booking, I hadn’t checked the tides in as much detail as I would typically. I worried that I might get blocked by the land shelf for my return. Though I would be able to get back with a further offshore route.

The board felt faster as I paddled out. I hadn’t brought my paddle but now I was regretting that decision. The paddle I had been given was heavier than my own and I was finding that my hand was getting caught/scraped on the length adjustment clip every time I switch paddling sides.

I could tell I was in shallow water and kept worrying that I might bottom out. When I checked the depth with my paddle I did have a few feet of water.

I had set a timer for 30 minutes to signal when I should return. When I reached the lighthouse I had two minutes remaining.

I decided against attempting a pivot turn at the lighthouse and instead opted for sweep strokes. Heading back into shore the swell was more of a cross swell than hind swell. I was hoping for more of the latter to get a feel of how the longer board would handle waves. There there were a few moments that I felt unsteady and I made no attempt to manoeuvre on the board. I made it back dry, aside from the moisture I took on from my previous board sinking.

All-in-all it was a good experience. Though my disappointment was that I felt the Windsure sight may have been slightly overselling their touring and race fleet. But I was happy to have tested a 14-foot inflatable with the caveat that I think the zray compared to a more premium board like the Starboard Airline or Red Paddle Co. Elite would have a different feel. Though that remains to be tested…

Here is the path that I took for today’s paddle. A straight shot to the lighthouse and back.

Screenshot of Google Fit activity tracker.

And here are my stats for the paddle. The extra board length seemed to make a difference with a peak speed of 8 km/h over the second kilometer.

Screenshot of Google Fit activity tracker.

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