Cardigan Bay is renowned for it’s marine life, it’s scenery and it’s beaches. And quite rightly so. Pretty much anywhere you choose to put in, you’ve got a chance of seeing seals and dolphins (Cardigan Bay was one of the first protected marine zones in the UK thanks to the Bottlenose Dolphin Community), and you will be blessed with slate cliffs, craggy outcrops, inlets, caves, hidden coves and stunning beaches.
The coast can be a little exposed on the prevailing westerly breeze, with an unforgiving wind chop testing your balance and rhythm. But get it on the right day, there is no better place to explore.
Today was not the right day, but it also wasn’t a bad day. A cool north easterly breeze kept things fresh on the beach, but thankfully it was only a light breeze. Still, enough of a breeze for the odd white horse, and for a wind driven chop to contend with.
After having parked at the National Trust car park at Penbryn, and after avoiding the temptation for a cake and coffee at the lovely café, I carried the board the short distance through the stunning woodland walk to the beach. Warning – this walk has a steep descent and ascent, and if struggling with a heavy board on your back, you can walk the beach road to avoid the traverse of the valley. But you’ll miss a stunning walk and miss the lovely waterfall.
With the cold wind and chop, it wasn’t a day for a McConks family paddle – as comfortable as the boys are in the water, a swim today in the cold waters could have put them off for a while – so I set off on a solo paddle on the McC0nks 10’8 Go Anywhere, with a single fin setup and bamboo/carbon paddle.
Heading off into the wind (always recommended – that way you know you can always get back when tired!) I set off for what looked like a pleasant bay on Google maps. Hugging the coastline to hunt for seals, I couldn’t help but wish I was on the McConks Go Explore. The Go Anywhere was coping admirably, but the longer and narrower Go Explore would have managed the 2 foot windchop and headwind with more aplomb.
As I rounded the first headland, I focussed on technique and balance to keep driving forward – short strokes, bent knees, stroke, glide, repeat, and decided to keep going past the first sandy bay – I hadn’t earned a rest yet. Up ahead in the distance I could see the outcrop at the end of Morfa Bay, and could also see what looked like seals hauled out. Scared of missing the seals, I upped the cadence and got a sweat on. This was a good workout, and a welcome and effective way to burn off the usual indulgences of a holiday (good food and good beer) and easter chocolates.
As I approached the bay, the seals gradually turned into lichen encrusted seal head shaped rocks. But to offset the disappointment, I found a sea cave in the rocky headland to explore. Hearing the waves crash through the cave, I could tell it had an opening into open water, but could not yet tell whether it would be possible to paddle all the way through the headland. Dropping to my knees to save brain cells, I paddled into a small cavern. And although I could see the channel through to open water, the channel was too small to paddle. There only one way around this; ditching the McConks by tying the leash to a handy rocky outcrop, I dived into the (icy) water and swam through the cave and into open water. After scanning the horizon for dolphins or seals unsuccessfully again I swam around the headland and back to the board to head back to Penbryn.
The downwind run was more challenging than expected. Although some of the peaks on the windchop were two foot or so, they weren’t rideable. And they were unpredictable. At least on the upwind run, you could see the peaks and power into them or adjust for them. Heading downwind the waves were faster than me, and so it was a veritable roller coaster of a ride as peaks of different height past under and across me.
What’s so amazing about the Ceredigion coast is that it was the Easter holidays, I was out on the water for an hour or so, and I didn’t see a single person whilst paddling, not on land nor on the water. The last time I paddled on the south coast I must have paddled past two dozen paddlers, and the scene is the same in Devon and Cornwall. Call me anti-social, but I love the fact that you can still get away from the crowds in Ceredigon. And getting away from the crowds also means you are that much more likely to stumble across the Dolphins and Seals of Cardigan Bay.
If you’ve decided you want an inflatable SUP board rather than a rigid board, but you don’t know what size board to get, then this article is for you. If you’re still not sure whether you need a rigid or inflatable board, then check out this article. And when you’ve read it, and decided an inflatable is for you, then come back!
So how do you decide what size board you need?
There’s no easy answer to this question because it depends on where you play, your ability, your weight, and how much gear you want to take on the board. But we’ve put this guide together to help guide you in the right direction.
The most important factor in choosing your board is the type of paddling you expect to spend most of your time doing. There’s no point setting yourself up with an all round board if you’re going to be spending 99% of your time on the water surfing. Or on the flipside spending your money on a lovely surfSUP if you’re going to be spending 90% of your time on flat water.
So we’ve broken it down by the types of SUPping you might be doing.
Cruising is how most people start out paddleboarding, and is accessible to people of all ages. It’s great exercise, but you don’t have to set your heartbeat racing, or push yourself too hard. And there’s no shame in sitting or kneeling if tired, or if the chop is beating your balance.
Many people enjoy the sociable side of SUP, and like to have gentle paddles over moderate distances with friends and families. Maybe taking in lunch at a riverside pub, maybe stopping for a swim at a beach, maybe stopping off for a little surf on a river wave or a break. But mostly enjoying being outdoors, enjoying the company, masking the most of the weather and being at one with nature.
If cruising sounds like your thing, then your best board is an all round inflatable SUP. All round inflatable paddle boards are typically between 10″ and 11″ long, with 10’6 and 10’8 being the most popular sizes. They’re typically 31 to 34″ wide, and 4, 5 or 6″ thick. All round boards are by definition a compromise. By being shorter than a touring or race board they are relatively easy to turn and control, but this: They don’t track quite as well as a long touring board, and require more corrective strokes to keep you on the straight and narrow. And it means they are also slower. And compared to a shorter surfSUP, they are not quite as manoeuvrable and have less performance on wave. But if you do opt for an all round board then you’re in good company. All-round boards are currently the most popular boards, and we think that our Go Anywhere duo of a 10’6 x 32″ x 4.75″ and a 10’8 x 32″ x 6″ board means that riders of any size and ability have an option perfect for them.
10’8 Go anywhere inflatable SUP
If you’re a nervous beginner, and want a board that gives you a very stable platform to learn on, but also provides challenges as you develop, this is your best choice. It gives you the flexibility and confidence to use anywhere, and has been designed for families and beginners all the way through to intermediates; this is the perfect one inflatable paddleboard fits all.
When stood in the stable paddling position, this board tracks sweet and true, and will generally keep you on the straight and narrow. However, take a step back, or drop back into surf stance, and the board suddenly becomes much more responsive due to its cleverly designed pintail shape. With 6″ of volume, this board will float an average family paddler plus a child or dog. With over 250l of volume, it will take 150kg of weigh before performance is compromised. And intermediate paddlers will be able to manage even more weight comfortably.
It’s also a great platform for learning to surf on; unusually for all round iSUP, this board has removable click fit FCS fins. When these are fitted, the 2+1 fin arrangement gives you great bite and control when on a wave compared to the fixed fins found as standard on most all round boards. And if you really want to push the boundaries, you can swap out the flexi fins and fit your favourite performance FCS fins from any hard board range.
So in summary buy this board if you want an all round board, but one where performance errs towards flat water, river or lake paddling. A great family board. Lots of volume to take passengers, a higher riding position so front riders stay relatively dry, but very manoeuvrable when taking a step back.
10’6 Go anywhere inflatable SUP
Being only 2 ” shorter than our 10’8, being the same width (32″) and being the same great pintail shape, it’s not surprising that this board performs similarly to the 10’8. The 2″ reduction in length only makes a minor difference in handling, but the bigger difference is the depth of the board. Being only 4.75″ rather than 6″ thick, this board suits smaller beginner riders (total weight <100kg, including kit and other riders being carried on the board), riders looking for a better surf experience, or intermediate riders of a combined personal and kit weight of up to 125kg.
For many of us, cruising remains where it’s at, and that is your paddling of choice for ever. However, many SUP fans find that as their paddling skills and fitness level improves they decide to take it to another level and start touring, surfing, racing or whitewater paddling. So what size boards do you need if you want to step it up?
Touring, on rivers, canals or the coast
Touring is simply cruising, but for longer, or a little faster, or in more challenging conditions. If you like to seek out those quiet beaches, breaks and bays, like exploring with your board both on and off the water, or simply just getting away from the crowds, then you want a touring paddleboard. A full size touring board will be longer than 12′, between 28″ and 33″ wide, 6″ deep, and have a good waterline without a hockey nose! Being a longer board
these boards are faster and require less corrective strokes when paddling, augmenting the speed improvements.
McConks 12’8 Go Explore was designed as a specific touring board, and the board has tested it’s mettle on a circumnavigation of Malta.
This board just loves racking up the miles. It likes to go in a straight line, and turns only slowly unless you step back and throw a pivot turn. However, the deckpad at the back of the board has been sacrificed to make more expedition storage space, so pivot turns can be a little tricky on this board. This board is great if you’re one of our heavier riders (over 150kg). It’s also extremely stable for beginners who want to take passengers and is very light, so great for travelling (in fact all of our packages come in at under 15kg including the paddle). Ironically, because this board is slow to turn, it’s also a beginners dream for learning to surfSUP. It carves very gently and very slowly, and with the large volume of the board, catches all but the tiniest waves. And because it’s so fast, and likes going in a straight line, it’s also extremely forgiving to bad paddle technique.
Buy this board if you want to paddle long distances, if you want to paddle fast, if you’re wanting to take lots of kit or passengers, or if you’re a very nervous, but keen to learn surfSUPer. Also read our article about inflatable SUP racing. If you fancy entering a race, then this board is the board for you.
If you’re going to spend most of your time surfing, then you’re in the wrong place. Although inflatable boards can be surfed (see our article on surfing airSUP), if you are a real surfhead, you would be better off with a rigid board. And if you are, then take a look at some of the great rigid boards from some great UK companies such as Loco surfing, Freshwater Bay Paddleboards, Fatstick and Neptune.
SUP racing seems to have decided that long course endurance races are the future, for better or for worse. Either way, longer, narrower boards are the way forward here, they are faster and have better glide. To place on the podium, you will almost certainly need a hard race board. but if you’re just after some competitive fun, inflatable SUPs meet that need. Our 12’8 is a great starter race board, and perfect if you want a fun touring and surf board, but with the odd foray into race. If you become a convert and need a longer inflatable race board, check out Loco’s 14″ iSUP,
Whitewater SUP and river surf SUP are specialist disciplines and require specialist kit. You shouldn’t try either of these disciplines with all round SUP boards unless you are with experienced whitewater riders who’ve got your back. Simple mistakes can cost you your life, and there have been deaths in whitewater SUP in recent years.
Whitewater boards need to be robust and be able to withstand knocks and bangs from ledges and rocks. They also need retractable or flexible fins, or be able to be ridden without fins. There’s nothing more likely to buck you off your ride than a fin getting stuck on a rock!
We’re still developing our whitewater and river SUP board and Matt Stephenson is our prototype rider helping us to develop the perfect WWSUP board.
Downwind paddling is at the more extreme end of the SUP scale. Paddling downwind on open water in large swell requires great skill. The aim is to effectively surf wind driven swell downwind, and glides of over 100metres are heard of. You need a fast long board for downwind paddling, and the board needs a planing hull to stay on the wave. You can learn to downwind SUP on a long iSUP, but if you want to get the best out of downwind, you’ll need a rigid carbon board. Read this article for more information.
Any clearer? If not, then leave a comment below, just drop us a line, or give us a call (+44 7387 383243). We’ll talk you through the best board for your needs.
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