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The stiffest race ISUP on the market?

McConks Go Race

Typical stiffness of an inflatable SUP board

According to SUPboarder reviews, and their published results of inflatable SUP deflection tests*, the stiffest iSUPs on the market have a deflection in the high single number mm – 8 or 9mm. That is, then bend by up to 10mm when a person of 75kg stands on them when not supported by water. In this range come boards like the Naish Air Maliko and Starboard Airline 14 foot race boards. In the second tier are cheaper double chamber boards, which are classed as stiffer than normal by SUPBoarder if they have a deflection of 13mm. And many cheaper 14 foot race boards have a deflection of up to 25 – 30mm.

Do inflatable SUP board static deflection tests matter?

We’ve never normally been that bothered about one off static deflection tests. We don’t actually think that static deflection is a great measure of the performance of a board to be honest. A rigid hardboard can have a deflection of up to 5mm, but have no observable ‘bounce’ when you jump up and down on it. And when you paddle a hardboard, you don’t feel any observable bounce when you really put the power on. However, as any paddler of an iSUP knows, when you really hammer the power on, the board deflects and then bounces back as you enter the recovery stroke. And static deflection is not a good indicator of how much the board deflects under dynamic forces. Two boards with the same static deflection can feel very different in terms of how ‘bouncy’ they feel.

However, the benefit of static deflection tests is that they are controlled, and something that can be easily compared between one board and another. Which presumably is why they are still used! So we thought we should join the club and measure the deflection of our newest and stiffest board – our Carbon Go Race 14.

Breaking the rules

As you probably know, we’re not great for following industry rules at McConks. We didn’t have trestles, 75kg weights or tape measures to hand. So we did what we do best; we used what we had to hand.

Thankfully, Waterland Outdoor Pursuits, our test bed for the day, had two tables that were positioned about 2m apart, and free gap between them was 180cm (meaured by the length of a paddle!).

And rather than use a 75kg weight, we used some real people. We’re not going to say how much heavier than 75kg one of them was, but they were the closest to 75kg we could find, and more that 75kg. And to measure deflection we measured the undeflected height of the seam from the floor by using a paddle and some electric tape. And then remeasured the deflected height against the same paddle, again using electric tape to make a mark – example below.

This might all sound a little serious. But it was really just an excuse to lark around on a board.

Real life SUP deflection tests

The reality is that this is a very stiff board. Deflection tests measured between 6mm and 10mm, with an average of ~7.5mm dependant on how the board was placed across the supports and where the paddler stood. That’s not something that you often hear being mentioned in deflection tests is it? You normally only ever hear a single value with the supposition that it’s a very well controlled test. Sadly, really life would suggest that’s not strictly true, and an average, min and max value for each board would be a little more honest.

And don’t forget, our supports were further apart than the regulation 1.7m, and our weight was over 75kg. So that ~7.5mm compares rather well with SUPboarders stiffest board, the Naish Maliko air, which had a static deflection of 7mm. Especially when you realise that our Carbon Go race is over 2kg (20%) lighter than the Maliko.

iSUP Static deflection test

What makes this the most rigid race iSUP?

It’s not rocket science really. Using the very best fusion drop stitch available (which we use in ll of our boards), plus dual full length carbon stringer on both the deck and hull do most of the hard work for us.

A new double layer hard fin box adds some welcome rigidity to the tail of the board. But the fin box is more about reducing drag than about stiffness, and it does a great job of that, by removing the fin box protuberance that you get on almost every other iSUP that uses proper race fins.

And an increased density deckpad makes it feel even stiffer under the feet. But really, it’s just simple common sense. Use the best materials you can, and don’t cut corners. And you end up with probably the stiffest 14 ft board on the market.

  • Static deflection tests are carried out by measuring the deflection of a board under 75kg of weight when it is balanced on two supports 1.7m apart.
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Breaking the myths | Fatter can be faster | McConks race SUP

McConks 14 Go race

Breaking the myths | Fatter (boards) can be faster | McConks race SUP

If you’ve been anywhere near the paddleboard race scene in the last few years, you can’t have helped notice that race boards are getting narrower. And obviously a narrower board has better glide, has less friction, and must be faster right?

That’s the theory. But there are a couple of things to think about before jumping to that obvious conclusion.

How stable are you on a narrower board? Are you really able to properly trim a very narrow board? Whilst a 21″ board might work for the likes of amazing paddlers like Ben Pye, if you don’t have the same well developed and balanced paddle stroke, strong core, and lots of experience of race boards, you will probably find that all those little nervous wobbles on the super skinny board cost you dear. So even if you stay on the board and don’t swim, every little wobble perturbs the board, and the loss of trim increase friction and reduces glide and speed.

We recommend trying different race boards of different widths and having a friend on the bank watching how well you maintain trim. Or if you’re a data geek, you can go the whole hog and do constant effort time trials to see which you’re fastest on. But our experience is always that paddlers suffer from optimism bias about how well they can trim a narrow board, and that most non elite paddlers would be better with a board an inch or two wider than they think they can handle!

Our 14 foot Go Race board is designed at 26.5 inches wide. That’s unfashionably wide in these days of ever more skinny race boards. But this is quite deliberate. This is designed as a board that is easy to trim. It’s extremely rigid due to the woven drop stitch and the twin tensioned carbon stringers, eliminating bounce. It’s therefore really solid when you put the power on, and this, coupled with the all-water rocker means that its stable and easy to trim, but also gives enough feedback for poor footwork or body posture to all you to progress and develop.

And this isn’t just idle conjecture. We used modelling to come up with the perfect profile and rocker, and then prototyped it through a few iterations to fine tune shape, weight and rocker.

And do we have any real life evidence to back this up?

Plenty. But this is our best example….

Carolyn Smith, a very special lady, has helped us design this board. It’s to be used on a 32 mile charity paddle in a day from Lincoln to Boston. This would be challenge enough for most people, but Carolyn suffers from a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) that affects the connective tissues in the body. Carolyn explains her condition well if you follow her on Facebook, so we won’t bore you here. But basically, the condition makes a 32 mile paddle more than a challenge. It makes it a life risking feat!

Carolyn, with her coach and friend Phil May of Yellowbelly SUP did the challenge last year. In preparation for last years challenge, Carolyn bought a Loco race hardboard that she called Berty. She trained very hard for months, with Phil giving her expert tuition on trim, body position, paddlestroke etc. In one of the biggest storms of last year, they completed the 32 mile challenge. But Carolyn never felt fully comfortable on the Loco motion board, and has felt scared to paddle it, and by her own admission has sometimes been put off paddling because of it.

But now, having switched up to an inflatable McConks 14″ race board and only paddled it a couple of times, she’s already breaking her fastest mile times by a minute or so. She puts this down to feeling much more stable and comfortable, and being able to focus more on maintaining stroke quality rather than worrying about balancing and not falling in.

Check out the facebook post below to find out more. And if you want to donate to Carolyn and Phil’s charity paddle, then make sure you follow her on facebook .

But to conclude, yes, it is true. Fatter can be faster. Obviously, swimming is slower than paddling, and if you go to thin, you swim. But even before you get to swimming wobbliness, a too narrow board can reduce your speed by reducing trim and increasing turbulence. A slightly fatter board allows you to focus on paddle stroke and trim and increase your overall glide and speed.

You can read more about our Go Race board by clicking the button below.

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Paddleboarding with disabilities

What’s your excuse?

It’s very easy to get caught up in reasons not to do something. Especially if you’re feeling a little low, a little less than your normal self.

Too cold? Too wet? Not feeling it? Don’t think you’re good enough? All easy reasons to decide not to get on the water.

Well hopefully, here’s something to give you a little inspiration… I bet your excuse no longer seems so valid when you watch these.

One of the great things about paddleboarding is the almost non-existent learning curve, and the ease of access to the board. With no gunnels or raised edges, almost anyone can get on a SUP no matter what their physical ability.

Maybe this is why we’ve started to see ‘paddleability’ type instructors and courses springing up around the country. At McConks, we’ve been working with Beyond Boundaries East Lothian for several years now, using their advice to design inclusive kit, and supporting their efforts to get people with a range of abilities on paddleboards.

But in the last few months, the paddleability world seems to be growing at a rate of knots.

We’ve got big things to announce in 2020 all courtesy of our GoInspire initiative. But we can;t tell you much about them yet. Until then, have a look at what some of our friends and partners have got up to.

This video is the inspirational Laura May from Anyone Can, paddling alongside specialist adventure provider able2adventure and with instructor Elspeth Mason from outdoor experience provider Mere Mountains paddling from Fell Foot.

This video is from the very inspirational Beyond Boundaries East Lothian paddling in and around Haddington on the North East coast.

So we’ll ask again? What’s your excuse now? Get out on the water and inspire others!

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Should I buy an inflatable or a rigid paddleboard?

McConks Go Further 14" inflatable SUP

The truth about inflatable paddleboard performance

If you want to race at a high level, and enter sprint and endurance events, or be on the podium for surf SUP comps, you’re almost certainly going to need a quiver of hard boards.

But for everyone else, an iSUP is ideal. 

Let us tell you more.

Despite recent advances in inflatable technology, every inflatable board made will still flex slightly in the most extreme conditions.  This is most obvious in cheaper mass produced boards made with lower quality drop stitch, single layer technology, or glued manually: These will definitely turn into bananas in the wrong conditions. But even the very best double skin, fusion skin boards (1) are a little susceptible to this, even if they have multiple chambers, and stiffening devices such as stringers or battens.

Therefore although some of the race iSUP boards are up there with glass fibre and carbon race boards in the speed stakes (and make sure you check out our new Carbon sport 14″ hard board, or our Go Race 14″ inflatable race board if you’re serious about going fast and getting great glide on an iSUP), they still can’t yet compete racing in swell or off the beach. 

So if you’re looking for an absolutely top performance surf SUP, then an inflatable is unlikely to be your first choice. You can’t have an iSUP custom made for a start, and many of the key variables, such as rocker line, rail shape, bottom profile cannot be fine tuned. Simply put, iSUP’s do not have the variety of bottom or rail shapes that a custom shaper delivers, and therefore you can not expect them to perform like one. So you won’t win surf comps on an inflatable, and you’re unlikely to win race events in difficult conditions.

But for most of us who want to get make our adventures, banish the boredom, get out of the gym, learn to surf SUP, race our friends, get close to nature or just simply have fun, you cannot beat an inflatable SUP.

Reclaim your freedom with an inflatable SUP board

(Q) Does this sound a familiar story? 

You want to hire a board for a peaceful sunset surf when on hols, but the surf shop shuts at 6pm. Taking a hardboard on a plane is expensive (it’s even more expensive when the handlers drop it and snap it in two) and you miss out on all the amazing sunrise and sunset paddles because you can only start paddling at 10am, and finish at 6pm?   Not exactly the liberating experience you craved for.

iSUP packages now are as light as 12kg and a dream to travel with. As long as you buy a package with a decent bag, then the board will arrive the other side unharmed.  For you to use when you want to. Whether that be with the crowds of rental SUPers in the middle of the day, or at either end of the day, on your own, in peace and solitude.  No more excess charges, no more dinged boards, and the ultimate in self SUP expression.

But be careful of some of the packages that come with cheap bags. You don’t want to be spending another £100 to keep your prize possession safe. Hell, while you’re at it, make sure you get a package like the very best brands, which come with a sturdy and comfortable rucksack with wheels.

So what are the advantages of an iSUP?

  • An inflatable board rolls up in a bag, making it easy to jump in a hire car or on a bus with your SUP and find those quiet spots
    away from the crowds. No need for roof racks and straps. Although you can leave your board inflated when you get to your destination and then strap it on the roof when you’re there – we do that a lot!
  • Paddleboards are long. Generally longer than 9″. And race boards can be 14 foot long. Not everyone has space in their house or garage (or is allowed more big toys) to store an epoxy or glass board, and if that’s you, an inflatable is just what you need.
  • Hard boards are much more likely to get damaged.  Whether that be through poor paddle stroke, the rough and tumble of family life, serious abuse in white water river SUP, or regular travel taking its toll.  As long as you buy a good quality iSUP with a high pressure rating (at least 20PSI), with a long guarantee, with twin layer technology, and a decent fibreglass/plastic paddle as a minimum, then your kit will last you for years without so much as a mark.  iSUP really are very robust: Although inflatables come with a repair kit, we don’t know of many customers who’ve needed to use one!
  • iSUP is a really accessible family friendly watersport.  As long as you follow simple safety rules (see our blog on paddleboarding with toddlers), then paddling with kids is great.  How so?
    • Try as they might, the kids can’t damage the board like they could an epoxy board If they fall, an inflatable causes less bruises than a hard board.
    • If the board hits them in the water at speed it doesn’t do the same damage that a hard board can d0
    • They can’t damage the rails of an inflatable as they learn to paddle.
    • An inflatable board has more buoyancy than a hard board, size for size. Beginner paddlers who want to paddle with passengers should start out on a good size board (at least 250l such as our 10’8 Go anywhere
    • Even the largest of paddlers can take passengers, whether that be kids, dogs or both. As your skill, balance and strength improves, you might want to move to a smaller board. But by then your kids are probably paddling the old board by themselves.
    • You can strap even strap a SUP seat to the front of our McConks boards if your little prince or princess ‘needs’ to travel in style.

The downsides 

Other than the performance not being as good as hard boards for the very top athletes, there are few downsides to an iSUP. That will be why they are the fastest growing watersports purchase in the world right now.  But there’s no hiding the fact that buying a SUP costs quite a lot of money. Even the cheapest lowest quality banana boards that only last a few weeks start at £275. (ps.  If you want the absolute best performance / price trade off, check out our budget  Go Simple iSUP packages.

Most people don’t want to spend the £1000 plus that some of the brands charge for a decent quality iSUP. But you also don’t want to waste your money on a board and paddle that is so poor performance that you’ll need to upgrade within months. Or worse, one that bursts within weeks.

The seven signs of a good quality inflatable SUP

With so many brands making so many different types of boards, how can you tell what’s a good quality and affordable iSUP, and what’s just cheap? If you strip back all the marketing, the pretty pictures and flashy vids, the following are good indicators of quality:

  1. Manufacturer’s guarantee of at least 24 months.
  2. No quibble returns policy
  3. Dual layer technology. Preferably MSL or EDS. This is the latest fusion technology that gives the strongest, lightest, most rigid boards. Anything else is second rate.
  4. Pressure guarantee of at least 22 PSI. You know you’ve got a board that doesn’t leak if it’s guaranteed to a high pressure.
  5. Quality paddles. If the basic paddle is a heavy alloy paddle, the brand just wants to sell kit, rather than create paddling experiences.
  6. Top quality SUP pump. Look out for cheap pumps. If they look cheap and gaudy, they probably are!
  7. Top quality bag. Many of the cheap boards come with cheap looking bags. If the material is thick, if the fastenings look good, and if the straps and handles look chunky and strong, then the brand cares about quality

Find out why McConks came #1 SUP Brand in a survey of over 1200 paddlers

Reviews of our kit

About our 10’6 Go anywhere iSUP

“Fast, fun, fantastic value No more needs to be said. Top quality paddle, fast board in a straight line, speedy to turn, good fun”

 “The perfect allround iSUP. Tried this at a demo centre and loved it. This board has just the perfect volume and shape for me, a beginner with a few weeks of experience. Stability kept me dry until I and started messing about doing silly things. The manoeuvrability when in a surf stance means that this board is really responsive. It even seemed to carve on flat water when I had enough speed. Only 4 inches thick so you feel in much closer connection with the water. And surprisingly stiff given it’s thickness: No noticeable difference to Red Paddle in terms of stiffness (I currently own a 10’6 by the market leader). The board alone costs more than this package. And this is better. More stable yet also more fun, and better for development of skills. I will be ‘upgrading’ when budget allows!”

“I’m really pleased with my new McConks iSUP package. This is my first board so haven’t got a lot to compare it to but the quality of the board is great. It seems really well made and is easy to inflate. I finally got a chance to use my board at the weekend and I had a really fun time on our local lake. The board is really stable in the water and the paddle is easy to use. I was amazed at the speed I picked up and I didn’t fall in at all! I love the bag with this package, high quality and with wheels and backpack straps it would be really easy to travel with. I can’t wait to use my board again and would recommend this package to anyone, it’s great quality at a great price!”

About our 10’8 Go anywhere iSUP

“There’s something magic about this board. It’s pretty fast cruising, it’s pretty responsive in small surf, and it’s really stable. Really, really clever design, Great value package. The FG paddle is much better than the basic paddles I’ve had in other packages. Really light and good stiffness. And those real fins make such a difference compared to much more expensive competition. Great value and a delight to paddle” “Fantastic package Great quality board, had the whole family out on it, they all love it, can’t wait to go out again, love the carbon fibre paddle, board tracks very well.”

“I’ve been paddling on rental boards for a couple of years, and it’s really good to try a different brand from the usual. Really liked this board. Super stiff. No bounce or sag. The rocker line is good – next to no tail rocker, just enough nose rocker. The PVC seems really tough – it’s a bit like crocodile skin PVC: I believe McConks claim that you can drive a jeep over it and it won’t burst! Rides really well. Rides high on the water, glides well and true, and relatively easy to manoeuver for its size and compared to other boards of the same sze. Pintail made it fun for pivot turns when stood back, and real fins made an appreciable difference to the feel of the board. The bamboo/carbon paddle was a dream. Really light yet really powerful. And quick and easy to adjust. All in all, love this package. Really good quality stuff for the price. Surprisingly so in fact.”

About our carbon fibre

“The paddles arrived safely and have been tested on Friday! One was for myself and the other for my SUP instructor, feedback is great! We’re both are very pleased, great value! Happy to get a carbon paddle that packs small but still great performance.”

“Feels so good in my hands. So much lighter than the cheap alloy paddle that used to make my arms and shoulder ache, and it’s so pretty. I know it’s a little pathetic, but I really like the fact that it’s clearly a top quality paddle, yet looks so cool, and so different to all the others. That probably says more about me than the paddle 😉 “

“I have been using a Kialoa fixed carbon paddle that is great but at over £350 you would expect it to be. Purchased the McConks because I needed a 3 piece to take with me to the Maldives. It has arrived and it looks fantastic and feels fantastic in the hand. The profile does not look much different to the much more expensive Kialoa so I am expecting it will perform much the same. If it does, then the Kialoa may just end up collecting dust in the garage or put on eBay. The customer service from Andy is also first rate, initially was sent the wrong paddle by mistake (all carbon as opposed to bamboo/carbon) but on contacting him a replacement was sent out same day and he even trusted me to return the other, for which a pre paid label was provided. Now, that is great customer service by any standard. Cant wait to get the McConks wet”

(1) Adding additional layers doesn’t necessarily add rigidity. Typically, every layer of PVC is thinner than the two layers used in double skin boards. And adding another layer only really serves to increase the risk of their being manufacturing defects (mostly twists) in the board. Because the additional layers are not added at the raw material manufacturing stage, these additional layers can also add wrinkles and air bubbles.