Next in our ‘Share the Love’ series Adrian Jones and the Clones take a spin on Starboard’s WindSUP. Is it the easy to use equipment solution for light wind days and teaching friends? Or an over inflated lilo?
This review originally featured in the Boards Spring Summer 2013 issue, check out more about the print magazine and subscribe here. I know what you’re thinking. It’s roll-up. It’s inflatable. And like a high-end paddling pool, comes with its very own air-pump and handy bag.
One could be forgiven for predicting that this review may read a ‘guaranteed laughs all-round’ product…with no higher expectations. In the super high-tech world of windsurfing, an inflatable board may be seen as a bit of a joke, but it would be a real shame to dismiss this concept so quickly.
This Starboard is definitely worth a closer look, even for the simple fact that it addresses what is arguably the most serious short-coming of our sport. Think about the last time you travelled through an airport for example. Skiers, snowboarders, golfers, bikers, walkers, musicians (and… dare I say it, even kite surfers) are all travelling through airports with all their gear and not one of them breaking into a sweat.
In fact, not one of them needs a garage to store their gear, a van to transport it, let alone a course of protein shakes in order to lug it around. Put in perspective, our sport actually seems quite ridiculous in this respect. For the uninitiated windsurfer, it must look like a whole world of hassle and let’s be honest, it is.
Now let’s think outside the box. Imagine a complete windsurfing board that you could actually carry in a rucksack, store in your cupboard and then transport to the beach on your bike or even on the bus or train. Sounds too good to be true? Well, this is exactly what Starboard claim to offer with this inflatable WindSUP and Compact rig. We decided to get our hands on one to see if it is genuinely the quality ‘answer’ product to the problem or justa whole lot of air and no performance?
I have to admit to being rather excited about trying out this unique little package and it appears I’m not alone! Allow me to set the scene. It’s a warm, balmy day at the beach in El Medano. There’s your fair share of windsurfing and kitesurfing junkies whizzing up and down the shoreline and plenty of holidaymakers sunning themselves into various shades of red.
The wind is dropping and people are minding their own business. It’s time to roll out the Starboard Inflatable and see how easy it is to set-up. What I really wasn’t prepared for, was the crowd that this piece of kit would draw. In my years of testing I have unwrapped all nature of exotic high-end windsurfing products for testing and I can honestly say that I have never experienced such a fast growing, vast crowd as this.
And I’m not talking about just your typical tourist-type spectators with their bemused expressions. I’m talking about faces the windsurfing industry may well recognise – professional windsurfers and the like. All crowded around in anticipation.
Assembly is actually pretty simple and yes, being mostly men, of course we didn’t bother to read the instructions. Luckily for us, the set-up is fairly idiot proof. Roll it out, use the pump to partially inflate, and then insert the fin, mast track and the rather impressive daggerboard cassette. Then finish it off by inflating to a pressure of 18 PSI. The last bit of pressure makes all the difference when it comes to the board’s performance, so don’t hold back!
Thankfully, there was no shortage of helpers (and idiots) and the board was ready to go within a few minutes. Complete with a four piece RDM mast and a collapsible boom, the compact rig also dismantles to a diminutive size and stores neatly away within its own ‘hold all’.
To be honest with the rig out of the bag and ready to set-up, first impressions weren’t great – the crowd sniggering in the background was testament to this. The mast is seriously heavy with its three joints and the one-batten sail really resembles something that was left behind in the 80’s. Never-the-less, it is very easy to rig and the simple design makes correct tuning far less critical than a more high tech rig.
Once held up on the beach however, it’s apparent that the low centre of gravity and lack of battens actually make the sail feel pretty light in the hands despite the heavy mast. A few ‘jury’ members from the crowd give it a spin around on the beach. Surprisingly, nods of approval are awarded, and amusingly the tone of the crowd changes from ridicule to approval and even murmurings of praise are heard about how well suited it could actually be to the board. So fickle!
So, the Starboard is definitely fun… and seemingly an all-round smile generator! Everyone wants a go. I’m intrigued. We are! So it’s time to let our eager clones take it to the water.
Again, it’s amazing to see just how much interest this board gathers. Not only are our fickle crowd of hecklers, onlookers and test pilots engrossed by what will happen next, I can honestly say that nearly everyone on the whole of El Medano beach is watching. And that prompts an interesting point. People are watching because they are relaxing in the sun, probably a bit bored and to see someone windsurfing is an interesting sight.
I’m sure plenty of them would like to have a go. It’s a shame that windsurfing doesn’t really happen on these kind of days any more. Days for windsurfing are generally days that people don’t hang out on the beach and since that happened; the sport has been in a decline. Whilst I’m sure wavesailors, free riders and speedsters won’t be racing to the shop to trade their boards in for something to plod around the bay in light winds on, I do think a board like this could offer a really fun addition to what we all consider to be ‘windsurfing’. Imagine going windsurfing on a sunny, hot day. The kind of day your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife or kids actually want to go to the beach. Take the BBQ, hang out on the beach, do a bit of paddle boarding, a bit of light wind freestyle, sail the girlfriend (or boyfriend) around the bay on the nose of the board, teach some friends to windsurf and relax on the beach. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
Until now the only kind of boards you could do this on were big ‘tanks’ that take up loads of room in your garage, van/car and are a general nuisance when it comes to transportation. This is where I think this infl atable Starboard hits the nail on the head. Store it in a cupboard, travel with it in the boot of your car ready for the right day and then carry it down the beach like a rucksack. Pretty cool I reckon.
Back to El Medano beach and it’s first go for the Clone, for what later turned out to be many ‘fun-runs’ turned positively-reviewed sessions out to sea! The ‘boys-with-their-new-fun-toys’ running for the sea are returning with wider grins yielded not only by the fun of the Starboard but the surprise at how well it actually performs. As soon as you set foot on the board, the pleasant, and I must say unexpected, surprise is that it does not feel how you might expect an inflatable board to feel. The hull feels genuinely stiff under foot, with no noticeable flex. Unlike other SUP boards used for windsurfing, this board makes surprisingly good progress upwind, a real benefit for beginners and improvers. Those who are used to sailing this size of board, will notice the slightly lighter weight of the infl atable makes it feel more responsive, but also perhaps slightly less stable in chop. This is actually most apparent when used as an SUP board although still perfectly suitable as an entry level SUP.
Generally, the board is pretty rapid through the water and certainly, the fact that it’s full of air instead of foam is of no apparent drawback in lighter winds. If anything, the lighter weight is an advantage with the board accelerating rapidly with every gust. Although initially the rig looked like it was from the 80’s, once tried it’s clear that we are back in the 21st century, and in fact reaping the benefits that the basic rig offers.
Firstly, it feels relatively light, responsive and manoeuvrable but most noticeable is how well it powers up with a soft, progressive power delivery, particularly well suited to this style of board. At the end of the day, the results were clear from the response of all those who tried it. Those who gleefully hopped off down the shore line to have a laugh on this ‘toy’ returned, yes, with big smiles on their faces, but also paired with genuine reviews that communicated quality – of a serious board for beginners and light wind fun. It’s clear that Starboard have done their work well and this inflatable WindSUP is a very long way from the leaky li-lo that it might initially have been compared to. Really, this is a board that every windsurfer should consider owning. It’s a low hassle way of having fun in light winds and getting friends and family involved in your fabulous sport. And at that, you should all run out and buy one!
But hang on… there is a catch. The price. The board alone retails for £1,269 with the rig price still to be confi rmed. This is such a fantastic product that could play a key role in making windsurfing more accessible. At £800 it would be a no-brainer, but at over £1,200, it’s an altogether more serious consideration. Although, a consideration that’s worth making.
Thank you to TWS (Tenerife Windsurf Solution) in El Medano for hosting the test.