Take two race boards from the same brand, equal in all parts except for width measurements, and pit them against each other to assess the findings – sounds simple doesn’t it? In practice, however, this most definitely isn’t the case. At the risk of stating the obvious there are so many factors that come in to play when judging speed, glide, tracking and stability. It’s a wonder the brands have time to test these factors themselves. Actually they don’t, they can’t. They design kit optimised for specific conditions and rider abilities and then it’s over to you, the paddler, to make it work.
We were keen to investigate how two Nah Skwell Beach Comp 12.6ft’s (one 27” wide and the other 25”) would stack up – across a variety of water states, weather conditions, paddler weights, abilities, styles and techniques. If possible we’d like to try and answer the question: what makes a board fast? At the very least we’d like to highlight the factors that can affect speed – after all, if you don’t own a turbo charged sled then you’re nowhere in SUP racing, right?
Why Nah Skwell Beach Comp 12.6ft?
Nah Skwell’s Beach Comp 12.6ft series isn’t necessarily an obvious choice for this type of article. We chose these boards as other brand gear already has pools of info at people’s fingertips – at least those paddlers looking for race specific knowledge. With no high profile team rider racers on their books and still a little under the radar, in the UK, we thought it would be more interesting to really work it out from scratch. We had a completely blank canvas with Nah Skwell.
Sticking with 12.6ft made sense as this is still the most popular race SUP length in the UK. The Beach Comp is designed around conditions most UK racers will confront and are designed for all comers.
Kai Sports, the UK importer for Nah Skwell, kindly loaned us two top spec One Shot Sandwich Carbon construction boards. We could have plumped for lesser quality but when talking race boards we feel most paddlers will opt for better construction as the perception is lighter = faster.
Rider ability, weight and style
27” and 25” wide boards are technical to paddle for the majority – especially SUPs that have been optimised for speed. There are narrower boards out there and we appreciate that higher skill levels/lower weight riders will most likely be looking at sub 25” wide SUPs. The two we reviewed, however, are more or less the bench mark sizes currently for UK paddlers and varied water states. With SUP racing as it currently stands in the UK, paddlers have to be prepared for all eventualities and conditions Mother Nature slings us.
With a degree of technique under your belt it’s possible to get these two boards going easily. You may be falling off, if you’re at the lower end of the skill spectrum, but you can get on and move for sure. Those with more experience will stand a better chance of eking out performance across both boards – which SUP is preferred comes down to individual tastes and many other factors.
We looked at as many paddler weights, abilities and styles as we could when testing the Beach Comps. Ultimately this gave a wider cross section of opinion and a better overall understanding of each board.
On water conditions
If you’re a SUP racer already, or planning on answering the call, then the UK’s changeable climate is an important factor. Certainly a handful of fortunate paddlers will have access to multiple tools for the job. Their racing can then be tuned for a variety of water states and weather scenarios. Most, however, don’t have this luxury and will need to choose their race sled based on what they feel is the average set of conditions they’ll face at most events. We’re often confronted with windy/wavey start lines, choppy race courses, flat water legs, downwind runs and everything else in between. We therefore tested the Beach Comps across as many different environments as possible (in the time we had to conduct the review) so as to get the broadest picture. We used three specific locations – an inland waterway, a sheltered harbour and open water venue.
Onto the water
At this point it’s worth mentioning a few general things about Nah Skwell’s gear. We’ve tested a raft of the brand’s kit and there are a few design traits permeating across the whole board range.
Secondary stability. To a total beginner, secondary stability won’t help a jot in terms of progressing. If you’re an advancing intermediate or above, then it’s worth taking this into consideration. When you jump aboard a Nah Skwell they can sometimes feel ‘tippy’ – relative to the size of the board. Give it a few seconds though and where you once perceived ending up in the drink Nah Swell’s secondary stability kicks in and corks you back up right. Secondary stability is great in race boards as it means, with a little practice, you can ‘rail’ the board over onto an edge and reduce the amount of contact with the water. This reduces drag and therefore increases efficiency which should equate to more speed.
Tracking. Race boards need to track well and by this we mean point and shoot. It’s no good eyeing up your goal point ahead and having the board meander off course. Some SUPs tend to ‘tail walk’ more than others. Nah Skwell’s Beach Comps have superior tracking when you’re stood in the sweet spot. For both the 25” and 27” this means having your big toes level with the front screw of the middle carry handle (based on an 85kg paddler). If you’re heavier or lighter, adjusting your stance accordingly will allow you to locate the board’s optimum trim (nose to tail).
Ultimately there needs to be enough of the Beach Comp’s arrow sharp nose engaged to effectively cut through chop/waves and displace liquid – this allows the board to glide efficiently. Too far forward and you bury the nose, which will slow you down. Too far back and the nose lifts, allowing wind underneath and hampering progress. Induced wind (the breeze caused by paddlers moving forward) will also have a negative effect if you’re stood too far back – this is known as windage. You will also increase ‘induced drag’ by over engaging the tail rocker (standing too far aft).
Trim. Some boards are noted for having good glide (momentum), while others turn well – the Holy Grail, especially in a race board, is to have both in one package. Keep in mind that all SUPs glide better with optimum trim. Trim refers to how you keep the board sat in the water. Some stand up paddle boards, for instance, prefer a completely flat trim, whereas the Beach Comps, as discussed, both require a degree of railing to achieve the optimum (this is based on paddling from the boards sweet spot).
The clever bit from a good designer is not just that they understand how to produce an ‘inherently fast and controllable shape’, but that the board quickly communicates the best trim for the changing conditions, to ensure every rider gets the best performance from it and themselves.
If you’re likely to be surfing or paddling downwind runs the board’s trim will change drastically as you’ll be on the tail (mainly) and manoeuvring from the back. And also keep in mind the ever fluctuating water conditions. You may have to keep altering your stance to compensate for fluctuations, so it’s nice when the board helps communicate this.
We used GPS during testing to determine how fast each of the boards was travelling during each session. Over a half mile course we paddled two lots of two laps alternating between moderate stroke rates and high stroke rates. Findings may change over different courses, such as technical long distance races.
On mirror flat inland water the 25” proved to be the podium winning design time and again. This may sound obvious, as there’s less board, but straight off the grid it shot away like a startled rabbit. As much as the 27” is an admirable performer on the flat, it simply isn’t a match for the 25” which averaged two knots quicker most of the time. Two equally weighted/skilled paddlers were pitted against each to assess this.
Worth considering is how much more engaging the 25” is to ride. However much quicker it was, all riders (even our feather weight 56kg SUPer) had to work at it to maintain optimum tracking and trim. While 25” paddlers were busting their backsides to redline they were also having a much harder job optimising each leg.
Fatigue set in earlier and tiredness ultimately leads to a lack of concentration. Towards the end of each drill 25” board paddlers were falling more frequently, backing off the power thrust or simply calling time out. Not being able to achieve a full power paddle stroke is also key to which board you’ll choose. If you’re concentrating on staying upright then you’re falling behind in a race.
In all instances weight didn’t really play a part. Instead it came more down to skill and having an arsenal of paddle strokes and paddle technique understanding. Our experienced heavy weight was much quicker on the 25”, with better paddling technique, compared to one of our middle weights who was riding the 27” but didn’t have as high a skill set.
However, we also noticed the more time less skilled paddlers spent on the water the more they improved and the quicker they got. This showed that with perseverance even nervous SUPers can make rapid headway with technical kit.
Sheltered choppy water
Moving testing to sheltered coastal waters proved insightful. With chop faced head on the heavier SUPers didn’t struggle as much as thought. What was glaringly obvious was how much slower the 25” was with a heavier paddler compared the 27” with a lighter rider.
This was mostly down to 80kg+ riders having to concentrate more on building momentum when heading into wind/chop. The 27” in comparison, while slower off the start, built momentum quicker and cut through flotsam with greater ease. When paddling across chop the 25”’s ride became even more engaging for the bigger boned individuals while the 27” shone.
All paddlers had to dig their blades deeper when thrusting into moderate chop/wind. This had many side effects the most significant being the trim of the board. Sometimes concentration on trim was lost in favour of putting pedal to the metal. During moderate stroke rates both boards actually trimmed better and were therefore more efficient through the water. Sometimes backing off the gas slightly, when riding a more technical SUP, it seems pays more dividends in the long run.
Moving to open sea and conditions racers are faced with can be almost anything. As such, if this is your normal racing environment then appropriate consideration needs to be given to wind, tide, current, chop and waves.
If there’s any surf kicking about then the 25” slices through the froth like a hot knife through butter. In comparison the 27” is slightly less efficient through the foam on the way out. The thing to consider here, however, is foot placement. Getting over waves requires the paddler stepping back – if you’re less than accurate the 27” is more forgiving. The 25”’s lighter weight nose also has a tendency to ping upwards as you hit each wave – the wider Nah Skwell can be easier to control for some.
When faced with rollers much the same traits as with sheltered choppy water come into play – until you head off downwind. At this point the 25” really revs. Able to pick up runners with ease, and surf them efficiently, it’s a joy on a downwind run. Obviously you have to be careful not to plough the nose into backs of swell, after all neither Beach Comp has extensive nose rocker. If you’re a confident downwind paddler then it’s the 25” all day. For not so confident paddlers the 27” works well, just not quite as efficiently.
When surfing waves it’s similar. If heading towards shore and the opportunity arises for dropping in it’s much more preferable to be on the narrower Beach Comp and have increased manoeuvrability. Paddlers need to be confident handling a big board in surf – the wider Beach Comp will allow slightly more margin for error. It’s also worth pointing out that both boards are durable considering their construction. This should be comforting when surf racing with multiple competitors in your space who may choose to ‘rub’ against your stick.
Smashing it head to head against fellow competitors is all well and good in a straight line. At some point though you’ll need to turn and/or go round a mark. With its narrower width the 25” whips round buoys like a rotor blade on a helicopter. However, get your feet muddled up or mess a paddle stroke and you’ll be in the drink. This applied to all paddlers who used the Beach Comp 25”.
Forward fin boxes mean pivoting is a tad easier with both boards as you don’t have to step back as far. But if you’re suffering from lack of technique we’d suggest sticking with the 27”.
Both Nah Skwell Beach Comp 12.6ft’s are a joy to paddle and race – if you have the experience and technique. The 25” is by far the superior board and with enough skill, across a host of different environments, will be your podium positioning SUP. The 27”, however, while certainly no slouch, will most likely appeal to the majority. Offering a slightly more relaxed ride it forgives dodgy technique a little more and allows SUPers to develop necessary skills for stepping down a size.
We’d also add that any board can be tuned. It’s important, especially if considering a race board for competition, that you use a top end paddle. Using a high spec board with rubbish blades simply won’t do you any favours. It’s also recommended that you give thought to and adopt a good paddling technique – this will also stand you in good stead.
Fins are also super important. While the supplied Nah Skwell fins worked well during testing, we also swapped these out with other models. In general, a narrower skeg profile increased the speed of the 27” by reducing drag. Stability issues were then far more prevalent but it was definitely quicker. We added a slight longer foil to the 25” and this actually helped with balance but did reduce top end speed.
Only by tweaking, experimenting and demoing will you find your ideal SUP race partner – and then it’s a matter of playing with your set up until the optimum is found. One man’s vinegar is another man’s wine.
To be a fast and efficient SUP racer you’ll not only need to be using high end technical kit – board, fin (or fins) and paddle – you’ll also need the skills to pilot such equipment efficiently. Everything you do on the water and every piece of kit you use will have a bearing on your overall speed. The more efficient you make your setup and the more technically proficient you become at paddling the better equipment you’ll be able to ride and therefore have a fighting chance at podiums.
This may sound obvious to the experienced but sometimes it’s good to have things confirmed. There’s still far too much emphasis placed on having the latest hi-tech feather weight board, and while this is true, there’s no accounting for paddling technique and your other SUP components working in harmony.
Price: £1449 for Full Carbon OSSC. 27” is also available in OSSE Wood Sandwich £1149