Words and pics: Simon Hatfield
Simon Hatfield is a long haul airline pilot with his regular destinations being the Caribbean and California – to name check some. Growing up dinghy sailing Simon’s not blind to the watery opportunities he’s gifted during ‘work’ hours. With a little paddling experience under his belt he was keen to get more of a handle on inflatable SUPs and determine whether stand up could be woven into his work routine. Over to Simon…
My SUP surf experience equates to some flat water flapping around and ‘surfing’ ripples the size of, well, ripples – plus varying attempts to surf Bondi/Manly/Cornwall. However I am lucky that my job as a pilot takes me to places where warm water and ripples are plentiful.
The next issue is availability of kit, which is where the iSUP comes in – the dual benefits of no exorbitant hire costs and ‘have kit will go’ convenience, as we often arrive ‘out of hours’ and stay for less than 24 hours. So here we are: a Vandal 10.7ft Free (check the review here) and Aqua Inc three piece paddle, plus a few nights in St Lucia.
First observations at Gatwick – kit is pretty light – albeit the bright orange paddle protruding from my flight bag elicited some comment. I carried the three piece with me even though it would have fitted in the board bag, just in case…
0600 pump up – easy to use and 15psi was stiffer than I anticipated – pumped up in hotel room to avoid leaving kit on beach. I’d started to inflate the board the night before to give me a head start. I must have looked a bit ‘Benny Hill’ trying to manoeuvre down the stairs of the hotel though. I got quite adept by the end of the four days.
On the water, with the addition of my 12 stone, it was still solid as a rock- well the board was, I was wobbling like Marty McFly on a hover board! I quickly established that it was just my old man legs combined with a gap of six months since my last paddle. The 10.7ft was lovely and stable, and glided nicely on the early morning flat calm.
The Aqua Inc paddle is a thing of beauty. It felt a little heavy at the bottom when carried but was nicely balanced on the water – the smooth finish initially felt a little slippery but actually was very comfortable for my paddle round Rodney Bay.
So session number one? Stunning. I really liked this board and all the comments from passers by were mainly of the ‘no way is that inflatable’ variety.
No early morning paddle. Instead I had a Piton (local beer) induced lie-in and then watched the rugby. Mid-afternoon I headed off for a three mile SUP around Pigeon Island. The water was fairly flat and my kit comfortable for ‘distance’ cruising. The paddle’s smooth design was very kind on the irregular driver’s soft hands (note to self: remove all sun cream from hands, as slippery as an eel otherwise).
The board also got used by some colleagues and their families, all newbies or at least inexperienced paddlers from eight years old to vintage adults. They all found the board stable and enjoyed it immensely, from someone’s first time standing on water to ‘dad and son’ time – with dad driving.
There was no need to re-inflate, as the pressure remained good. This day brought windier conditions but still no more than wavelets and no surf; the bay is a famous mooring place for a reason. Stability was good downwind but it was noticeably harder to keep straight coming back into wind – maybe just inexperience showing. It was a good workout nonetheless. Bingo wings were now wings of steel after three days paddling (well, a couple of hours each day…).
This morning brought the same conditions as previous; 10-15 knots offshore, mid-thirties temperature and small wavelets – so I just had a general float around. Then, with a heavy heart, it was time to deflate and pack everything away. It was as easy as that.
Both the board and paddle are beautifully made and aesthetically pleasing, eliciting much admiration. And if I’d had a Piton beer for every comment about the board being inflatable, I’d have had plenty of hangovers.
So my first experience of iSUP travel? Much better than expected! It does exactly what it says on the tin – and more. Its portability is great for air travel; no extra charges, easy to manoeuvre throughout the travel part, easy to set up and, most importantly, a fantastic board with great usability – well, as far as the flat conditions of Rodney Bay proved.
More generally, having the full use of a board rather than the usual hourly hire obviously meant lots more SUPing. The fitness benefits are well known, I’m sure, to the experienced, but for newbies or the occasional like me, it really brought home what a great fitness tool SUP can be. Even before you consider the absolute joy of gliding along, exploring the coast from an amazing vantage point. I refuse to go to a beach again without one.
Next up: Antigua (sucks to be you! – Ed).