By Helen Nightingale
The Nitro is Bluefin’s new inflatable race board and comes in a package with everything needed to get started, including a fin and paddle. At 14’ in length and 28” wide, it’s perfectly placed for those wanting to start racing or perhaps cover greater distances on day trips.
My first impressions were that the board came well shipped, with most items wrapped in brown paper. Well done, Bluefin. The board, paddle and fin are stylish and designed to go together. The paddle blade is quite unusual, which may cause confusion over the front and back. A bonus point was a picture showing which way around to hold the paddle. I was also pleased to see a US fin box and removable fin because I like to change fins according to the type of race and water conditions.
One negative was that no QR waist leash or information on when one should be used was supplied. However, the ankle attachment supplied was perfectly usable on my own QR belt. The bag felt flimsy and cheaper than others but appeared reasonably water-resistant and easy to clean. The bag is the same size as for smaller models in the range, and it wasn’t as easy to get the board back in the bag as it could be. The fin is large compared to my other race fins and felt plasticky and heavy. However, it is more likely to withstand use in shallow waters or hitting submerged tree roots than carbon fins.
The pump is very compact, but with a double chamber and three settings, it is effective and of nice quality. However, with it being so compact, it took more work to pump the board up compared with taller pumps.
On first trying the board, I used all the standard kit supplied with the package. However, the waterproof phone pouch supplied fell apart on taking it out of the packaging when still in the car park. It was brilliant to supply one, but the quality made me nervous about taking it on the water. I am small, 5’0 and around 57kg. The maximum rider weight for this board is 190kg, so as I do with other boards, I pumped to the minimum recommended PSI.
The board did not feel stiff, especially on moving around on it. It felt much firmer and handled better when pumping up to max recommended PSI. The board felt stable, comfortable underfoot, and tracked well.
The supplied paddle felt heavy, and the blade shape needed to be more intuitive to get a good catch. The blade felt thick and heavy, and the pins holding the shaft at the right height felt clumsy and cheaply built. The paddle felt entry-level and more for all-rounder use than racing. An adjustable paddle is ideal for starting out, so you can shorten it as your technique improves, so this is a plus. On changing the paddle from one side to the other, forward momentum noticeably slowed. As I was paddling on still, flat water with no obstructions, I tried out the ankle leash. The ankle strap was the comfiest one I had tried.
I was keen to test a variety of my race kits instead of the packaged ones. Maintaining momentum and comfort was improved by swapping out to a more standard-shaped and significantly lighter race paddle. I have a selection of Starboard and Black Project US box fins, plus a flexible plastic river fin. Only the river fin fitted, but it did fit well. I often train on a river fin, so I used this. The board still felt nicely stable on the smaller fin, and I was pleased with my 2km time trial for a reasonably priced inflatable.
Towards the rear of the board is a rear arch bar in the centreline. This makes it easy to get your feet central while moving to the back of the board. Aside from the arch bar, the board’s surface is all the same. Some boards have texture changes or small gaps in the tread, making it easier to tell how far back you have stepped compared to this model. Behind the arch bar is the air valve and then the carry handle at the far back of the board. The air valve sits exactly where my foot falls on step back turns. Although it means I know exactly where my foot is on the board, it wasn’t comfortable and was distracting on buoy turns when trying to concentrate on dodging other racers. Despite this niggle, the board felt stable while moving back and forwards and nicely non-tippy while turning. The coiled leash stayed well out of my feet while at the back of the board.
I’ve raced the Nitro at club level and greatly enjoyed it. Most of the field were racing hard boards, so there was no equal comparison. It paddled relatively slowly over distance, and it was harder to maintain speed than I am used to on narrower/hard boards. I was very impressed with how well the Nitro performed at the start. I had no worries about losing balance in the chop, and I was even more impressed with how the board handled in a sprint race in a tight pack. It was more stable and faster than I expected.
This was a super fun board for recreational paddling and racing at entry level. It was wide and stable enough for friends to be happy to have a try on. I would happily use it for events like the Trent 100, especially with the board having bungees for carrying essential kit. It would also be great in GBSUP challenge events and divisional club racing. Quality does seem lower than other inflatable race boards, but the price tag is more affordable. I would prefer more of the price to have been invested into board quality and a true US fin box above providing a paddle, fin and other accessories, which is where quality appears to fall. I will certainly choose to enter fun races with the Nitro and my own paddle but stick to a skinnier hard board for more competitive events.