I first saw a SUP about 5 years ago whilst stood on Brighton pier. I won't lie to you, my first thought was "Why's that idiot paddling a surfboard?" shortly followed by "Where did he even get a paddle that long?". Fast forward a few years and SUPing has become massive in this country, and I found myself giving it a go for the first time in a swimming pool on a SUP fitness session. I was immediately hooked.
After mastering the basics and the balance on the flat water over the next couple of weeks, I decided to try surfing. Two fantastically fun hours later, I hadn't quite managed to catch and surf a wave all the way to shore, without assistance and with a paddle. It was time to head in, but I didn't want to stop. I was having far too much fun, and I hadn't accomplished my target yet. So whilst the rest of the guys headed to the beach for a BBQ, I turned and headed back out.
Floating out back I looked over my shoulder and spotted the next wave. I jumped up and started to paddle, trying to match the speed of the wave. Feeling the board rise up underneath me I knew the wave was picking me up. I knew what I had to do: keep paddling, move your weight to the front of the board, don't miss this wave. The board accelerated. I had caught the wave. Now it was just a matter of controlling the surf. Don't let the front go under water, step back. Keep your knees bent, chin up, smile. The smile was involuntary, grinning from ear to ear, whooping and cheering as I felt like I was flying towards the shore. My friends on the beach turned and cheered and clapped as they saw me surfing in to join them. I knew this exhilaration, the same you get after running that hard rapid. It was suddenly so apparent why people loved this sport so much. The opportunities were endless.
About 18 months on from that moment, I can say I have been lucky enough to teach SUPing in all different forms, from flat water fun sessions, to surfing and fitness sessions, but there has been one big question for me... which board do I buy? For all this time, I have managed to get by borrowing various boards from friends and companies I work for, but now I want to buy my own board, so how do I choose?
SUPing is as diverse as kayaking or canoeing and can take you to as many different places and into as many different disciplines as you like. As with kayaking, with every discipline or purpose for your board, comes a subtle difference in design. These differences are even less noticeable from a beginner's point of view in SUPs than in kayaks.
So what board will I buy?
In short; the C4 Waterman XXL iSUP
That's a bit harder to answer in so few words! Here are the considerations I made:
Hard board vs Inflatable?
Hard boards undoubtedly perform better in all environments I've used them in. However, I already have 3 kayaks, have a 2 door car, and live in a flat. Storage is an issue, as is transport. I could easily put the board on the roof, but is it worth in when you can just pop the bag in the boot? For me, it isn't (for now anyway).
Maybe in a few years if I have more storage space and can afford more boards, I will invest in a hard board (or 3!). For now, being able to pack everything (including the board, paddle, pump and repair kit) into a bag is much more practical.
The difference I've found from the C4 Waterman boards is that the performance of their inflatable boards is much closer a hard board than with most manufacturers. This is (I believe) due to the fact that you can inflate them to a higher PSI (up to 17 PSI). This pressure makes them the most rigid inflatable board I've paddled to date. These pressures are achievable by C4 Waterman due to the fact that unlike most brands (who glue the seams), the seams on C4 Watermans are stitched and then glued.
One of the considerations I made when considering which board I wanted was the durability. I am renowned for being able to break any piece of kit you give me to test! So when I buy anything paddle related now, it needs to be tough! The C4 Watermans feel tough. I know this isn't a very scientific test, but I think you'll know what I mean when I say you can often feel how tough or hardwearing a material is. In C4 Waterman's words all their boards are made from: "heavy-duty, military-grade, double-wall PVC material."
This again is one of the reasons I chose an inflatable over a hard board, I believe I could reduce a hard board to splinters when I take it on whitewater whereas I can happily bounce an inflatable off the rocks with less worry!
Ultimately, this was the deciding factor for me. I wanted a board I could use to teach on flat water, for fun, fitness and yoga sessions but also something that could surf and take on whitewater, all in one board (I don't ask for much!). I also wanted something that I could lend friends and family to get them into the sport.
The C4 Water XXL 10'8" iSUP ticked all of the boxes. A big, stable board that's at home whether you're cruising around the flat sea watching the sun set, running rapids, surfing waves or letting your little cousins try and all stand on it together! And all in a package you can pop straight in the boot of any car...
The C4 Waterman is available in the UK from Canoe and Kayak Store
And more information is available from
Oli Kershaw - Owner and Head Coach at Next Level
As somebody who is lucky enough to spend most days on the water and try lots of different pieces of kit, I find myself being asked my opinion on one piece of kit or another most days. Recently I was asked by a paddler on one of our courses why I didn't write down what I had learnt about various pieces of kit so that it was accessible to more people. This is where the idea of a Next Level blog came from. Whenever I can find time, I will be writing about all things paddling! Please feel free to share posts and comment on them, and if there are any topics you would like me to write about, please just ask!