Stand up paddle boarding is currently surging forwards in popularity, mostly down to the cost-effectiveness and logistical ease of transporting inflatable versions. Air boards (or iSUPs) have proven to be extremely popular. It’s therefore no surprise that SUPs windy siblings would soon be looking to jump on the bandwagon.
Manufacturing a performance orientated blow-up windsurfing board, however, is possibly more headache inducing than pushing out SUP equivalents. There are many more forces at play with a speeding platform than with (in comparison) an idling SUP. That said, two brands – Starboard and RRD – have overcome the problem and are now actively retailing this kit.
Having laid hands on the latter’s Airwindsurf Freeride model I have to say I was dubious. As many will know from paddling inflatable SUPs the sensation of standing atop an air-filled platform is unique. Deflection (bend) occurs across all iSUPs no matter how much work has been done to increase the board’s rigidity. And then there’s the issue of the fin box where significant forces will no doubt be exerted.
Post pump up and I was pleasantly surprised. Utilising a hard release rubber edge, that stretches about two thirds of the way along the RRD’s rail, is a method employed for increasing rigidity and ensuring bite – especially when gybing. Having a reinforced Dyneema belt wrap around the board, with a couple of these running along the centre line (think stringers) further enhances the Airwindsurf’s stiffness. And then the fin box. RRD have put considerable time and effort into this, coming up with a performance oriented skeg holder that mirrors that of a hard windsurfing board. It truly is rock solid, allowing a standard freeride powerbox fin to be inserted.
There are a couple of quirks, such as the unique way the foot straps attach to the deck via d-rings. And the universal joint isn’t housed within a mast track, instead being fixed to one static sweet spot. This does limit tuning to conditions somewhat. All in though it’s an intriguing machine that definitely warrants further inspection if you’re keen.
With windfoiling (windsurf hydro foiling) currently stealing the lion’s share of windsurfing’s limelight many may miss the inflatable performance thing. It’s certainly a different kind of feeling when compared to your standard windsurfing sled. Yet it works. Early planing it has in spades and it’s a surprising smooth running experience. After some initial foot finding this is what anybody stepping aboard will discover. It’s important to ram in the correct amount of PSI, otherwise chop and swell do play havoc with the board. But when set up correctly RRD’s Airwindsurf Freeride inflatable windsurfing board is fun and fulfilling.
For anyone short of storage space – such as those living aboard boats or riders looking to travel on airlines with their gear – then a performance inflatable windsurf board could be the very thing you’re searching for. Combine it with one of the latest new school fold down compact rig packages and you have a set up that fits snuggly into luggage hold size bags that won’t incur excess freight charges. Stow in your yacht’s toy locker or transport to the beach in the boot of your car – the benefits offered by this gear are extensive.
With decent performance, including the usual jumping and gybing aptitude that many riders expect, an inflatable windy board could be exactly what you’re after. Who knows, your usual (more cumbersome) hard freeride windsurf board may end up gathering dust …
Tez Plavenieks is founding editor of Windsurfing UK, SUP Mag UK and Sitons.com. He regularly writes and creates action/water sports articles for a whole host of media outlets as well as testing/reviewing large quantities of watersports equipment.