Monday, January 28, 2008

ULI 11’ Stand Up Paddle Board

I have not been riding SUP’s for very long October 2007 to be honest, but I have been an enthusiastic surfer for the last 20 years, with varying degrees of success – some days I’m shite, some days I can do no wrong – the one thing I can’t be accused of is consistency.

Long boards have been my thing and I have amassed a fair old quiver over the years so it was an odd day when I first saw a couple of web articles on Stand Up Paddle Boards, odd because I just knew that it was for me. My son laughed long and hard when I told him – he said “Your getting old, fat and gay” old and fat I’ll give him. So I read every article that I could find and watched all the you tube videos posted and eventually scratched my new found itch with a Jimmy Lewis 11’ from Tim Mellors at the Longboard house in Newquay. Tim listened to me made a judgement and got it spot on, first session on the board and I was hooked – don’t think that I have been on the longboards since. Funnily anough I don't think he has either - says something when you consider he has been the British Longboard Champion on several occaisions!

With Charmaine's and my annual leave fast approaching 6th Jan 2008, and our trip to Mauritius looming (unfortunately out of their surf season), I began looking at the prospect of taking the SUP – except BA will now not accept surf boards – I have a Pope Bisect 9’ travel board but their SUP Trisect is not readily available and cost’s £1400 UK side – too much for me to justify having just bought the JL. Then I saw the Utube Videos of Clinton the ULI team rider beasting a blow up SUP –

and I began thinking !!!

I spoke to Jim Weir of ULI on the 31/12/07 and placed the order for their 11’ stand up paddle board. He sent Chris down to their local San Diego UPS office – no collections on New Years Eve and emailed me back within an hour or so with a shipping reference telling me that the board should get to me in three working days. It did! The box arrived on January 4th as promised – fantastic service – unbelievable. Jim if you ever read this you and your guys are to be congratulated - for anybody else ULI are obviously a company who care and can actually be bothered to do what it takes to make and keep a customer happy.

I unpacked the box and pumped the board up for the first time and was immediately impressed with the overall build quality of the board. This was no pimped up pool toy. The fabric of the board is exactly like the material that RIB’s (Inflatable rescue boats) are constructed from- it’s tough and it feels tough. In fact when pumped to the recommended pressure you would be hard pressed to tell that it’s an inflatable. It’s that good. The board is not light when compared to my Jimmy Lewis, however that is a very light board. The ULI weighs in about 36lbs – it’s not a big deal though.

The pump supplied with the ULI is a two stage (pumps both ways) stirrup pump that has three outlets, an inflation outlet, a deflation inlet and a clever little cap that when removed it changes the pumps function from two stage, fast inflation at lower pressures to single stage higher pressure pumping on the down stroke for ‘topping the board off’. The pump hose has a bayonet fitting on both ends one of which has a rubber seal that fits the board with a simple twist to fit action. The valve on the board has a push – push system. Push to open releasing the air, push to close to inflate – simple and foolproof. From taking the board out of the box to full inflation pressure 15psi took about 3 minutes and could not have been easier.

The three piece paddle fitted together easily, it was a little on the heavy side and a lot longer than I’m used to but I got on with it fine.

The deck of the board is covered with a rather fetching full length blue and white EVA deck grip. No need for wax – no complaint there. There are also two heavy, fabric stowing eyes that allow for the paddle to be attached down the centre of the board, making for easy carrying.

The inflation valve is at the front of the deck and covered with a grey cap.

The leash eye set in heavy fabric at the rear centre. The hull has three fibre glass stringer affairs, I would call them rubbing strakes. And three moulded thrusters style fins set into the zigzag patterned material.

The board is 11’ long by 29” wide by approx 4” thick and has an all up weight of 38 pounds, as I said not light compared to the Jimmy Lewis. the carry handle straps are a godsend! The overall shape of the board is not dissimilar to my JL. Spoon nose with squared off tail. The big difference is that the board is the same thickness from nose to tail with rails that are rounded, uniform and have zero ‘edge’. The board only has a slight rocker – these two factors suggest that it will have to be surfed off the tail – hence the thruster fin set up. Should plane easily though and paddle fast.

Overall my first ‘out of the water’ impression was of a decent bit of kit, slightly heavy but certainly not something to be ashamed of walking down the beach.

In the water for the first time was on 09/01/2008. Inside of the coral reef that surrounds most of Mauritius is a lagoon that varies between 200 and 600 metres from the beach to the reef, no waves and gin clear water with fantastic fish and corals. Generally the depth was no more than 8’.

Transporting the board to the beach was a doddle thanks to the paddle/handle system. Stepping or rather kneeling on the board for the first time was a bit odd, it was very easy on the knees. Standing was also strange as the board felt soft and slightly compliant, which of course it is. As rigid as the board feels out of the water there is a slight ‘memory’ underfoot, difficult to describe but most noticeable when trying (I am still trying) to shuffle my feet about the deck. It fractionally stays with my feet like a slight delay in letting go. Odd at first messing with your balance slightly but quickly accommodated.
To be fair I am a bit of a fat boy at 90kilos 198 lbs and feel a bit of flex in my longboards at times – the difference is that my longboards feel steely springy the ULI feels compliant, spongy is too ergh spongy – if that makes sense.

Paddling, the board seems to fly I would guess because of the long water line due to the slight rocker, although there is enough rocker to keep the board in a straight line by weighting the rail closest to the paddle stroke and by using a slight ‘j’ stroke. After a few days I found myself having to make a conscious effort to paddle both sides in order to avoid favouring my dominant left side. Acceleration from standstill is a little slower than my JL, this I would think due to the weight difference, but once under way I could maintain a decent paddle speed with minimal effort. In fact subsequently when on my JL it seems to paddle a bit on the slow side - again I'm talking about full speed paddling not acceleration from rest.

The wave on the reef was initially about 4 – 5’ breaking very fast into 12” – 18” of coral carpeted with billions of black urchins.

I am not the bravest of people and as I get older I have more than enough trouble dealing with the existing holes in my body so I was not too inclined to risk adding to them, however I caught a few small waves that made it past the reef. These were enough to tell me that the ULI wanted a bit more speed in order to ‘tighten up’ and that it needed to be weighted well back to avoid pearling. Practising some ‘sschweet’ footwork over sand the board seemed quite loose off the tail. I have still got the original 13” Fin osaurus Rex in the JL at home and that seems sluggish to turn on the spot compared to the ULI. I can't wait to try it in some proper waves when I get back.

And that sort of sums the board up really. The ULI is convenient, well made, good looking, and very usable. Its tough too – I have been on the board in mainly flat water for 2-3 hours a day for 10 days. I have paddled for up to 4 miles in a single session, I have cruised the lagoons, arsed about and run it up the coral beach and the board still looks great with barely a mark on it. I love it, so much so that if ULI brought out an improved model I would not hesitate to buy that. I just can not recommend it highly enough.

Don’t forget, importing one to the UK will get you clobbered by customs for import and various other taxes including Vat duty not only on the goods BUT THE CARRIAGE AS WELL.

Still, a bargain I reckon and worth every penny. Now I wonder if I could hire it out at £100 a week?


stoneaxe said...

Between steamroller's vids and your endorsement I want a Uli. I wish they were sending one to brother Bill's board and paddle showcase. I'd love to try one. Great to have a travel board and an indestructable one for friends to try.

I'm headed for Maui in 3 days....stoke so high I'm having trouble sleeping....30 boards to test...going to be a blast.

yugga said...

Ive finally picked up a custard point isup 8 11 by 32 and sold my narrower 10 footer. Aparrently super stable and surfable. Hoping its close to the munoz in performance. Will let you know as soon as theres any swell.

derren aka yugga from the forum

csx355 said...

Hi Derren - thanks for stopping by, shorter boards are a blast, loads better to surf. The ULI guys were tearing it up on their FAT ASS QUADS which are 33" wide and stable as a house, I'm sure that you will love it.

IMHO the Munoz is in a different league, I couldn't describe it as stable as it's less than 30" wide and has super pulled in nose and tail, in fact it can be hard work in chop but what a surfboard. A keeper for me, shame they never made it into full production.

yugga said...

Nice pics at playa guiones. Wheres that? Cape Verde? Looking good for this weekend either channel coast or wales.

I'll let you know how it goes. This video of the red air 9 6 looks nice. Cracking spot in new zealand. Seems a bit of a rip off of the fat ass. Its wide and quad finned. Just a smigen longer.

csx355 said...

The new pics were taken further North than Playa Guiones although there are some offshore reefs at Guiones. It was a brilliant early morning session that the three of us had, this was when we saw Humpbacks breaching in the distance.

You have got to feel for ULI - those guys have put heart and soul into the whole inflatable concept when no one else even had a clue or sneered at the idea. Now everyone wants a piece of the action. Still see that they are the only ones using stringers top and bottom. They can also customise boards individually for you. My FAQ has extra tie down rings so I can fit a fishing box on it.

yugga said...

Yes, but where in the world is Playa Guiones? :-)

Yes and no for ULI. Hats off to them for being innovators. However I think their big mistake was making the Boards so unaffordable, and making the things so hard to get hold of out of the US. Their marketing seems quite poor. Not much web presence or retail outlets. Im sure they can survive though and competition is healthy especially for us the end users who want choice and value.

csx355 said...

Playa Guiones is on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Near Nosara.

I'm not sure that ULI have made a mistake - most inflatables are now coming in to the end user direct from the Asian manufacturers (via a distributor).

These boards are as they left the factory. For Uli it's just the start of a re-manufacturing process. Think of them as the custom inflatable option. A lot of finishing goes into the boards by them once the basic bladder has been made. They can also customise rocker and fittings etc, plus there pumps always seem to be top notch. This may not be needed by some users but IMO it creates a better product and commands higher resale values. 'Value' is more than just cheapest price. ULI service is first rate I have had boards sent from the States, duty paid and customs cleared in four or five days - that's pretty good.

I have to admit that I am a committed ULIfile - the guys are the nicest people who have built up a fanatically loyal following through nothing other than good products and decent service.

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Mike Chirlston said...

Hi, Nice article with some great information. I also prefer a longer board as it gives me more stability (I'm tall). I do have to wax mine regularly so I do like the idea of a board which doesn't need this doing. Thanks, Mike.

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