Oh my God, this thing glides ! This will probably be the first thing that you think when you get your hands on one of these stand up paddle boards. I have moved up from a 12ft board and I was not expecting the extra 2 ft to make that much difference. How wrong can you be.
When you first get the board you are looking at something that resembles an oversized gun surfboard. It is 14ft long and 30 inches wide. At the thickest point it is 5 inches. The board comes with ten screw inserts, four of which have neoprene covered handles screwed in, there is plenty of options to pimp the board with water bottle carriers, GPS and cargo nets. The handles are on the front of the board, so the first thing I did was to move them to the mid section where I can use them to help put the board on the rack. The board has two leash plugs on the back, and hurrah, a carry handle that is actually in the right place. Well done Bark/Surftech. It comes with an 8 inch fin. At first we thought that was too small and we should put in a more specific distance fin in, but after messing around with a few different configurations (and hearing Simon cursing behind me as he caught every bit of sea weed going), we went back to the standard Surftech fin which seems to work fine, especially when picking up off shore running swells.
The board has been designed by legendary race/distance board designer Joe Bark, it was designed not so much as a race board, but as a board you can use to paddle to explore and to catch rolling swells. It has also recently won an award from Men's Journal and here is the marketing blurb from that :
"The 14 foot Bark Expedition was named 'Best Stand Up Paddleboard' in the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue of the Men's Journal. The 'Gear of the Year' issue awards top honors to the best outdoor products of 2009. Other 'Gear of the Year' honorees included notable brands such as Oakley, Canon, Rolex, BMW, Mountain Hardware and GoPro among other prestigious brands.
"We couldn't be happier with this honor." said the board's designer Joe Bark. "I worked with my top team guys here in California and in Hawaii testing out countless 14 foot boards over the course of more than a year until we found the magic formula. We were designing boards that would paddle well in flat, calm water and in rough, choppy seas. We had our guys test the boards in oily glass conditions as well as open ocean wind swells. This board far exceeded expectations in both conditions."
The first time I took the board out was with Neal Gent and Claire Blacklock, between us we have a Naish 14ft glide, an Imagine Eco 12ft trainer and the Bark Surftech 14ft. The first thing we all noticed was just how much glide the Bark has, it skims along with pretty minimal effort. I was using about 60% of max effort and Neal was using 90% to keep up.
The first session was straight out to sea for a mile and then straight back in as the wind was about 14knots onshore with an ugly short interval wind swell. The disadvantage of having a 14ft board and going straight into the wind with wind chop running was that the board slaps up and down and it is hard to get a rhythm going. I quickly realized that my feet were too far forward and I needed to move back, once I did that it started to calm the slapping down. It seemed to go OK into the wind, but as soon as we turned back to land on a downwinder with a running swell the board came into its own. Myself and Neal decided to race back in, I would say that Neal can beat me hands down in a race, but he could’nt catch the Bark. It is easy to keep this board at a decent speed, but as soon as you get a swell underneath it the board picks it up and shoots along. I found myself several times having to get into a surfing stance while still ¾ of a mile out to sea and gliding along on the waves at a fair pace.
Since that initial session I have taken the board on upwinds, downwinds and onto flat water. It just seems to be able to maintain speed during paddle transitions which means it is not such an effort to keep paddling. You need to rethink where you stand on a bigger board as depending on conditions you will need to be standing in a different place. To catch the unbroken swells I have found standing further forward to be helpful, once you have the wave you can step backwards or go to surfing stance depending on what the wave is doing. For upwind and cross wind standing slightly further back seems to help maintain the speed. It really seems to like going across the wind and does that very well, perhaps it is the slightly lower profile (the Naish 14ft Glide sits quite high in the water and gets blown off course a lot more easily than the Bark 14ft). We deliberately picked these boards for the English Channel crossing - we felt they offered a good compromise between speed and stability - so far it seems like a good choice. We managed to comfortably maintain an average 5 knot speed on a recent paddle so I think that this board may well have been a good choice.
Thanks to Paul from the Surf Commission for getting the board to us.
Here are the technical details:
Board Nose Width 12.375"
Board Width 29.25"
Board Tail Width 13.25"
Board Thick 5.1875"
Board Volume 235 ccm
Board Fin System Box
Board Shaper Joe Bark