Gear Review: The Sea Eagle HB96

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Lightweight, versatile and fun, the Sea Eagle HB96 is a compact inflatable SUP well suited for beginners to advanced paddlers. The HB96 is 9’6” x 32” x 6”, weighs a mere 23 lbs. and is intended for paddlers up to 175 lbs. Each inflatable board comes with a generously proportioned backpack, hand pump, and is constructed with 6” drop-stitch material for rigidity.

Inflatable board construction has come a long ways due in part to the tenure of companies such as Sea Eagle who have delivered a diverse range of inflatable watercraft to the market over the years. I had the opportunity to test and review one of the company’s HB96 model inflatable SUPs over the summer in a variety of locations throughout Southern California. While the locations and water conditions varied, one constant stood out no matter where I paddled the board. That of a distinct before and after effect in my interactions with surfers and other paddlers.

Before and After: Paddling the Sea Eagle HB96

Inflatable SUPs have been around for several years, but their use here on the West Coast is not particularly widespread. Consequently, I would consistently receive a fair amount of attention as I purposely hiked up wearing the large backpack, Quickblade Paddle in hand, and deploy the HB96. And by deploy I mean unpack, inflate, and slide on the removable plastic fins. “Is that an inflatable board?”, was a frequent question. “It sure is,” I would reply.

The Sea Eagle HB96 proved to be a great ice breaker. Everyone who witnessed my outings was curious at the onset and unequivocally impressed to see how the board performed on the water. Most importantly, they saw how much fun I was having on the board playing in the waves.

The board’s 32” width is more than sufficient to provide a stable platform for a wide range of paddlers. The HB96 has 4 inches of nose rocker enabling it to work well in small to medium surf and the incorporation of two side bites allow you to carve a bottom turn and manipulate the direction of the board when on a wave. It is fun. It is functional. And because it is inflatable you don’t have to worry about dinging the board or getting hit in the head in the same way you do with a hard board.

Back on land after paddling other paddlers and spectators would routinely come over and exclaim, “I saw you out on the water. That looked like a lot of fun.” I’d typically smile, talk to them about the board and use the opportunity to plug SUP Examiner. Seeing me drop into waves on an inflatable SUP caught a lot of attention and prompted the next most common phrase I’d hear, “I’ll have to look into getting one of those.”

Surfing San Onofre State Beach

A great benefit of having a small inflatable SUP such as the Sea Eagle HB96 is its transportability. The HB96’s 9’6” length means it is a lot quicker and easier to roll up and lighter to carry in the backpack. This makes the entire “I’m taking my inflatable SUP on a trip” experience much more appealing.

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The end of a good session in the waves.

This fall I took the HB96 with me to the campground on USMC Camp Pendleton where I stayed with a group of friends during the Pacific Paddle Games at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California. Two of my friends broke out their longboards for an evening surf session one day after returning from the PPG – the campground is located near a little known surf break called Trestles.

I pumped up the HB96 and paddled out to the lineup as the only stand up paddler on the water. Several other surfers paddled over and checked me out, or more specifically, checked out the board. “Is that inflatable?” they would ask. “Yep,” I’d respond with a smile. “That’s pretty cool,” several surfers commented as they bobbed up and down in their wet suits in the cool water while I darted around continuously in a pair of boardshorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

Best Use

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Inside the flat water confines of King Harbor, Redondo Beach, California.

Paddling to catch waves on the HB96 was no different from it is on a hard board. To be clear, this isn’t a high performance SUP along the lines of renowned California board makers such as Infinity. But if you are looking for something to toss out on the water for a fun session in mushy conditions, the Sea Eagle HB96 works pretty well and is a lot of fun. I used the board exclusively in the ocean, but it would also work well for anyone paddling on a lake or river – particularly lighter paddlers looking for an inflatable SUP that is quick and easy to use.

One feature of the backpack I found particularly useful compared to other inflatable SUPs I’ve tested was the full length zipper along the side of the backpack. Having the zipper allows you to fully open the backpack and lay it flat on the ground. This makes packing and unpacking the board much easier than if the only opening was via the top of the backpack.

Features on the Sea Eagle HB96

  • 6” drop-stitch construction
  • A deck mounted “paddle pocket” for securing your paddle should you desire. I found it to be useful as an easy way to carry the paddle to and from the water.
  • Three fin setup. The fins are plastic and can hold up to abuse from rock strikes and impact with solid objects. They also are not going to be easily damaged when placing your board “fins down” on land.
  • Front and rear carry handles. These are great for grabbing your board in the water and would likely work well for small children to hold onto if someone wanted to use the HB96 as a family board.
  • 14 PSI air pressure capacity. I would typically pump the board up to around 14-15 PSI and it was stiff as a board, pun intended.
  • Diamond texture deck pad with a kicktail for stepping back on when surfing.
  • Bungee system and four D-Rings for attaching an optional seat or other items, should you desire.

MSRP: $1,203

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