Recap of the Saratoga Paddlefest
The MountainMan Paddlefests are the only try-and-buy paddling events in the entire northeast. It’s a growing show in the New York State Capital and Adirondack regions. Rain unfortunately had threatened the event all week. When I arrived early with my father-in-law, Wolfgang, the rain had stopped but the organizers were rushing to do a day’s setup in a couple of hours! But by the time 9AM arrived, everyone was ready. Candy-colored kayaks, stately canoes, and high-tech SUPs were everywhere. These were mixed in with folding campers, tents, and all sorts of gear vendors. There was even an Italian ice stand ready with sweet treats.
The Saratoga Paddlefest was the smaller of the two events, the larger one being the Adirondack Paddlefest which is on May 19–21 in Old Forge, NY. While kayaks and canoes certainly dominated, there was still a lot of SUPing to be investigated. All the watercraft stands were located on the banks of Fish Creek, which was a great if you wanted to try something out. MountainMan also had dozens of their own boats out for people to try. Despite the lower turnout, there were always people on the water.
I started with James Donovan from C4 Waterman. This brand doesn’t have much penetration in my neck of the woods, so I was glad to check out his stable of boards. James was very generous with his time and knowledge. He even let me inflate one of his boards, which was fun (but a little tiring). C4 is owned by Wenonah Canoe, so paddle boards aren’t the only product this company sells. To prove the point, after I spent some time on a couple of his SUPs, he let me have some fun in a kayak. (Which I almost tipped. Twice.) I was impressed especially with the C4 inflatables, which seemed like sophisticated designs that aren’t a step down for an experienced paddler.
After that I traveled over to Bic which had the biggest penetration in the show. Not surprising. Bic is the most popular brand for sale in my neck of the woods according to my unscientific observation. There’s a good reason for it too. Bic’s boards are designed for the beginner, and unlike compares that might have a couple of beginner all-arounds, Bic has a variety of sizes and constructions that accommodate almost every rider. Are they heavy and awkward for an advanced paddler? Perhaps, but the advanced paddler isn’t Bic’s main market. Sales rep Mike MacDonald described that they create a solid board, even more solid with their Tough-Tech construction, and sell it at a very competitive price.
My last stop was with Jim Kaiser at Boardworks. He was showing off three of his models: the Raven, the SuperSport, and the B-Ray. The last board is a soft top designed for beginner paddlers, but it was nice to see that alongside some real cruisers. As you can see in the reviews, their boards are a lot of fun.
What I found interesting about a show like this is that here, unlike on the West Coast, SUP really is still a second-fiddle sport. Most watersports enthusiasts have tried it, but even when you do see a standup paddler, they are usually a beginner on a first board. Mountain country, and the northeast in general, is kayak and canoe country. That said, people were very interested in standup paddling, and even low-end companies like Pelican were showing off their second generation of SUPs. My father-in-law, I’m happy to say, enjoyed the show almost as much as I did. (He even got ready to actually buy a new watercraft, a Slipstream canoe. Oh well, you can’t convert everybody.)
That said, if you’re in the northeast, consider going to one of MountainMan’s shows. They’re a lot of fun, and who could pass up the opportunity to paddle all sorts of different boards? If you can’t make the Old Forge Paddlefest, there’s the New York SUP Fests on July 16 and 17. These guys put on a nice event, so go and support New York standup paddling.
Mini reviews at the Saratoga Paddlefest
C4 Waterman iSUP BK Pro 10’9”
I don’t have much experience with inflatables, but I wouldn’t mind getting more with the BK Pro 10’9”. After having the chance to pump it up, I was struck with how hard the board felt under my feet. Sure there was a little give, but not so much that you’d notice with normal paddling. The board was responsive and directional, which I attribute a lot to the three fins at the tail. When I cranked down on the paddling, the board went straight ahead and took everything I gave it. It turned easily, even pivot turns without a fuss. I brought this board back to shore with a smile. What a fun ride!
C4 Waterman Pono 12’6”
I spent more time talking about this touring board with James Donovan the C4 rep than any other that I rode at Paddlefest. He pointed out the large amount of rocker on this touring board, which was interesting, but didn’t make a real impact until I was on the water. After giving it
my standard flatwater stroke, it realized this board liked to turn, a lot. It made me adjust my stroke. Instead of cranking down on the power, I had to stand up straighter and take it easier. Then the board was a different board, responsive and easy to manage. Afterwards James and I discussed that the board was designed not for high speeds but for meandering touring. It would be a good board for that, and I suspect that added rocker would be great for chop or even downwinding.
Bic 11’ Cross Adventure
I was interested in this board because of its toughness. I also liked the semi-displacement nose. The board paddled well in a straight line, but it was a bit slower than I expected. I have a lot of experience on all-arounders, and that nose should have given a little extra speed. The board was stable as anything, and I still got a comment from a supervisor on a kayak (after I had wandered out of bounds of the test area) that he had trouble catching up to me. If you were a beginner and were looking to have one board for flatwater, this is a good choice. It has tie-downs and great stability in a durable package. The new graphics look sharp too. Just don’t expect to win any races on it.
Bic Sport SUP Air 10’6”
This is last year’s inflatable SUP, and I kind of understood why. Bic’s SUPs have a consistent quality to them They may not be fast or sexy, but they’re well designed. I haven’t had much time on inflatables, but this model didn’t feel great. Perhaps it had been under inflated, but the board was mushy under my feet. I was a little like standing on a water bed. It paddled okay, but during a pivot turn I fell in. Not that I’m above a fall every now and then, but it was one of those falls that just takes you by surprise. A minute later I fell to the deck because of the board jiggling. Especially after riding that terrific C4 inflatable, this board was a disappointment. It had a toyish quality which I don’t expect from Bic. I’m glad to see this was last year’s model. The new ones look thinner and stiffer, and I imagine will be better rides.
Boardworks Raven 12’6”
I almost bought one of these a few years ago. This flat, wide touring board is a perfect first flatwater board. It’s stable and easy to paddle with wide deck areas to carry gear. The Raven was more fun to paddle than I expected. It pivot turned and slalomed nicely around some channel buoys. The Raven has been around for a while, and I can see why. This is a great board to spend a day on. The flat design probably makes it better for inland waterways and just light chop, but those are the conditions most people want to paddle in. If you’re looking for a great board that can take you, or you and a kid (or dog), look no further.
Boardworks Supersport 12’6”
If there was any board I wanted to take home, it would be this one. Instead of having a huge amount of primary stability like the Raven, it allowed for some rock, giving me a chance to put on some power. I’d be lying if I didn’t love paddling it. It took whatever stroke I threw at it and wanted more. Like most boards of this type, it has four tie-downs for water, shoes, or a bag. Any more would be a disservice to this workout machine. This isn’t a strict racing hull, but it would hold its own in any normal race. While the 12’6” racing class isn’t nearly as popular as its bigger brother, this board might convert a few people.