A review of the 14ft Elite MSL from Red Paddle Co
In the auto business they are called “halo cars”. These models are low volume, high performance versions of the regular models. Think Porsche 911 GT3, BMW M3 CSL or the Mercedes Benz AMG GTS. The Red Paddle Co 14 Elite is their version of a “halo car”. Like any top of the line sled, the specs are impressive: 14’x25” pintail shape, lightweight MSL construction, RSS system utilizing side battens for stiffness, Forward Flex Control system utilizing a carbon compression strut to add front end stiffness, nose runner fin for tracking. This all sounds great but there is a catch. Cars and SUPs that are built to go fast are usually pretty miserable to use when you want to just cruise around and enjoy the scenery. If you do prefer cars, take a look at this 1966 el camino.
Sure, they look great parked in the garage but you’ll definitely want something more practical to drive the family to the beach. Bottom line is the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite is not a full size SUV but a street legal race car.
Red Paddle Co claims that the 14 Elite is “ultimate inflatable race board” so I compared it with the same sized hardboard, my 14’x25” 2015 Starboard All-Star. Some might argue that’s an unfair comparison but in the past couple of years iSUPs have evolved to the point where the lines between inflatable and hard SUPs are starting to blur.
I disagree with some reviews that say top end speed is not that relevant for a racing SUP. They say it’s more about sustainable speed. Whatever. In a flatwater race, being able to attain a high-speed in the first 45 seconds can be the difference between making the lead draft train or getting left behind. It’s also just kind of cool to see how fast a board can go. I did three 30 second sprint efforts on the Starboard All-Star and the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite in calm conditions with a 3 mph tailwind. I wasn’t that surprised that I got the Starboard All-Star up to an 8.8 mph top speed, but I was really surprised to see that the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite maxed out at 8.1 mph. What I found helpful was to use the inherent flex of the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite to “pump” the board a bit during the power phase of the stroke. My All-Star has a bit of flex that Starboard claims can be used to generate speed so why not use this technique on the iSUP?
In F1 and Moto GP the engineers talk about how it’s all the little details that add up to big increases in performance. This is true for the Paddle Co 14 Elite. Starting with the light yet super strong MSL construction, the RSS (Rocker Stiffening System) battens, the Forward Flex Control system and finishing with the narrow pintail design makes this racing iSUP very fast. Like tequila, speed comes at a price and the price here is stability and maneuverability. Granted, 25 inches wide for a 14 ft race SUP isn’t that narrow these days. I’m amazed how the latest generation of hard racing SUP’s are getting extremely narrow but yet are more stable. This has to do with lowering the standing area and the new bottom contours and rails. Unfortunately, an iSUP can only take on a relatively basic and soft edged shape. At 5.9” thick, you feel pretty high off the water while paddling however, once up to speed the board does become more stable. I’m not a big guy at 5’8” 150 lbs and was pretty comfortable paddling in the flat water but it did feel a bit twitchy.
I do think this board would be very challenging for someone over 6’ or 180+lbs. For some perspective I had a couple of my recreational paddler friends take a spin on the board. Not surprisingly, they both came back to the beach pretty quickly. After securing my Garmin 78c GPS to the deck of the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite I headed out to the main channel in Marina del Rey. This is my usual flat water paddle workout and I know what kind of cruising speeds I would be doing on my All-Star. Looking at my current speed readout I was surprised to see how fast the board was moving. The speeds were slightly off what I would be doing on my All-Star but not by much. At first I thought the tide was coming in and helping me out but it was the same readout going both directions. I’d be curious to see direct side by side comparison in real-time.
Handling – flatwater
You better hope your local SUP race is on flatwater and doesn’t have many buoy turns because this bad boy just wants to go straight. Like a 1970s muscle car this iSUP loves going fast but hates turning. The big, thick tail on my All-Star makes buoy turns really easy. Conversely, the extreme pintail combined with the placement of the fin towards the rear makes the Red Paddle Co Elite a bear to turn. When I stepped back on the tail I wasn’t sure where the board ended and once back there the nose only slightly lifted out of the water. The other issue is that now you are standing on a little triangle of floatation while the majority of the board is above the water. And lastly, the swept back stock fin placement towards the tail makes the board even more difficult to turn. It would be an easy fix for Red Paddle Co to position the fin 8 inches forward on the board.
Handling – ocean
The thing about high performance halo cars (and iSUPs) is that they work great in their intended element but are miserable when the road (or ocean) gets bumpy. As I headed out of the flatwater confines of Marina del Rey and into the open ocean I thought I might be able to use this iSUP for the upcoming Rock to Rock race from Catalina to San Pedro. I’m part of a 3 man relay team of coworkers from REI Outdoor School. The swells right outside the harbor entrance are pretty big and I knew right away that this board would not work. The unstable feeling wasn’t so much that the board was narrow but more that it was riding so high in the water. It also seemed like all the great stiffening features that make this board so fast in the flatwater like RSS and FFC couldn’t handle the chop and swell of the ocean. After 1 mile into the swell I slowly turned the board around for my downwind run. Riding the swells back to the harbor was pretty challenging. I was hoping to be able to steer the board by stepping back towards the tail but the rearward fin and round rails made it really difficult to steer. If ocean touring is your thing I would recommend a different board.
Durability and portability
The thing I hate most about high-end, carbon fiber wrapped racing SUPs is how fragile they are. You would think that spending 3k+ on a board would mean that it could handle some abuse. One hit from another board during a race can put a crack in the rail and after the race you have to keep the board in the shade so the EPS foam inside doesn’t melt. This is where all iSUPs have a huge advantage. The other big advantage is that the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite can be folded up and stowed in the supplied backpack. I’m fortunate to have a garage to store my SUPs but if I didn’t have any space this would be a great option to have a legitimate 14 ft racing SUP. I think it would be really fun to travel to Europe with the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite and participate in races like the Euro Tour or the 11 City Tour in Holland.
Like with fast cars, all this speed comes at a cost. The Red Paddle Co 14 Elite retails at $1,799. This is still cheaper than a top of the line carbon race board but it’s still pretty steep for an iSUP. Included in the box are: Race fin, Red Paddle Co Backpack, Titan Pump, Repair Kit, US Fin box system, water-resistant phone case, RSS Battens, Forward Flex Control (FFC) Carbon Rod. If you have the “need for speed” that can be folded up and put into a backpack this iSUP might be worth it.
Both of these 14 ft racing SUPs have their advantages and disadvantages, but the great thing is that we are even at a point to really compare the performance of an iSUP to a hard SUP.
So the question is, would I choose the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite over the 14 ft Starboard All-Star to paddle in a race? The answer is probably no. Although the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite really impressed me with it’s speed I would still be at a slight disadvantage with the racers on hard boards. That said, I think it would be awesome if Red Paddle Co created a one design race series where all the participants would be paddling the same iSUP. I know Naish has something like this but all the races seem like they are located in far away places and honestly the Naish One iSUP is pretty weak. I would definitely recommend the Red Paddle Co 14 Elite for someone who wants to paddle for fitness or get into racing and can’t store or transport a hard SUP.
To learn more about the SUPs from Red Paddle Co, visit redpaddleco.com