In the short history of modern SUP design, most racing boards were designed like sharp-edged destroyers that sliced through the water. The idea is for the bow to pierce through the water and then for the water to flow around the sides of the board. This displacement hull type of design maximizes the water line to increase speed. The truth is that this formula, in theory, is correct. On perfectly calm, flat water a displacement board is indeed the fastest.
The reality is that most people are paddling in mixed conditions where the sharp nose of the board will be pushed around by any kind of chop or swell. Even in flat water races, all the paddlers wakes churn up the water into a washing machine effect that can make a displacement board difficult to control. When I first started SUP racing on a displacement board I would inadvertently go careening towards other racers after being caught up in a wake. Sorry to anyone that I’ve bumped into in the past.
One board to rule them all
Fortunately board makers wised up and started incorporating design features from a downwind/open ocean board and a flatwater board to create a racing SUP that is fast in the open ocean and the flatwater. This is where the NSP Puma Pro comes in. In the NSP lineup it sits between the pure flatwater Ninja Pro and open ocean, dugout Sonic Pro. I was pretty excited (and a little intimidated) that the board NSP lent me was pro paddler Titouan Puyo’s race board. I’ve seen how Titouan can paddle this 14’ x 23.5” board in the surf and hoped I could do it justice. Unlike Titouan, I’m kind of old, kind of short and don’t have much hair so I didn’t need to worry about anyone mistaking me for him out on the water. My goal was to see if indeed the NSP Puma Pro was really a “one board quiver” racing SUP.
At the Malibu Pier. Photo: Ian Clampett
Design: NSP Puma
The NSP Puma is what I call a “2nd generation” racing SUP. Other boards in this class are the Starboard All Star, Infinity Blackfish and Naish Maliko. The formula is to start with a large volume, rounded nose that lifts over the water instead of through it. This eliminates issues with pearling while downwinding or surfing and helps catch bumps and waves. Next is the advanced rocker line and bottom shape. NSP has been using a rounded bottom design for some time. They call this the “rolled hull”. This shape is good for getting the board to lift out of the water while at speed however it’s inherently unstable (imagine standing up in a canoe).
At first glance there appears to be a concave carved along the bottom. Upon closer inspection I noticed bottom isn’t concave but flat. The chamfered rails add the perception of a concave. One drawback of raising the nose out of the water is that the board loses 6”-8” of waterline and therefore speed. To get that speed back these 2nd generation boards have become narrower. Not too long ago narrow racing boards were really unstable but now a modern 24” wide board feels like a 26” wide board of 4 years ago. I was a little concerned about the stability of the 23.5” wide NSP Puma Pro but after a few minutes of paddling it was not an issue.
Moving to the tail, the NSP Puma Pro has a rounded pintail shape that makes buoy turns a little more challenging but really helps with riding bumps in the open ocean. The last feature that makes this board so versatile is the flat deck. The rails are slightly raised around the standing area but the rest of the deck is flat back to the tail.
The NSP Puma Pro is really light at 22lbs. I was concerned about this having witnessed other lightweight racing SUPs literally crack under pressure. NSP has created a construction technique they call “Elite Pro Carbon Technology”. The EPS foam shape is wrapped in different layers of carbon fiber and fiberglass with a PVC reinforced deck. The nose and tail area are also reinforced with Carbon Inegra. This all comes together using NSP’s unique vacuum construction. What matters to me is that this is one strong and light 14’ racing SUP. Extra features include a FCS mount for a GoPro and 5 different places along the deck to mount handles.
Flatwater performance. Photo: Ian Clampett
I wanted to compare the NSP Puma Pro with a similar board and my 2017 Starboard All Star 14’ x 24.5” fit the bill. On a perfectly calm morning at Marina del Rey Mother’s Beach I tested each board in an all out sprint for 30 seconds. Each board had the stock fin set up.
I did 3 runs with each board starting with the NSP Puma Pro. The 30 second sprint was to simulate a flat water race start. With all these 2nd generation boards there is a lot of splash coming off the nose due to rounded shape. For me this splashing makes it look like the board is going slower than it actually is. It was easy to get the NSP Puma Pro up to top speed pretty quickly. I credit this due to the low weight of 22lbs and narrow width. After 3 runs on the NSP Puma Pro my top speed achieved was 8.1mph. The board felt fast but I was surprised that I couldn’t get it over 8.1mph.
I then took out the 14×24.5 Starboard All Star for 3 30 second sprints. Because the All Star has so much more volume than the NSP Puma Pro (309L vs. 264L) it feels like you’re really on top of the water. I’m not sure what is better but the each board feels really different while paddling at max effort. My top speed on the All Star was 8.4mph. Now .3mph top speed difference isn’t much but it could be if you are sprinting for the finish line. Once back at home I analyzed my GPS data on Strava and confirmed that on each 30 second run I was able to go slightly faster on the All Star. This could be due to that I’m used to my regular board.
I then took the NSP Puma Pro out for a 2 mile tempo paddle (around 80% effort). The board tracked straight and I felt it was gliding well between strokes. I was averaging 5.8mph-6.1mph which is similar to my All Star.
Surfing in Malibu. Photo: Ian Clampett
Open ocean and surfing
I decided to test out how the board worked in the surf and open ocean at the famous Malibu Surfrider beach. This is where Miki Dorra defined modern surfing in the 60’s and where Laird Hamilton shot the Malibu pier on a SUP during the massive swell in the summer of 2014. It’s also the place where the crowds can be really thick. Sometimes.
I paddled out on an early February morning where the waves were 1-2 feet with a just a few other surfers. This is the playground of the NSP Puma Pro. While the prone surfers sat on the inside waiting for a wave to break I was able to catch the smallest bump on the outside. Once riding on the wave the NSP Puma Pro felt great. Of course I can’t do any big maneuvers on a 14’ racing SUP but I was able to move the board around on the wave to stay in the sweet spot. This “surfabilty” is due to the rounded rails in the front part of the board becoming sharper at the tail.
After my surf session I headed out into the open ocean. Even with a little west swell combining with some reflection off the beach the 23.5” wide NSP Puma Pro felt really stable. The key I found was to just trust the board. Because of the rounded hull the board doesn’t have great primary stability. Meaning it rocks from side to side. However, the board has good secondary stability. That means that at a certain point the board will catch and stop rolling (and not tip all the way over).
So, as you’re paddling in the ocean you need to just let board do what it wants and not fight it. The other key is to keep the speed up. This is not the kind of board you want to stop and go fishing. Keep in mind that I weigh 150lbs so the 23.5” wide board was stable enough for me. If you weigh over 160lbs or prefer a really stable board I would recommend moving up to the 26” or 28” wide versions. I was able to do a few more open ocean paddles off Marina del Rey and the NSP Puma Pro felt really comfortable riding the ground swells. My test paddles were done in light to moderate wind but I’m sure this board would work great on a pure downwind run.
So, is the NSP Puma Pro the one board to rule them all? The perfect “one board quiver” racing SUP? The answer really depends on what kind of paddling you are doing. For me it’s a big “yes”.
I’m very fortunate to live in Santa Monica, California where I can mix up paddling in the ocean and the flatwater. Unlike the flatwater specific Ninja Pro and the open ocean specific Sonic Pro, the NSP Puma Pro is the all around racing SUP that can perform in all conditions.