Paddleboards are now lighter and more compact than ever. We tested these 2021 SUP boards in Dorset and had a LOT of fun!

Paddleboarding has been one of the lockdown success stories of 20/21, and with the easing of restrictions, you can now paddle outdoors in groups of six (the rule of 6) or two households.

We tried out paddleboarding with kids during February half-term. It was my kids’ suggestion, and seeing as we live walking distance from the beach and a short drive from Poole and Christchurch harbours, I thought, why not? It’s easy to learn, paddleboards are portable and inflatable, and it’s an activity the whole family can enjoy. 

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Inflatable SUP (iSUP) sales soared last summer after the first lockdown and continued right through winter, with suppliers having record sales. 

“We’re normally very quiet in January and February, but this year we can hardly keep up with the demand!” says Emma Jones of SUP Inflatables in Dorset. 

Having started out as a watersports shop, SUP Inflatables switched solely to selling iSUPs four years ago, recognising the huge appetite for a board you can unroll, pump up, and take on adventure.   

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Shark paddleboard

SUP Inflatables leant us our first three boards, already inflated, for our day out paddleboarding with kids at Sandbanks in Poole harbour. 

Despite packing our gear the night before, it still took forever to get all five of us in our wetsuits. After carefully planning our arrival for high water, I watched in dismay as flocks of oyster-catchers and turnstones scurried around the edges of the speedily retreating tide. 

paddleboarding with kids

Paddleboarding with kids in Sandbanks, Dorset on the Touring Shark SUP. The kids loved being passengers

By the time we got on the water it was an hour after HW. We had barely 3ft of water and a 15-knot onshore wind, so every time we got deep enough to paddle we were blown back ashore. Nonetheless, we did have lots of fun.

Emma gave me the Touring Shark 11’8, a board designed for lighter paddlers, which is faster than the 10’6 version and has a maximum rider weight of 75kg. “As a shorter rider, the narrower, 30in width gives you a straighter paddle stroke,” she explained. 

Gladiator paddleboards

Longer still for extra glide and a faster paddle was the Gladiator Elite 12’6, which at 32in wide was ideal for my husband (though does come in a 30in width). This board can be pumped up to 25 PSI for maximum stiffness (other boards tend to be 15-18 PSI) and is designed for those who want to get a bit more speed from their board, whilst still being easy to paddle. 

paddleboarding with kids

My 7-year-old paddling his dad on the Gladiator Elite 12’6 board in Poole Harbour

Meanwhile, Brenin, my 9-year-old – who wanted to paddle by himself – was given the Gladiator Pro 10’6, a nice stable, all-round board for riders right up to 120kg.  

Given the conditions, the time of the year, and having young kids (aged 4, 7 and 9) it was hard to draw any comparisons between the boards. We just splashed around, paddled, swapped boards, and laughed at Brenin, whose board was like a magnet to one particular sandbank. 

paddleboarding with kids

My 9-year-old takes a break on the Gladiator Pro 10’6 after being repeatedly blown onto a sandbank

Although it was February, blowing around 15 knots, and the water was 8 degrees, none of us got cold, which I ticked off as a success. My two hours spent in the understairs cupboard the night before, digging out (and improvising) bits of clothing, had been worthwhile.

From rubber gloves to woolly jumpers, boots, rashvests and buoyancy aids (around ‘50 pieces’ altogether) our clothing alone took up most of the car boot.

SUP surfing in Sandbanks

Whilst the kids had hot chocolates on the beach, huddled up in a Red fleece-lined changing robe, I saw my opportunity to escape. I took the Gladiator Elite through the narrow passageway across the peninsula to the open sea. 

Wow, what a contrast! It was exhilarating. Now facing south, the ‘onshore wind’ had become an ‘offshore wind’ and I was soon blown over the small, but breaking, waves into deep water.

I was glad I’d left the kids on the harbourside with my husband. It was time to have fun by myself and I was surprised how easily the board bobbed over the waves, and how stable I felt, even side-on. With just the gentlest paddle I could catch a breaking wave and surf right onto the beach.

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Red SUPs in Christchurch 

The Red Kids Snapper board (left) and the new Red Compact 9’6 adult board

We returned the boards, and waited a few days for storms to abate. Our next adventure was at Christchurch harbour, which, though still shallow, is deeper at its fringes than Poole.

It also had the benefit of a large green for setting up, excellent crabbing on the quayside and, like Sandbanks, toilets, a cafe and a lovely children’s park. All important considerations when you’ve kids in tow. 

Red Compact 9’6 SUP

We launched at Mudeford and I took my 4-year-old daughter Fearne out on Red Paddle Co’s new Compact 9’6. Weighing in at just 8kg, it’s lighter than the popular 10’6, which I’d tried (and loved) the summer before with a friend.

It folds in half lengthways before rolling, and is Red’s most compact board yet, fitting into a high-spec backpack with adjustable shoulder and waist straps, measuring 56cm x 42cm x 32cm, which in SUP-carrying terms, is pretty small. 

paddleboarding with kids

Taking my daughter for a paddle on the Red Compact 9’6 paddleboard in Christchurch harbour

Fearne insisted on taking a bag of zoo animals for the ride, and made me paddle to every fishing boat (and the odd floating wreck) so we could peer inside.

She was desperate to swim, and I finally let her do so in about 2ft of water. She didn’t seem to notice the cold but complained it was too shallow. 

paddleboarding with kids

My daughter decided to go for a swim. Never mind that it was February!

My husband tried, rather unsuccessfully, to take both boys out on the Compact 9’6. Whilst it’s perfectly stable with one child, two was just too many, and they had a few fun capsizes, which shortened the outing to around 30 minutes before they got cold (and also because we spied the parking attendant and hadn’t enough change for any longer!)

Red Compact 9’6 SUP deals

Paddleboarding with kids: Mum and son adventure

The following weekend the sun came out – reaching a ‘scorching’ 14 degrees for February, so I went out just with Brenin, my 9-year-old.

When we arrived at Mudeford, there must have been 30 or more SUPs spread out across the green, some being blown up straight from the packaging, others being deflated and hissing like snakes (quite an alarming noise if you’re not expecting it). 

paddleboarding with kids

My son assembling the paddle for the Red Compact 9’6 on the green at Mudeford in Dorset

In that way peculiar to sun-worshipping Brits, some paddlers were wearing nothing but boardshorts. I even saw some young kids on the back of boards barefoot, wearing shorts and t-shirts.

No matter how warm the air temperature seems (and, really, 14 degrees is not that hot!), I make my children wear wetsuits. It doesn’t take much to get cold, especially if they fall in, or have to wade out to the board. Imagine, all that pumping for nothing – just a shivering, miserable kid who’s begging to go home.

Red Snapper kids SUP

paddleboarding with kids

My 9-year-old son loved the Red Snapper kids board which accommodates riders up to 60kg

I took the Red Compact 9’6 and Brenin took the Snapper, Red Co’s SUP designed especially for children (which he was delighted about).

Being right at the top of 60kg weight limit, I had a go on the Snapper too, just for fun. I loved how fast and manoeuvrable it was, though wobblier than the Compact, with the water at times swirling over the rails.

This was understandable as a rider of my weight should be looking at a board at least 3 times body weight in litres (ie. 180l) and the Snapper, being a kids’ board, is 150l (see table below for more specs).

paddleboarding with kids

The Red Compact 9’6 and Red Snapper boards – we attached them together and paddled back on the Compact when my son got tired

Of course, Brenin, being just 30kg, found the Snapper no problem at all and much easier to paddle (though less stable) than the Compact. He really did enjoy himself, but when the wind picked up he decided he was too tired to paddle.

We attached the two boards together with the leash, and he hopped onto mine so we could paddle back together – but not before we’d stopped on the beach for sandwiches and hot chocolate.

Red Snapper kids SUP deals

Eek! Runaway SUP

Feeling confident with my paddling by now I decided to take the Compact 9’6 on the sea again, this time at Mudeford.

Red’s newest, most compact board yet, the Compact 9’6. First I tried it in Christchurch harbour and later on the waves on the beach opposite

Brenin and I had a bit of fun together inshore, but he soon got cold so I decided to go out further by myself. I put on my buoyancy aid and paddled out to a group of SUP-ers having fun on a break out to sea. It was thrilling to be on the waves, and somehow less daunting than being on a surfboard – where you’re paddling face-first, not feet first.

The board seemed to bob over breakers that you’d normally duck on a surfboard, and it was really good fun simply trying to stay upright (though actually catching a wave like the pros around me proved elusive)!

paddleboarding with kids

My son and I paddled on our knees and kept inshore when we tried out the Red Compact 9’6 on the waves

Unfortunately, I’d incorrectly attached the leash, securing the velcro only twice, not three times. When I fell off a wave, the board came free, and I watched with dread as it drifted away, thankfully making its way towards the beach and not France.

My one-armed doggy-paddle to the shore, clutching the oar, was a rather embarrassing experience, hampered by a buoyancy aid around my chin (which, with hindsight, I should have left on the beach). Fortunately, a kind dog-walker spotted the board and pulled it ashore, where it was waiting for me when I (finally) arrived. 

A spin on the Spinera SUP

Exercise during lockdown. Briony holds the Spinera Light 10’6 board (left) and I’m holding the Red Compact 9’6 (right)

My last outing was with a friend, Briony, in Christchurch harbour. She brought with her the Spinera 10’6, a super-light newcomer to the SUP market at 6.2kg. 

Spinera’s UK distributor, Nestaway Boats, chose this board as an option for boat owners. 

‘I’ve always been interested in SUPs,’ says director Ian Thomson, who paddles with his son in Christchurch, ‘but until now I hadn’t found the right model to sell.

‘This one came along and I felt it was just right for my customers, who need something small and light to fit in their lockers.’ 

Pumping up the SUP

The Spinera’s pump was a lot harder work than Red’s twin-cylinder pump, though even the latter brought a light sweat to my brow after around 6-8 minutes of pumping. Some people simply opt for an electric pump connected to the car or boat battery. 

Briony pumps up the Spinera SUP at Mudeford. If pumping sounds like hard work you can always buy an electric car or boat pump

As we set off, Briony on the Spinera and me on the Red Compact, the clouds parted and we glided through the water with the sun on our necks, marvelling at the beautiful houses with jetties at the harbour’s edge.

We pulled ashore on a small beach for coffee and bagels then I had a go on the Spinera. It felt slightly bouncier than the Red Compact 9’6, but still stable and easy to manoeuvre. 

True to form, we’d timed our outing a little late, and when the wind picked up, coinciding with the flood-tide, our hopes of paddling out to see the wild ponies at Stanpit marsh (and getting back in time to avoid a parking ticket) were scuppered. 

The Spinera Light 10’6 SUP in Christchurch harbour, Dorset. We enjoyed looking at the lovely houses and gardens that back onto the waterfront – paddleboarding is great for nosey people like us!

It was tiring paddling into the wind and tide (though much easier kneeling down) so we turned around and headed back. There was a little ‘pool’ en-route, completely sheltered, where we practised paddling back and forth.

It had been a fun two weeks – a holiday at home in February, and a good antidote to all the home-schooling and computer screens of the previous three months. It proved you don’t have to go far, or spend too much money, to have a watersports adventure. 

Spinera SUP deals

Paddleboards we tried out

*For a better understanding of what these specifications mean, and how construction relates to price, take a look at this article: Which inflatable paddleboard? What to look for when buying a SUP

Paddleboard Suppliers

We tried out the following inflatable standup paddleboards (iSUPS) from Red Paddle Co,  SUP Inflatables and Nestaway Boats

What to wear 

Warming up in our Red Pro Changing robes in Poole Harbour after a chilly but fun February paddle. Brownsea Island is in the distance

The air temperature was around 10 – 12 degrees and the water temperature 8 degrees. That’s pretty cold for paddleboarding. We dressed the kids with the intention that they’d fall in or jump in, though tried (and failed) to persuade them not to do so!

They wore wetsuits, woolly jumpers, a waterproof coat or splashvest, buoyancy aid, hat or swimming cap, boots, socks and gloves. They were generally warm enough for an hour, no more. As with sailing, layering is the answer, as you can remove layers and put them back on if you get too hot, but always start out ‘too warm’.

A warm changing robe is great for afterwards. Brenin and I loved Red Originals’s adult and kids fleece-lined robes, whilst my husband was very happy with the Luxury Towelling one

The Paddleboard Bible

For more information on standup paddleboarding, including techniques, equipment, planning tours (including night paddling and wildlife), and a wonderful section on fun board games and challenges, look no further than the excellent Paddleboard Bible by Dave Price. Published by Adlard Coles, ISBN: 978-1-4729-8147-9.

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This feature appeared in Practical Boat Owner magazine. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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