WORDS SUP INTERNATIONAL // PHOTOS RED PADDPLE CO
Red Paddle Co has announced a new paddle board that could start a revolution. The Compact 9’6” is a full-sized SUP that folds down to half the size of a regular inflatable paddle board without compromising on paddling performance, while the smaller packed size of the Compact gives paddlers the convenience of being able to easily carry it around town, jump onto public transport or store in the boot of your car, with space to spare. The ultra -compact nature of the package also allows for long term storage within small cars, smaller apartments on-board boats and in your van.
It’s been 10 years in the making with a range of new manufacturing techniques utilised and international patent pending features. SUP International caught up with Red Paddle Co CEO and co-founder John Hibbard and Head of Design Phil Hawthorne for an exclusive interview to get to the heart of what makes the 9’6” Compact so special and how the new board came about.
Hibbard begins with the inspiration behind the board and the key advantages over an existing inflatable board; “For me having a board that you can pack down smaller has opened up so many more chances to paddle – it was the driving force behind the brand from day one. The major requirement was that having an inflatable board shouldn’t mean you have to compromise on performance. It should deliver an authentic experience. That’s the driving force behind everything we do.”
Hibbard continues; “About two years ago when we launched our MSL [monocoque structural laminate] material I realised that we now had a very in-depth knowledge of the process of making drop stitch material. We’d spent hundreds of hours testing materials and experimenting with manufacturing techniques. Through all this learning, I thought we must be able to push the concept of inflatable boards a little further.”
Phil Hawthorne and his design team took this starting point and saw it as a challenge “Even though our boards packed down small already I could just see that there were so many opportunities where a smaller packed size would be beneficial – whether it was to aid travel or to make storage easier. That was enough of a thought process to get us cracking on trying to push the boundaries of what was possible in terms of packed size while not compromising on the paddling performance.”
Hawthorne continues, candidly “Our existing MSL boards are the best inflatable boards in the world, hands down, if you want to just get out on the water then the Red Paddle Co Ride range of boards are for you. However, if you want the latest tech then the 9’6” Compact Package is absolutely a must. It’s easily the most difficult board we’ve ever had to design and make, but the results are well worth it.”
“It just breaks down more barriers to getting you on the water. It removes excuses as to why you can’t paddle”
“From the design side of things, we had pretty much a blank canvas when we started this project but had to keep within the realms of reality. One of the key focus’ of the Red Design Department ongoing is to be as user-centred as possible. We start with the end user before we design anything. By observing human behaviours and the moments of joy we get from doing the things we love, we can begin to focus on and think about how we can make it easier to get to those moments, increase their likelihood and of course share it with others.”
Going back to the actual construction and manufacturing of the new board, we’re interested to know why this board has come about now and not before. Hawthorne explains: “Five years ago, this new board and manufacturing processes wouldn’t have been possible. The materials were not stable enough and we didn’t understand the relationship between the woven cloth and the outer skin well enough. Had we tried to do this five years ago the results would not have been pretty. You can’t just stick any two materials together. There are so many forces at play on a board – internal air pressures, environmental forces (heat, UV and impact) that you have to make sure the materials you use and the bond that you create between them are compatible and reliable – that’s not easy and requires a good grounding in chemistry. We probably learnt the most when developing MSL so it was actually a fairly straight line to us working out what we needed for MSL Pact technology. It was kind of like one of those answers that was staring you in the face, but it took you a while to put it all together.”
This new Compact board uses PACT Technology ™, a material with a new weaving process which creates an extra-high-tensile thread matrix at the core of the board that is combined with a super-strong but malleable outer layer. This means the Compact board is as stiff and durable when inflated but can be folded down into a bag half the size of standard inflatable boards. With so many of us still excited by the novelty of a standard inflatable board and the freedom it gives you, we’re interested to find out from the Red team how this Compact board is really going to make a difference to how people paddle.
“It just breaks down more barriers to getting you on the water. It removes excuses as to why you can’t paddle.” Hibbard explains “You could easily tuck it under your desk for an after-work paddle session or easily slot it into the car with the rest of the family’s paraphernalia for a day at the beach or the summer holiday.
Basically, it’s even easier to transport and store so if these are the constraints keeping you from the water then the Compact is a great option.”
Aside from the obvious gains in portage, what’s the rider experience like on the water?
“The aim was to stay true to our mission of creating inflatable boards that don’t mean you have to compromise or performance, looks or quality.” Hibbard explains “We still wanted the Compact to deliver an authentic paddling experience. We actually made some prototypes that packed down even smaller, but we had to trade performance for packed size. Right now, we weren’t prepared to do that, so the experience you get when riding the 9’6” Compact should be a real Red experience. It glides well, is stiff and really nice to handle to and from the water. It actually feels like a bit of a mini 10’6” Ride.”
Hibbard explains that the Compact might not be the perfect board for everyone: “If ultimate transportability and storage isn’t an issue for you then you will be super happy with one of our other boards. I am a big fan of our 13’2” Voyager for example so you’d have to fight me hard to give that up as my regular board for my weekend and evening paddle sessions.” So, why should someone buy a Compact board? “The added gains off the water mean that the user already starts ahead of the curve when they get on the water. By using energy more effectively carrying the board to your chosen location, the user has a more positive all-round experience.
Once they’re on the board they’ll find the Compact’s performance is comparable to its cousin 10”6” Ride. This isn’t a coincidence, we went with a similar plan shape to make the board as accessible as possible.” Based on the plan of the award-winning, all-round Ride 10’6’ MSL, the Compact 9’6” is 32” wide and 4.7 thick and provides the perfect blend of stability and manoeuvrability. Weighing in at under 8kg (board-only) and supporting riders up to 95kg the smaller length board offers a fantastic all-round SUP experience for most riders.
Looking to the future, will Red be applying this technology to the rest of the range?
“Everything we do starts with the paddler, and how we can make their experience better”
“Physics kind of gets in the way here. Having the Compact come in at 9’6” long was the only way we could get a full-sized board but still keep a small packed size. For sure we could make a longer board that packs down small, anyone can do that, but we’d have to trade that for performance. To make it viable, material and tech would need to be removed from the boards to allow it to fold – somewhat of a chocolate teapot! We don’t want to do that. We are all about marrying ultimate convenience with great on water performance. No compromise” John concludes.
The Compact board comes as part of a full package including a newly designed backpack, revolutionary 5-piece paddle, Titan pump, leash and removable fins.
The innovation continues into the new backpack as Phil Hawthorne explains, “Everything we do at Red Paddle Co starts with the paddler and how we can make their full experience better. The new highly engineered backpack for the Compact has unique levels of adjustability and comfort, plus incredible shoulder and back support.”
Hawthorne continues, “It’s the most highly engineered SUP bag on the planet, applying approximately 53% less down force on the carrier’s lower back, you can travel for longer in comfort.” The bag also features customisable lumbar support and adjustable height features so is suitable for any size of paddler. Creating a compact paddle was not an easy task for the Red Paddle Co team, but they have found the perfect solution: a five-piece paddle. As a result, it packs away perfectly, but it is still adjustable with no compromise on the water.
The modular design also means sections can be removed to create a paddle for smaller riders or kids, opening up the board package to be used by the whole family. The paddle is made of high-modulus carbon for extra rigidity, with a durable nylon blade. Plus, the blade of the paddle is laser etched, with no printing or transfers. Meaning the design will stay on forever. Completing the package, to fulfil their aim to produce the most transportable board on the planet, new click fins are used to enable fast secure fin attachment. The custom designed twin fins allow the Compact 9’6” to easily track through the water.