Inflatable WindSUP 11'2 x 39", WIND Mag (France), Oct. 2012

All text below is translated from a feature article in WIND #369:

Inflatable WindSUP, the board that you carry in a backpack

The summer of 2012 saw the rise of the inflatable SUP, and those who didn’t believe in the concept are still grinding their teeth. Seeing the quick developments of this product first hand, Starboard adapted the inflatable concept to windsurfing and launched, according to them, the lightest, toughest and easiest-to-store beginner board on the market.

In this exclusive article, we’ll present the technology behind the concept, and we’ll be testing the boards too, followed by an interview of Tiesda You, brand manager of Starboard Windsurfing.

Sam Ross, railriding an inflatable WindSUP in Spain

The science:
The inflatable concept had already been proven in SUP but in order to adapt it to windsurfing, it was necessary to integrate a mast track, a dagger fin and a fin that could resist stronger lateral forces in the board. Tiesda You and Rémi Vila found the solution with slot boxes fitted into the inflated board. The system was conceived so that everything could be set up in 5 minutes or less, without any tools. In addition, Starboard designed a compact rig that fits into a small bag. In order to keep the price as low as possible, the sail is quite simple but the mast can be dismantled into 4 pieces and so can the boom. The idea is to allow the rig and the board to be stored into a small trunk.

The boards use a technology issued from the Zodiac dinghies; the drop-stitch system. This system consists in linking the deck and the hull with a multitude of small strings in order to guarantee a flat shape and prevent the board from turning into a big sausage. Thanks to this system and added thickness (more or less 15 cm); the result is surprisingly rigid when inflated to the recommenced pressure (15-18 PSI).

The set up

So there you have it; a windsurfer that fits into a backpack. All jokes aside, the board is truly easy to carry and transport. Once the board is out of its bag comes the pumping, which is, to be honest, a small hassle. The required pressure is between 15 and 18 PSI, which calls for 5 good minutes of manual pumping and a good dose of energy which can serve as a warm-up. But the quality of the inflation will have a strong impact on the board’s stiffness. Although the board is sold with a manual pump, 12-volts electric pumps also exist and make inflation easier. As soon as the board starts to take its shape, the mast track box, the dagger fin box as well as the fin box need to be inserted before completing the inflation. Carrying the board to the water is fairly easy; just grab the dagger fin knob and enjoy the lightness: compared to a hard board of the same program, the inflatable WindSUP is about 2 kg lighter! (ex: WindSUP 11’2 x 39” = 16,3 kg vs. Start L = 18,35 kg). Regarding handling, it is quite nice to not have to worry about impacts, whether it is with the ground, the mast or even the rocks; the board will not suffer.

On the water:
As soon as you hit the water, you realize the concept really works! The board is stiff enough to sail without folding or bending and the mast track and fins systems work perfectly, except when planing since they do not offer the same glide as the traditional systems. Planing can still be achieved although the boards were not initially designed for it. However, the concept is validated in sub-planing navigation and performs quite well! We had the opportunity to have a go on the 11’2 x 39”, the beginner board of the inflatable range. It is extremely stable, easy to maneuver and can accommodate at least 2 people on board without bending.

We also sailed on the 11’2 x 32”: With less width, the board has more glide and better upwind ability thanks to an effective dagger fin. When the wind picks up, it is the better board although it is still not meant for planing. This board is the most versatile of the range, with good stability for windsurfing and SUPing.

Finally, we tested the 12’6 x 30”which was inspired by the Starboard SUP Touring board: The stem is pointy and the outline is more slender than the others. This board performs best in light winds and when going upwind although it is not as versatile in windsurf. But for SUP cruising with a paddle, it is the better option.

As a conclusion, it is important to remember that the concept works incredibly well on the water for SUP cruising, initiation to windsurfing and light wind sailing. These boards are not performance-orientated but are extremely resistant to all types of impacts, very light, enjoyable to sail and easy to transport and store. These boards should interest schools, watersports centers and all who have little storage room (boats, apartments… etc.) Just as the hard boards, the versatility of these boards for SUP and windsurfing increases the number of days spent on the water and the return on investment. Price-wise, this concept offers little advantage compared to the hard boards.

Tiesda You, brand manager of the Tiki has stood at the cradle of Starboard. He is one of the driving forces behind the constant innovation. We interviewed him while in Thailand to obtain more details and explanations on the new inflatable WindSUP boards.

Erwan Jauffroy – WIND MAgazine, with an inflatable WindSUP and an ultra-compact prototype sail

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: How did the idea of this inflatable windsurfing board come to you?

Tiesda You: “As a matter of fact, the idea was not mine. Svein Rasmussen implemented the concept for SUP boards and incited me to look into it for windsurfing. At first, I didn’t really believe in it but when I looked at the sales figures for inflatable SUPs and tried the boards, I started to dig deeper. I quickly realized there were many more advantages to the concept than just the space-saving storage. These boards are extremely tough and lighter than their hard board equivalents in volume. I considered it had enough interest for someone who isn’t looking to plane and so we started working on it with Rémi Vila. When we showcased our prototype to the distributors earlier in May, everyone was immediately seduced, especially after having a go on the boards.”

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: What technical difficulties did you encounter during development?

Tiesda You: “Since we have a SUP brand within Starboard, we were able to take advantage of the development of the inflatable SUP boards. All we had to do was find a way to incorporate the boxes for the mast track and fins. The hardest part was finding a system that could handle the strong lateral forces applied on the fins.”

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: So, how did you integrate these constraints?

Tiesda You: “In the beginning, we tried to glue the boxes to the boards, but it did not work. This is why we chose to insert the boxes in the board. It may seem quite obvious now but someone had to come up with the idea! We tried boxes shaped like a “T” as well as another system where the boxes were screwed together through the board but it either didn’t work or wasn’t simple enough. In the end, we cut up a board in order to fit in the actual boxes. Simple and effective, and does not require any tools.”

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: It is possible to really work on the shape of the board with this kind of technology?

TY: “The progress already achieved regarding inflatable boards is huge, thanks to the drop stitch technology. The boards now really look like a real hard board, compared to before. The gear is good! Nonetheless, I believe that the next couple of years will see even more progress and evolution. This is the first stone; we still have a long road ahead of us.”

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: Who are you targeting with this kind of product?

TY: “We are clearly targeting schools and the general public. WindSUP can attract a lot of people because it’s simple, fun and many people are coming back on the water thanks to SUP. The inflatable is at the moment a niche inside windSUP. In SUP, inflatable sales currently represent between 20% and 30% of the market. I think we can aim for something similar for the light wind windsurfing market. If we do well in the years to come, roughly 50% of our sales should come from light wind. Thanks to SUP, we now have the opportunity to reach a larger audience and we cannot miss it!”

Erwan Jauffroy – WindMag: Who would be the typical inflatable windSUP customer?

Tiesda You: “I would say there are four:

(1) The regular windsurfer that already has a quiver and wants to share his passion with his family and friends. With one purchase, he has a board to SUP and windsurf at the beach and that fits into the trunk of his car.

(2) The SUPer who is already invested into stand-up paddling and doesn’t windsurf. For this kind of customer, it is up to the shop to show him that by buying these boards, he can mount a sail and cruise around when the wind picks up instead of struggling with his paddle. This is also why we built a simple and cheap sail; so that it wouldn’t cost more than a paddle.

(3) The customer who is looking for something to play around on the beach during summer. He doesn’t windsurf or SUP but with a single purchase, he will be able to do both.

(4) Finally, there are the sailing clubs, schools and watersports centers. With this gear, they will discover the strongest, lightest and most compact board in the world! You know what? I think this product will practically sell itself!”

Tiesda testing the Inflatable WindSUP

To go the Inflatable WindSUP product page, click here