Review: Two Bare Feet Model IV 12′ Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Before I start this review, it’s probably best to go a little bit into the testing process: I had never been on a Stand Up Paddle Board before. Not until I pumped this up on Glasgow canal and took it for a half hour spin which resulted in my brief hospitalisation which was down to the Canal and not the board -or ‘Azra’ as I aptly named her, meaning virgin. The next time I stood on Azra I was in Bosnia, about to start the first descent of the Neretva river by paddle board. In order to get there, I took 3 trains, 5 buses, a boat, a handful of taxis and a raft, and a hell of a lot of positivity. Along for the ride, Azra. The Neretva saw me take on man-made lakes with heavy winds, having to portage around dams with nothing in place to stop me being sucked in let alone anything to make the crossing easy. I had to scramble through Bosnian forests and undergrowth just to get back to the river. I went down grade 2-3 rapids and against the oncoming tide as I finally reached the mouth of the river. All while carrying my camping supplies, all having had no experience before and we survived.
So in a sense, I can’t review Azra, or the Model IV 12′ Inflatable SUP Board in terms of a comparison to any other type of board, because I have never used any other type of board. The only comparisons I can give is Two Bare Feet offered a 12-foot inflatable board, with an adjustable aluminium paddle, watertight bag, pump, leash and puncture repair kit, for £420. Red paddles (a market leader) offer roughly the exact same for over £500 and that’s a steal, usually they cost upwards of £900. So I was quite daunted by the idea that I would be taking a ‘budget’ board down a river no one had ever paddled, for my first ever time paddling. But as I say, I made it.
Weight and size:
At 12kg, the board (and only the board) weighs the exact same as every other similar product out there. When rolled up into the 90l travel bag added with the pump, a buoyancy device, the paddle etc. it comes to about 17kg, which is bearable thanks to the rucksack straps and weight belt on the bag (although it would be nice to have some that are more comfortable). When travelling you also have to carry all of your stuff, which can be a right pain, but we got there. Once unrolled and inflated the 12 feet look pretty large, but the 12 kilos make it okay to carry. On one particularly difficult portage around a dam, I carried Azra for 10km up and over a mountain in the rain (the reason I left her inflated is I used the travel dry bag for all of my gear). I will never ever cite this as a fun experience, and looking at other boards there are handles in better positions for this, but it was manageable and I didn’t have to do two trips as I had feared. The elastic straps on the front hold gear well, although I used my own bungee cord and carabiners just to be totally sure. Once all my stuff was on I still had plenty of room on the board, although to counter the weight had to stand quite far back.
So it’s about as big as they get, it’s got a deep fin to help with stability in lakes and I was carrying 15kilos of gear on the front of it. None of the above worked in my favour, apart from dampening any wobbles, the wind was a particular factor when it would hit my bag at the front and push the nose out. However, I took this board down a few rapids, one particularly mental Neretva-Buna Channel (photo below) and we made it. There were no points where she got truly away from me and very few where I didn’t feel in control. In fact within time I was learning how to pull very quick 180 degree turns on fast flowing water, and that (I have no idea if this is a thing on all boards) if I do so and face upstream, standing further back on the board I could let the water pass under the board without moving it at all, thus keeping me in place. Which can be helpful if you’re needing a rest, looking for eddies, or hopefully in the future, waiting for other people to descend rapids.
So it’s inflatable, and apparently, that affects stability and it does. However much pressure you put into the board, it’ll still have a wobble to it when you jump or hit waves, especially because of the length. This is okay, though, once you get used to it, and can actually work a bit like suspension at times. The board is relatively wide too (32″ or 82cm), and the tri fin arrangement at the bottom is a huge help to keep a straight line.
Like I said, we survived… she has a few scratches and the slot for the detachable fin is peeling slightly but it’s nothing that glue won’t fix. In fact, we had a very nasty run in with a hidden rock going at about 15km/h and she came out okay (I was a bit worse but mostly okay). All in all, I didn’t need the puncture repair kit and nothing on the board needed glueing on…
…I say nothing on the board….because I had a slight issue with the paddle. In that the paddle-head came clean off in the water one day towards the end. I had to buy a replacement in Croatia in order to finish the trip, but Two Bare Feet, although astonished that this happened (the paddle literally slipped out of the shaft, no smashes) sent me a new one very few questions asked. So now I have two which I feel is probably a sensible number of paddles to own anyway.
The Bottom Line:
The bottom line, if you haven’t guessed, is that I made it. Thanks to Azra I paddled, and climbed, and shuffled my way to the sea. Having lost my virginity to her I can safely say it was perfect. And for the cheapest board-deal I could find on the market I wouldn’t have imagined that she would have stood up to it, but she did, with absolute style.