Paul Burgess and Simon Bassett review Surftech’s latest stand up paddle race boards that fall into the 12ft 6″ race category, the Bark Competitor (12’6 x 29″) and Surftech Mitcho (12’6×27″).
Paul Burgess starts us off:
Like a lot of other people in the UK, I had been waiting for ages to try the new 12-6 distance SUPs by Surftech. I had seen them in action during the live webcast of the “Battle of the Paddle” contest, and reports about them on SUP forums internationally had been very positive. So I jumped at the chance when Simon Basset from 2xs rang to say that the boards would be arriving in the UK for the first time that day, and that there would be a brief opportunity to try the first UK arrivals at my local beach before they were spirited away for demonstrations at other locations.
And so I was lucky enough to be the first person in the UK to try the Surftech Bark Competitor, followed then by the Jamie Mitchell distance board. Both of these designs are race proven, and were created largely with Battle of the Paddle –type conditions in mind, i.e. shorter races (about 5 miles or so) where sprinting in and out of surf is part of the event. Both are 12ft 6 inches in length, which not only means that they qualify for most contests in the “stock” category, but also – and perhaps more relevant to most potential buyers – give the ease of transport and storage that can create so many problems with longer SUPs. Unfortunately we didn’t have long with the boards, as the distributor had many other people also clamouring for a look. But I at least got the chance for a preliminary feel, in windless sunny conditions in the flat water of the low tide lagoon at West Wittering, so these are my “first impression” observations. And my very first impression was formed even before I had picked them up: lying on the sand they both looked high quality, with a great standard of finish. For those more used to looking at surf- oriented SUPs, these new breeds of dedicated distance/race SUP boards are quite a revelation. Just about everything about the shapes are different, and it is the thickness of the rails that perhaps first stands out. But the other differences are huge as well, and there is no doubt that what is now being created for distance paddling SUP is an entirely new type of watercraft, with perhaps more in common with traditional prone paddleboards and kayaks than traditional surfboards.
The next impression was how light these boards are. The volume of them meant that I was expecting them to be much heavier than for instance my 12 ft surf-oriented SUP. But in fact, although I didn’t weigh them, it seemed like they might even be lighter – certainly it was easy to carry them on my shoulder. These demo versions didn’t have the full complement of handles etc fitted, but I was assured that the retail examples do, so lugging them to the water’s edge, whether on beach or river, shouldn’t be a problem. First up, the Surftech Bark Competitor. Jumping on board, my immediate sense was of stability. The board is, I think, 29 inches wide, 6.5 inches thick, and has a volume of 233 litres. That is a lot of volume for a 12-6 board, although much of it is in the nose, which has an interesting and very sleek shape reminiscent perhaps of a prone paddleboard. 29” is also quite wide for a distance SUP, especially one as successful as this one has been in races. But it does give good stability.
Bear in mind that I am used mainly to paddling surf-oriented SUPs in choppy coastal conditions, and we were testing the boards in flat windless conditions. I am also of quite average height and weight. However, even bearing this in mind, I would have thought that as long as you are not a rank beginner venturing out into windy chop, and have at least basic balance ability, you aren’t likely to have trouble with stability, even if you are quite a bit larger than average. The squared-off tail of this
board, and the relatively low foot wells probably also both contribute to this sensation.
It is very comfortable to paddle. The foot-wells are well placed and intuitive, and the pad is, unusually, flat rather than being e.g. corrugated or a star-type pattern. This is extremely comfy, and if you, like me, can sometimes find some pads painful after an hour or two of standing, this feature will be a real bonus for you. However, there is a downside: there is a reason why most pads are not completely flat, and this is to do with grip when wet. At one point I was trying a rather extreme tail turn, attempting to mimic e.g. turning round a buoy in a race, and my back foot, which was under water, slipped right off the pad resulting in an embarrassing unscheduled dip. This prompted much hilarity from Simon from 2xs of course, but I had learnt my lesson and the next turns were conducted more carefully. Fortunately I found that you don’t actually need to do an extreme move – in fact I was amazed at how manoeuvrable both these boards are. They really turn easily.
If you are reading this review with a view to buying a dedicated distance/race SUP, then I probably don’t need to tell you what it is like to paddle a board that is 29” wide. You will already have an idea, and some opinion about the ideal width for you. But in my own case, 29” is about as wide as a board can be before I find it difficult to keep the paddle entirely perpendicular to the deck at the end of the stroke, at least when tired. But this is a very personal thing, and whether this is true of you or not may depend upon your physical characteristics including height, limb length, flexibility, paddling style etc. This is one reason why there is no substitute for trying a board if possible before you buy. Personally, the width worked well for me, and I liked the stability it gave.
This is where there is an instant difference with the Surftech “Mitcho” 12-6, designed by Adrian Birse. This board is about 27 inches wide, 6 ins thick, and has a slightly greater volume (250 L) than the Bark Competitor. Despite the volume statistics, jumping off the Bark Competitor to the Mitcho, you instantly feel a difference in stability. However the pad (comfortable, great grip) is sunk a little into the deck a little, which helps, and you can also kind of brace your foot against the side of this
well when attempting extreme manoeuvres, which is useful and feels good on your feet. In fact I found it pretty easy to get this board turning with the tail almost stationary, and I am certainly nothing special in terms of SUP skill – a good racer should be able to turn on a dime even in critical conditions. The “Mitcho” is very light for a non-carbon, conventional-build board. With its more conventional (for a race board) pintail-type shape, and a flatter deck up front, this felt to me (as someone who spends most time on surf SUPs) much more familiar to paddle. If you wanted to strap a load to the front deck (or e.g. carry a dog, or your wife…err, well maybe not ), it would be a lot easier with the flat deck of the Mitcho than the domed nose of the Bark Competitor.
However, these are very different boards. The Mitcho feels much more like a dedicated racing machine in terms of the demands it makes upon you. It was perfectly stable, at least for me, in the flat water of the demo, and I’d have been quite happy to paddle it for miles, or race it, on flat water rivers or estuaries. But my impression was (and remember than I am a pretty average paddler) that if the demo had been conducted in choppy cross-shore conditions my balance skills would have been
sorely tested after a fairly short time. Without actually testing the board under those conditions this has to remain a guess. But the reduced width of the board made for an easy stroke, so I guess it is a case of “swings and roundabouts”. If you are lighter (and/or more skilful) than I am, then perhaps this board would be plenty stable enough in any kind of conditions.
Of course, what I haven’t mentioned yet is perhaps the most critical aspect for a race/distance SUP: the “speed of the boards”. I often hear the question “which is the faster board?” But this doesn’t make literal sense – it is the paddler who gives the board speed: the board doesn’t have any speed at all without the paddler. It is the board-paddler combination that determines the speed. And here the matter of the ergonomics of the interaction between the paddler and board probably matters far more in most cases than the relatively minor differences in equipment (especially between two boards of equivalent length, similar construction, and volume). If you are unstable or uncomfortable on a board, it prevents a good paddle rhythm and clean stroke and you will get tired more quickly.
So even if you are on a theoretically “faster” board (in terms of hull speed etc.) you may be slower in the real world than on some old tanker, especially over a long distance. So whether you would be faster on the Surftech Lahui Kai Mitcho or the Bark Competitor will probably depend on your skill level, personal preferences, physical characteristics, and the conditions in which you are paddling. Given the considerable differences between the boards in terms of design, one might expect that they might be quite different in, for instance, downwind conditions, or whitewater, and if I get a chance to make that kind of comparison I’ll let you know.
However, with these caveats in mind, I can say that I did wear a GPS device for the duration of the demo. I did a series of very short sprints, and the distances I covered were really too small for this to be in any way a scientific comparison. However, I found that speeds easily in excess of 5 mph were easy to achieve on both boards, and I was soon running out of space for the runs. Although the Mitcho perhaps “felt” a little faster to me, maybe because of the width (I am used to paddling
a 27.25” board) the GPS actually slightly favoured the Bark – although there really was virtually nothing in it. But that was just me, in those conditions. The situation might be quite different for you, in different conditions. Given the race history of both boards, the only conclusion you can reach about either of them is that in the right hands they are amongst the fastest 12-6 production SUP boards in the world. Maybe the fastest.
Of course, I should also probably say what these boards “are not” as well as what they are. They aren’t designed with surfing in mind, except as part of a distance race. I’m sure that a skilled surfer could surf them, but, really, what would the point? The requirements of a fast distance board are almost completely opposed to what makes a good board for surfing. Plus, there would be the risk of damaging the board (or yourself, or others): 250 litres of board would be a handful in a wipeout, to say the least. They are also probably not really designed for long trips where speed is not an issue and/or where you want to carry lots of equipment. Surftech produces two 14 ft SUP boards (including another Bark, the “Expedition”) which fulfil this role, if that is what you primarily want. Instead, these are fast, compact boards for those who feel the need for speed. Think of them as the SUP equivalent of sports or track racing cars – if you want a sedan or grand tourer there might be better options within the Surftech stable.
So, in summary, if you are past the beginner stage and are now looking for a board that can take your paddling to the next level, making those coastal cruises (or downwinds) more rewarding, or especially if you are looking to race, or if you are an inland paddler looking for a compact and fast solution, then these boards must surely be given serious consideration. They look good, are fast, comfortable, and durable, are designed by some of the best in the world, and manufactured to the highest standards for production boards. They are also cheaper than some of the competition, and a very great deal cheaper and more practical than a custom carbon board.
I put my order in straight after trying them. I’m not telling you which of these two boards I chose, but you can probably guess.
Second opinion by Simon Bassett
The 12.6 bark would be my preferred option of the two boards as it sits closer to the bark 14 ft expedition that I use and did the channel crossing on earlier in the year.I think if you want a board to race in stock class events that is going to be competitive in flat choppy and open ocean conditions its going to be hard to beat. Personally I not sure if want a collection of distance boards one thing I need a bigger garage -but to have a flat water board ,a down winder and sprint model is very expensive .The bark 12.6 I think will fit well into all three categorises and sit on a van or car without to much overhang.
What I noticed straight away was it was very comfortable to ride and had real nice glidey feel when you paddled hard –stable in the turns and would cut through chop with its vee shaped nose. Although we didn’t get chance to use it rough water I am certain it would handle some waves well if you had to come in through surf as it still has a surf board feel about and flatter hull section at the tail .I think this will make a perfect choice for for all weather distance board and still be very fast in completions.
As you would expect from surftech the boards and made extremely well and feels light with a price tag at £ 999.00
The 12.6 mitcho, anything with Jamie Mitchell’s name on it you have take a serious look its a -its a lightweight performance machine which has a completely different feel to the bark 12.6.As soon as you get on it it feels more unstable and definitely requires better technique to balance it has a corky feel to the board. The mitcho feels like a board you’ve got to understand how it works to get the best out it. The no question about this board is fast and it in flat-water conditions will be amazing -in rougher water you will more technique to get the most out of the mitcho 12.6.Underneath the hull there is whole lot of concaves going on with a chimed rail this will allow some railing to go on to reduce the hulls surface with the water to increase speed and cotroll. The blue camo graphics are pimp ,it come with a well balanced handle, good deck pad and epoxy fin .The mitcho costs £999.00