Testing the Water – The Complete Package
When John Hibbard founded Red Paddle Co over a decade ago, inflatable paddle boards were almost non-existent and not great quality. John’s resolute mission to make the sport he loved more accessible, lead to a commitment to only produce the very best inflatable paddle boards, and this amounted to an ongoing personal problem-solving exercise. Ten years on, it’s safe to say it was a success.
Throughout this time, the Red design team have kept innovation at the heart of the brand and haven’t rested on their laurels. As forerunners of the field, they have released their trademarked MSL inflatable technology, the Titan pump, patented RSS stiffening systems and user-friendly details such as the wheeled carry bags. These innovations have established Red Paddle Co as the undisputed leader of the inflatable paddle boarding industry and they have expanded the potential of the sport as a whole. But the problem-solving doesn’t stop there.
The main benefits of high-quality inflatable boards are their transportability, storage and durability, not to mention their weight. But the Red Design Team saw room for improvement in all of those areas and after years of research and testing and many, many prototypes, the result of their hard work is finally on the market.
We caught up with Phil Hawthorne, Head of Design at Red Paddle Co, to find out why he and his team have spent more than a year designing the new 9’6″ Compact, and what this means for the sport as a whole.
Phil, Red Paddle Co boards are considered to be the best inflatable boards in the industry and realising the Compact vision has cost you years of research; why do it?
PH: “I guess going against the grain must be in our blood! It’s true that the brand began by overturning the ‘inflatable equals inferior’ myth, and this isn’t the first time a Red Paddle Co product has revolutionised paddle boarding. But I wouldn’t be a designer if I accepted the standards of the present as the possible standards for the future. We have come a long way over the ten years of inflatable technology at Red, but what drives us is that we are constantly testing the water and improving on our own designs, so they perform better for our users.
There are obvious limits to where people would feel able to take a paddle board. The Compact is about making the sport more versatile, by expanding our range to include an inflatable board that can live happily in a city apartment, be easily carried on your back as you cycle, or fit in the tiny luggage compartment of a sports car,. I’ll also admit that as it was always a design challenge for us- we wanted to see where we could take this great product, to make it perform in ways we never thought possible and solve problems no one has ever attempted before. To do that, and create something that is genuinely ground-breaking, an industry first- for us there’s nothing more exciting”.
So, what exactly is the Compact board?
PH: “The 9’6″ Compact is a full-sized SUP that packs down to half the size of a conventional inflatable board. In real terms, the Compact is a step forward in what an inflatable board can be. Here is a board that can be stored in the smallest spaces: easily carried on your back, taken on trains, bikes and buses, stored in your apartment or on your yacht! It makes the sport more convenient and more accessible than ever before”.
How did you manage to create a board that packs down so small?
PH: “We spent over a year trying to reduce the size of the packed board. Each prototype took us a step closer, but it wasn’t until we developed the new MSL PACTTM material that we were able to marry our two missions. Mission one was to produce the smallest packed board possible. Mission two was to maintain the performance, look and quality we expect from a Red Paddle Co board. MSL PACTTM material combined with our quad stringer system gave us the perfect mix of a malleable deflated board, which can be folded and rolled with a rigid and authentic on water performance. The result is an international patent-pending design”.
The 9’6” Compact board uses new PACT™ technology, what is this and why did you create it?
PH: “The PACT™ technology is ten years in the making. It features a new weaving process which creates an extra-high-tensile thread matrix at the core of the board that combines with a super-strong but malleable outer layer. This is combined with a number of specific features including a quad stringer system, split deck pad, off set inflation valve and a duel off-set removable click fin system to name but a few. The result is a board which is as rigid as the rest of our range when inflated, but which packs down to an ultra-small size once deflated”.
The board isn’t the only new product you’re launching. Why did you redesign the bag?
PH: “The 9’6” Compact board was our first priority, but the bag is just as important to us in creating a complete compact package. The bag is of course smaller to fit the smaller packed board, but it is also packed with new features. The whole idea of the 9’6” Compact is to expand the horizons of paddle boarding, so our mission for the Compact bag was to make it more convenient to store, easier to travel with and more comfortable to carry than any SUP bag before it.
We engineered a backpack which is completely user focused and applies 53% less downforce on the carrier’s lower back, so you can travel for longer in comfort. The bag is also fitted with customisable lumbar support and adjustable height features to make it suitable for almost any size of paddler. We have also incorporated features which make it function better as a backpack: tubular closed cell padding on the handles, concentrated shoulder padding, brushed cotton shoulder and back cushioning and adjustable shoulder straps, all of which make it more comfortable to wear and carry”.
Never in the history of the sport has anyone attempted a paddle as compact as the five-piece which comes within the new package, why did you do it?
PH: “Designing a paddle that is light, strong and compact was a challenge, but a must. Like everything we do, it started with our experience of the sport and from there we imagined what could be done differently to make that experience better. A transportable SUP isn’t just about the board, if you want to go anywhere you’re going to need a paddle! It has taken some serious research and testing, but the new five-piece paddle is the perfect solution. The paddle is made of high-modulus carbon for extra-rigidity, and it is assembled using push-pin technology.
This is how we managed to pack it down to such a small size whilst ensuring it performs without any compromise and can still be adjusted to fit every user. You can remove middle sections from the paddle, so it can reduce down to be a kids paddle or use with all the sections depending on the paddler’s height. The highly durable, laser-etched Nylon blade has also removed the need for inks and printing which gives a design that won’t fade away and removes aesthetic implications forever”.
Why produce a 9’6” board, surely this is going to be too small for a lot of paddlers? Why not make a 10’6” board or go even bigger?
PH: “The Compact is 9’6” long for a reason, this makes it super small when rolled up. If we had gone with a longer board it just wouldn’t have packed down as small, we did try! However, the 9’6” Compact is based on the design of our best-selling 10’6” Ride, it’s plan shape is almost exactly the same. The 9’6” Compact is 32” wide and 4.7/ 120mm” thick and it definitely doesn’t act like a tiny board, it provides the perfect blend of stability, manoeuvrability and glide, allowing you to make the most of any location and any conditions. Also, by making the board 9’6” long we were able to reduce some of the weight, with the Compact board weighing in at under 7.5 kg or 16.5lbs and true to our aim of not comprising on paddling performance it’s suitable for riders up to 95 kilograms or 209 pounds”.
So, the question on everyone’s lips….will all Red Paddle Co boards be variants on the Compact one day?
PH: “All Red Paddle Co boards have to be fit-for-purpose as individually designed types of boards. We felt that our range needed an option that was ultra-practical for people who are short on storage space, or who wanted to transport a board in new ways, such as on weekend breaks or on the train. Plus, designing it was a challenge that we could all get stuck into. As with any product from an in-house design team, the Compact is a working prototype.
Red Paddle Co are an experience-based brand, so it was really important for us to get our design out on the water and see what the reception was from our paddling community. We want to improve the experience of all participants in the sport, which necessitates different designs to cater for different needs.
The Compact is also a beast to make! All our boards take at least 72 hours to produce from start to finish including a rigorous quality control process but the Compact takes at least another day on top of this. So, while the Compact is definitely a step forward in what an inflatable paddle board can be, it does come at a cost, both literally but also in terms of time spent on innovation and production.
It’s also worth remembering that our last couple of product launches were the 15’0″ Tandem Voyager for 2018 and in 2017 the Dragon board- a 17ft, four-person race board- so the assumption that we are headed in one direction would be false!”.
For a team of four, you certainly produce a lot of new ideas! What keeps innovation alive within the Red Design Team?
PH: “We’re lucky to share adjoining offices with the customer experience, operations and marketing teams, as well as the warehouse, at Red Paddle Co HQ, and it’s definitely conducive to design having a lot of the Red team in one place, as well as being more social. In our design studio, our Co-Design sessions are where the magic happens. Everyone has a slightly different approach to a problem and we start the design process with a free-for-all of ideas which we then work through as a team. The design process isn’t just about spawning fresh ideas, we also dedicate considerable time to life-cycle analysis. Responsible design should maximise the use of every material and the overall product through all of its life stages. Our number one priority is durability, our boards are built to last and often we are at our most innovative when working to minimise the possible harmful effects of board production whilst extending the useful life of the product. We go on walks after lunch most days. This began as an excuse to stretch our legs but has actually helped us work through a lot of problems!”.