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Stand-up Paddleboard Review: Earth River SUP Skylake 11.0 Model
I have to admit I was skeptical at first when my good friend and professional paddle guide Nathan Nahikian, owner of Potomac River Outfitters, pulled two blow up SUP’s out of his van for us to play with. I assumed anything that you pull out of a car and blow up would be suitable for weekend warriors and Griswald family types but certainly not for serious paddlers like ourselves.
Well, I quickly learned how wrong that notion was. These Earth River SUP’s are serious boards. They are built to take a beating. Despite their toughness, they are also designed to be lightweight, compact and easy to carry, making travel to and from the river and sea that much more appealing and easy. Engineering something that performs as well as these boards do in any conditions, and yet is still lightweight, portable, responsive, and tough as nails can’t be an easy task.
At right around $1000 USD, their price reflects the quality engineering. This isn’t something you can buy on Amazon for a few hundred bucks. (And by the way, don’t even bother with those kinds of boards you will waste your money and be sadly disappointed.) Despite being inflatables, these ERS boards are of a whole different caliber, and only available from a select few paddling schools and outfitters who use the boards, and from one vendor online, pumpedupsuv.com.
After paddling the ERS Skylake 11.0 board over the next day or so I quickly came to realize that these Earth River Stand Up paddle boards were exactly what I had been looking for: designed for serious paddlers and adventurers yet indestructible and easy to travel with. Thus I felt these boards worthy of a proper review.
Below, I list a few major takeaways from my experience with the Earth River Skylake SUP.
Compact and easy to travel with
As I mentioned, my buddy Nate pulled these out from his van (under the van bed to be exact). They were rolled up and deflated and did not take up much real-estate in his “Vansion” at all. This is crucial to travelers and dirtbag paddlers (like us) who have lots of toys and gear to fit into a vehicle (and in my case two children, a dog, and all my tenting and camping gear since I still carry all this stuff in a car as I’m not living the coveted #vanlife yet). So I give the boards major props for this portability and space saving quality. I could easily put my surfboards on the roof of my 2002 Honda CRV as usual and two of these SUP’s, a manual pump and some telescoping paddles in the back and I wouldn’t lose much space at all. Unrolling the SUP is as simple and quick as unrolling a yoga mat. Blowing them up wasn’t a difficult task either, but proved a little more time consuming and strenuous than just pulling a hardboard off the roof. You can use an electric pump to get the boards close to the recommended 15 PSI then finish it out with a manual pump as I saw some other paddlers do that day. Or, (as we did) you can just accept the small pre-paddle workout that it is to pump these bad boys up manually from start to finish. It took just a few minutes to get each one of our boards up to the correct pressure with Nate doing most of the work. I would have helped more but I was busy taking notes.
Surprisingly Rigid and Responsive
Now this aspect of the inflatable boards is pretty amazing to me. A typical surfboard is made of fiberglass and has a stringer down the center (a long rigid piece of wood or other hard material ) that adds rigidity. There are many different configurations for stringers and my Dennis Ryder longboard actually has two perimeter stringers. Hard SUP’s typically are designed with a center stringer. They are more rigid and thus incredibly responsive. On the other hand, inflatable SUP’s have no stringer. Not only that, but they aren’t built from hard materials due to their nature of being inflatable. They are literally filled with air. As such, I expected to feel a certain amount of give and a subsequent lack of responsiveness that you would typically find with most things that are inflatable.
Much to my surprise, however, these boards were as hard as nails once blown up. This is what makes these inflatable boards so amazing. The secret technology behind this phenomenon is called the ERS Tech Dual (TM). These are two core construction processes that ERS patented and uses in its boards. Both technologies utilize a resilient PVC material with a specially engineered layering process which allows for flexibility when rolling up the material, yet simultaneously is strong enough to be inflated to a high pressure that gives it rigidity. The process involves fusion bonding of PVC layers and thermal bonding of military grade fabrics. To learn more you can check out the ERS website but all you really need to know is that these boards are purposely engineered to be rigid, tough AND lightweight.
Tough as hell
Unlike my precious surfboards with which I have to take painstaking care not to bang the fins when loading or unloading or not to leave on the ground where the kids might decide to use them as a trampoline, these ERS boards are tough. They can get banged around in the water by rocks and boulders, knocked about when loading or unloading, or hopped on by a small army of children and they will be totally fine. Several times I watched my buddy toss them on the roof of the car casually with one set of fins digging into the other board and it didn’t even leave a mark. We also dragged them over some huge boulders on our short portage into the inlet to the river (we decided to just drop in over the rock retaining wall rather than waste time to find a put in). I cringed every time the boards remotely took any action but he kept assuring me that was the beauty of these boards. River boards are built to glide over, around or bang into rocks and boulders. The fins are said to be unbreakable and after what I witnessed that claim seems to be completely true.
Lightweight and easy to carry
At 34 inches wide it was a bit of a stretch to grab the webbing handle in the center of the board while holding it under my arm- it was much wider than my surfboard. But I was surprised at how easy it was to carry once I figured out the best way to do so. Fins first seemed to work better for keeping it balanced under arm style. Even an overhead carry was a breeze.
Speaking of breeze, that same lightweight feel that makes these boards simple and appealing to travel with, coupled with its broad silhouette, which offers that oh so comforting stability, creates the only disadvantage I could come up with about this board: it has a tendency to catch in the wind. This is certainly not a big deal but something you might want to consider for your transitions from land to sea.
For instance, we had a pretty decent on-shore wind where we wanted to play in the surf and I found I had to focus on holding onto the board as I walked across the sand to the water. This happens with hard surfboards too so it’s not necessarily a feature of these blow-up style SUP’s, however, my fiberglass longboard is heavier and has a smaller profile so I feel I can control it better while holding it. This SUP had a kite-like feel to it in the air and I found myself trying hard not to let it whip around and hit someone as I navigated the beachcombers to our spot in the sand. The same goes for the board in the surf. In the water, I also found the inflatable a bit difficult to wrangle in once I was inside the break. This particular day the period between waves was about 3-5 secs so that made it much harder too. I found myself pulling on my leash much longer to get it back than I would with my longboard as it thrashed about in the chop. This isn’t a big deal unless you are in a crowded area and you lose control of the board and it hits someone. On the plus side though I’d much rather take this board to the head than a fiberglass board.
I think if and when I purchase one of these I will probably go with a slightly smaller board (1o.7) and this would alleviate the problem as I could handle it a bit better.
I found the board to be extremely stable on the water. I tested it on the river in currents and boat wake as well as in the ocean in some pretty choppy surf. The stability of this thing is like no other. It’s super forgiving. I felt comfortable moving around the board from front to back, side to side and even had a go at jumping from one position to another on it. The width and depth of this board contribute to its stability.
Wave Catching Machine
This thing is a big and floaty log when it comes to catching waves. It pretty much catches everything (even waves you don’t want to catch as you are trying to drag it in to shore through the break when your arms get tired of paddling). Getting up to speed can be a bit tricky as these boards are not built as narrow or sleek as a traditional surfboard or some of the hard SUP boards that work great in the ocean. I had to make some major adjustments from my usual surfing routine which is lay down, paddle like hell, pop-up to standing sideways. I tried that a few times on this board and it worked but it was not as effective as standing, paddling with the paddle to get some speed up) and then “dropping in”. I definitely need to work on my SUP surf skills. Luckily these boards are so much fun and are perfect for getting some paddle time in when the surf isn’t big enough for a longboard.
I was really surprised at the responsiveness of the board once I was riding on a wave. It’s so big and floaty that I figured not to even bother making a bottom turn but that’s totally not the case. You can twist and turn and put torque on it the same as you can with any board. It also has another feature that gives you more fine-tuned control: a raised stomp pad. This is what ERS calls the V-II Ultragrip, a kick pad and “arch bar” with a diamond pattern. It’s essentially an angled stomp pad with a really great grip so you can drop a foot back on it and have some really fast turns and maneuvers. I really only scratched the surface of this when trying it out in the ocean as I was mostly just learning how to catch waves but I can see how this could be hugely advantageous. On the river, I played around a bit with it and it’s super fun to lift the nose out of the water and turn the board.
Overall, the ERS boards are a great choice for anyone looking for a versatile stand-up board that performs well in any conditions. They are lightweight and compact which make them great for travelers or those who want to be able to toss them in the car and go. They are great for rivers and can withstand any elements the river can throw at them including boulders, rocks, and other hazards. They perform well on the bay and in the surf as they are responsive and stable. I highly recommend these for traveling families. Most of the time big purchases like these end up being a compromise between performance and travel-friendly/ sustainable use with young kids. You won’t worry about your long-term investment with Earth River Standup Paddleboards: your kids won’t be able to break these AND you won’t compromise your performance standards.
If you are looking for a stand-up board that meets all these requirements, you should definitely consider these Earth River SUP’s. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
For more info check out the earth river website below.