Thursday, 11 June 2020

McConks Go Race Review

Go Race in Sweden
Andy at McConks has been working on a race board for a little while now and in the spring of 2020 sent me a prototype for his new 14’ board, the Go Race. Some paddlers might turn their noses up at an inflatable race SUP but as I found out they are missing out on a very versatile type of board.

What’s in the box?

With the board was a good quality McConks wheelie rucksack, a McConks coiled leash, 9” touring style fin and the fin box. Yes, the fin box is not permanently attached to the board. The production boards will be supplied with a HP6 triple action pump and a repair kit. 

Breaking the ice in Sweden

Board Overview. 


The board is 14’ x 27” x 6” with 360l volume and this one has a minimal rocker, it is quite flat.

The colour scheme is … unique, apparently this was at the request of a customer who really, really likes purple. Looking past the purple the stand out feature in the looks is the carbon stringer on the deck, this runs from the nose under the deckpad past the paddler towards the tail, when wet on a sunny day it really catches the eye. 



Well designed nose

The nose is well finished, it looks a little like a hardboard in profile due to the curve the lower stringer gives the bow. Close to the nose we have a RAM mount with a D ring, this gives a rock solid attachment point for a GoPro or any other action camera and a towing eye, just in case it’s needed.


Further back on the deck we have a 3 pairs of D rings with a bungee cord rigged across them, two handles either side and forward of centre and a centre handle which is well placed for weight distribution. The handles are nicely padded and very comfortable for long carries. The deck pad on this board has a nice texture under bare feet and it’s also plenty grippy with wetsuit boots or wet-shoes. 


Towards the tail there are two more pairs of D rings also with a bungee across them, a kick pad and a combined handle and D ring for your leash. It’s good to have the option to carry cargo at the rear but if you use the kickpad a lot you will want to remove the bungee. You will also find the top of the fin box back here, sitting under the cargo area in front of the kickpad. On the production models the top of the fin box will have a section of deckpad on it and will be flush with the rest of the deck.

The McConks branding on this board is subtle with logos on the side near the tail and on the handles. The production boards will have similar subtle detailing as shown in this graphic



Go Race production graphics from McConks

Flip the board over and you’ll find the sibling to the deck stringer, starting at the nose this is a mirror of the one you’ll see when paddling. The rest of the hull is plain until you get to the tail. Here you’ll find the other side of the fin box and a hard edge on each rail. There is no hard edge across the tail because McConks modelling found that unless the board can be maintained at a speed where it would be on the plane the rear hard edge trapped water slowing the board. 


Rear cargo area, the top of the fin box and leash/handle

So what’s with the fin box?

When designing the board Andy wanted to make sure that it could be rolled as easily as his other boards, it would appear that the carbon stringers on some boards make them harder to roll and therefore slightly more bulky than their non-carbon competitors. He also wanted to minimise drag on the hull by recessing the fin box, heading towards a certain cycling teams mantra of ‘marginal gains’.

His solution is a two part plastic structure that fits either side of a hole through the board and secured in place with a simple strap. The top and bottom plates of the box fit flush with the board surface giving a neat and streamlined appearance. When rolled the Go Race is broadly the same size as a 12’6” x 32” touring iSUP that I have, Andy’s design aim has been fulfilled. 


There is a third benefit to this design. I am a huge fan of FCS II click in fins and have been using them for some time now, my oldest one has been my go-to fin for over 4 years on a multitude of boards. I am also aware that these fins can go missing in action and that more often than not that has been from an iSUP fin box. Having a rock solid fin box should hopefully solve any click-in fin issues. 

The point of a prototype is to find out what works and what needs improvement. On this board a small area around the hole for the fin box is not perfectly finished, this results in a small gap between the lower plate and the board, it’s so small that it’s hard to take a photo that clearly shows it. I had also thought that fitting it was a little fiddly until I lent the board to a friend, he simply put the two bits together and slotted them into place. No faffing or fiddling required. 


Going fast on the Go Race. Image Michael Beck


How does it perform?


The board arrived in Sweden at the beginning of March which is still winter here. Our first outing was with air temp around freezing and water temp only slightly higher, I was not keen to test my drysuit out! Initially things were a little wobbly as this board is a little narrower than iSUPs I’ve paddled recently but once I got moving it felt just like a race SUP. 

Second paddle, I had to break the ice at the shore to get to clear water. Not ideal conditions to test a new board but there are worse things to have to do. I’d already stopped thinking about the width. 

Until I started to write this I also confess to not thinking about flex either. With the board inflated to approximately 20 PSI I can feel no flex in normal paddling. This is confirmed by the photos, I am between 95 and 100kg and the board at that pressure is flat in with me on it. When sprinting I can feel it move under me but so does my Allstar. And yes, I can jump up and down on the Go Race and get both ends out of the water at the same time but who does that on a SUP? For load testing the board has had me (100kg), my Labrador (40kg) and a Labrador friend (30kg) on it, not much paddling was done with 70kg of excited dog but the board didn’t bend. 


The recess for the fin is long enough for any of the fins I have, even an FCS JB runner which has a very long base. I have had a niggle with some fin screw plates that have been thicker than the slot in the box, irritating but easily solved. And some narrow fin screw plates have turned in the slot but again that’s an irritation and doesn’t impact on fin security. 

That flat nose is perfect for the paddling the Go Race and I will do. The shape of the nose means that the board moves through the water nicely, where many iSUPs seem to shove water out of the way this works more like a hardboard parting the water neatly, on flat water it is very good. In the interests of testing I’ve used it in a range of conditions from strong wind to choppy seas and the board has performed flawlessly. I’ve also passed it around to other paddlers I know who have also approved, from novices to very experienced paddlers all the feedback has been positive. 


Tracking with the supplied fin is good and board stability is very good. 


Paddle Faster! 


Speed tests

I’ve tested the Go Race against my other two 14’ boards; a 2016 Allstar (14’x27”) with Allison fins and a McConks Carbon Sport (14’x28”). I find that the Allstar is marginally faster over longer distances and excels in rough conditions but the McConks has given me my fastest ever 1km time. 

In the last month I’ve paddled over 150km split across the three boards. The figures below are from several timed runs on my local lake, this is 4km long, relatively sheltered and has no significant current. For data collection each activity was over 4km out and back to reduce the impact of head/tail wind, all were done with the same fin and with the same paddle. I have not included any timed sprints from my data. 

The figures below are for a steady pace that I can maintain for an hour on each board in ideal conditions, glassy flat water;

  • Starboard Allstar 8.3 km/h
  • McConks Carbon Sport 8.2 km/h
  • McConks Go Race 8.0 km/h


The following are the fastest 1km times from all that data, note that these are not sprints but steady state paddling; 

  • McConks Carbon Sport 6’45” / 8.9 km/h
  • Starboard Allstar 6’52” / 8.7 km/h
  • McConks Go Race 7’07” / 8.4km/h



The Go Race is no slouch when it comes to moving effectively through the water. 


Go Race at rest. Image Michael Beck

My verdict. 

This is a very good board, in perfect conditions it is also a fast board and if you are looking for a fast board that you can roll up and put in a rucksack then this could be the board for you.

What the data doesn’t show is that this board, and indeed most iSUPS are pretty much indestructible which is why I asked Andy for this board. I hope to compete in an event later this year which is a 22km course that includes sections on lakes, rivers, mild white water, a bit of carrying with some possibly sketchy re-floats and a section along the coast. It will be an incredibly varied course and should be a lot of fun when I don’t have to worry about damaging the board. Using the Go Race paired with the McConks 4.6” gummi fin has also allowed me to access the shallower, rougher waterways near me, expanding my paddling horizons, giving me access to some beautiful places and stunning nature.


The prototype has now been prised out of my hands by a friend here who borrowed it for a 21km coastal run. He was so impressed he made Andy an offer for it and I’m now waiting impatiently for Andy to send me a production model. 


Off for new adventures with her new owner


Words and images - Chris Jones unless specified.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

McConks Carbon Sport LiftSUP Handle

Board Modifications


Getting a prototype board from the other side of the world is always a bit of a risk, you know the numbers that went into the software, you know what you and the designer wanted to achieve but you don’t know how it will turn out until you unpack it and get it wet. Back in April 2018 I blogged about McConks first go at a hard board and that worked out pretty well with only two minor niggles on an otherwise splendid board; the handle wasn’t the one specified and there was some glue on the deckpad. 

Of those two the handle turned out to be more than a niggle; because it wasn’t deep enough carrying the board any distance was a pain as was retrieving the board from pontoons or jetties. So much of a pain that I started to look for a solution and for someone who could implement that for me here in Sweden. After talking to some of the locals I approached crosswater.se who are based not too far away outside Varberg. 


My three options were;
1 replace it with a larger, deeper recessed handle custom made for the board by Crosswater.
2 leave it and add carry straps to the deck
3 remove it and add a LiftSUP handle

Of the three the LiftSUP was the more interesting option but also the trickiest to get, it was the end of October ’18 before I could book her in for her modifications.

Given the surgery that the McConks was about to have it was time to address the one problem that had developed, the deck where I stand most of the time was starting to show signs of compression. I’m a big lad and that has happened on other boards that I’ve paddled a lot.

Time passes slowly when a board is in the workshop but after 3 weeks I got the call, come and get her…

The result is a very stealthy board!

McConks Carbon Sport with LiftSUP Handle

What was done


The original deck pad was removed, along with approximately half a kilo of glue! Then the carbon was cut away from around the handle including the compressions in the deck. The core of the board  in that area was then removed and replaced with a much more dense foam into which the LiftSUP handle was mounted using the template supplied. The area was glassed and epoxy’d and a section of black, diamond textured deck grip was fitted to cover the modification. The area from the new deck pad to the rear of the board was covered with a sheet of grip cloth and then epoxy’d. All in a very professional job that I am more than happy with.

The handle is much, much better than the original, the board is balanced well when carrying and the extra control that the handle gives make it somewhat easier to move in windy conditions. It also provides a convent place to attach the leash when moving it too. 
The board now looks a lot more serious than it did and the more aggressive grip is somewhat better under winter wetsuit boots or wet shoes. The grip behind the deck pad is more than enough for pivot turns and I think it looks fantastic. 

Deck pad glue removed


Doing it right



Ready for finishing

At home in Sweden



Saturday, 8 September 2018

Redwood Paddle Funbox Pro Review

Funbox Pro 12' 6" x 29"


I’ve had a chance to have a play on a box fresh Redwood Paddle Funbox Pro 12’6” x 29” inflatable, here’s what I thought of it;


Redwood Paddle Funbox Pro 12'6" x 29"

About Redwood Paddle


Redwood Paddle are a French SUP company created in 2007 initially with a range of paddles, this then expanded to include boards and now they have a huge range available, from entry level iSUPs to custom made hardboards and accessories. Whatever you’re after, they probably have it.

‘Funbox’ is the name Redwood Paddle give to all of their inflatable boards, the ‘Pro’ moniker is used for the 4 boards at the top end of the inflatable range, two 12’6” race boards, a 12’6” explorer board and the 14’ x 27” race board. 

What’s in the box?


Along with the board was a decent wheeled bag, the ubiquitous HP2 double action pump, an inexpensive dolphin style fin with thumbscrew and an iSUP first aid kit in the usual orange canister. 

About the board


The 2018 board is a good looking bit of kit in red and white with some simple but bold logo details to remind you about the brand. From the front there is a RWP skull and cross paddle / board logo proudly on the nose then two reminders of the length of the board and an asymmetrically logo’d white deck pad with RWP running down the right hand side. There are three good quality handles set into the deck pad, the two at the sides are offset towards the front of the board and are ideally placed for BOP style races where a bit of running with the board is called for. The deck also has a 4 point bungee for carrying kit and a good quality stainless steel D ring at the rear for your leash, not supplied. On the rails you’ll find the board dimensions and a little more branding. 



Flip the board over and you’ll find one skull logo up front and a single US fin box where you’d expect it to be. At the stern you’ll also find a hard edge tail strip in black. This is something usually found on more expensive boards and is nice to see on a board costing just under 700 euros.

The finish was excellent with no excess glue showing, even taping and no bubbles or bumps. On the scales she came in slightly above the 11.5kg quoted on the Redwood Paddle website, my scales showing 11.8kg for the board (with bungee cord) and fin. 

On the water 


The Funbox Pro paddles great. With the recommended 16 PSI in I expected it to flex a bit with me on it but it was absolutely fine, I’d probably stick a bit more air in there if it was mine but it belongs to a much lighter paddler so there’s no need to push that recommended limit. Tracking is good and it’s very easy to keep the board going in a straight line even with the jack of all trades fin in place.  The benefit of a US fin box is that the fin can be tuned to paddler preference and there’s a bit of room to experiment with fin position too, good stuff. Stability is also good as you’d expect for a 29” wide board, this is relatively wide for a race board especially if you consider that pros are now charging around on 21” wide thoroughbreds, but that’s not what this board is about and the difference in speed between this and a 32” wide iSUP really is noticeable. I was quite happy maintaining just over 7 km/h and sprinting at just over 9 km/h. For reference I’m between 1 and 1.5 km/h faster on a well known solid race board with similar dimensions on the same stretch of water.

The nose has just the right amount of rocker to push through a little chop but I didn’t get the chance to paddle in any more challenging conditions. 




The hard edge at the stern certainly makes a visual difference to the wake, the water has far less disturbance than the tail of a standard iSUP. If this makes any noticeable difference it’s hard to tell. I could feel no drawback from it and I think it looks good. The ability to get back and turn this board is flattering, so much so that I stayed dry despite my best attempts to get wet. 

Is it Fun?



Absolutely, this is a fun iSUP. Much more efficient than than an all-round shape and nearly as stable this board is putting a smile on the face of the owner, her first board. As a somewhat more experienced paddler I too found this board a lot of fun and would gladly take this out for longer paddles, however I suspect that getting it out of the hands of it’s new owner might be tricky. 



Friday, 20 April 2018

McConks Carbon Sport Review

McConks Carbon Sport

McConks Carbon Sport at rest in Devon

Back in December I blogged about a small project from McConks SUP in the UK, the development and production of the prototype Carbon Sport (you can read that here). Then the board was on her way to the UK and I got my hands on her at the end of January 2018. She (of course) is 14 feet long, just under 28 inches wide at the widest point with a maximum depth of just under 9 inches. With those dimensions she's a fast touring board for most but a race board for the taller / heavier paddler which is exactly what I was looking for. 

About the board

The hull has a high gloss lacquer finish over bare carbon with painted sections with a deck pad glued in place. 

Carbon, paint, logo.

There is a lot of volume in the nose with a pronounced ridge running from the bow that fades to give a flatter section with 6 bungee points (lightweight bungee cord supplied) before the deck pad. The handle is recessed into the deck, it is well placed with a good balance front to back when carrying the board, there are two vent plugs and a single leash point mounted centrally at the tail of the board. The finish of the carbon and the lacquer around deck fittings is flawless.

Turning the board over the hull had a surprise, or three for me. I had expected a subtle concave running the length of the hull, not the far more complex single to triple concave that has been implemented beautifully. It is really subtle though and hard to see in photos with the triple starting just before the middle of the board and continuing to the tail.  There is a single, full size US fin box mounted towards the tail. The finish of the hull was perfect.

The deck pad is lightly textured and showed some signs of excess glue on the pad, a shame as that shows up white against the McConks blue.

Lost in Translation

Some parts of the spec Andy had supplied didn't make it into the finished prototype; the FCS /GoPro mount is missing and the carry handle was supposed to have a more defined lip to curl your fingers into when carrying the board. Two small things that do not detract from performance and have been noted for any future versions. However the extra work in the hull more than compensates for having to stick a GoPro mount on later. Also the graphics at the bow didn’t work as Andy had planned but I like them and it’s my board so that’s OK. 

The bow, sharp up top but blunt below.

On dry land the design of the bow also seems to have suffered from a language or interpretation problem. From above you’d expect a vertical bow with quite a pronounced edge, this is how it starts out but as you move down towards the waterline it flares and is actually quite blunt. It doesn’t look that efficient or fast and being brutally honest it appears clumsy and out of place, again something to address in any future developments. 

All in I think she looks great from most angles, that bow not withstanding. For a ‘budget’ carbon SUP board the only part that looks budget is the deck pad and that’s largely down to that smear of glue where it shouldn’t be.

Of course the way a board performs in the water is far more important than how it looks on dry land. Sadly soon after she arrived we left the UK and she’s been sat in a storage locker in Sweden since the end of February while I find a place to live with storage for a 14’ carbon board. Before we left I did get some some quality time on the water including a photo shoot and one race.

The proof of the pudding is in the paddling

So how does she paddle…. really well. Which you may have been expecting me to say as she’s my board that I’ve paid for but let me elaborate;



The first impression was stability. She is the most stable ‘race’ or touring board I’ve paddled that’s under 28 inches wide. Even more stable than my other wide race board a 201612’6” x 28 Allstar. That stability doesn’t mean she’s slow though and the second impression is that stepping up from a 12’6” board she feels fast. A test run in neutral conditions on a timed 1km course resulted in a 33 second personal best with an average speed of 10.4 km/h, exactly 1 km/h higher than my previous best. I’ve paddled the same timed run over 50 times on various 12’6” boards, not bad for a budget board with a funny shape bow! 



Trimming the board is the key to making that bow work well in flatwater, too far forward and it’s shoving water out of the way. A fraction further back and it works far better reducing the water lifted at the bow. There is a lot of volume at the bow and quite a lot of height, this means side winds can push the front around a bit. When conditions require it moving a little further forward and getting the bow engaged means that the board tracks straight. 



When discussing the design with Andy I wanted to retain width at the tail but without excess volume and he achieved exactly that. The tail is slightly thinner than other boards I’ve paddled, but also wider. That means that stepping back for a buoy turn is easy to do, the tail will sink but that extra width keeps everything stable, to a point. The hull design also helps here, holding the board well in the water while you make the turn. 

Fin box placement is also good, the extra length of the box meaning that moving the fin forward or backward actually makes a difference to paddling. But the box itself appears to be slightly too wide for some fins that I have, they rattle a little which is easily solved with a foam insert, the type supplied by FCS with their FCS II fins. In fairness I have found other boards, hard and inflatable with fin boxes that aren’t quite perfect, either too tight or too lose.

She has less rocker than I had expected which is great for flatwater performance but I wasn’t after a pure flatwater board. Luckily that hull work and the overall stability of the board means that she handled her one outing (so far) in what could be called a funky swell well (funky was supposed to be chunky but funky swell sounds good). With strong gusts of  wind, natural wind swell and the wake from a squadron of Royal Marines (landing craft and ribs) she handled waves of up to waist height not with aplomb but adequately. The only swim caused by over-confidence by the paddler trying to turn after catching a few runners and sinking the tail too far for the conditions, a gust of wind took the bow and in I went. To be fair to the board the average wind speed for that paddle was over 20 mph, gusts were well over that! 



Finally that lacquer finish, it’s not flawless anymore. That one race was in the dark in Kingsbridge and I think I must have hit something in the water,  there was a scar when we’d finished.  It has proved to be fairly easy to fix though, sanding it back revealed that the carbon underneath was fine, some carefully applied Solarex has fixed the problem. One advantage with a clear top coat is there’s no paint to try to match.

Go Paddle 

A brace of McConks Carbon Sports and an McConks Go Anywhere

You can guess that I like my new board and I am happier with the prototype McConks than I thought I would be. Buying a board without seeing it based on diagrams alone is a bit of a risk but it’s been worth it. I’ve got a board that I really like and I because I was involved in the development process she feels a little more special than my other boards. I’ve got a board that suits the paddling I enjoy most and cannot wait to get her out of storage and onto the water here in Sweden. The conditions I’ve paddled in here so far suit the McConks perfectly and who knows, we may try to get involved in the race scene here too.

In the foreseeable future McConks will not be offering the Carbon Sport as part of their range but will be doing small batches to order, contact Andy @ McConks if you’re interested, but make sure he sorts that bow out first! 

All images (except the first one) from Mike Lister @ Mike Lister Photography




Sunday, 31 December 2017

McConks Carbon SUP Board


McConks Carbon SUP
McConks Carbon ready for shipping
Random conversations and cheeky questions sometimes lead to good things. In September 2017 I was chatting to Andrew at McConks SUP and asked if he had any plans for a 14’ race board. McConks have a history with quality, no nonsense, good value inflatables and I was hoping that he had a plan to bring a longer, narrower and faster board to market. I was more than surprised when the reply was 

“Inflatable or hard?”

Three little words that mean so much. Turns out that Lucy at Whitstable SUP had asked the same question and Andy was working on a 14’ carbon board, the first McConks hardboard. The plan was to make three prototypes and when I asked one had yet to find a home, a problem soon solved by my enthusiastic reply! 

One of the early spec sheets


The dimensions for the McConks prototype happened to be what I was looking for; a relatively wide, large volume board with a nose that would work well in chop and flatwater.

I’ve been lucky enough to own or paddle several race boards over the last few years, from classic K15s to brand new 14’ and 12’6” inflatable race boards and many in between. I currently have a 12’6” x 28” all water board and I had a very good idea of what I wanted from my first 14’ board so when Andy asked for any suggestions on the details I hit my keyboard with a wish list that Andy was kind enough not to throw away! 

A later CAD design

Several months later the three McConks Carbon boards are in a shipping container on their way to the UK. The time between that initial chat and the blanks being cut highlighted how easy it is to write a list and send it to someone to sort out but the extended conversations with Andy showed just how hard it is to design a SUP board, I was very glad that I wasn’t doing the hard work! CAD designs were tweaked, colours, graphics and logos added, repositioned and removed. Who’d have thought that a deck pad could be tricky but deck pad texture, graphics and positioning were tried ,discarded and done again. Ever had to think where a leash plug should go? Me neither but that’s a really important thing to sort out along with the vent plug, deck mounts and more. 


Blanks cut and ready

The challenges in specifying the things that you don’t have to think about when buying off the shelf went on and on but Andy just dealt with them, occasionally asking a question or sending an image when he was happy. As an active spectator the process has been fascinating and it’s with some excitement that I’m now waiting for my McConks Carbon to arrive.

So what are the McConks Carbon dimensions and features;

14’ x 28” x 9” (max) /  339 litres / aprox 14 kg 


McConks Carbon SUP
Nude carbon

Width

28”. That is enormous when you look at the current trend to go as narrow as possible, 21.5” for some stock race boards and narrower still for some custom boards. But something that narrow would be little more than a swimming aid for me and for many other paddlers and as a paddler that’s unlikely to be at the sharp end of a race a wide, more stable board makes sense leading to more time standing and paddling than swimming.

McConks Carbon SUP
Freshly painted


The Hull

Single concave down the centre. The aim is to channel water down the middle leading to increased stability and, if I can paddle well enough to keep the board on a plane, a bit more speed in a straight line. 

The Tail

Slimmed down for buoy turns but keeping some width for stability when stepping back and turning.

Deck

The McConks deck is recessed but with no raised edge to trap water. My current 12’6” x 28” has a recessed deck which looks nice but collects water and has no drainage. That leaves me standing in a puddle all the time, not so bad in summer but less good in winter especially when the water freezes! 

McConks Carbon SUP
Ready to get wet

Deck Pad

Not too chunky with a kick pad at the tail for those who can get back that far and because kick pads look good on fast boards. 

Fin Box

Full size US box. A relatively wide board is likely to be paddled by a larger paddler so it makes sense to have a fin box that will accommodate a big fin. That also has the advantage of allowing a fin with a smaller base to be positioned according to the course or for paddler preferences. Any extra drag from the gap in front of or behind a fin won’t be noticed by most paddlers.

Cargo

Typically ‘race’ boards don't have any consideration for carrying stuff, after all in a race who's going to willingly add weight to their board. But for most paddlers a race board has to do more than race and adding the capability to carry stuff when training or touring has to be a good thing with no downside in an event.

McConks Carbon SUP
Paddler not supplied

The only thing missing was from the photos from the factory is the big smiley face for the bow of mine and the board name but maybe Andy decided that printing “SUPpy McSUP Face” on one was a  step too far. We’ll find out on 20.01.2018 when the three boards get wet for the first time, watch this space for details…