Catching the next set

Catching the next set

Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co came to life in 2015, as a small company dedicated to making high quality longboard style surf SUPS, and premium quality inflatable paddleboards (iSUPS).  

Long before SUP was mainstream and the industry was flooded with cheap boards and companies jumping on the bandwagon of popularity, choice was pretty limited.  It mostly came from windsurf brands using similar styles and construction methods as their windsurf boards.

Having had boards from all the major brands and trying to find something more suitable based on classic surfboard design, Freshwater Bay Paddleboards Founder, Charlie Cripwell, decided that if the main brands weren’t going to make the boards he wanted, then he’d better find a way of doing it himself! 

As the company grew, it attracted fans and accolades from both the Surfing World and Paddle-Sports World.  Riders included Former British Masters Longboard Champions, the Head of Paddle-Sports for SportScotland, and even the Editor of SUPMag which, considering he tests so many boards and could ride anything he wants, is a pretty good recommendation.  Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co also became known for its high-quality inflatable boards, using the best construction methods but with shapes more suitable and better designed than many of the big iSUP brands.  These boards were used by SUPers all over the UK and shipped as far as New Zealand. 

As the popularity of SUP started to increase, more and more companies came to the market.  Many of whom had no interest in paddleboarding or paddleboarders – it was just a way to make a quick buck and get boards to market as quickly and cheaply as possible.  After years of prototyping, testing and growing Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, Charlie came to realise that he just didn’t want to compete in an industry that had changed beyond recognition. 

Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co remained something of a cult brand, with used boards hardly ever coming up for sale. Once people bought one, they rarely let them go. Those that did come up for sale often sold for more than the original price of a new board, as demand was higher than supply.

Towards the end of 2020 someone wanted a Freshwater Bay Paddleboard so much that they bought the company, just so that we would start making them again! 

So now, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co isn’t just Charlie; it’s Charlie and Chris.  Chris happens to be a pretty cool guy for an ex-CEO of a £Billion company.  He also owns custom Bike Companies, making high-end carbon and steel bikes for Athletes and discerning riders, so he’s used to dealing with products and people at the premium end of the market.  Together, Chris and Charlie plan to put the quality back into the SUP industry and get people out on the boards they’ve been waiting for.

There’s still plenty of cheap brands on the market, plus a few that are ‘good enough’.  But for when ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough for you, there’s a Freshwater Bay Paddleboard.

Top tips for catching your first waves

Top tips for catching your first waves

While most Stand Up Paddleboard owners are happy enough to paddle on lakes and rivers, flat water coastal waters and beaches, catching waves on your SUP is a lot of fun!

While most Stand Up Paddleboard owners are happy enough to paddle on lakes and rivers, flat water coastal waters and beaches, catching waves on your SUP is a lot of fun!

But before you attempt to take your SUP in the waves, make sure you are well practiced and confident on flat water first.  The water is a LOT more dynamic in a wave environment, so you need to feel comfortable and stable with the additional movement your SUP will make, and know how to counteract or ‘go with the flow’ to stay on your board.

It’s also important to choose the right kind of board for SUP surfing.  While you can (in theory) ride a wave on most types of SUP, long and narrow touring or race boards, and inflatable boards, aren’t designed with wave riding in mind.  Yes, there are some iSUPs that are better at riding waves than others, but if you really want to surf then a hard SUP is the answer.  Surf SUPs can be any size from 11 foot down to 7 foot, but in reality, those short low volume surf SUPs are suitable for very few people.  If you want a board you can paddle comfortably on flat water, and enjoy carving a wave in a cruisy longboard style, we would recommend our Freshwater Bay Classic SUP board as that is exactly what they are designed for!

If you’re just starting out with your first forays into SUP surfing, then choose a quiet location away from crowds.  Not only does it let you practice without being a danger to other water users, it also takes the pressure off you so you can enjoy getting used to being on your board in that environment without having to contend with others.  It’s also important to make sure you are wearing a good strong leash so your board doesn’t get away from you if you fall off, or if you have to push your SUP over the top of a breaking wave. 

If you’re feeling confident you can paddle out from the beach standing up, but you can also paddle out on your knees, or lying in the prone position with your paddle tucked under your torso and paddling with your arms like a regular surfer.  We would recommend standing up as soon as you are able to as it helps you develop your balance faster, and you have a better vantage point to see the waves coming towards you. For the first few paddle outs, it’s best to be in waist deep water before you attempt to stand, so you don’t injure yourself if you do fall off.  

Rather than having your feet parallel, as you would for flat water paddleboarding, try staggering your feet slightly so the foot you would naturally place at the tail of the board when surfing is slightly further back.  This will help stabilise you as the board not only pitches back and forth, but also rolls side to side.  Ideally you want to get through the breaking wave zone as quickly and efficiently as possible, and you may well make it out to the line-up in one go with dry hair; however, there are a couple of techniques to help you get through the waves that you can’t just paddle over normally.

If the wave is about to break, or has just broken in front of you, then get yourself into the surf stance.  This is where your front foot is placed centrally in the middle of the board, and your back foot is on the tail.  As the wave is coming for you, take the weight off your front foot and apply weight to the back foot.  This will lift the nose of the board slightly to allow the white-water to pass underneath. At the same time, take a long powerful stroke with your paddle to help propel yourself over the breaking wave.  As the wave passes beneath you, lean forward slightly applying weight to your front foot, which will bring the nose of the SUP back down, and stop you falling off the back. At the same time bring your back foot forwards into the staggered stance. Again, use the paddle to take a powerful forward stroke, which will also act as a brace to steady yourself.   For the first attempts at this technique, you are VERY likely to fall in.  Don’t worry about it, this is why you have chosen a nice quiet location to practice.  As the saying goes; if you’re falling, you’re learning! 

If you do fall off, keep hold of your SUP paddle.  It should soon become second nature to never let go, although fibreglass and carbon paddles will float indefinitely, so if you do let go just swim over and retrieve it.  However, it’s much better to be in the habit of keeping hold of it. If you’re in the water and another wave is coming towards you, grab hold of the tail of your board or the rail-saver (flat webbing part) on your leash and pull down slightly as you duck under the wave.  This will help the wave pass over both you and your board. Climb back onboard your SUP and continue to paddle out.  

Once you have paddled out to the ‘lineup’ – the area where you want to be to catch the waves – either face out to sea to keep an eye on the incoming waves, or stay parallel to the waves. 

The advantage of staying parallel to the waves is that you don’t have to do a 180° step-back turn to paddle for the wave you want to catch, which loses speed and momentum.  If you stay parallel and paddle you can time when to put in a couple of extra strokes to turn the board as the wave approaches.  This means you keep your speed up and maintain stability for catching the wave.

For the last few strokes into the wave, change the cadence of your paddle stroke from the usual deep long powerful stroke, to a faster shorter motion – almost circular in technique. 

As you feel the wave picking up the tail of your board, and you start to drop down the face of the wave, step back from your staggered stance into the surf stance, turn your head and lean into the direction you want to travel.  As you reach the bottom of the wave, you can put the paddle in the water and use that to pivot the board round and back up the wave.  If all goes to plan, you are now up and away, surfing your way down the line!

How are Freshwater Bay hard boards constructed?

How are Freshwater Bay hard boards constructed?

When Charlie first started getting his Freshwater Bay Paddleboard designs from idea, to CAD files, to production the main board factories didn’t want to know.  They were too busy making boards for the big brands to consider making them for us.  

By working his way down a list of SUP factories, Charlie finally got one to agree to make some prototypes of his hard board designs.  Time passed and with great anticipation, the boards finally arrived.  The first boards were, quite honestly, terrible…! Construction was poor, the finish was awful and the factory didn’t really care too much about it. Some brands still have their boards made in this factory, and in many factories like it.  But not Freshwater Bay Paddleboards. 

These boards didn’t see the light of day as far as the public was concerned.  But, more importantly, boards had been created and Charlie could now go to other, better factories, and say ‘Hey, I have designs, I have boards, I need the quality to be higher!’.  From this inauspicious start, Charlie started moving up the ranks and now Freshwater Bay Paddleboards are made in some of the best factories in the World, alongside those major brands. It took time and effort to get there -flying out to factories for meetings, working on prototypes with them, and checking construction – all before we sold our first board. But that’s how we do it at Freshwater Bay Paddleboards and that’s what sets us apart!

Our goal has always been to make Freshwater Bay Paddleboards the best boards possible, regardless of expense. Quality starts with the right attitude, and we only work with manufacturers that share our attitude; the boards have to made right, every time!

Hard Board Construction:

The best hard boards start with a great shape.  Freshwater Bay hard boards are designed not only for all-round flatwater paddling, but also to hit the waves.  That comes from our longboard surf heritage, which you can see throughout our style.  Freshwater Bay Paddleboards may have similar dimensions to many other boards, but don’t let that fool you; the bottom contours and thinned out rails at the tail, mean the board is fast and highly manoeuvrable in the surf, while maintaining stability for flatwater paddling. They’re not just another ‘All-Rounder’ SUP! 

Once you have the right shape, you need the right materials.  As with any leisure-sport product, you have to get the right balance between strength and weight.  The more materials you use, the more durable the product (in theory!), but the extra weight makes them less manoeuvrable – not what you want when carving the face of a wave, or even just carrying your board to the water. Many companies add more and more layers of materials to make them stronger, but that isn’t always the answer.  By refining the manufacturing process, and using the right high-quality materials in the right places, you can have a board that is both light and strong. 

We’ve done a lot of testing over the years, and we think we’ve got the balance right!

We start with a 20kg/m3 EPS foam core.  This is CNC machine shaped to replicate our CAD drawings as closely as possible, every time. The machined shape is then finished by hand to smooth out any rough cuts from the machine, and make sure the contours are right.  

Then high-density reinforcements are installed where the fins, handle, and leash will be placed.  Many companies don’t do this as it’s more expensive to manufacture. But we do.

We only use genuine imported surf industry standard FCS and Futures attachments for Freshwater Bay Paddleboards. We could use imitation ones to save money, like a lot of companies. But we don’t. 

Once the attachments and fin boxes are installed, the boards are laminated.

We use a combination of fibreglass weights in the lamination process.  Different weights have a different weave size and thickness, so using a combination of weights gives a higher strength to weight ratio.  We also use a 0.5mm layer of wood between the fibreglass layers to add strength to the laminate.  You may not see it on our painted boards, but it’s there.  

We also add a layer of Carbon Fibre to the standing area of the deck.  This helps prevent any compressions in the area people stand for 90% of the time, without adding too much weight.  The rails, nose and tail are then wrapped in Kevlar to help prevent damage to these areas that are prone to a bashing.  

Once laminated, the boards go through the ‘vacuum bag’ process.  This causes suction that compresses the laminate to the foam core, creating a strong bond while removing any excess epoxy resin.  At the end of this process we have a board that is strong and light, with a hard shell. 

The boards are then painted using high quality urethane automotive paint and put in a warm, temperature controlled room – the ‘oven’ as we like to call it – to cure.  

Once cured, we apply our Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co logos, the clear resin top coat and then polish for a gleaming gloss finish. Each board takes around two weeks to make, and every stage of the process gets quality checked along the way.  Once the deck pad is installed, they get a final QC and are good to go!

So that is how Freshwater Bay Paddleboards go from CAD to RAD!

How are iSUPs manufactured?

How are iSUPs manufactured?

Freshwater Bay inflatable paddleboards (iSUPS) are made using Double Layer Fusion Technology.  But how are inflatable paddleboards made, and what are the differences?

There are a few different methods of inflatable paddleboard construction, with each method having implications on strength, flex, weight and cost. 

One thing all inflatable paddleboards (iSUPS) have in common, is that the internal core of the board is made of a drop-stitch material.  Drop-stitch material consists of thousands of nylon threads that keep the deck of the board joined to the bottom of the board.  Without these threads, the board wouldn’t keep its shape – it would just expand vertically as air is pumped in, until it reaches capacity and looks nothing like a paddleboard! 

Although ALL inflatable boards are made using drop-stitch, not all drop-stitch is created equal.  You can have linear drop-stitch, diagonal drop-stitch and V-shape drop-stitch. You also get different stitch densities – the higher the thread count, the more rigid the board, but the more expensive it is to manufacture. Many boards at the lower end of the market use drop-stitch with a very low thread count; usually around 5,000-7,000 threads per m2.  At the core of a Freshwater Bay inflatable paddleboard is a German technology lightweight drop-stitch with 15,000 threads per m – up to 3 times higher than lower quality boards.  This is the first step in improving rigidity as it can take higher pressure and there are more contact points tying the deck and the hull together. 

Next we have the PVC layer, or layers.

1. Single Layer Construction

At the cheaper end of the spectrum, boards have a single layer of PVC.  The molten PVC is poured over the drop-stitch base cloth to make it airtight.  Job done! Except that quite often the board isn’t fully airtight and air can slowly escape through microscopic holes in the PVC.  This could be fine for a while, but it’s not something we at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co would take a risk on! 

Single layer boards are also prone to flex and are less durable than multi-layer construction boards. However, they are light weight and lower cost which is a bonus.  The worst examples of this construction are the boards you can buy in supermarkets, which also tend to be very thin and poorly designed. A higher quality example of this construction from the main brands is the Fanatic Pure or Starboard Zen range.

2. Single Layer with Stringer Construction 

Single layer with stringer is a step up from single layer. It’s the same single layer construction, but with the addition of an extra PVC strip glued along the middle of the board, from nose to tail. This doesn’t cover the whole deck or hull of the board, just a section running length-ways down the middle.  It improves stiffness over the single layer boards, without adding too much weight.  But the rest of the board is still single layer, and less durable.  Although an improvement on the single layer board, it still has flex.   An example of this construction is the Fanatic Fly Air. 

3. Double Layer Construction

Double Layer Construction takes a single skin board and hand glues a second layer of PVC to it.  These boards are 100% airtight, stiffer and more durable than single layer construction.  This is how the original Freshwater Bay Paddleboards iSUPS were constructed back in 2015.  They were stiff and rugged but heavier.  This was still the best construction method available back then, but not perfect.  Some brands still use this double layer construction, but we’ve moved on to something better!

4. Double Layer Fusion Construction

As mentioned at the start, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co inflatable SUPs are made using Double layer Fusion Technology, the highest construction quality possible. Instead of hand gluing a second layer of PVC to a single skin board, Double Layer Fusion Tech heat welds two layers of PVC together without needing the glue layer.  The fused PVC layer is then heat bonded to the drop-stitch base with a sealing adhesive layer.  This sealing adhesive layer not only forms the base to attach the PVC to the drop-stitch, but also creates the first airtight layer of the board. 

This is all done in controlled conditions, before the shape of the board has even been cut. This is very similar to the Red Paddle MSL Technology, and the same that is used in the Fanatic Premium range.

Once the shape of the board has been machine cut, the first 0.9mm layer of PVC rail is heat bonded to the deck and hull, creating an airtight board. 

The board then goes through a two day inflation test, to check for any leaks around the seams and the valve. Once it has passed two days with no drop in pressure, the second 0.9mm rail layer is heat bonded, overlapping the first rail layer.  This second layer adds durability to the rails and extra protection against any leaks. Many brands use a single layer on the rail, or add a thin PVC strip over the seam and call that double layer.  We call it cheating! 

With the second rail layer added, the boards continue their inflation test.  The deck pad is fitted with a pre-installed handle and any cargo net attachments, and then bonded to the board under 180PSI of pressure. This ensures the deckpad won’t come un-stuck and start lifting or bubbling, like on many other brands. 

All D-Rings, Cargo Nets, RAM Mounts and handles are fitted.

After a minimum total of 1 week of inflation, the finished board pressure is checked one final time before being packaged ready for shipping. 

Using the highest quality materials and manufacturing techniques, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co iSUPs are 90% rigid at 15PSI.  We recommend 15-18PSI depending on the weight of the Rider.  Although it certainly isn’t necessary, all our iSUPs are actually rated beyond 30PSI – you won’t find many inflatable paddleboards on the market that can make that claim!

White Water SUP

White Water SUP

First forays into White Water SUP

It doesn’t matter how much experience you have on a SUP, there’s always the opportunity to progress your skills and try something new.  For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, we have years of experience on flat water and in the surf. However, very recently we decided to step out of our SUP comfort zone and try something new.  White Water SUP is relatively new on the UK SUP scene – there’s a massive following for whitewater kayaking and canoeing, so why not have a go at white water SUP?

We headed up to the Lake District to run a set of rapids that we don’t think has ever been SUP’d before.  Ok, we’re not confirming ‘first descent’ but Sean from Wild River lives and breathes the river and he’d never seen it SUP’d before.  We took on 6 miles of Grade 2 rapids on the River Eden, just outside Penrith in the Lake District.  The rapids only work about 25% of the time as the water level needs to be just right.  Too little water and you won’t make it over the rocks; too much water and you’ve got a fight on your hands!

Leaving vehicles at both ends of the run, we loaded up two of our Freshwater Bay iSUPs with everything we thought we might need. There’s no get off point during the 6 mile run, so we utilised the boards cargo nets to store dry bags with snacks, first aid kit, iSUP repair kits and a pump – it always pays to be prepared for any SUP emergency. We also took spare SUP paddles, as the last thing we wanted to was to be up the creek without…..

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK

Leash or no leash?

One of main talking points in whitewater SUP is whether or not to wear a leash.  It’s a difficult one – a leash is your lifeline to your board, but can also be a hazard.  If you’re going to wear a leash for white water SUP then the recommendation is to use a waist leash on a quick release.  The last thing you want is an ankle or knee leash dragging in the water and getting tangled.  This could be a potential disaster.  After much discussion we decided to run the river without leashes.  We didn’t have quick release waist leashes at our disposal so it was the safest option.

Needless to say, we both came off our boards on the the first tiny rapid, which didn’t bode too well.  However, with Sean’s knowledge of the river, and his white water canoe and kayak experience, as well as my SUP experience, we decided to plough on.

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK
By the time we got to the next set of rapids, we were a bit more prepared.  Sean was teaching me what to look for and how to tell whether a rapid is caused by a rock that could pose a danger, or whether it’s a standing wave.  We pulled up on the bank and assessed the rapid to pick out a line that we would attempt to run.  I say attempt as the river has ways of pushing your SUP around that I haven’t experience – the rapids can cause part of the board to slow down and I often found the tail swinging round so I was doing 360 degree turns through the rapids.  In interesting experience when you’re first starting out, but after a little experience you understand how to handle it.

Using the iSUPs on rapids

Taking the two different inflatable SUPs meant we could swap around and see how each paddle board performed.  The 10’2 board is 5″ thick which is beneficial on a wave as opposed to a thicker board, but it was the 6″ thick 10’6 iSUP that really stood out in the rapids.  As the rapids pushed the SUPs around it was much easier to catch a rail on the thinner 10’2 and tip the board. The 6″ thick 10’6 provided the extra volume at the rail which made bounce off the rapids, rather than cut under and tip. A much easier prospect when you’re first starting out in whitewater.

Overall both SUPs handled it well.  We bounced off more than our fair share of rocks and both paddle boards came out unscathed. Our polymer fused PVC construction is among the most durable SUP constructions on the market.   In our opinion, an inflatable SUP is the best choice for white water activity – they bounce off rocks without the shudder you get from plastic whitewater boards.   If you do lose balance and fall to your knees, they are also a lot more forgiving.  The other benefits are that they weigh a lot less than plastic white water SUPs, so easier to drag up the bank and portage around any unnavigable sections of the river.

For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, white water SUP was a learning experience. And a whole heap of fun.  Getting out there and trying some new is what it’s all about.  SUP has so many disciplines – from racing to surfing to down-winding.  White Water SUP is one of the most exhilarating ways to experience the water.  Needless to say, it’s not suitable until you’ve mastered the basics and are comfortable SUPing on the flat. Always go with someone familiar with the River, and never alone.  Get out there and have fun, but also be safe!

whitewater paddleboarding UK