Examining my “One Board Quiver”
As the paddling season comes to an end in Upstate New York, it’s time to consider what this one board quiver experiment meant. Can an experienced paddler survive with just a Pau Hana Big EZ or was this a dumb question to begin with?
Like most boards of this class, the Big EZ is really easy to paddle. It’s one of the most stable boards I’ve paddled. I think a more important concern for an experienced paddler is it’s speed. How fast is it? With a regular but relaxed cadence, the board cruises at about 3.5 miles per hour. Not terrible, but if you’re the kind of paddler who tends to stop between strokes, you’ll be slower. This board can definitely go faster, but if you put on a racing cadence you begin changing the way the board moves through the water. This has to do with its round nose. It can only go so fast easily. Once you put on the serious effort you start dragging the board over the water instead of passing through it. So it can go faster — I’ve pushed it up to 3.8 mph on a choppy race course (timed and verified), and up to 4 on a flat course, but it’s pretty inefficient. Because of that shape, it takes a lot more energy just to make the board go a little bit faster.
Is this hybrid shape board good for cruising or not? The answer is wimpy. “Yes, but…” It’s fine for short distances of 3-5 miles. The bungee cords are great for carrying a bag or water bottle. The board even deals with chop well. If you’re the kind of paddler who likes to explore small nooks and waterways, then the Ricochet material is a plus. The durable construction means you don’t have to stress over every rock. It’s a great puttering board, but speed becomes more of an issue the longer your trip.
What I learned
When I’m doing distances, I like to get into a rhythm of long smooth strokes. My ancient 14’ NSP board is perfect for this. It takes pretty much all the power I give it and could probably take more. Unfortunately the Big EZ does not. Long strokes just aren’t efficient on an 11’ board, at least this one. It wants a shorter stroke. For casual paddling that’s fine, but it’s frustrating when you want to open up the throttle. On the other hand, the board turns like a dream! Pivot turns are a cinch and it practically spins with a good cross-bow.
The maneuverability made surfing a lot of fun. Like cruising, if you keep it toned down, you’ve got a great board. The 32” width means it’s stable as hell and the board will catch the little waves easily. (It will also catch bigger ones — stay in the range of your skill!) The ricochet construction means it will survive the whitewater. Just be aware that you’ll have to walk this board. Getting on a wave means a few steps towards the nose, and keeping that ride going means a few steps back. And with that minimal rocker, watch out for pearling! Your tricks will probably be limited to slow elegant turns. But for most of us, that’s fine.
Where this board excels, and maybe this was obvious from the start, is as a family board. What a terrific platform for rides! I’ve done it many times. It’s even stable enough for two to stand on. My kids have discovered other uses for it too. They like to steal it for a diving platform or playing king-of-the-hill. (Darn kids, get off my board!) And when things get bad, you have a good rescue board. It’s fast enough to get to an emergency and stable enough to easily assist. During a paddle I came across a child who couldn’t get into his overturned kayak. Even with his father’s assistance, the boy was flooding his boat every time he tried to get back in. I got him to climb aboard the Big EZ. The boy’s father was able to empty his kayak again, and then the boy scrambled into his kayak. Disaster averted, and the family went merrily on their way!
Needless to say this is a very good teaching board. Teaching boards need to be wide and stable to accommodate newbies, but shouldn’t compromise on fun. Too wide and the board is a turtle. Too narrow and a beginner won’t be able to stand. In this way the Big EZ is a good middle ground, easy to paddle and fun. A teaching board is also going to take abuse, so kudos to the Ricochet construction for that. The bungee attachments also let you carry water or a sports drink easily.
My one big problem with the board isn’t the size or the shape or the weight, but the paint. As I mentioned in an earlier article, the paint bubbles too easily. For a board that prides itself on being tough, it sure sunburns! I have more bubbles on this board than any other I own. One of these, a 2011 NSP, I’ve had for six years, taken back and forth from New York to Florida, and left on the beach lots of times. (I heard a rumor about this being an issue with the 2016 models too, and it obviously hasn’t been fixed.) The Big EZ is a standard rental fleet model, which means it will be left in the sun. That’s the nature of the beast. I’ve taken to storing the board in the bag whenever I’m at the beach. (I’m left to wonder if the similar Endurance model by Pau Hana has the same issues.) Between that and the rust I’m seeing around the Seamounts, these are some long-term quality concerns.
The board bag too isn’t great. I would forgo the Pau Hana bag and spend a little more of one by FCS or Vitamin Blue. These third-party bags won’t have the problem of handles tearing off or the zipper ripping at the seam. The bags won’t fit exactly to the Big EZ, and that means some wumping when the board is on your car roof. That’s a small price to pay for higher quality, and it can be fixed with a well-placed bungee or two around the bag.
Still unanswered though is, does this board, or any other all-around, have a place in an experienced paddler’s quiver? That answer depends, but I would cautiously say yes. If your goal is to always be paddling and pushing your abilities, this is not the board for you. All-arounds are not designed for extreme conditions. If that’s where you’re spending your time, you want a board designed for that. However, if you do a lot casual paddling — like many of us — take a good look at the Big EZ. A raceboard isn’t the best board to use with your inexperienced friends. You can’t give kids rides on a big-wave surf SUP. Taking a board on vacation usually means you get only one board; if you need one board for all sorts of conditions, which would you pick?
Conclusions on my “One Board Quiver”
It can also be tiring to fuss over the right board for the specific conditions. Expensive too. I know people who have pretty big quivers, and each board is matched to whatever weather they might encounter on the water. I’m not one of them. I don’t have the space, and I can’t afford it. (Seems like those kids need other stuff besides rides, like food, and clothes, and books…) My situation isn’t exceptional; it’s pretty much normal. According to the 2015 Outdoor Foundation Special Report on Paddlesports, only about 30% of all paddlers went out more than five times a year, and only about 21% count as an enthusiast, going out more than 11 times a year. What kind board do you think the other 79% are going to be buying? It isn’t the latest carbon raceboard, trust me.
A one board quiver might be all you can fit into your lifestyle. That doesn’t make you a terminal newbie or a someone who doesn’t care about being skilled. An all-around might be what works for you. An all-around is also a board that will work with the most paddling scenarios. That brings me back to the original question, if I really want or need one board to do (almost) everything, an all-around is a great board to have in your quiver, and Pau Hana Big EZ Ricochet is a very good choice. It’s probably one of the best. Well balanced, and the Ricochet material makes it suitable for rough-and-tumble environments (or families, like mine). Just keep it out of the sun.