What’s The Best River Running Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board?

What is the best inflatable stand up paddle board for the river“? This may be the single most common SUP related question that people call in or email with. The truth is, there are lots of boards out there that do well at running the river; all of them with slightly different niches. Some boards are known for being able to float a 350 pound offensive tackle down a class II rapid with ease (NRS Big Baron 6″ or Badfish MCIT 11’6″), some are known for high performance downriver / surf (Starboard Astro Stream or Badfish River Shred), and some are compared to Swiss Army Knives, meaning that they can do a little bit of everything pretty well (Starboard Astro Whopper 10′).

So, where the does Red Paddle Flow 9’6″ fit into the mix? Overall, Red Paddle is known for having the best craftsmanship in the industry, solid designs, amazing customer service, great looks  and fixed fins that will never break or fall of the board (on the whitewater boards). We’ve been selling the brand for 3 years now, and have noticed an improvement in the designs. We’ve been paddling the Flow for about a month now – here is what we have noticed.

Pros:

Amazing Overall Craftsmanship
The overall craftsmanship of the Red Paddle Flow (and is true of all Red Paddle boards) is 5 star. I would compare this brand to Mercedes Benz. They’re constructed to a high level of finish and detail that justifies the cost (and it is not really that expensive at $1348) for a consumer who will appreciate it. The deck pad looks bomber, feels bomber and is bomber. It’s also really cool looking. The seams do not have micro bubbles in them like some brands do. Because of the way the board is constructed (with very high end materials), the Red Paddle Flow is able to be pumped up to a very high PSI, and is uber stiff. I am 210 lbs (on a good day), and could not get this board to budge. It felt like I was standing on a rubber deck epoxy board when being paddled. Also, the customer service that Red Paddle offers is phenomenal. They will work with the customer direct, and take care them in a hurry. We have received numerous calls, letting us know exactly how good their service is (compare to Kokatat, NRS, IR, etc)…

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Red Paddle is doing something right when it comes to board construction. We have sold the brand for 3 years and have not had to warranty a single board yet!

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The deck pad is very supportive, looks great and extremely comfortable when paddling bear foot.

High Quality Carry Bag / Backpack
The first thing that I noticed when we pulled the Red Paddle Flow 9’6″ out of the box, was the high quality carry bag. It appears to be the same quality as a Patagonia or North Face duffel bag (heavy duty material and beefy zipper) – you could travel around the world this this sucker and not have to worry about zippers breaking, seams splitting, or anything like that. The board fits into the bag quite easily too, which is nice. There are some boards out there that seem to be 10″ wide when rolled up and it feels like you are stuffing them in to a 9″ bag – the round peg in a square hole issue…
BY FAR, the best part of the bag is the recessed carry straps. Red Paddle gives you 2 options:
A.) You can roll the bag like a piece of luggage. There is a nice handle on the top and sides. A small child could carry / roll it.
B.)Or, you can pull the straps and waist belt out of the bag, and carry it like a pack. The straps are comfortable and supportive. I could see myself hiking a few miles into a river like the Gunnison Gorge with this board / bag combo.

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The carry bag, complete with rollers and grab handles. You can see where the back pack straps and waist belt go.

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The back pack straps with instructions provided. They thought of everything here!

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The back pack is above and beyond other SUP back pack systems.

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The board is easy to fit in the bag.

AWESOME PUMP
For anyone out there that has previously had “pump issues” with their inflatable stand up paddle board, take note! The pump that is provided with the Red Paddle Flow 9’6″ is miles and miles ahead of anything else out there (that is sold with a board), or at least that we know of. It’s basically a dual chamber pump that is able to get the board to about 6-8 PSI in just a few pumps. Then, by releasing a valve, it changes to a single chamber pump, and can top the board off to about 20 PSI. I found that it was super easy to get the board to 8 PSI or so with the dual chamber mode. Then in about 3 mini pump sessions, I got it to 18 PSI. **All manual pumps take effort to pump a board to 20 PSI. If you are looking for an effortless option, we always recommend going with an electric pump.**

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The dual chamber pump makes inflating a stiff board like the Flow much easier than you would think.

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Dual chamber pump with release valve that converts the pump to a single chamber. Both chambers provide volume to get the board pumped up to about 8 PSI, and the single chamber will top it off to 18+.

Super Stiff
Between the quality material and construction methods used, the shape of the board (6″ thick and heavy duty rails), and the ability to pump the Red Paddle Flow 9’6″ to 20 PSI – this sucker is stiff! Like I had mentioned, I am about 215 lbs with gear on. The Flow was more than able to carry my weight. The board did not bend in the middle at all. It is SUPER STIFF. One nice thing about stiff boards, is that they are easier to carve on the river. It’s much easier to engage an edge, stomp the tail for a pivot turn, or do subtle things like weighting certain parts of the board in a rapid (less input for a greater gain)…Less stiff boards will mushy and less accurate compared to this one.

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The combination of high quality materials, a solid construction method and thick drop stitch makes for an extremely stiff board that can either flow a 200 lber + with ease on class III whitewater.

Useful Features
The Red Paddle Flow has all of the bells and whistles that are found on boards of this caliber. Between the quality deck pad, tie down bungees, multiple grab handles (comes in handy when swimming in hard whitewater or lining a board for a tough portage), iPhone case, leash attachment point, security tie down, and fixed fins that will not come off – you really should not need, or want a whole lot more on your board…maybe a GoPro mount? That is all that I could think of…

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The deck bungee is good to have – it’s always nice to be able to bring a small dry bag with the essentials.

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Lots of grab handles for carrying, and mounting the board after a swim.

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Nice stomp pad for getting a good grip on the board. There’s a spot for a leash (or security lock), and another grab handle on the back. Having the valve in the tail area is nice as well – it keeps it out of the way.

Solid Design
The overall design is solid. The shape of the board is really good for running harder whitewater (more on that below) because it is stiff, stable and turns easily. The widest point of the board is right in the middle, which gives the stable feeling right under your feet, and center of gravity.
The quad fins are cool; it’s easier to slip through shallow rocks with the placement being behind each other (as opposed to a tri fin where there is a fin in the middle as well). They are also positioned farther up towards the center of the board (similar to the Starboard Astro Stream). This makes for more predictable and user friendly turning.
The rocker profile makes turning the board a breeze; it also surfs well on flatter river waves. I imagine that it would be fun for coastal surfing (as far as 34″ wide boards that are 6″ thick go). The tail is good. It’s easy to stomp on and pivot turn, or carve when surfing….it’s not too blocky, and has some taper that makes it a little bit easier to turn (especially for lighter riders).

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The Flow has a really good shape. It’s nice and wide at the waist and turns nicely…stable in rapids, like it should be.

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The quad fins felt good on the board. It surfed well, turned easy, and peeled out with no problems. There is a very wide space between the fins, to allow for rocks to pass through.

River Running
This board was built to run rivers. In particular, it’s meant for harder whitewater (class II+ – IV). Being so stiff, it was very easy to control the Flow. You could subtly edge the side of the board that you want to turn and carve where you want to go – much like a kayak with an edge, or snowboard. It was very stable with the 6″ drop stitch, and 34″ width. It deflected cross currents and waves nicely, and skimmed across eddylines. Pealing into eddies was easy – the 6″ drop stitch helps a lot; the edges stay out of the water, resulting in less eddy swims.
Sub 10′ boards are really nice on technical rivers like The Arkansas. This is the type of board that enjoys eddy hopping it’s way down river and sneaking behind rocks, allowing you to line up your next move. I did not have a chance to paddle it on bigger water, but for low volume, technical class II+ / III- it was a great board. I would have no hesitations taking the Red Paddle Flow down a bigger run like Browns Canyon, Westwater Canyon or something like that…
How does it stack up to the Starboard Astro Stream or Badfish River Shred? Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
One thing that is nice about this board, is that it is very EASY to paddle. Beginning river SUP’ers will be able to learn the basics on the Flow. It’s stable and easy to turn. Also, if SUP yoga appeals to you, this could be a good option.
Last, the quad fins worked well for paddling some mid level whitewater. There is a big enough gap in the middle of the board, which leaves a good sized area for rocks to pass through. When the going gets shallow, you can step on the nose of the board pretty easily, which will bring the fins almost clear out of the water.
Flatwater Paddling
The Flow’s obviously not the ideal board for paddling long distances on flatwater. The quad fins will make for a “turnier” board (they act like twins), as opposed to one that tracks well (goes in a straight line). Also, the 6″ drop stitch sits you higher out of the water, and gives you a “bobbly”, or tippy feeling – even though you are more stable on a 6″ board (as opposed to 4″). The upside to this is twhen the chop kicks up, the Flow will stay upright VERY EASILY because it is 6″ thick. Is it fun for an afternoon paddle? Sure! Bring the kids or the dogit’s super stable. Also, flatwater yoga would be really fun.
If you’re looking for a river board that can go on occasional flatwater paddles, this board will be fine, just don’t expect to win Battle Of The Paddle in it anytime soon.

Surfing
I had the chance to take the flow on a mellow glassy wave, and a steeper bigger one. The Flow was really fun on the glassy one. It carved really well considering that it’s 6″ thick and 34″ wide. The nose rocker profile was good, and it did not perl into the trough of the wave. The tail is stable, but tapered enough that you can carve it. On a bigger steeper, breaking wave, the flow was tough to surf. The reason being, it’s almost 10′ long, and no board over 8′ does well on this particular wave (at low water). It was able to get on the wave, but the nose would perl somewhat. Once the water comes up, and the wave flattens out a bit, I have no doubt that the Flow will be money.

Cons:

Cost
You get what you pay for. End of story. Are there less expensive boards on the market? Sure, you can get one for $600 at The Sports Authority. There area plenty of boards for $999 on the CKS Online store. Is the Red Paddle Flow a value for $1350? Heck yes. The pump alone is worth just under $200. Between the carry bag, iPhone case, uber high quality construction, performance, etc- we’re actually surprised the Red Paddle Flow does not cost $1500-$1600.

Fixed Fins
The only possible “con” or downside to this board would be that it has fixed quad fins. They are great for big, medium and low/medium water, but can get caught up on low water technical rivers and creeks. There is also no option for a long center fin (for flatwater). Is this a deal breaker? For some people, maybe…If you love to paddle finless, and then throw the fins in for a surf, you’re out of luck.
There are some MAJOR benefits to having fixed fins. We have never had to warranty / replace a broken Red Paddle fin. I do not think that we can say this for any other brand of SUP that we sell (with the excpetion of Hala SUP, which also has fixed fins). Also, the fins can be ground down quite easily. If you want to paddle this board on a low volume run, you can still do it – it’d just mean doing a board modification. In short, Red Paddle opted for quality / simplicity as opposed to ultimate versatility (and a much higher risk of warranties and losing fins). We can 100% guarantee you that if you purchase this board, you will not be calling us to order a spare / replacement fin 6 months down the road.
6″ drop stitch can feel wobbly on flats
The drop stitch can feel bouncy and less stable in flatwater. This board is actually more stable than a 4″ board – it just feels that way because you are 6″ in the air, and have more sidewall. This can be less than ideal for high performance surfing or flatwater touring. If you’re purchasing a SUP for those reasons specifically, the Red Paddle Flow is not for you.

The Verdict:

Verdict? We love it. The Red Paddle Flow is the complete package. It is as quality as it gets, shreds the river, is stable and user friendly, looks cool, and works for the entire family. It’s also very reasonably priced for the amount of features and accessories that is has. The fixed fins could be seen as a deal breaker for some, but many would accept them in exchange for durability and simplicity.  Overall, we give the Red Paddle Flow 9’6″ TWO HUGE THUMBS UP!!!

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