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All about SUP River fins

Focus on iSUP fins

Demystifying the fin thing

We put together a blog article last year to demystify paddleboard fins.  We tried to turn all of the jargon into a short, simple article that anyone can understand, even if you don't have a degree in fluid mechanics.

Since then we've been contacted by lots of people asking for more advice about fins.  So maybe we didn't do as a job as demystifying as we thought. But those searching for advice are often asking about river fins.  This isn't really surprising. It's the fastest growing component of paddleboarding, and one of the most neglected by surf and windsurf focused brands.

So we went away and thought long and hard about the type of SUP fins that our inflatable SUP customers need for river SUP. And we spoke to our customers, our partners and friends, to make sure we really understood what people really needed. And then we went away and found a supplier for exactly the type of fins that most iSUP customers are looking for.

But first a reminder about why fins are needed (apologies if we’re teaching grannies to suck eggs, but don’t forget, there are newcomers to SUP every day who might not have heard this before!

Fins have two main purposes:

To help you stay in a straight line.  If you’ve ever paddled a SUP without fins (yes, we’ve done it as well, arrived at the put in, pumped the board up, and realised we have no fins! [1]) you’ll know how difficult it is to track in a straight line. With a fin in place, the fin counteracts the drive of the paddle, stopping the tail of the board swinging around. The larger the surface area of a fin, the easier it is to paddle your SUP in a straight line, and the more difficult it is to turn. It’s not quite as simple as this, with other factors such as length and shape coming into pay. If you want to find out about the factors, then you want to check out our earlier article.

To slow the board down.  This might seem counter intuitive if you’re not a surfer. But the side fins (also known as 'bites' serve to ‘bite’ the wave and provide a focus to pivot on. Surfing with a central single fin is preferred by surfers who prefer gentle and graceful carving. But if you want to slash and hack, then you need a different fin arrangement. With three fins in a thruster arrangement being the most common.

If you keep these two key purposes in mind for the rest of this article, it should all come together by the time you've finished.

In addition to satisfying these two purposes, there are a few other key requirements for river SUP:

Interchangeability

Interchangeable standardised fins
Interchangeable fin system

The most important requirement was that fins should be interchangeable between all sorts of boards, not just between McConks boards [2].

All of our centre fins are compatible with all universal centre fin boxes (often called US fin box).  Every decent brand in the world uses these on their premium range of boards – Red Paddle, Starboard, Naish, Fanatic. And this applies to the quality UK brands as well – Fatstick, Loco, Freshwater bay.  If you’re not sure if your board has a universal box, take a photo of the box, or a fin that fits the box and send it to andy@mcconks.com, and we will let you know if your box is compatible.   

Our 2” side bites are compatible with all FCS fin boxes, and also with the Kumano and Suru surf click fit system. 

Flexible

In general, the stiffer a fin is,  the better the performance. This is true for both centre fins and side fins, as any surfer will tell you.  This is great if you’re paddling your SUP in deep water on the sea. If you’re in shallow water, fFlexible finins have an annoying knack hitting submerged rocks. Or catching on the river bed.  The best outcome is the rider is catapulted off the front of the board as it comes to an abrupt and unexpected halt. And narrowly avoids knocking themselves out on a rock. Stepping up the damage scale, if you’re using stiff fins, you’re very like to snap a fin.  Stepping it up further, you could crack a fin box, or a rip the fin box off the board, causing expensive or irreversible damage.   And right at the top of the damage scale, you could be catapulted off the board walloping your helmet or a flailing limb against a very hard rock. And the possible outcomes there are pretty sobering. Especially if you're in serious whitewater.

So for whitewater paddling, or shallow river paddling, you should always use soft flexible fins. These take much of the impact of rock strikes, and they flex as the bump along river beds. This gives you a flying chance of staying on the board, and reduces the risk damage to the fins, your SUP board, or you.  

And even endurance river races such as the #Trent100 start off in shallow river sections that would benefit from flexible fins. Several competitors this year said they wished they’d started the event with a range of fins, including some flex fins.

The other requirements were more fin/discpline specific….

Centre fins for shallow water racing

After speaking to competitors in some of the endurance river events, it became clear that there was a desire for a flexible, indestructible SUP fin that:

-         Has a large surface area and race foil for effective straight line tracking

-         Has a strong rake on the leading edge that clears weeds and other detritus effectively

-         Is robust enough to take knocks and bumps from rocks and shopping trolleys, but strong enough to maintain its shape in normal conditions

Blue river flexible SUP fin

These fins are 10” long, so provide great tracking.  And digging so deep provide significant stability and directional benefits in cross wind / cross surface chop conditions.

And for the fashion conscious, we even do them in two colours (going against our normal rule of keeping it simple!)

Centre fins for deep water racing

In river races not in shallow water, the benefits of a stiffer fin come into their own, and there's little need to compromise with flexible fins. 

This 8" carbon fin has a strong rake for weed clearance, and the cutout allows for swift pivot turns if needed, whilst still allowing for excellent tracking.

Centre fins for whitewater / river SUP

This is the first of our superflexible short river centre fins.  This SUP fin is only 5 inches long, which gives you 3 or four inches more clearance than the fins that come as standard with most decent SUP boards with removable fins.  These are an awesome compromise between tracking, weed clearance, and speed.

The second is a shorter 3” fin, but with almost the same surface area as the 5” fin. We do this by having a very long fin base (takes up the whole length of a standard US fin box), and by extending trailing edge of the fin well behind the fin box.

2" Whitewater side fins

These fins fit all FCS box or Sauru surf / Kumano surf click boxes.

Extending behind the box, these have a surprising amount of surface area for the fin depth.  Use with the 3" or 5" centre fins for a perfect whitewater SUP setup.

Go and have fun

River fins haven't had the same amount of R&D that surf and open ocean fins have received.  So this is a relatively new and exciting playground.

Get out there with different fins, and see what works for you.

Tell the world via SUP hacks if you have experience or comments on what works for you.

If you've got ideas on what would work for you, but doesn't exist yet, speak to us. We like prototyping new products for our customers!

Notes

[1]      This is the ONLY good thing about fixed SUP fins. You can’t lose them or turn up to paddleboard without them. In every other way they are inferior to removable fins and detract from your objective of having fun on the water!

[2]      Our 2” river fins will fit the click fin boxes on Badfish SUP and McConks SUP, and any SUP board with FCS fin boxes. So if the mood takes you, you can even shove three 2” fins in your FCS thruster set up on your surf board. By extension this flexibility applies in reverse to our inflatable SUP boards.  There  are a massive number of SUP fins out there that fit our boards.  And this is the real benefit of having a universal centre fin box – the huge amount of choice.  Any universal fin (including FCS connect) can be used in the centre box.  So you can check out fins from Black Fin Project,  or FCS or Futures fins.  Or from any of the very many aftermarket fin resellers out there.

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Adjustable or fixed SUP paddles?

McConks 100% carbon SUP paddle

Fixed or adjustable SUP paddles. What SUP paddle do you need?

Are you wondering about whether you need a fixed or an adjustable paddleboard paddle?   Do you struggle to understand the performance differences between 1 , 2 and 3 piece SUP paddles?  Don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone.  But fret not, this article will hopefully help you understand the differences, and help you make the right choice for you.

SUP paddle weight

The lightest one piece 100% carbon paddles will weigh a featherlight 500 grams or less, whilst most alloy paddles packaged with paddleboard packages will weigh a shoulder-busting three or four times this.  By some measures, if you’re a 75kg paddler on a 10kg board, you might wonder why this minor difference matters. And it’s a very valid question.  Unless you’re an elite paddler, the difference between a 500gm and 600gm paddle will be unnoticeable and irrelevant to you, other than bragging rights of having the lightest paddle.  But the difference between a 500gm and 2kg paddle is more significant. And bear in mind that the paddle is your engine, and most of your effort and wear & tear on your body, is generated through the forces you generate on the paddle. Repetitive movements with a weight that’s two or three times the very lightest can cause early fatigue, poor paddling technique, and general all round misery. In fact, we’ve heard stories of people who have almost given up SUP until they tried a better paddle.   It’s also true that rotator cuff injuries are not uncommon in SUP, and a heavy paddle, alongside a poor technique, can rapidly increase your chances of injury.

If you’re someone who obsesses about weight and value, then you’ll find this graph interesting…

SUP paddle weight price comparison
SUP paddle weight price comparison

 

On a weight/price efficiency factor, our McConks fixed carbon SUP paddle comes out as the star buy!

Of course, it’s not just about the weight.  Blade shape, size and angle can all have an equal impact on fatigue and developing good paddle technique, but individual preferences are more important for these factors. Therefore it’s much more difficult to say objectively one paddle is better than another. So that’s the subject for a future blog post.

A one piece paddle will be lighter than two or three piece paddles of similar blade size.  Each connection/adjustment mechanism requires additional or thicker carbon fibre and adds additional weight.

And the difference between them will vary depending on the quality of the paddle. So a 100% 3k carbon fibre paddle will be about 80gm heavier for a two piece paddle, or about 200gm heavier for a three piece paddle.  As the percentage of carbon decreases, then the weight penalty for two or three piece will increase.  But again, don’t sweat the small stuff. Unless you’re an elite paddler, you probably won’t notice an 80gm difference.

Utility

If you’re only ever racing, if you only ever use a single inflatable SUP board, if you only ever surf on your SUP, then one fixed paddle might work for you.  But surf performance, for example, is enhanced with a shorter stick and smaller blade. Race performance is improved with a longer carbon SUP stick.  So if you’re a SUPper who likes to do a little bit of everything (as many are), or if you’re just starting out and don’t really know what type of arena you’re going to use your SUP in, then getting a fixed length paddle might turn out to be an expensive mistake. Unless of course you’ve got very deep pockets, have an understanding partner who lets you accumulate expensive kit, or preferably both.

Something that has long annoyed SUP paddlers about adjustable SUP paddles is the ability of the connector to always end up at the point at which your hand rests on the shaft. This is a serious frustration for some paddlers, and it’s the upper adjustment mechanism that your hand nearly always ends up over.  So there’s no difference between a two piece or three piece paddle in this respect – a one piece wins outright if this is one of your big bugbears.

Stiffness and flex

This all comes down to the quality of  the connections in adjustable SUP paddles. And it’s probably less about stiffness than consistency of flex.  A single solid SUP paddle will have a very consistent flex from handle to blade.  Because there are no connections, the carbon tube is a consistent thickness throughout its length (assuming it’s a quality tube), meaning that flex, and rebound from flex, is consistent and predictable.  The more connections you have, the more the variability in the flex and rebound.  For most paddlers, most of the time, we would content that this isn’t that significant an issue. But elite athletes disagree, and some people claim that they can really feel the benefit of the consistency of flex with a fixed piece paddle.

Some taller paddlers find that some three piece paddles don’t quite extend long enough for them, or that they have to have the top section at its extremities. This can put the connector and handle under stress, increasing the risk of failure. It can also generate too much flex in the top 30% of the paddle, decreasing performance.  Although, there are some three piece paddles that have been designed with everyone in mind, even the tallest of paddlers.

Reliability

The more moving parts anything has, the more points of weakness and failure there are.  This is a simple fact of life, and is true no matter how good the connections are.  Obviously, better quality paddles have better connections, and are less likely to fail. But even these, when compared to single piece paddles are more likely to fail.  But this must be compared to the risks of travelling with a single, long piece of carbon, even if this travelling is only in your van!

Which leads us on to transportability

It goes without saying that the shorter the package is, the easier it is to transport.  A three price paddleboard paddle is about 1m long in its longest piece. A one piece SUP paddle can be up to 2.3m long. So a three piece adjustable paddle can be thrown in the back of the car, can be put in an inflatable SUP bag, and can be carried on a plane.  Also, if you ever need to ship a paddle anywhere, the shipping costs for anything over 2m are prohibitive.  And no matter how well protected the paddle is, a 2.3m long pole is at greater risk of being damaged during 3rd party transport, and maybe even in the back of your van, than three 1m SUP paddle sections side by side in a padded bag.  There’s strength in numbers you know!

Alloy SUP paddles are always cheap, poor quality paddles bundled with poor quality, budget SUP packages.  Some of the worst on the market are no more than a very heavy kids toy, with a blade that flexes and loses all drive as you put the power on.  Only the shaft of an alloy paddle is aluminium alloy.  The blade will normally be polyurethane or polypropylene. There’s an adage in SUP which says that you can have fun on a bad board with a good paddle. But you can’t paddle a good board with a bad paddle.  Alloy paddles have probably done more to put people off paddleboarding than any other single factor and should be avoided at all costs!

Glassfibre Nylon / PU SUP Paddles are a hybrid SUP paddle made from a glass fibre shaft and polypropylene or polyurethane blade.  These are a really good paddle for beginners.  Significantly lighter than alloy paddles, and normally with a better quality SUP blade, and one that doesn’t bend in a strong gust of wind, these are the best entry level paddle.  And the best bit of all?  A PP or PU blade is almost indestructible. So, if as a beginner, you scrape the blade along a reef, or smack it into a rock, it won’t be damaged.  The fiberglass shaft also has a good level of flex for a beginner.  Not being as stiff as a carbon SUP stick, it is more forgiving to bad paddle technique and is less likely to lead to injury or early fatigue.

A 100% Glassfibre SUP Paddle differs from fiberglass / PU SUP paddles by having a glass fibre blade.  A glass fibre blade is stiffer than a PU or PP blade, losing less power to flex – therefore more efficient. And they’re lighter than PU/PP blades, and that reduced swing weight makes the paddling experience more pleasant.  But the trade is that fibre glass blades are brittle and more prone to damage and dints than a PU/PP blade.

Carbon fibre SUP paddles are lighter and stiffer seems to be the current fashion for SUP paddles. The very lightest SUP paddles are 100% carbon 3k weave paddles. As the carbon percentage decreases, the weight increases. Carbon is also significantly stiffer than glass fibre, and therefore each phase of the paddle stroke generates kinetic force (forward movement), so carbon paddles are the most efficient.  However, carbon paddles are very unforgiving of poor paddling technique, and may lead to long term injury if your paddle technique is poor. 

Carbon SUP paddles typically also have more attention paid to the blade design – with a more complex shape and dihedral that further improves stability and efficiency in the stroke.  McConks carbon SUP paddles for example are shaped by a CNC cutter and have been designed with a fluid dynamics modelling software to optimise the shape and dihedral of the blade.

You can get cheaper carbon paddles with a lower percentage of carbon and higher percentage of glass.  This increases the weight and reduces the stiffness. And reduces the cost.  The price benefits make these lower percentage carbon paddles attractive to many.  However, before you make a similar choice, just bear in mind that McConks 100% carbon SUP paddles are lower cost than many brands 70% or 50% carbon paddles – lighter and stiffer. And we use the very best technology to design them.

So,  to wrap up this blog, what our main recommendations?

  • Never buy an alloy paddle. You will hate it within minutes, and will be upgrading to a better paddle soon.  If you’re buying a SUP package that comes with an alloy paddle, decline the alloy paddle and upgrade to a better paddle as soon as you can afford to!
  • Glass fibre SUP paddles with nylon/polyprop/polyurethane blades are best for beginners. They give the perfect balance between value, performance, weight and stiffness.  And they are more forgiving to poor paddle technique.
  • If you’re ready for the step to carbon SUP paddles, if you want the lightness and the stiffness, and you’re confident that your paddle technique can cope with the stiffness of carbon, go for it. Figure out your budget, see what’s within your budget, and try lots of different paddles.  But you won’t find a medium bladed 100% premium carbon fibre paddle for less money than McConks paddles. And McConks paddles consistently beat everyone else in our weight/price value.
  • If you’re searching for marginal gains and elite performance, and you have deep pockets, lots of storage, and a very understanding partner, then fixed length SUP paddles are for you. For everyone else, two or three piece paddles are a better value/performance compromise.
  • Oh, and have fun on the water

Key differences between SUP paddles

carbon SUP paddle

 

Find out more about McConks one piece, two piece, three piece, carbon and fibre glass SUP paddles.

McConks carbon SUP paddle review

 

 

 

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Standup paddle the source of the Thames

SUP’ing the source of the Thames

Padldeboaridng the River Thames source
The Thames Head Inn is the best hint where to look for the source of the Thames!

If you’re into your river SUP adventures, this is one of the most ephemeral or difficult to complete challenges. For most of the year, it’s not possible to SUP England’s most famous river Thames from its source. That’s because for most of every year, and for all of some years, the water level is below ground.

So in the summer if you head to the famous Wadworths pub, the Thameshead Inn, you won’t see the River Thames.   In the very upper reaches of the Thames catchment, high up in the Cotswolds, the geology of the river is Cotswold chalk.  Which is in effect a big sponge.  And this sponge needs to become super saturated from prolonged rainfall before the river sits on the top of it. There are a number of signs in and around the Cotswolds that will let you know if the Thames is might be paddleable at its very source.  And right now, early Jan 2018, those signs are evident.  And one of the signs is the Thames being visible at the Thames Head Inn!

So to paddle the Thames at the source, what do you need to know?

Parking and access to SUP the source of the Thames

There is no confirmed right of navigation of the very headwaters of the Thames.  It is not part of the navigable Thames.  Therefore access is likely to be contested by the landowners.  McConks believes that there is a presumed right of access for navigation for all inland rivers, and that as long as you access the river from a public highway, and you remain on the water, rather than on the land, you are not breaking any laws. But this is based on long standing traditions, legislation and byelways, and recent access rights cases have not been tested in the English Courts.   So landowners might contest that you are breaking the law, and they might co

Padldeboarding the River Thames source
Shallow, sometime very fast moving waters are common when the Thames rises at its source

ntest this with dogs and guns and shouting, rather than pursuing through the courts. But mostly more by farmers shouting at you.  If you are willing to take this risk, please make sure you park on public property and cause no nuisance or damage wherever you launch from. And ensure that you respond calmly and non aggressively to any challenges.  And it might be a good idea to better understand the legal position and historic rights to be able to ‘discuss’ the matter with any landowners who challenge you.

In the interests of good relations, it might be better to start at Cricklade and paddleupstream as far you can get, rather than start at the source and paddle downstream.  The reason for saying this is that the landowners around Cricklade are more used to seeing water users on river that flows through their land.  But be aware, that the course of the Thames in the meadows around Cricklade might not be obvious when the river is out of bank, and that there are protected wildflower meadows. Any damage to these wildflower meadows is a criminal act under environmental legislation.

River safety

If the source of the Thames is above ground, the water will be fast flowing in places, and large sections of the Upper Thames are likely to be in flood and out of bank.  Obstructions, and fast flowing debris could be an issue. You needs to aware of what strainers are, how to spot them and avoid them, and as an absolute minimum you need to be wearing a buoyancy aid designed for river white water, and quick release leash, and a helmet.  You should consider whether a leash is a greater hazard than personal safety aid, and should also consider carrying a safety knife.  And you will be an experienced whitewater river paddler.

If any of this is new to you, you shouldn’t be attempting to paddle the source of the Thames without a qualified instructor.

And never paddle alone!

Kit choices

Padldeboaridng the River Thames source
Shallow waters need specialist river fins

You might not want to be using a brand new carbon paddle,  because your paddle might become an obstruction clearance aid!  So an indestructible plastic bladed paddle is recommended.

An inflatable SUP, designed for river touring, will move fastest, but an all round board (albeit with the right fins) might actually be more maneuverable around and over obstructions.

Standard depth fins are likely to keep catching the river bed in shallow sections.  You should consider getting specialist river fins. These are shallower than normal fins, but longer to keep surface area up and improve tracking, and have a strong rake to cut through and shed weeds.

Obviously a mobile phone, well protected from water, is important, but be aware that the Upper Thames is quite rural, so there will be extended sections without mobile coverage.

And remember what we said about personal safety kit.

So there are many obstacles and barriers to trying to standup paddle the Source of the Thames, including access,  lack of water, safety, and environmental legislation, which is why so few people have done it.  But if you do, please share some photos with us on facebook!

And happy SUP paddling!

 

 

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Facts and figures of 2017

2017 – all about the numbers

McConks are not about long celebratory blogs about how great 2017 was.  Or how big 2018 is going to be for us.

We could talk about how great our customers are, and what great reviews we’ve received of our inflatable SUP boards.  We could say how we’ve loved being tagged in our riders photos, loving seeing riders from 4 to 70 on our boards.

We could talk about  the number of instructors, schools and guides who now use McConks inflatable SUP for their businesses.  Or we could talk about the rave reviews our new WindSUP and surfSUP boards have been getting.

Or we could tell you about the development of our new whitewater paddleboard, and how it has been winning fans in unexpected places.

We’re really proud of our environmental credentials, and our ethical and sustainable principles, so we could tell you about that.  Or we could tell you about the charities we’ve supported and how we’re supporting charitable bodies such as the Princes Trust.

But we don’t like bragging, so we’ll just let the numbers do the talking.

McConks inflatable SUP in 2017
2017 facts and figures McConks SUP

 

 

 

 

 

McConks inflatable SUP notable achievements
McConks 2017 in review