Monday, November 12, 2012

astro inflatable review from 10 Downwinders

     Here's a gear review of the new Astro Touring board from Starboard... It was originally posted on a facebook page called 10 Downwinders, dedicated to searching out the best downwind runs in the world.  I'm going to have to submit a Montrose to Rainbow Beach run to them... Downwinding off the Chicago Skyline has got to be as epic as anything in the world.

     If you're short on storage space or just want an easily transportable board, inflatables are a great option.  The technology has gotten so good that they are barely a performance compromise to rigid boards.  Have a look...

When the 10 Downwinders team mentioned to me they were planning on visiting a number of surf/downwind locales around the world, they asked me what board would best fit this tour.  I reviewed my current quiver and discovered there was not an optimum board available that would travel easily and still perform well for downwinding.  The current 2012 batch of inflatables just are not cut out for downwinding until a little research online pointed to three different possibilities. Starboard, Naish and Mistral have jumped in and will be releasing for 2013 inflatable boards that perform well for the advance/expert paddler in either downwinding or surfing.
The Godfather Test Center contacted Starboard and they were willing to have the Test Center test their boards and send them out with the team on their downwind investigation tour.  The downwind inflatable for this test is the 2013 Starboard Astro Touring – 14 feet long and 30 inches wide.
General Description:
The 14’  Astro Touring arrived in a large duffle bag type  backpack.  This special SUP backpack has strong wide straps and extra pockets to carry the hand pump and other accessories. The total weight of the backpack with board and accessories is 34.2 lbs.   The board removes from the bag easily and you notice at once the attention to detail that Starboard has taken to ensure longevity and strength.   When the board is rolled out, it lays flat and ready to fill with air.  It has a removable fin with a unique locking feature that securely prevents the pin from working out.  This same feature also makes it a little difficult to remove leading the Test Center to use a flat-headed screwdriver.  Further test will determine if this locking feature gets easier with time.  Accessories were also found in the bag, which includes the fin, extra two locking pins, and patch kit, and air pump.
Getting started pumping up board:
Starboard provides a large piston hand pump that comes with a pressure gage that reads up to 15 psi.  Instructions are on a label attached to the pump.  We noticed that on the board it recommends 18 psi.  We were surprised with this difference but found the pump and gauge can still be used.  To obtain 18 psi, the user must pump past the 15 psi mark and stop at the 6 o’clock position which is close to 18 psi.
First step for pumping up the board is to make sure the pressure relief valve is turned in the counter-clockwise direction and is sticking up.  Connect the filling hose to the valve by pushing the hose fitting into the proper slot surrounding the valve.  Make sure the hose fitting seats properly (rubber seal on hose fitting is seated tightly.  Once you have done this, start pumping.  The Test Center found operation of this hand pump was easy.  Filling the board up to 18 psi took approximately 5 minutes.  When finished remove the hose and place the cover over the valve.  Starboards attention to detail was noticed with the cover having the small “Teaky” symbol on it.  The board we tested was Red, White and Grey.  Everyone liked the color combinations and graphics.
Specifications:  The board was then measured.  The Test Center measures the length to be 14’.  The width was 30.75 inches, which is ¾ inch wider than the manufacturer’s specification of 30 inches.   The thickness is 6 inches with a volume of 351 liters.   The board weighed in at 29 lbs.  Fin length is 6.75 inches.  This length brought some concern to the Godfather and his team for directional stability.
Flat Water Paddling:
One of the first basic characteristics the team wanted know is the stability of the board.  We instantly found the board extremely stable.  In comparison with another downwinding board such as a 2012 Naish Glide, the Starboard is a like a dock.  Walking on the board and doing pivot turns were incredibly easy.   The speed of the board in flat water is acceptable.    There was some bowing of the board but not as pronounced as other inflatables we have paddled.  After a day of paddling, we found the board to be very fun due to its stability and almost in-destructible construction.

The next day, we took it out with conditions ranging from 1 – 2 feet.   A small day but a good day to see how the board performs with side chop.  The first part of the test was to paddle into side chop/waves.
Into the waves, the board has some flex.  It is interesting to note that a standard carbon fiber or fiberglass board there is typically a slap noise that occurs at the front of the board when hitting the oncoming waves.  In the case of the Astro Touring, the sound is much more muffled and less annoying.  Stability was very good and when turning or doing a pivot turn with on-coming waves, the board was extremely manageable.  Speed was comparable to most downwind type boards and very similar to the 2012 Naish Glide 14.
In  side chop, the board was uncannily stable.  The board rolls/floats over the waves with little or no catch to the wave.  Any flexing of the board was not noticed.
The downwinding portion was an eye opener.  The Godfather was amazed how easily this board catches small waves.  Originally we had concern of the slight flexibility of the board but this may be an advantage since it allows the board to fit into the pocket of the wave better then a standard board, hence catching more of the potential energy of the wave.  Due to the stability of the board, it can be rated as one of the easiest boards for moving to position your weight for optimum glide.   During the glide, it was very easy to continue and catch other waves which is due to the ease of positioning ones self on the board.  Speed was average.  In comparison with a Naish Glide or SIC, it does not have the initial quick acceleration one gets in catching a glide.   But it is very smooth and controllable fitting a larger range of paddlers.
Testing for pearling needed to be self-induced the first test day due to the size of the waves.  The Team found the nose shed water easily and seemed to “Pop” out of the water quickly.  While pearling, it was noticed the drag was higher than expected.
One issue that came to light during the test was linked to the length of the fin.  If catching a wave required a forward position, the paddler felt the tail of the board move to the reaction of the paddle.  This was linked to the length of the fin.  The slight bending of the board also probably exacerbated the problem.  A longer fin would eliminate this issue.
For downwinding boards, the Test Center Team is a fan of boards with deck pads that run to the very back of the board.  For big downwinders, it is necessary at times to be stepping back on the tail.  The deck pad on the Astro Touring stops short of the tail by a couple of feet exposing a fairly slippery surface extending to the tail.  Spraying on some clear traction material will work but a full pad would have been nice.

The Test Center concluded from the first test, the fun factor for this board rates a 10 out of 10.  The first paddle in flat water and downwinding, brought smiles to each team member and comments how fun the board is to paddle. Other comments were how durable the board is leaving little or no concern for damaging it if it hits rocks/barnacle or coral.  Also, the unique shapes of the nose had the team wondering at the start, but after hitting it a few times on rocks were impressed by Starboards design of it.  It is made from a high-impact plastic so it eliminates any chance from damage.  Great idea Starboard!   The Test Center also found carrying the board was not difficult or straining and the 29 lb. weight of the board seemed more like 25 or less.  The soft carrying handle was very easy on the hands.
Starting from the ease of carrying the board, the stability , wave catching ability, and portability, the Godfather wants to add this board to his quiver of Naish and SIC downwind boards.  Everyone who paddled the board commented how fun it was to paddle.  The paddling experience is slightly different than your standard board.  The time to blow of the board was not an issue (5 minutes) but an electric pump could be handy.   A longer fin is in order for the advance to elite paddlers but for most folks, it is acceptable.
Overall, the Test Center feels this board is a game changer.  Our 10 Downwinder team will be taking this board off on their adventure to the top downwinding locations in the world and will provide feedback how it performs from the traveling aspects to their paddling experience.  More to come.


  1. I was looking for the same info about virtually identical & finally i got my answer from your post thanks for sharing this useful info.!
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  2. Thanks for sharing this post. I just buy a electric pumps sups And the work very good.