2023 starboard best inflatable touring stand up paddle boards

Carbon and Inflatable Starboard All Star comparison video

First published about 2 months ago, Reuben from SUPboarder takes a closer look at the All Star range from Starboard. But this time it is different. He compares the 14′ All Star in carbon and the 14′ x 28″ All Star Airline inflatable.

Starboard All Star Airline inflatable paddle boards

All Star Carbon vs All Star Inflatable Airline

In this SUPboarder video we’ve been taking a comparative look at some of Starboard’s big players in their race boards. We’ve been comparing the 14’ All Star in the Airline construction, the 18’ All Star Unlimited in the Airline construction, and we’ve been looking at them against the full carbon 14’ All Star.

So this video we are really going to be looking at more of the inflatable side of these boards because we have done a full comparative review against the Sprint and the All Star in the carbon editions, so have a look at that video for more information on the hard boards.

So really, we’re gonna talk more about the inflatables, the new Airline range. Now the Airline is a new high tension cable that goes around the nose of the board and back, right to the back of the board to the fin box. You can get that preset, back, and get that really tight and then as you inflate the board it gets even tighter, and tighter, and tighter. It’s a really neat thing to play around with, and definitely, racers are going to like the aspect that you can tune the board a little bit. Inflatables and even hard boards, you can’t really tune the boards, apart from maybe polishing the bottom of a hard board, and seeing how much air you can get in an iSUP, but that really gives you that tuneability, actually it’s quite nice to have that. You can play with and do that sort of thing.

The actual way that system works is really easy to put on and when you preset it, it’s very quick when you’re going to get paddling. In fact, it probably takes no time difference, maybe an extra 20 seconds to put on that nose cone. At the back of the board where the cable ends, best to slip the rest of the cable underneath the fin, and lock it back in place, and that gives it a bit more of a tidier system than having the cable dragging in the water.

So yes, this technology is brand new but no doubt Starboard will be tuning it over the next couple years to get it even more hydrodynamic under the board and even giving you even more stiffness throughout the whole length of the board.

So the specifications for the three boards we’ve been testing: 18′ Unlimited was 27” wide, the 14′ Airline was 28” wide, then we had the full carbon 14’ race board was 26” wide.

So what we found really interesting is the weights of the board: the 14′ Airline weighed 12 kg (26.4lbs) which is fairly light, and if you compare it to the 14’ hard All Star which weighed 13 kg (28.6lbs) is actually a kilo lighter, the 18’ Unlimited only weighs 13 kg (28.6lbs) as well so it’s actually a very light board considering it is 18’ long

The retail price point for these boards: the 14’ Airline is £1299 ($1499), the 18’ Unlimited is £1399 ($1699) and the carbon All Star is £3,199 ($3799), which is quite a lot more than the other two inflatables.

So let’s talk about the tests on the water and see which one comes out best for its value for money and for what riders should be using it. So the first test we did is a deflection test which is where we measure the bend or the drop of the boards. We put all the boards on a gap of 1.5m apart and we put 75 kg (165lbs) in the center of the board and measure how much the board drops when without the weight and with the weight on it. The inflatable boards were all pumped up to the recommended PSI of 18PSI and both the same boards dropped 15mm (0.6”) because though, they are going to drop the same as each other because it is measured on that gap remember of 1.5m apart. The results of that are pretty strong. It’s not as strong as some other brands on the market with maybe stiffening rods in the center, but then we reflected on this test and we’ve thought about it, then actually if you realized the stiffness throughout the whole length of the board so it’s not really a fair test what we’re doing on this actual board because it does feel very stiff on the water when you’re paddling it. So just bear that in mind, we’re only measuring it between a gap of 1.5 meters, so that’s 15 mm for the inflatables. But, we actually did measure the full carbon as well, because you probably don’t realize that boards actually do flex under your feet even if they are performance composite boards. 5 mm the carbon board dropped with 75 kilograms of weight on top, so actually that’s only a 10 mm difference between this board the inflatable Airline and the full carbon £3,000 board.

Now when it comes to testing boards on flat water, it is very important and also very hard to get everything exactly the same. We try and match completely. No wind or very light wind, the same tide state, all done very quickly in close succession of paddling time, and also we made sure we used the same fin, so all of the three boards were used with the 9” Touring FCS fin, so we took away the nice performance All Star fin and we replaced it with the same fin that comes with the Airline boards.

So the first board we tested was the 18′ Unlimited. It had an average speed of 6.37mph and a top speed of 7.99mph. Generally as you’re paddling it, it felt very nice to paddle, very good tracking and a nice keeping a very steady rhythm. It didn’t feel like the board was designed to be sprinted, it felt like it was designed to have a fairly heavy, strong, lengthy stroke that kept up a good rhythm. Didn’t feel the quickest of boards off the line, just felt like you just had to keep that rhythm going, keep that rhythm going, head down and it would keep going. That’s how it felt to paddle on the water. So that was the 18′ Unlimited

Remember you can look at any of this data yourself if you’ve got the GEOSUP app.

So going on to the second board, the 14′ Airline. So this is where it really hots up. We’re trying to really compare these two boards really, because the 18’, it’s going to be on its own. The top speed of the 14′ Airline was 7.38mph, so it was bit slower than the 18’ and the average speed was 6.6mph, so again, a little bit slower than the 18’. That is going to be expected, the 18’ is a lot longer, 4’ longer, you’re going to have way more glide and it’s definitely going to be quicker overall. But it did feel much quicker onto the sprint and it felt quicker to keep that board in that faster repetition, the faster cadences of your paddle strokes. It definitely wasn’t as easy as to paddle in a straight line as the 18’ but then that is also to be expected because the 18’ is a longer board, you’re going to get more straight line tracking.

So moving on to the hard board the full-on, remember this is a £3000 board, this is a full on carbon race machine. On flat water it had a top speed of 8.32mph so it was the fastest board and it was faster than the 14’ inflatable. But it wasn’t that much faster was it. Average speed 6.54mph, so it’s 0.5mph faster on average than the inflatable 14’. But, the big difference of the hard performance All Star, we’re going to call it, the sprint. You could feel you could get the board up sprinting much faster than you could do with either of the two Airlines. It felt quicker, quicker cadences again to get to that sprint level, so it is faster on that shorter distance. And also, the big thing which we didn’t even think about before we started testing, it was the tracking and the amount of ease of tracking you would get with the hard board. Obviously because of the channels, the concaves, the sharper rails, it makes the board way easier to track in that straight line when we’re aiming for that buoy, that 100-meter buoy at the end of the course, it was just really easy just to focus on the paddle strokes and the board will just keep going. So that is a really big thing that you might not think about and when you’re comparing an inflatable to a hard board. This hard board gives way more tracking, way easier to paddle in that straight line and that was obviously due to the bottom shape and the rails.

So some quite interesting information there on the flat water test. Remember you can check out all that online on the GeoSUP app.

So, the other thing that we found really interesting is the board shape itself on the Airlines it looks very, very good. The nose shape on the new Airlines, because of that rocker I think, it’s being forced into it, the nose cone and the high-tension cable, brings the board out a little bit up in those so it really does ride over little bumps very easily.

Talking about bumps and using them in open water conditions, you’re going to have to know there is a big difference between using a performance board that’s engineered, rocker line, channel shapes, bottom shapes right to the tail, in open water conditions compared to a relatively flat bottom soft railed iSUP. They do paddle in open water, but you can’t really compare the two. The full on All Star carbon board is going to punch upwind way better and it’s going to ride waves downwind way faster. That doesn’t mean you can’t punch upwind and ride waves on an Airline, it will do that, but the difference is on the feel of the board and the speed overall are quite a lot greater than you would have on a flat water test like we just did.

So really for more performance based open water paddling and downwind paddling, you’re going to stick to your hard All Star. But, when it comes to flat water racing you’ve seen the data, there there isn’t a massive difference in speed and we’ve seen it in races around the world. We’ve seen it a local race, Head of the Dart a few months ago, while Paul Simmons was only a fraction of a second behind Blu Uwe who was on a performance hard board. And remember the 14’ Airline and the 12’6” Airline come with the rail edge at the tail of the board which releases the water off the tail much quicker and it definitely works because that’s the sort of thing that also makes a difference when you’re paddling on flat water and you’re also comparing yourself to the hard performance boards. Because of that sharper rails at the tail that the hard performance boards have, they will give them a little bit more of an edge, but having that sort of thing on an inflatable does claw back that extra speed.

Other thing to bear in mind if you are doing a flat water race with lots of buoy turns, it is easier to buoy turn on a hard board. Gives you a little bit more rigidity as you’re stepping down the board, and it’s just a little bit responsive at the tail and also get a bit more stable because of the channel and bottom shapes of the All Star. The 18′ you can do step-back turns, it is a bit tricky and you have got a walk halfway back down towards the end of the world, but you do get there in the end and it does come around. So the 18′ board you could use to do racing, but you wouldn’t want to have too many buoy turns in the race because you would take quite a long time and the speed difference wouldn’t really calculate because you have to turn around. Anyway, 14′ turns around all right, 18’ a little bit slow, 14’ All Star the quickest at turning.

The other thing to remember on the test though, is the Airline 14’ is an inch wider than the 14’ All Star and the carbon construction, so that will make a little difference to its overall speed, so there really isn’t much in it on the flat water conditions between these two boards.

So if we’re going to put some pros and cons and value for money in a bit of this comparative review as well. The pros, we really like the Airline shape of boards and I really like how the cable gives that board that shape. The nose shape of the boards is absolutely fantastic. Going to say best nose shape of an inflatable out there. Really well presents the water to the front of the nose of the board. And the concept of the high tension string or cable I should say, this is a bit more than a bit of string, gives it a really great rigidity under your feet and it actually is fast on flat water .

If there’s any cons, maybe you’re gonna have to tune that high tension cable a little bit to try and make it as hydrodynamic as possible. Get the string or the cable inside the fin box and clean that up. Personally I don’t really find that a big con because I do like playing with a bit of kit.

Value for money, well compared to a £3,000+ performance carbon All Star, at £1299, it is a good value product. Especially if you’re going to be doing really more of flat water racing.

So to summarize the three boards we’ve been using, the 18′ Unlimited is a fantastic board and actually a really great concept to have an 18′ board. Unlimited class, put it in a backpack and travel and paddle anywhere is fantastic. And I don’t think you should just just be looking at that for a racing point of view. If you are just into doing long distances, maybe on your own, maybe just cruising down the river, but you want a board that’s very easy tracking, loads of glide, and quite easy to paddle to be honest, then have a look at the 18’ Unlimited. If you’re not going to do races as well, get yourself a board that’s as easy to paddle as possible, and that 18’ Unlimited really does tick those boxes.

The 14’ Airline is a fantastic flat water board and it is going to be challenging some hard boards on the podium for sure. It is going to have a drawback when it comes to open water paddling, and that is where the 14′ All Star will always win. If you are into performance paddling or open water paddling or downwind paddling and you haven’t got to worry about putting a board in a backpack, you really should be trying to look towards the hard board. So that is our feeling. If you want to paddle open seas, downwind conditions, still stick to your hard boards. If you are looking at flat water paddling and getting to racing, and you’re really only doing flat water races most of the time, the 14’ or the 12’6” Airline will do a fine job at that.

Once again, we have very limited stock of the Starboard All Star Airline boards, listed below.

Join over 25k+ subscribers and sign up to our newsletter to receive news and deals...

About the author: Julian Kidd
I have been an avid stand up paddle boarder since 2009. I retired from a decade of professional kiteboarding to focus on SUP. Green Water Sports grew from this love of all things SUP. As well as being a keen paddle boarder, I'm a football fan, closet petrol head, web tinkerer, husband and father.