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Review of the 2016 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer inflatable paddle board

The 2016 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer stand up inflatable paddle board is an updated model for 2016. A favourite in the Red Paddle Co stable of boards, the 12’6″ Explorer has been a trusty board for adventure paddlers, fishing and bigger paddlers looking for something stable or to carry gear on board. Joined this year by the sleeker 13’2″ Explorer+ and the more all round 12’6″ Sport, the 12’6″ Explorer is a little more at home in the range now as a stand alone option rather than the default option.

It is a big, wide and stable board with plenty of deck space and cargo room, and while it may not be the fastest tourer, it’ll carry everything you’ve got and then some. A great board to use for over night trips, carrying the kids up front, carrying your dog, or using the space to tie down a cooler full of drinks and snacks.

The 12’6″ Explorer is also the best board in the Red Paddle Co range to fish from. Bring a cooler or two, use one as a seat and explore those little nooks and coves where the fish like to hide. Sneak up with no sound, drift in and out close to shore. You’re going to get close and you’ll be bringing home dinner rather than a tale about the one that got away!

TL;DR: Revised for 2016 with the MSL Fusion, small updates and refinements, the 12’6″ Explorer is still a winner despite more competition in this length with the 13’2″ Explorer+ and 12’6″ Sport. This board now has a place to call it’s own rather than being the default touring or big paddler option. Excellent option for big paddlers, to carry gear, kids, animals, fish from or over night gear. Big, stable, durable, the trusty 12’6″ Explorer will take you there and back with no complaints – a true workhorse.

The bag

The 2016 inflatable sup bag is an updated version of the 2015 bag with a thicker internal coating on the bag material and upgraded support for the zip. It features an easy loading system where the bag zips all the way along 3 sides opening up wide so you can get your gear in and out very easily. For your board, you have the strap to hold the board wrapped up but there is also a handy internal cinch strap which keeps your board positioned and secure in the bag during travel. Bag dimensions: 37″ high, 14″ wide and 12″ deep.

Red Paddle Co SUP Carry BagSpace is aplenty for the pump, fin, RSS battens, a 3 piece paddle, leash and even wetsuit, PFD etc. The Titan Pump comes with the board wrapped around it which is a great space saving technique and something I continue to do. It also keeps the pump secure with the board when cinched down. With previous pumps, this wasn’t such an issue but as the Titan is a little bulkier it makes sense to use the space inside the rolled up board for something, keep it secure in the bag and have room for more. I’ll get into this more later in this review but thanks to the new construction process/material of the board, it now also rolls tighter leaving you even more room in the bag for extras.

Carry handles on both sides, as well as the top and bottom give you, and baggage handlers, plenty of places to grab and carry the bag. The Sherpa backpack system also features in 2016 so you can carry the bag on your back with comfortable shoulder and waist straps, or tuck them away out of sight and away from baggage belt monsters and just roll the bag on the integrated wheels and be confident the bag will arrive safely. See more photos of the bag here.

As packaged from the factory the board is protected by a layer of plastic to separate the board from itself when rolled, the fin in a small bag, the RSS battens in a plastic sleeve, the Titan pump in it’s own bag and a bag that bundles the whole lot.

The pump

The majority of the Red Paddle Co line now comes standard with the awesome Titan Pump. The 8’10” Whip and 9’4″ Snapper come with the Red Paddle Co Ezee HP since they are small, low volume boards. The Titan makes pumping the board a much quicker process. The angled foot base and wide handle work well for me with my long legs and wide shoulders. I always found the Ezee and Ezee HP a little small to get my frame around, kinda like an elephant riding a bike. Anyway, Red have taken into account some of the ergonomics for comfortable and efficient inflation as well as doubling the input volume of air with every stroke. Pump up to about 8-10 PSI on the included gauge and then you pull the red plug out of the back of the handle, affix to the little nub so it doesn’t flap around, and continue on the HP side to go all the way to 25 PSI. The Titan still beats any electric pump I’ve come across in inflation time, but yes, you do have to do the work…

Inflating the 2016 12’6″ Red Air Explorer took me 4 minutes and 42 seconds. Add another 30 seconds to attach the US box style plastic fin and you’re good to go!

The board

As mentioned above, this board includes many of the 2016 upgrades as seen in the other Red Paddle Co models. Most notably, the MSL Fusion construction, new padded handles, uprated stainless steel tie-down rings, integrated leash d-ring and tail handle.

MSL-Red-Paddle-Co-construction-light-weight-inflatable-paddle-boardsThe board finish is so good it looks like a regular hard board. For this we have a new construction process to thank. It is called MSL Fusion, or Monocoque Structural Laminate Fusion, and what it does is basically eliminate a lot of excess glue and human error. In previous years, the “board within a board” Red Paddle Co is famous for was primarily glued together, making a super durable board but adding extra weight and the potential for hand gluing or human errors. This new process consists of industrially fusing and pressing the inner layer of polymer to the high density drop stitch core at the raw material stage. Same “board with a board” construction but with material that is now structurally more sound, even more rigid, as well as lighter. More details about MSL over here.

Tech talk aside, what does this mean for the paddler? Well, the cosmetic finish is drastically improved as I’ve mentioned, the boards are about 20% lighter over the 2015 models, and since they are fused and machine pressed together, they are essentially one piece instead of 2 layers, and are structurally stiffer at lower pressure. Red, and I also, still recommend a pumping pressure of 18-20 PSI for most applications to make the most of these benefits and improve overall performance.


Top-2016-Red-Paddle-Co-inflatable-SUP-12-6-explorer[/twentytwenty] [twentytwenty]Underside-2015-Red-Paddle-Co-inflatable-SUP-12-6-explorer


Red Paddle Co have famously tested the durability and toughness of their boards over the years, see a 2014 board taking a beating. Knowing that the 2016 MSL construction boards are even stronger should put your mind at ease!

The 2016 12’6″ Explorer weighs in at 27lbs, including fin, that’s a 21% drop in weight from the 35lbs of the 2015 model. Red Paddle Co are careful not to make the boards too light. Yes, there is such a thing. Obviously the weight is there for rigidity and performance reasons, but we also need some weight in the board to control it in rougher waters or wind. A board with some weight is predictable and stable making it better suited to all paddlers.

The 12’6″ Explorer is 5.90″ thick. This offers a stiff board with more volume better suited for larger paddlers and carrying gear.

Up a little closer we can see the edges of the material are cleanly cut, the glue lines that previously wandered are all now dead straight thanks to the robots. The forward tie-down d-rings are now stainless steel with heavy duty bungee cord. The center carry handle is now padded. There is now also a carry handle integrated into the leash d-ring on the tail which is excellent for pulling the board through waves, up the beach or generally just holding on etc.

The US style fin box is shorter than in previous years and was upgraded mid 2015 on all Red Paddle Co boards to lower the profile of the box for less drag and to allow the board to be rolled more easily and tightly. The supplied US box fin is a dolphin fin shape which is the standard for most paddle boards. It offers good tracking but allows manoeuvrability as well.

Further updates to the range featured on this board are the Red Paddle Co logos on the top and underside of the nose are now screen printed on rather than a layer in itself, further saving weight.

The rest

The package includes a repair kit with glue and patches. A waterproof phone case that comes with inflation instructionspump tips and care tips inside. A wrapping strap to keep the board rolled up.

On the water

As an evolution of the 2015 model without any major design/shape changes, the 12’6″ Explorer is still a great all round, cruising, fishing and touring board for paddlers of all sizes and up to 330lbs combined load capacity. So you can pack a full camp site, a few coolers, a couple of dogs, a few kids and have space to spare. It is very stable meaning anyone can stand on this board and have a good time paddling. The thicker 5.90″ high density drop stitch ensures that your board is rigid even under full load. Lighter paddlers will find you tend to sit higher in the water and may be more susceptible to chop or cross winds but the nose and tail runner fins keep you on tracking and stable at all times.

Either standing or kneeling, paddling is comfortable and tracking from the US style flex fin and tail runners is exceptionally straight and true. This is a very easy stand up paddle board for beginners to start on, larger paddlers to use with extra capacity for gear, or paddlers of all levels to use for distance touring, cruising, fishing or just paddling around. Cruising the coastline, SUP Yoga, paddling workouts, slow moving rivers, bays, inlets, intra-coastals, paddling between tropical islands, you name it! It is also a great choice for families as the 12’6″ explorer can be enjoyed by all ages, with acres of space for children or furry friends up front. The almost indestructible design is also paw friendly.

Under the bungee cords, you could strap down a cooler and fishing rod and enjoy paddling into hard to reach places and catch some whoppers. Maybe a tent and some suppliers on the back, and we’ll see you next week!

Extra nose and tail carry handles for 2016, like on some of the other boards, make lifting, dragging a board this size very easy. Imagine you have 40lbs of camping gear on board and you need to cross a sand bar or similar, lots of handles make life easy.


  • Length: 12’6″
  • Width: 32″
  • Thickness: 150mm, 5.90 inches
  • Volume: 370 liters
  • Weight: 25 lbs board only, 34 lbs with backpack and pump
  • Max payload: 330 lbs/150 kg


  • Top notch finish
  • Deck space for days
  • Extremely stable
  • Super stiff at 5.90″ thick and wide platform
  • Quick inflation with the Titan Pump
  • Multiple center handles, comfortable and useful nose and tail mounted handles
  • Excellent glide and tracking
  • Dual cargo areas


  • Maybe a bit slow and cumbersome for smaller paddlers but that’s why Red Paddle Co offer the 11′ Sport, 12’6″ Sport and 13’2″ Explorer+
  • Bungee supplied only up front but easy to add to tail cargo area

In conclusion

Revised for 2016 with now a more clear space in the Red Paddle Co range and not the default option or compromise board it used to be. An excellent touring and adventure board for those who need a little more stability, deck space or carrying capacity and don’t need to be the fastest. Excellent value for money when you factor in the unparalleled quality of the board, bag and pump and the memories of the paddle tours and trips you’ll be taking. Find all the details here: 2016 Red Paddle Co 12’6″ Explorer. If you can’t decide between the 12’6″ Explorer, 12’6″ Sport or the 13’2″ Explorer+, give us a call: 1-888-252-4983.

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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.