The 'Ultimate' Blend...
We bought our first Stand up paddle board in 2008. Back then Starboard only made a small handful of boards, and ours was called 'The Ultimate Blend', billed as the board to do a bit of everything on. It was 11"2 long and 30 wide, based on a classic longboard style shape. We opted for a version with a full soft deck pad, as we thought we may want to put the dog(s) on them, and had a small single fin. At that time we lived on the south coast of the UK, and were looking for a board to get out surfing on those all too common flat or marginal surf conditions. In fact, tell a lie, between my wife and myself, we actually bought 2... Identical boards.
It was only after taking ownership of the boards that we realized that they were also really fun to use in flat water as well, and we could often be found using our boards on the leeward side of windy banks, estuaries and up and down rivers between Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.
Since that time our Blends have been an integral part of our watersports equipment, and I would argue, of all the kite, wind, surf, sailing etc kit we've ever bought, these two boards were hands down the best purchase we've ever made. I recently did an instructor course and we were discussing first time board purchases; the Starboard Blend came up. The other members of the group and indeed the course trainer Sam Ross (who works for Tushingham, importers of Starboard) were in disbelief when I told them the tales behind the scars and dings that graced my board. If Starboard set out to make a board that does ‘everything’, then the two boards we own between us definitely have fulfilled that mandate. How many people could boast that they have used 1 SUP board as a swim platform for two dogs? Or taught just about every distant family members children how to SUP? or wind surfed on in light wind days? or surfed conditions ranging from ankle slappers to head high beach breaks? Probably a few… However, add to that, what about a SUP board so well built that it has been run over once by a speed boat (don’t worry I was not in the water) or twice by a car (its amazing what people do in car parks), thrown off harbour walls (an unconventional launching technique I developed) and dropped countless times? I would rename our Blends as Swiss Army Board!
Fast forward to 2014. Does my board look good? No. It looks like it’s done all of the above, however, its six years old and counting, and it has only had a few minor ding repairs in all that time. It still paddles like a dream, gets surfed regularly, and flat water paddled almost daily as we both teach from our Blends, due to the speed and maneuverability it allows us to have when working with up to 5 or 6 newcomers to the sport.
We've now got a mobile SUP school down in Cornwall where we focus on flat water paddling and touring, as well as introductions to small waves and SUP surfing. We are often greeted with the same question... 'What would be a good first board to buy, if I wanted to get into more SUP?' I ask people what they are intending to do with a SUP and that often can help tailor a response, but an all-round shape like a Blend definitely wouldn't be a bad choice. I think 6+ years of intensive use from a board is more than value for money. I’m currently looking at a new wave board and thinking of selling one of our Blends… the difficulty I have is the void that would be left by its departure!
Starboard themselves must agree, as they have continued to release the Blend every year since its inception. I had a chance to paddle a new one recently and it’s a fantastic board, which more than exceeds the recreational paddler’s expectations. It’s stable and well balanced as with my previous model. It has had a few refinements to its tail shape and now has the options for side bite FCS fins to turn it into a thruster (something I did with one of ours anyway!). My advice to any new comer to SUP would be to consider this board before defaulting down the inflatable route. The inflatables are fantastic and highly portable, but the performance the Blend can deliver in surf and distant paddling will mean I am always happy to step back onto my old friend!
So in purchasing some new school kit last season, a new 2015 Blend happened to 'fall' onto the delivery. We therefore have the new and old editions of this board. Is it better? Possibly... mainly because it's shiiny! Can I do anything more on it than the old 2008 beaten up old friend? Not really no... It does surf a little more smoothly, and has a slightly more pintail for smoother turns. However my sentiments above totally stand still, a new or old one of these boards is one hell of a purchase.