Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

New Red Air Twelve Six Explorer Inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer ISUP

This past week, the newest 2013 Red Air inflatable paddle board models from Red Paddle Co. arrived in the States – three updated current models and four new ones – for surfing, touring and racing, ranging in size from 9’2″ to 12’6″. Included is the new 12’6″ Explorer ISUP – a big, beefy  inflatable SUP featuring 150mm drop-stitch material, a whopping 50% tougher than most ISUPs on the market.

Explorer on the beach

We first stumbled across the Red Air inflatable SUPs from Red Paddle Company earlier this spring. Founded in 2007, Red Paddle Company is a UK-based business focused solely on the design and manufacture of inflatable paddle boards and accessories. While extremely popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it wasn’t until recently that Red Paddle established a distributor for Canada and the US.

Well-known for their ruggedness, each of the Red Air boards utilize high pressure drop-stitch technology – allowing them to be inflated from 15-25PSI – and feature quadruple rail construction, double layering and thick traction pads. Each board comes with the Red Air EZee pump, allowing one to inflate a paddle board to 20PSI and higher in less than 10 minutes.

This is the third in the series on the new 2013 models – the first was on the Ten Six Ride, followed by the Nine Six All Water. So, here is our write-up on the 2013 Red Air Twelve Six Explorer from Red Paddle Company.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Getting Started

The box as received weighs 44 lbs, measuring 38 x 15 x 15 inches.

Unpacking the Red Air Explorer

Inside the box is the SUP body, EZee pump, pressure gauge, backpack, cinch belt, removable fin, instructions and repair kit. Once rolled up, the SUP board and paddle fit into the backpack, as well as optional breakdown paddles under 37 inches. Weight is 38 lbs for backpack, board and pump, which all easily fit in the back of a small car. The board alone is approximately 33 lbs.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Setup

The Red Air 12’6 Explorer inflatable SUP arrives rolled up around the high pressure EZee pump, inside the backpack.

Unrolling the Red Air Explorer

For your first set up, remove and unroll the SUP body. Lay it out face up so that you can access the military valve.

Opening and closing the military valve

The Red Air 12’6 Explorer utilizes one spring-loaded military valve for inflation. These are very simple to use and feature an inflate mode (spring plunger is UP) and a deflate mode (spring plunger is DOWN). By using your finger to gently push on the plunger, it can be moved to the inflate mode (air goes in and doesn’t come back out) and deflate mode (air goes in and comes back out). Before you go to all the effort of inflating the board, PLEASE make sure the plunger is in the inflate position.

Pressure gauge

The included single-action pump comes with a pressure gauge, so you can monitor the board’s PSI. The gauge screws onto the pump – pull the pump handle up (so the pump body doesn’t get in the way) then start with the gauge face down and it will screw on to end face up. Tip #1: Make sure you screw the gauge on carefully – if it gets cross-threaded, air will leak out and you will have a difficult time pumping the board up to necessary pressure.

Attaching the hose

Next, attach the hose to the gauge. Take the military valve adaptor, and screw it onto the valve slightly to lock into position. You’re ready to pump!

Here is where we need to make a note about the new 2013 valve adaptor and gauge, which is not mentioned in the current manual. Most pressure gauges work on back pressure, so the previous valve adaptor had a small interior “lip” which – when screwed onto the valve – caused the valve to open, allowing the gauge to read in real time. While this is convenient, the huge amount of back pressure sometimes caused the adaptor to pop off when removed, allowing air to swoosh out, making it difficult to re-attach the hose to top off the SUP. The “new” adaptor does not have that interior lip, hence the gauge will ONLY read while you are pumping air on the downstroke, and it won’t start reading until about 8PSI. On the positive side, under high pressure, the adaptor screws on and off very easily.

Pumping up the Red Air Explorer

The first couple of minutes will be a breeze with the single action so smooth you could almost do it with one finger. What becomes apparent immediately, is the Twelve Six Explorer – at a whopping volume of 370 liters – takes more time to pump up than the other two models previously reviewed. After about 200 pumps (3.5 minutes), the board started to fill out, but the gauge still wasn’t registering. Another 50 pumps and the gauge started moving, and the board started to get rigid.

At this point most people find it nearly impossible to continue and you need to change to the “half pump” technique. With 50 easy half pumps (1 minute), I jumped to 12 PSI, another 50 half pumps took me to 13 PSI. So keep plugging. I was able to bring it up to 15 PSI after a couple more minutes.  It’s a little tough to read the pressure gauge needle (which will be jumping up and down) while pumping, so mentally make a note of where you want to get to.

The higher the pressure, the stiffer the board. The Red Air recommended pressure is between 15 and 25 PSI;  if you are a smaller person, you can easily get away with the lower-end PSI.

Remove the adaptor and replace the valve cap.

Deep water fin

Last step, install the tracking fin. The 12-6 Explorer uses a US Fin Box – this is a commonly used, slotted box that allows one to use various fin styles. The Explorer comes with a classic style deep fin for all around paddling. The fin is located BEHIND the cloth in the front plastic pocket of the backpack – you won’t see it, but if you feel around, you’ll find it.

Here was out first issue – no instructions. We subsequently found them on the Red Paddle website, and plans are to include them with future shipments. Detailed instructions and photos can be found here, but we will outline the procedure.

Installing the tracking fin

One side of the fin has a pin, the other a screw and fin plate. Remove the fin plate. Taking the fin, insert the pin side into the center opening. If you push down, you will find a long slot towards the board surface. Slide the pin into this, and push the fin towards the back, locking one side into position.

Installing the tracking fin

The other side also has a deep slot. Take the fin plate and slide that into the slot. This is where we came to issue number two – you need a phillips head screwdriver (not included) to continue. Luckily, we had one in the car. Take the screwdriver, and position the plate so it is hovering under the screw. Push down on the fin, and tighten the screw into the plate – be careful not to strip this.

Lightweight and easy to carry

That’s it! About 10 minutes with an excellent upper arm workout, you’re ready for the water. All in all, it’s surprisingly easy!

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Features and Specifications

According to the manufacturer, what makes the Red Air inflatable paddle boards superior to others on the market, has to do with the internal construction.

150mm dropstitch technology

First, the Red Airs are constructed using “drop stitch” technology. The top of the board is held together with the bottom via thousands of “stitches” – in the Red Airs, 10 stitches per inch. These threads are “double stitched” so if one were to break, another holds. This allows the boards to be pumped up to very high pressures of 15 to 25 PSI – and in some cases higher – and ensures that air doesn’t move around inside the board, creating a stable ride. The new 2013 Explorer has an added feature utilizing 150mm drop-stitch technology, making the board 50% more rigid than similar-sized boards using standard 100mm thicknesses. This thicker material also increases the board depth from 4 inches (100mm) to 5.92 inches.

Featuring a "board within a board"

Second, the boards use a double layering technique which – in the simplest terms – means they construct a board, and put another board around it. It’s a board-within-a-board, which adds strength and durability.

Quadruple taped side rails

The weakest link in an inflatable paddle board is the rail (side edge) area – where the top and bottom panels join together. Most ISUPS are constructed with one rail layer – Red Airs feature four layers of staggered taping to ensure minimal chance of air leakage due to punctures.

According to the manufacturer, Red Air inflatable SUPs are virtually indestructible. In one video, a Red Air is dragged through every knothole in the world – hurled repeatedly from the roof of a warehouse; run over with a truck; dashed against high surf and rocks; and the ultimate decimation – used as a snowboard. After handling the 12′ 6″ Explorer, I can believe it – it’s rugged.

The board is actually incredibly simple and streamlined.

Military valve and rear d-ring

There is one bow d-ring, and another rear d-ring for an ankle leash.

There is one military valve located at the stern.

Thick traction pad

A thick sculpted traction pad is 74 x 26 inches, beginning 18 inches from the stern. In the center is a low profile handle.

Multiple carrying handles.

Two more low profile handles are located on each side, centered.

Cloth d-rings to attach gear.

Forward of the traction pad are four flat, cloth “d-rings” or small loops, allowing one to add thin bungee cording or attach a gear bag. These are located 18-24 inches apart, by 21 inches deep, with the first set located about 30 inches from the snout.

Cloth d-rings

Another set of cargo d-rings are located behind the traction pad, identical in size, beginning 15 inches from the stern. Each cargo attachment has been positioned to distribute the weight of both rider and gear without effecting the trim of the board, allowing for a large quantity of gear to be carried.

Deep water tracking fin and side runners

The Explorer utilizes a low profile US box fin system – this allows you to put in various flat water fins of your choosing, but it comes supplied with a fin for all-around paddling. The included tracking fin measures 8 inches deep and curves 9 inches from front to back. A 15″ nose runner fin (bow) increases tracking and straight line performance in side winds, while two 15″ rear fin side runners prevent “tail drift” when the board is loaded with gear.

Red Air Backpack

The newly-redesigned backpack features a padded back with adjustable padded shoulder straps, a padded top handle and two padded side carrying handles. The shoulder straps have d-rings and a front cinch strap. A waist strap can be adjusted from approx. 34 to 44 inches. A front zippering pouch measures 9 x 12 inches. Two-way zippers allow the pack to be open on three sides, making it much simpler to get the board in and out. Inside, two integrated cinch belts keep the board in position, while three inflatable fin guards make sure the fins don’t get bent. Outer measurements on the backpack are 37 x 16 x 11 inches, allowing the pump and an optional breakdown paddle to fit inside.

New this year is Red Air’s exclusive Blue Marble material – each board has a slightly different pattern, giving each one a custom look.

Explorer side profile

We did measurement tests. The Red Air Twelve Six Explorer inflated is approximately 151 inches long, 32 inches wide, and nearly 6 inches deep – pretty much on target with the published specs. Payload is touted to be unlimited, so we can’t give a number.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer On the Water

First thing to note – this is a big, beefy board, that at 32 lbs feels rock solid even at 15 PSI, yet is still light enough for many to haul around.

Explorer on the water

I took it out on a calm day. First impressions – very smooth paddling, great glide, and it’s pretty fast. The board felt incredibly stable and was very easy to stand up and drop down without a ripple. Turning was also easy – still with a feeling of stability. The thicker 6 inches makes the Explorer feel pretty buoyant, and I easily could see a long day of paddling along the shoreline. And with the thicker 150mm dropstitch material, it also feels incredibly rugged.

Explorer with a Windpaddle sail.

As the weather was not cooperating, I did not get a chance to take it out again with the GPS, but will do that in the future. Instead, one very white-capped day I hooked up a Windpaddle Cruiser to test out some sit-on-top downwind sailing – an absolute blast and very fast.

Explorer with deck lacing for gear

I attempted to lace in some bungee decking. While the cloth d-rings are very low profile, they are also very small; my first choice of cord was too thick for the openings. While I did ultimately uncover some thin cording that would fit, it would not be my first choice for strapping in lots of gear. While bungees with small c-hooks would work, I’m not wild about metal edges possibly rubbing against the board. I’m also not sure how well the cloth will hold up in salt water and UV over time.

Easily holds over 400 lbs.

The specifications indicate that weight capacity “is unlimited.” As this is a bit open-ended, we attempted to quantify what one could expect. We piled up boxes onto the Explorer, which easily held 400+ lbs with barely a quiver – and pumped up only to 15PSI.

Red Air backpack

Once again, the backpack is a little large for my 5’4″ size. While not a show-stopper, it’s not something I would like to pack in for miles, but it’s certainly great for travel.

Packing It Up

To deflate the board is pretty simple. Remove the tracking fin, making sure to re-attach the fin plate to the screw, so as not to lose it. Push the plunger to the open (down) position and immediately the air will swoosh out.

Rolling up the Explorer

Leaving the plunger in the deflate mode, move to the snout of the ISUP. Start tightly rolling up the board from the snout, top side up and fins down, with the bottom on the outside. As you roll it up, air will continuously be pushed out of the open valve. One can also place the EZee pump on the snout so the pump is rolled up inside – remove the hose and gauge first, so they don’t get crushed.

Rolling up the Explorer

When fully rolled up, replace the valve cover and then take the attached strap and cinch it around the bundle, between the fins – this keeps the package tightly rolled and the fins keep the strap from slipping off. If you’ve rolled up tight enough, the board will easily slip back into the backpack. Put the fin into the front pocket and use the interior cinch straps to position the load.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Bottom Line

Simply stated, the Red Air 12’6 Explorer inflatable SUP is a great board! It’s fast, pretty nimble for a gentle giant, very rigid, remarkably stable and – with the included deep water fin – paddles well and tracks/glides nicely.

Explorer is great for taller paddlers

The thicker 150mm material, large 370 liter air capacity, and 6 inch thickness make them even more rigid for paddlers on the higher end of the limits , while the dual low-profile cargo ring attachments greatly enhance the board’s versatility and carrying capacity without sacrificing performance – a true workhorse.

While the Explorer is easy to set up, the huge air volume makes getting up to 25 PSI a challenge – this could be a good candidate for a high-end electric pump investment, allowing one to spend more time on the water and less time inflating.

Red Air Explorer on the water.

The 12’6 Red Air Explorer is good for shorelines, calm waters, slow-moving rivers, ocean bays and inlets. It’s perfect for a day of touring and if the sun becomes too much – just slide off the board into the water to cool down.

Explorer as a fishing platform.

The Explorer is also a great option as a fishing platform, diving board or a mobile water unit. It’s stable enough to stand up, and with multiple attachment points, beefy enough to carry all your camping or fishing gear.

Explorer on the beach

The Explorer is a great choice for families as the Red Air can be enjoyed by all ages, children to adults, while the 32 inch beam, extra long length of 12.5 feet and huge carrying capacity make it big and stable enough for multiple riders.

And with its near-indestructible construction, parents can relax when the kids start tossing it around.

Red Air Backpack

Best of all, it rolls up into the included backpack – which can house the pump and a breakdown paddle, making it a great inflatable for traveling.

Explorer front and bottom views

The Red Air Twelve Six Explorer from Red Paddle Company is another winner. At $1569 MSRP, it’s on the higher end of the retail market, but performs like a champion.

For more details, watch our YouTube video on the Red Air 12′ 6″ Explorer Inflatable SUP. You can also read our blog on Guide to Choosing Your Red Air Inflatable Paddle Board.

To purchase, visit the Red Paddle Twelve Six Explorer product page on  And stay tuned for our next review on the Red Air Twelve Six Race, as soon as the weather clears up!

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