Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: The Red Air Twelve Six Race Inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co.

Last fall, we received the newest 2013 Red Air inflatable paddle board models from Red Paddle Co. – three updated current models and four new ones, ranging in size from 9’2″ to 12’6″. Included is the new 12′ 6″ Race ISUP – a sleek, streamlined inflatable SUP featuring 150mm drop-stitch material and a revolutionary new rocker stiffening system (RSS), making it a whopping 50% tougher and more rigid than most ISUPs on the market.

Red AIr Twelve Six Race on the beach.

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 well known throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, if was only recently that the Red Airs started arriving in the US.

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 fourth in the series on the new 2013 models – the first was on the Ten Six Ride, followed by the Nine Six All Water and Twelve Six Explorer. So, here is our write-up on the 2013 Red Air Twelve Six Race from Red Paddle Company. (AirKayaks update: The new Red Air Races feature red side rails and bottom rather than the black version shown in the photos.)

Red Air Twelve Six Race: Getting Started

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

Red Air Race package with accessories

Inside the box is the SUP body, two RSS side battens, 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 31 lbs.

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

Unrolling the paddle board

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 the military valve.

The Red Air 12’6 Race utilizes one spring-loaded military valve for inflation. These are very simple to use and feature a deflate mode (spring plunger is DOWN) and inflate mode (spring plunger is UP). By using your finger to 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.

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. Make sure you screw the gauge on carefully – if it gets cross-threaded, you will hear air escaping, making it difficult to pump the board up to necessary pressures.

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!

As stated in our other three reviews, 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.

RSS Side Battens

First step is to install the two side battens, termed the Rocker Stiffening System (RSS) and here is the first issue – the included instructions neglect this part. We subsequently found them on the Red Paddle website, and plans are to include them with future shipments.

The instructions say to inflate the board until it has its shape – but is still relatively flat – as this will make inserting the battens easier.  While this was true with the Nine Six All Water (about 30 strokes) we found that the large Twelve Six Race was way too floppy to handle; it took 130 pumps to give it enough form to grab onto. On the plus side, these first couple of minutes are an absolute breeze with the single action so smooth you could almost do it with one finger.

Installing the side battens

Locate the side pocket openings, then gently slide the battens into each of the side slots, until just the red string is showing. As you push, the batten will reach the curve in the board side, you can push down on the batten slightly to guide it along. AirKayaks tip: Before putting in the batten, lay it across the side rail and mentally note the pocket end. This helps locate where you need to start putting pressure as it bends around the curve.

The first time you attempt to install the battens, you will be facing a major challenge! As the material becomes somewhat stuck to itself during the “long trip over” it was nearly impossible for me to insert the battens into the side sleeves. After 15 minutes of frustration and working over the side rails to loosen them up, I finally managed to get them most of the way in – the last few inches required the back end of a mag flashlight. On the plus side, the second time is MUCH easier, and I imagine within a couple subsequent setups, it will be a breeze. So, expect to have a tough time during the first setup, bring a large friend.

Pumping up the Red AIr Race

Now you can complete the inflation process. While not quite as beefy as the Twelve Six Explorer (which takes a whopping air volume of 370 liters), the 340-liter 12-6 Race still takes more time to pump up than the smaller models. After another 40 pumps, the gauge started registering. Continue pumping and it will start to get slightly tougher – it’s still not difficult but you need to change your pumping stance slightly. Put one foot behind and use your legs to move up and down, so as not to strain your back. and by 200 pumps (total) we were at approximately 10 PSI.

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 and an additional 100 to 125 pumps.  It’s tough reading 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.

Last step, flip the board over and install the tracking fin. The 12-6 Race uses a US Fin Box – this is a commonly-used, slotted box that allows one to use various fin styles. The Race 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 our next issue – no instructions. Once again, they are located 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.

Inseting the fin into the fin box.

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.

Attaching the fin.

The other side also has a deep slot. Take the fin plate and push that into the slot. This is where we came to issue number three – you need a philips head screwdriver (not included) to continue. 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. (AirKayaks Update: The Red Race boards now have a thumb screw to attach the fin, eliminating the need for the screwdriver.)

You’re done! About 10 minutes with an excellent upper arm workout and you’re ready for the water.

Red Air ISUP Construction

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.

Durable dropstitch construction using 150mm material.

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 Twelve Six Race 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 rail constructions

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.

Red Air inflatable SUPS are just about indestructible

Each of these details add up, making the Red Airs inflatable SUPs virtually indestructible. In one video, a Red Air is hurled repeatedly from the roof of a warehouse; run over with a truck; dashed against high surf and rocks – even used as a snowboard.

Red Air Twelve Six Race Features and Specifications

The board is actually incredibly simple and streamlined.

One military valve and leash d-ring

There is one rear d-ring for an ankle leash.

Thick traction pad.

There are two sections of traction pad, allowing for more “board coverage”, or more motion across the board. The front section is 33 x 27.5 inches long, while the back traction pad is 45.5 inches long. In the center is a low profile handle. The traction pad “gutters” run parallel, allowing for easy water run-off.

RSS side stiffening batten

New for this year is the patented Rocker Stiffening System (RSS), featuring two aluminum side rails to increase rigidity. The RSS pocket sleeve is built separately, then laminated to the board rails to ensure the best fit and performance. By inserting the two stiffening battens along the rails of the board, the battens work against the downward force of the rider to produce a stiffer board by preventing flex – similar to how a stringer works on a hard board. The two stiffening battens are removable for easy board rolling and can be stored in the carry bag for transportation to and from the water. Each RSS battens measure 35.5 inches in length, by 1.125 inches wide and 1/8th inch thick. Two pull strings at the end aid in removal.

Removable tracking fin in US Fin box.

The 12′ 6″ Race 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 US Box classic deep water fin designed for straight line control. The included tracking fin measures 8 inches deep and curves 9 inches from front to back. A 16.5″ nose runner fin (bow) increases tracking without increasing drag.

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. Outer measurements on the backpack are 37 x 16 x 11 inches, allowing the pump and an optional breakdown paddle to fit inside.

Red AIr Twelve Six Race - front and back views

We did measurement tests. The Red Air Twelve Six Race inflated is approximately 12′ 2″ inches long, 30.5 inches wide, and nearly 6 inches deep. While the board length came in 4 inches shorter than specified, we were told that the more air pumped into the board, the longer it gets. We had it up to about 15 PSI; the important point is that it is not over the 12′-6″ max length for racing.

(AirKayaks update: The current model Race 12-6 features a red bottom and side rails.)

Red Air Twelve Six Race On the Water

First thing to note, this is a big, beautiful board – sleek, great lines, bold colors.

Lightweight and easy to carry.

At 31 lbs with the side battens, the Twelve Six Race feels rock solid even at 15 PSI, yet is still light enough for many to haul around.

Red AIr Race on the water.

Everything on the Race has been streamlined to reduce friction. Weight is saved on the new Red Air Race Twelve Six by placing deck grip in only the most essential areas. The nose has been narrowed and all extraneous features found on many of the other Red Airs – extra d-rings, bungee attachment points and rear side runners – have been removed. The thicker 6″ body is also perfect for non-surfing, flat water paddling as the board floats high to reduce drag in racing conditions.

race 21

I took it out on a calm day. First impressions – very smooth paddling, great glide, and it’s pretty fast. Despite the narrower beam, 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 Race feel pretty buoyant while the heavier 150mm dropstitch material is rugged. I easily could see a long day of paddling along the shoreline.

Rugged enough for a canine companion

The second time, I cajoled my paddling buddy Eddie, into a ride. The Race is so stable that Eddie got the hang of it without a snag. The board length is such that I could easily see this as a great choice for a family – an adult and child, two smaller adults, or even an adult and two kids out for a cruise.

As the weather was not cooperating, I did not get a chance to take it out with the GPS, but will do that in the future.

Incredibly rigid, even at 15 PSI

The specifications indicate that weight capacity “is unlimited” so we can’t give a number. But, we managed to get 400lbs onto the Race’s sibling, the Explorer.

Red AIr Race can be easily backpacked.

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 Race for storage

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.

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 Race versus the Twelve Six Explorer

We often get asked, Race versus Explorer, which would you choose?

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer next to the Race

Both boards are great, so we will briefly highlight the differences and similarities. The Race is a minimalist built for speed, with a more sculpted silhouette, narrower beam, sleeker nose, a squared off stern and no frills. Both boards utilize the thicker 150mm material and have a 6 inch thickness, while the Race also includes the RSS side battens. The Explorer is a beefier workhorse and built for power, featuring multiple attachment points, multiple carrying handles and rear side runners, yet still offers performance.

Red Air Twelve Six Race: Bottom Line

The Red Air 12’6 Race inflatable SUP is a great board, a true thoroughbred! It’s fast, nimble, very rigid, remarkably stable and – with the included deep water fin – paddles well and tracks/glides nicely.

Race on the water

The thicker 150mm material, large 340 liter air capacity, and 6 inch thickness make the Race even more rigid, capable of carrying taller or larger paddlers without a hiccup.

Rugged, 150mm dropstitch material

While the Race Twelve Six 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.

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

Roomy enough for two

While the Race will appeal to those wanting speed, the Race is also a great choice for families as the Red Air can be enjoyed by multiple ages and sizes. With the RSS side battens, the 30 inch beam and the extra long 12 foot plus length, the board is extremely rigid, while stable enough for multiple riders – perfect for an afternoon out with the kids. With the simple addition of a few d-rings, the Race can be turned into a cruising machine, perfect for longer excursions.

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.

Red Air Race Twelve Six ISUP

The Red Air Twelve Six Race from Red Paddle Company is another winner. At $1549 MSRP, it’s on the higher end of the retail market, but worth it.

For more details you can see our YouTube video on the Red Air 12′ 6″ Race 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 Race product page on

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