Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: 2015 Red Air Explorer 12-6 Inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co.

In late October, we received the first few 2015 Red Paddle Co. inflatable boards for review. As it had been two years since our previous writeup, we were excited when UPS backed up the truck and delivered a 2015 Red Air Explorer 12-6.

2015 Red Air Explorer 12-6 from Red Paddle Co

We first stumbled across the Red Air inflatable SUPs from Red Paddle Company in early 2012. Founded in 2007, Red Paddle Company is a UK-based business focused solely on the design and manufacture of inflatable paddle boards and accessories.

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

So, we opened the box and started getting ourselves reacquainted with the Explorer 12-6. (Please note, some of the information here will be repeated from other writeups.)

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Getting Started

The box as received weighs 47 lbs, measuring 37 x 15 x 15 inches.

What's in the box.

Inside the box is the SUP body, EZee pump, pressure gauge, backpack, cinch belt, removable fin, instructions and repair kit – as well as a very neat bonus cell phone case.

Easily fits in the trunk of a small car.

Once rolled up, the SUP board and paddle fit into the backpack, as well as optional breakdown paddles under 37 inches. Weight is 43 lbs for backpack, board and pump, which all easily fit in the back of a small car. The board alone is approximately 35 lbs.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer: Setup

The Red Air 12’6 Explorer inflatable SUP arrives rolled up around the EZee pump, inside the backpack. While there are French instructions in the box, you will find the English version folded up inside the cell phone case attached to the back pack.

Unrolling the Explorer 12-6 inflatable 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 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.

Attaching the gauge and hose to the pump.

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.

Next, attach the hose to the gauge – once again, make sure the hose is not cross-threaded. Take the military valve adaptor, and screw it onto the valve slightly to lock into position. You’re ready to pump!

I must admit, I was SORELY tempted to fake the next photos and opt for the 12V Bravo Electric – this is a big board at 370 liters. (See our writeup on Guide to Inflating Your High Pressure Paddle Board).  But honesty prevailed, and I started pumping.

Pumping up the Explorer 12-6

The first couple of minutes were a breeze. As is obvious, the Explorer will take longer to pump up than the smaller boards. After about 150 strokes (2 minutes 22 seconds) the board had filled out, but the gauge hadn’t moved.

Reaching the higher pressures with the half pump technique

As the pumping was getting a little tough, I switched to the “half pump” technique. About 35 strokes into it, the gauge started moving and at 15 more strokes and another 1.5 minutes, I was at 9 PSI. I kept pumping 1/4 to 1/2 strokes for another 2.25 minutes and had it up to nearly 13 PSI. And I reached my limit.

The higher the pressure, the stiffer the board. While the Red Airs can be pumped up to 25 PSI, the recommended pressure for most people is 18PSI;  if you are a smaller person, you can easily get away with the lower-end PSI – 13 PSI works just fine for me. A larger person will be able to plug away and reach 15 PSI, possibly 18 PSI with the thick barrel pump.

Red Air's red tracking 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. Here we came to our first issue – there was no fin inside the box. I folded up the pack but could feel nothing, so grabbed one from our box of parts. (AirKayaks note: we found the fin the next day, it was inside the Sherpa pocket located on the backside of the roller backpack.)

Detailed instructions and photos are in the instruction manual, but we will outline the procedure.

Installing the deep water tracking fin

One side of the fin has a pin, the other a thumb screw and fin plate. Remove the fin plate and screw. 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.

Tightening the nut on the tracking fin

The other side also has a deep slot. While they suggest a screwdriver, it’s not something that I normally keep in my back pocket. Partially attach the screw to the fin plate to manuever it into the slot – a twig can also work. Then remove the screw and use it to gently line up the fin plate with the screw hole in the fin. Push down on the fin, and tighten the screw into the plate using your fingers. As there is about two inches of leeway on the fin box, before totally tightening, move it into your desired position. As a suggestion, pull up on the fin to make sure it is truly locked in place.

Easily carried

That’s it! About 10 minutes with an excellent upper arm workout, you’re ready for the water. All in all, it’s not that tough!

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.


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 2015 Explorer utilizes 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.

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.

At first look, the board is actually incredibly simple and streamlined.

Nose d-ring

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

Military valve and ankle leash d-ring

There is one military valve located at the stern.

Low profile center carrying handle.

A textured traction pad is 90 x 26 inches, beginning 49.5 inches from the nose. In the center is a low profile handle located 75 inches from the snout.

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

Front bungee deck lacing and d-rings

Forward of the traction pad are four plastic “d-rings” with bungee deck lacing to attach gear. These are located 15.5 to 23.5 inches apart, by 19 inches deep, with the first set located about 43 inches from the snout.


Another set of plastic cargo d-rings are located behind the traction pad; these do not have the deck lacing, but it would be easy to attach. These are situated 14 inches from the back and measure 9.5 to 17 inches wide and 20 inches deep. 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.

Underside of the Red Air Explorer 12-6 iSUP

The included deep-water, mauve-red tracking fin measures 8 inches deep and curves 12-inches on the diagonal. A 15″ x 0.5 inch nose runner fin (bow) increases tracking and straight line performance in side winds, while two rear fin side runners of the same size prevent “tail drift” when the board is loaded with  gear.

Front and back views of the roller backpack.

The newly-redesigned roller back pack features a quilted front and padded back with adjustable padded shoulder straps, a molded rubber top handle, two padded side carrying handles, and a molded rigid handle on the underside – basically, you can carry it just about any way you can think of. Two-way zippers allow the pack to be open on three sides, making it much simpler to get the board in and out. A clear pocket on the back is provided for identification labels. Inside, one integrated cinch belt keeps the board in position.

Integrated roller wheels allows it to be easily hauled through airports or on sidewalks, if one doesn’t feel like carrying it on their back.

A “hidden pocket” – called the Sherpa Carry System – allows the shoulder straps to be uncinched and stashed inside; this is particularly good for travel/planes as the straps won’t catch on items. Inside this are the adjustable waist straps.

Outer measurements on the backpack are 40 x 16 x 11 inches, allowing the pump and an optional breakdown paddle to fit inside.

Explorer 12-6 inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co.

We did measurement tests. The  inflated is approximately 149.5 inches long, 32 inches wide, and just over 5.5 inches deep – pretty much on target with the published specs. Payload is up to 340 lbs/150 kgs.

Red Air Twelve Six Explorer On the Water

First thing to note – this is a big, beefy board, that at 35 lbs feels rock solid even at 13 PSI, yet is still light enough for many to haul around.

Very stable - easy to stand and sit.

I took it out on a calm day. Two years had passed since my last Explorer session – I was quickly reminded what a great board this is; very smooth paddling, good 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 fairly 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 drop-stitch material, it also feels incredibly rugged.

Red Paddle Co 2015 Explorer 12-6 on the water.

I took the Explorer out again along the shoreline on a slightly choppy day. As the water was murky, I didn’t realize the number of rocks just under the surface until – wham. I paddled over submerged boulders and was securely trapped in the middle, fin in the center of a rock cluster. After struggling and maneuvering for 5 minutes, I manage to eek my way out. Which brings me to the next point – while the fin is pretty flexible and forgiving in situations like this, you may want to do yourself a favor and invest in a shallow water fin if you plan on low-water paddling.

Rugged enough for canine companions

While I didn’t bring Cleo along this time, here is a photo of Eddie on an earlier version of the Race 12-6 shown above.

Packing It Up

Deflating 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. Burp the plunger a couple of times to release some of the pressure, then push the plunger to the open (down) position and immediately the air will swoosh out.

Rolling up the Explorer 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.

Attaching the cinch belt

When fully rolled up, replace the valve cover and then take the attached strap and cinch it around the bundle. If you’ve rolled up tight enough, the board will easily slip back into the backpack. Put the fin into the Sherpa 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.


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 – in fact, one of our customers is a thrilled 6’4, 300 lbs paddler who says, “if it works for me it can work for you!”


The dual set of low-profile cargo ring attachments and bungee deck lacing greatly enhance the board’s versatility and carrying capacity without sacrificing performance – a true workhorse, perfect for multi-day excursions, a birdwatching platform or an arsenal of fishing gear.

The Red Airs "take a licking and keep on ticking."

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; repeatedly run over with tractors and trucks; 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.  And certainly rugged enough for a canine companion – this was one of Eddie’s favorite boards as he had perching room.

While the Explorer is easy to set up, the huge air volume makes getting up to 18 to 20 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.

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. And it’s stable enough to handle fast-moving water where manueverability is not critical.

Good for multiple riders.

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.

Good for back country paddling.

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 12-6 inflatable SUP from Red Paddle Co.

The Red Air Twelve Six Explorer from Red Paddle Company is another winner. At $1599 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 2015 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 new Red Paddle Co 2015 models.

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