Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: New 2016 Red Paddle Co Sport 12’6″ Inflatable SUP Board

We have avidly been awaiting the arrival of the 2016 Red Paddle Co product line. Recently, the truck rolled in and we had our first opportunity to take a look at the new Red Air inflatable SUPS, consisting of 17 models. New for this year are three boards – the 8’10” Whip, the Explorer Plus 13’2″, and the Sport 12’6″.

2016 Red Paddle Co Sport 12'6 Inflatable SUP

Founded in 2007, Red Paddle Company is a UK-based business focused solely on the design and manufacture of inflatable paddle boards and accessories.

For 2016, Red Paddle Co has streamlined many of the current models, focusing on technology improvements; the mantra this year is “stronger, stiffer, lighter.” And indeed, the new product line is quite a bit lighter. The introduction of a technological advance termed MSL (Monocoque Structural Laminate) fusion technology has resulted in boards that weight up to 10 lbs lighter than previous models, without sacrificing soundness or rigidity.

Included in this shipment is the new Sport 12-6 ISUP – a 30-inch wide, sleek, inflatable cruising model reminiscent of the original Race 12’6″ – featuring 150mm drop-stitch material and the revolutionary new rocker stiffening system (RSS).

So we begin our first in the series on the new 2016 models, featuring the Sport 12-6. (Please note: Some of this will be repeated from previous write-ups.)

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6: Getting Started

The box as received weighs 39.5 lbs, measuring 37 x 15 x 15 inches.

What's in the box

Inside the box is the SUP body, two RSS side battens, Titan dual-barrel pump, pressure gauge, backpack, cinch belt, removable fin, instructions and repair kit – as well as a bonus cell phone case. Once rolled up, the SUP board and paddle fit into the backpack, as well as optional breakdown paddles under 37 inches.

Easily fits in the trunk of a car.

Weight is 35 lbs for backpack, board and pump, which all easily fit in the back of a small car. The board alone is approximately 23 lbs.

The Red Paddle Sport 12-6 inflatable SUP arrives rolled up around the high pressure Titan pump, inside the backpack.

Instructions are located inside the cell phone case, attached to the zipper pull on the bag.

Unroll the Sport 12-6 body

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 spring-loaded military valve.

The Red Air Sport 12-6 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.

Red Paddle Co Titan Pump

The included Titan dual-barrel pump comes with a built-in pressure gauge, so you can monitor the board’s PSI. To start off, you will be using both barrels, allowing the board to be filled is less time, and with less strokes. To do this, make sure the red plug near the pump handle is inserted in the hole – not to worry, the instructions are printed on the pump body.

Attach hose to military valve.

Attach the hose to the pump, making sure there is no cross-threading. Take the military valve adaptor, and screw it onto the valve slightly to lock into position. You’re ready to pump!

Pumping up the board

The first step is to fill out the board enough that the two RSS fiberglass side battens can be installed. To do this, inflate the board until it has some shape – but is still relatively flat – as this will make inserting the battens easier.  We pumped about 75 strokes until the board unfurled. This gave us enough bulk to stand the board on its side without “flopping over.”

RSS Stiffening System

Locate the side pocket openings and remove the plastic strips – these can be tossed – 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; by pushing down on the batten slightly, you can 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.

Inserting the RSS battens

Having used the RSS system in the past, we were aware that the first time you attempt to install the battens, you could be facing a major challenge! Before inserting the batten, we worked over the sleeve by pressing on it. Thus, we were pleasantly surprised to find the battens on the 2016 boards slip in fairly easily; while the last several inches were a bit tough, by straddling the side and pulling (rather than pushing), they slipped into place. This gets even easier with subsequent installations.

Inserting the RSS battens

Flip the board and install the second batten. AirKayaks note: If you are a smaller person, you might not even need to install the side battens as the board is pretty stiff as-is.

Continuing to pump up the board

Now you can complete the inflation process. After another 25 pumps we reached 5 PSI and it was starting to get tough. At this point we should mention that the gauges work on back pressure, thus the gauge will only register as you are pushing in air, and will drop to zero when you stop. As a rule of thumb, “go for the green” – just watch how high the needle goes. We continued pumping another 10 strokes to 7 PSI, as which point we couldn’t go further. Please note that larger people will be able to get it up to higher pressures with both barrels.

Removing the plug from the Titan pump.

We switched to the single barrel method. Pull the red plug out of the Titan pump, and rest it on the “plug post.”

Pumping up the Sport 12-6 iSUP

With 70 more strokes were were at 10 PSI, and an additional 75 strokes brought it to the “green” – 15 PSI. At this point we stopped. Red Paddle Co. recommends 16 to 22 PSI for the boards. The higher the pressure, the stiffer the board. If you are a smaller person, you can easily get away with the lower-end PSI – no sense in spending more time pumping than one needs to. So, a total of about 250 strokes taking several minutes.

Remove the hose adaptor and replace the valve cap.

Red flexi-fin

Last step, flip the board over and install the tracking fin. The Sport 12-6 uses a 6.75 US Fin Box and comes with a red deep-style flexi-fin for all around paddling – while it is possible to use various fins, there are not (currently) many aftermarket fins in this size.

Installing the fin

One side of the fin has a pin, the other a screw and fin plate. Remove the fin plate and screw. Point the fin towards the tail, and insert the side with brass pin into the rear slot – pushing back.

Installing the fin

Attach the screw into the fin plate, and use this to guide the plate into the “forward” slot. Push down on the fin, then screw through the fin hole, into the fin plate – this gives a pretty snug fit. As a precaution, pull up on the fin to make sure it is truly attached.

Less than 10 minutes to set up

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

Red Paddle Co Board 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.

Dropstitch material

First, the Red Paddle boards are constructed using “dropstitch” 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 16 to 22 PSI and ensures that air doesn’t move around inside the board, creating a stable ride. The 2016 Sport 12-6 utilizes 150mm dropstitch technology, making the board 40% more rigid than many boards yet still allowing the rider to keep a low center of gravity.

Red Paddle Co construction cross-section

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.

Red Paddle Co 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 Paddle Co features four layers of staggered taping to ensure minimal chance of air leakage due to punctures.

Extremely rigid

But for 2016, Red Paddle Co kicked it up a notch with the introduction of Monocoque Structural Laminate, or MSL fusion technology. In the past, the “board within a board” was glued together, creating extra weight and the potential for hand-gluing errors. The new process consists of industrially fusing the second layer of polymer to the dropstitch core at the raw material stage. The end result is a material that is structurally more sound, even more rigid, as well as lighter – in fact, many of the 2016 boards are now 5-10 lbs lighter than previous models.

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 Features and Specifications

The board is actually incredibly simple and streamlined.

Military valve, rear handle and ankle leash d-ring

There is one military inflation valve with imprinted instructions. A rear carrying handle makes it easier to pull a board into the water, and also has an integrated ankle leash d-ring.

Tether ring

A tether d-ring is located on the underside of the nose.

Low-profile crocodile deck pad

A low-profile, crocodile-textured, traction pad is 82 x 25.5 inches, beginning 52 inches from the nose.

Redesigned handles are more comfortable

In the center is a low profile handle, positioned 25 inches into the deck pad. For 2016, the handles have been redesigned to be more robust, yet easier and more comfortable to grab.

Bungee deck lacing

Forward of the traction pad are four d-rings – now stainless steel – with bungee deck lacing for attaching gear. These are located 15.5 to 20 inches apart, by 19 inches deep, with the first set located about 40 inches from the snout, and covering 7 inches of the deck pad.

Screen printed design features

The logo and many of the deckpad design features are now screenprinted on the board, keeping everything low-profile while reducing potential problems with deck lift.

RSS Side Battens

The Sport 12-6 utilizes the patented Rocker Stiffening System (RSS), featuring two fiberglass battens 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 stiffening battens are removable for easy board rolling and can be stored in the carry bag for transportation to and from the water. Each batten is 35 by 1.25 inches.

Red flexi-fin

The Sport 12-6 utilizes a 6.75 US box fin system – while this allows you to put in various flat water fins of your choosing, this is not a common size on the market. The Sport comes with a removable 9-inch deep water flexi-fin designed for straight line control, but also engineered to deflect blows from rocks or submerged hazards.

Front and back views of the roller backpack.

The 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.

Red Paddle Co wheeled backpack

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.

2016 Red Paddle Co Sport 12'6 Inflatable SUP

We did measurement tests. The 300 liter Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 inflated is 12 feet 5.5 inches long, 30 inches wide, and nearly 6 inches deep. The squared-off tail is 17 inches wide. Payload is 300 lbs.

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 On the Water

As we said of the Sport 11 last year, this is a beautiful board – sleek, great lines, bold colors. At 23 lbs with the side battens, the Sport 12-6 feels rock solid even at 15 PSI, yet is still light enough for many to haul around.

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 on the water.

I took it out on a calm day. First impressions – very smooth paddling, great glide, and it’s pretty fast. Despite the narrower 30-inch beam, the board felt pretty stable and was very easy to stand up and drop down without a ripple – in fact, it felt more stable to me than the Sport 11. Turning was also easy – still with a feeling of stability. The 6-inch thickness provides buoyancy without sacrificing performance.

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 on the water.

Paddling kneeling with a kayak paddle, the Sport 12-6 is a whirlwind.

Paddling with Woodie on the Red Paddle Co Explorer 13-2

While I did not have my furry paddling buddy that day, many of our pack have ridden Red Paddle Co boards – claws are not an issue. Here is Woodie on the Explorer 13-2.

Packing Up the Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6

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

Roll up the board around the Titan pump

Leaving the plunger in the deflate mode, move to the snout of the ISUP, top side up. Put the Titan pump on the board, and roll the board up around the pump. As you roll it up, air will continuously be pushed out of the open valve.

Putting on 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 bag’s Sherpa pocket and use the interior cinch straps to position the load.

Red Paddle Co Sport Twelve Six ISUP: Bottom Line

Red Paddle Co has hit a winner with the new Sport 12-6 inflatable SUP. It’s a fabulous cruising board – fast, nimble, very rigid, remarkably stable, paddles well and tracks/glides nicely. The sleek silhouette and striking colors are a head-turner – when you’re on a Red, people know it.

Red Paddle Co 2016 Sport 12-6

This is the perfect bridge in the Red Paddle Co line – the bullet shape and longer water line make it zippier and better performing than the Rides, yet easier to inflate and carry around than the Explorers. The narrower silhouette cuts through the water cleanly, the drawn-out nose section makes for a better glide, and the squared off tail provides more stability when standing towards the back of the board.  Coupled with the beefier 150mm material, RSS batten system and the thicker 6-inch thickness, the Sport 12-6 can be handled by smaller paddlers, yet provides super-rigidity and speed for larger paddlers.


The new upgrades for 2016 really fine-tune the line. The introduction of MSL fusion, screen-printed graphics and the low-profile, heat-pressed deck pads create a lighter board that is still quite rigid, yet also is easier to roll up; the Sport 12-6 is two pounds lighter than last year’s Sport 11-0 version, despite the additional 1.5 feet of materials.

Stainless steel d-rings

The new carrying handles look and feel great; the slight quilting and rubberized pads are comfortable to grip, while the molded, stainless steel d-rings and bungee lacing look like they’re built to last, and ample enough for an afternoon of gear.

Virtually indestructible

Red Paddle Co boards are well known for being virtually indestructible, and the 2016 line is no different. A recent “test” by SUPBoarder Magazine put the “pedal to the metal” and ran a truck over a 2016 Ride – twice – with nary a scratch. We’ve tossed them down, and run them up rocks without a blip. The image above links to the actual video.

Red Paddle Co Sport 12-6 Inflatable SUP

The Sport design is focused on flatwater; it’s good for shorelines, calm and choppy waters, rivers, ocean bays and inlets. It’s perfect for a day cruising along the shoreline and if the sun becomes too much – just slide off the board into the water to cool down.

Included 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 to toss in the trunk of a car, pack down a beach or wheel through airports.

Sport 11 Inflatable SUP

Which to choose? The Sport 11’0” – with it’s smaller air volume – offers fast inflation, more weight-savings and great flat-water performance for riders up to 200 lbs, while the Sport 12’6” is also suited to longer touring trips and can be used by larger riders up to 300 lbs.

2016 Red Paddle Co Sport 12'6 Inflatable SUP

The Sport 12’6″ from Red Paddle Company is a class act, providing speed, style and comfort – an all around cruiser for those that want performance without bulk.  At $1599 MSRP, it’s on the higher end of the retail market, but worth it.

For more details, watch our YouTube video on the Red Air Sport 12-6 Inflatable SUP, below.

To purchase or for more info, visit the Red Paddle Sport 12’6″ product page on

You can also see some of our other blogs on the Red Paddle Co line:


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