The story of Airboard’s ultralight sup boards and the paddle that turns into a Pump.

Sometimes inspiration for innovation can come from unexpected places, as Joe Steiner of Airboard SUP/Fun Care AG found out when he was asked to join a friend on the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland.

The Arctic Circle Trail is a 170-kilometer long hiking adventure that leads through a unique landscape of lakes in Greenland. Only hard-bitten hikers dare to cross the wilderness from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq in 10 -11 days, accompanied by a mandatory 35-40 kilos of luggage on their backs.

If Joe Steiner had not been asked by a “beautiful female friend” if he would walk this trail with her, there would not be an Ultralight Edition SUP. Nor would Joe have won the Paddle Expo Product of the Year Award for his Airboard Paddle/Pump Inflation system. “I’m not a fan of hiking and certainly not military-style with 40 kilograms on my back,” clarifies Joe. “But to do the trail with Odette – that was very tempting.”

So tempting, in fact, that Joe ordered the trail guide and detailed maps online. He quickly discovered that the trail often runs along lakes and that larger sections can be covered on the coastal fjords. “At that moment,” says Joe, “It clicked. I took a block and a pencil and sketched a SUP that could carry a lot of luggage and still paddle well and be stable.” Joe did the math, calculating out a maximum weight of 5.9 kilos for the SUP. But what to do about the cumbersome but necessary pump to inflate such a board? This dilemma led Joe to design and develop a multifunctional paddle that could also work as a pump and hiking stick.

While building lighter products and multi-functional or cross-discipline gear is not a new concept, and has actually been steadily gaining in popularity, Joe’s innovative Air-Pump Paddle System would be the first of its kind. His allocated weight of 5.9 kg (13 lbs) was also far below even the majority of lightweight SUPS on the market at the time. The stan- dard weight for most inflatable SUPs lies between 8-11 kg (or 18-24 lbs).

To make their UL model, Airboard searched for the lightest and strongest Dropstitch ma- terial available on the market and evaluated the necessity of all things that make a SUP heavier- from metal D-Rings, to double layer coatings, types of glue and handles. The final boardcameinat300cmx78cmx15cm(9’9”x31”x6’’)andweighs5.2kg(11.4 lbs). Extra attention also went into the packing-system, with efforts made to allow to the SUP to pack down as small as possible for the convenience of carrying on your back.

The crux of the pump/paddle system lies with an unassuming piece of gear- the dry bag. “As almost everybody using a SUP also brings a dry-bag along-especially for an expedi- tion-style trip, we thought that we could size a dry-bag to fit the SUP inside and then added a valve so it could function as a pump for filling the main air-volume (not the pressure) into the SUP,” explains Joe. It takes 10 – 12 bag-fulls of air to fill an 11’ SUP. With the volume already taken care of, all that was left was a way to add the pressure. This is where the pump/paddle innovation came into being. With a unique hose and valve system, the paddle shaft and handle could be converted into a much smaller high-pressure pump, and away Joe went.

Joe is quick to point out the system’s limitations, stating that the Pump Paddle system will never fully replace a regular, high-volume pump, as the pump paddle does not really provide much volume and it takes more time to get the SUP ready. Nevertheless, with the Pump-paddle it is very easy to access high pressures of inflation, and as Joe adds, it can also function as an emergency pump.

As for Joe, while he and Odette have yet to complete their mission to the Arctic Circle Trail, the popularity of his concept is evident. The idea was well-received both by the Airboard team, who immediately began turning the design into reality, and the general public. “The interest we encountered at PaddleExpo and since shows that small, packable SUPs are highly interesting to the market. We never before had a SUP model that turned into orders so quickly, which confirms that it fits into the world of lightweight traveling people.”

High-quality innovation that opens up new adventure potential? What is not to love.
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