Gear Review: Tower Paddle Boards

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You SUP. We SUP. iSUP. The ‘i’ in this case does actually stand for something: inflatable. Inflatable stand-up paddleboards (iSUPs) are hot right now, precisely for the fact that an 8’+ board can be rolled up and stuffed in a trunk instead of loaded and strapped to the racks (which SUPping enthusiasts may or may not have access to). Despite their popularity, inflatable SUPs are typically in the 8’-12’ range; one that is 14’ long is practically unheard of. In the world of racing and flatwater touring, the fundamental principle for speed and glide is “the longer the better,” but that typically requires users to sacrifice ease of storage and transportation. Tower Paddle Boards created the 14’ Xplorer iSUP as the ultimate solution.

If the name Tower Paddle Boards sounds vaguely familiar, you may have caught their pitch on the popular TV show Shark Tank. Tower Paddle Boards founder Stephan Aarstol got off to a rocky start during his proposal but left the show in agreement with Mark Cuban for a $150,000 investment in exchange for a 30% stake in the company and the right of first refusal on Aarstol’s future businesses (check out the Shark Tank episode here). Within a few months, the lifetime sales of the company increased from $100,000 to $800,000, and Aarstol was even featured in People Magazine with a few other successful Shark Tank winners.

So how did Aarstol’s 14’ beast-of-a-board stack up in the review? Overall, the Xplorer performed as well as any standard touring epoxy board. When fully inflated, the Xplorer is a whopping 8” thick and keeps paddlers well above the water’s surface. It’s fast, it tracks well, and it makes for an excellent platform for your post-paddling yoga practice. The Xplorer is made from a thermobonded type of PVC fabric, making it just as durable and rigid as inflatable whitewater rafts.

During the month that I was able to test the Xplorer, I only encountered some minor issues. Tower Paddle Boards sent me the Xplorer iSUP package, which came with board, pump, and a 3-piece aluminum paddle. The pump worked well enough, given you had another person present to help hold it in place and trade off turns pumping (14’ long, 8” thick, you do the math). If the Xplorer were to become my go-to touring SUP, I would probably invest in a 12V QuickPump. The 3-piece aluminum paddle also worked well enough; I appreciated the ability to break it down, but I also struggled to get the t-grip just right. After using the paddle a number of times, I’m sure you could get it adjusted comfortably, but aligning the blade with the t-grip was initially pretty time-consuming. The Xplorer also comes with a standard longboard fin box with a removable center fin, which is a great concept until you forget to screw in the center fin (or you lose that screw, or the fin itself). That leaves you stuck with a 14’ barge that does everything but track in a straight line. I would recommend getting a replacement screw and fin so you can be prepared for those space-cadet moments.

At $899 for the iSUP Xplorer package and $799 for the board itself, I would say that this board is a steal. Not only is it cheaper than standard epoxy touring boards, but it also packs down smaller, making it easier to store and transport. Although I’m not personally a SUP racing extraordinaire, I would say that this is by far one of the fastest SUPs I’ve ever paddled. Overall, this is a great deal for people who enjoy flatwater stand-up paddling but don’t enjoy the hassle and space constraints that come with hard boards.

Tower Paddle Boards offers a wide range of SUP sizes and styles, from the 9’10” Carbon Cross-Link SUP to the SoCal-inspired 11’5” Tower Social hard board.


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