ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Andy Bartlett and I have been paddle boarding since I stepped onto a board for the first time on the Hudson River, New York in 2015.
Since then, amongst many hours of recreational paddling I have also completed longer distance journeys. In 2016 I became the first person to Stand up Paddle 3000km along the length of the Danube River. 2017 saw me complete the River Thames from Lechlade to Putney in 4.5 days and then in 2018 I returned to Lechlade once again but this time to undertake the same journey on a tandem board. Together with my paddle partner Spike Reid we completed that paddle in just 59 hours.
In July 2020, together with my good friend Tam, we set off to paddle 100 miles along the River Wye in the UK. We would be paddling two boards from Gladiator, a relatively new brand to the SUP market but one that has been making some good noises and setting some aggressive pricing.
Gladiator boards come in three different categories with increasing price points; Light, Pro and Elite. Sizes are similar across the range but you are paying for an increase in construction technology as well as improved accessories like the pump and paddle.
For this trip we took with us a Pro 12'6" x 32" and an Elite 14' x 30" (their medium and top end boards.)
Starting with the packaging, the board itself comes wrapped in thick tissue paper whilst all other elements are packaged in plastic. This is something Gladiator say they are working on and hope to remove plastic from their packaging for next year.
Each board came with the following:
3 piece carbon / nylon paddle
3 piece full carbon paddle
Both pumps performed well and come with the option to deflate as well as inflate the boards (handy for sucking the last breath out before folding it for storage at the end of your trip.) Both paddles felt comfortable to hold and a good quality with the Carbon paddle feeling slightly lighter than the Pro's Nylon/Carbon mix. As we were to be paddling a river in the height of summer with low water levels, we swapped out the standard fins for shorter, 4" versions so can't comment on the supplied fins performance but they look to be well made and a regular shape.
Both boards seem to be well made and we loved the look of the designs on both. The white Elite looks sharp and crisp whilst the blue and green of the Pro looks great and threads the fine line between boring or garish perfectly. Despite being longer the Elite was definitely the lighter of the two boards and we assume this is down to its superior construction techniques.
Heading away for a 5 day journey we would be carrying all our camping equipment and food with us on the boards. The bungee cords located at the front and rear are both good sized (the front being slightly larger on both boards) and managed to keep everything in place as we needed. I would welcome a clip fastening system for each storage area as found on the Billboard but so far, no other manufacturer has featured this (to my knowledge.) Each board has a handle located in the middle and the rear but not one at the front. This seems to be a constant oversight for most board manufacturers and one that continues to baffle me. When paddling rivers you are most likely to approach a bank or beach nose first so that your fin stays in the deeper water. How wonderful it would be to have a handle located at the front so you can easily bring your board partially onto the bank so it doesn't drift away without having to wrap your arms around the whole board and half drag it up with an awkward wet hugging motion.
Out on the water, both boards tracked well and felt incredibly solid and stable. The boards state they can be inflated to 25psi but we stopped at 16 and never felt the need to top them up any further than that. The deck pads on both were comfortable and, for someone who likes to paddle barefoot this is an incredibly important consideration. The length and width of board required will always depend on the paddler, the water and how far they are going but both board dimensions we had felt well suited to a multi-day trip and handled the flat and more exciting water with ease.
Only time will tell if the boards will hold up to the rigours of regular use and more multi-week adventures but the initial signs are good. For the small increase in price between the Pro and Elite boards I would recommend finding some extra pennies and going for the Elite if you can. The increased construction technique together with carbon paddle and upgraded pump are worth the spend.
Further reading and information can be found in the following links:
Compare Construction Techniques - gladiatorpaddleboards.com/technology
Both boards used were purchased from Active360 for full retail price.
A full write up of our paddle along the River Wye including route information and kit list can be found here: followandy.com/sup-the-wye