My first love… she was a gorgeous blonde beauty with long lines, a smooth glide and a distinctive tattoo marking her lineage…it was a Naish Nalu 11’6”…and she slid me across a choppy Lake Crabtree like no other watercraft I’d ever paddled. It was just a few months after I’d tried stand up paddle boarding for the first time at the Southeast Canoe and Kayak Symposium in Charleston, SC. There, I met this pied piper of a sales rep for Naish who coaxed my skeptical self into trying this “fad” and I was immediately hooked. It was as if I had finally found the connection with the water that was missing from kayaking. SUP brought me home to my water girl roots. When Chad came to Raleigh and did a demo night at the lake with one of our local outfitters, he knew exactly what he was doing when he put me on the shorter, narrower Nalu, with the beautiful wood deck. I saved a year for that board.

Fast forward to after my first race, a few years ago, the Cold Stroke Classic, on the Nalu. The reality was sinking in. I needed a race board. So it only made sense to look to Naish. Katie just happened to have a Javelin 12’6” she needed to get out of her garage. Perfect. After a short learning curve, getting used to the even narrower deck and it’s speed, we were one. The Nalu became my surf board, the SUP pup board, the guest board. It was all good.

Fast forward again to now, with multiple races including a Chattajack under my belt, we find that the Javelin, while still a worthy ride, is showing it’s age. My skills have advanced. It’s time for a new look, a new challenge. The new Javelins, while sexy, are out of my price range. And alas, Katie doesn’t have one in her garage that she needs to get rid of this time.

The research begins. I have some ideas in my head. I talk to my gurus: Katie, Julia, Joel, the brain trust that is the 100-100 Paddle Challenge group, I read reviews and forums. I have some brand names in mind. I’m even thinking about custom. After all, who wouldn’t want a board with a T.A.R.D.I.S. from Doctor Who hand painted on it??? It’s starting to get exciting!!

There really is nothing like the process that is choosing a new board. So many pretty colors. So many pretty combinations of materials in the lay-ups. So many pretty people professionally paddling boards like 404, Starboard, SIC, Bark, and yes, my beloved Naish. Images get stuck in the head. Preconceptions form. I want this board because so and so rides one. I want this board because I like the name, I want that board because it’s a Naish and that’s what I have always paddled. Oh yeah, and the technical specs I need too, right. Yep.

So imagine my surprise when one of my paddle gurus, Jason from Carolina PaddleBoard Co., pulled out two Lahui Kai’s for me to try the day I played hooky from work to go find a board.

Cue the sound of the stereo needle scratching a vinyl record.

“You should try it. I really like those boards,” Katie concurred. She met me at the shop on my demo day to assist in the process. Demo, demo demo. If you are at all thinking about adding to your quiver, try, try, try before you buy. Make that your mantra. Resist all temptation to swing at the first board that is pitched your way. You won’t regret it.

But I digress.

Next to the Lahui Kai, Jason had prepped a couple of Barks and a Hobie. He and I had talked a good while about what I was looking for in a new board, what kind of water I would be paddling on, and what my paddling goals were. So, I was a little disappointed that some of those other names downwinding around in my head weren’t on the dock.

The Lahui Kai is part of the SUP ATX family. I didn’t know much about the boards nor SUP ATX, but if Jason and Katie are recommending this board, okay.

ginger & fredI demoed the 12’6” first and was super surprised. Then I took the 14’ out and OH. MY. GOD. While about an inch narrower than my Javelin, it was super stable. I could walk all over the board with ease. Maybe even style and grace. I think I could dance like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire on that board. Heck, I think all three of us, Ginger, Fred and I, could dance together on that board!

The glide was unreal. This was my first experience paddling the longer length race board. I was surprised at the ease with which it accelerated. Even heading into the wind. There was a smoothness to it I was totally not expecting. Even in the cross chop. A board that can handle the dreaded cross chop, which seems to plague just about every race I enter, was a must. The Lahui Kai Carbon Race eats cross chop for breakfast.

Then came the boat wake test. It was a gorgeous day and the big pleasure and fishing head boats were all over the channel. I caught a wake with ease, stepping back just a little to lift the nose. Instantly, the Lahui Kai was on it. I think I squealed like Katie seeing a picture of Harry Styles from One Direction.

I was having a little too much fun on that wake and was so in awe of what the Lahui Kai was doing under my feet that I didn’t realize I was heading right for the end of a dock. No problem. Even with my lack of experience on a 14 footer, I was able to maneuver the board quickly and easily and avoid the dock and Katie, who was right next to me. So it’s nimble too.

I demoed several other boards after that, and was nearly seduced by one that was super fast but very narrow. I had no doubt that after some adjustment I could get used to that but, then again, the fastest board is the one you stay on. My legs felt wibbly-wobbly on the narrower board and that made me tense up and my calves hurt – a sure sign I’d be spending timey-whimey in the water soon enough. That image of Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, dancing on air, waltzed back into my head.

Besides, the Lahui Kai is by no means a slow poke.

And, for the first time in my paddling life, I think I might be able to really do buoy turns.

“You’d be a Buoy Turn Ninja on that board,” Katie said.

Annabel-to-Lahui-KaiAs I sat on the dock outside the shop, pondering my two final choices, I was reminded that pro racer Annabel Anderson won this year’s Carolina Cup on it. [The 12’6″ version.] Put two and two together, and do a little more research and you’ll see that the Lahui Kai team has some serious SUP cred. Szymanski’s craftsmanship shows in the Carbon Race – from the way it cuts through the chop, to the way it edges, and to its stability.

The Lahui Kai is an excellent value – strong triple carbon construction, with some features that you won’t necessarily find in most race boards. Specifically the ConnexSup mounting inserts that let you switch out options for carrying accessories on your deck. The gear geek in me loves these things and they come standard with the Lahui Kai. It also comes with the LiftSUP Grab and Go handle, which I have found to be surprisingly handy. I was concerned that wrangling the longer board would be a challenge, but lightness of the board itself at 27 pounds, and this accessory make getting it on and off the car extremely easy. It also allows me to carry the board at my hip, perpendicular to my body with the deck facing up. That’s something I just don’t have the finger strength to do with cut-out hand holds.

The choice really was a no-brainer. Sold. Even if I don’t find the font and the graphics sexy. Form follows function. And the Lahui Kai is certainly more than fully functional in every way.

Top-Hat-photo-2-astaireSince that day at Wrightsville, I have paddled the Lahui Kai on my flatwater home base multiple times. Comparing data from my paddles, I am about 15% faster on the 14-foot board.

And I am indeed becoming a Buoy Turn Ninja. It’s remarkable how much easier it is to perform that skill on a stable, yet nimble board like the Carbon Race. Dance to the back, pivot as if Ginger is swirling her skirt, and dance back to the front…puttin’ on the Ritz.

I can’t wait to get the Lahui Kai out in the ocean. The stability is going to make ocean paddling even more fun that it already is. The confidence I am gaining on the Lahui Kai Carbon Race makes me contemplate the Surf to Sound race this October. And maybe even the Graveyard. So, don’t be surprised if you see me out there, top hat and tails, pants with stripes and cutaway coat…me and my Lahui Kai…perfect fits…
puttin’ on the Ritz.