I am 43 years old, fitness is "fair", 6' 2" tall and weigh 210 lbs. I have been paddling for about a year and half. 6 months of self teaching and having a crappy stroke and avoiding paddling in challenging conditions and a year now with a private stroke coach, a series of paddling classes/ race training and being exposed to crappy conditions and having fun while paddling in them.
My first 14 was a Fanatic Falcon Race 14 x 28 (330 L) Open Ocean. In some conditions, the board was perfect for me, but for most it wasn't and I fought it like crazy and did some swimming when dealing with confused chop or side chop. Even funnier, was that is calm to flat conditions, I would wear out after about two miles if I was trying to paddle at a race or close to race pace.
My stroke coach had been on me for quite some time to get off that board as it wasn't the board for me. I kept only seeing that the volume of 330 L should float me at my weight and not at the width or thickness. However, we were able to figure out that the board was just too corky for me in confused and side chop, it would lean and pitch and when it let go, I wasn't just sliding off the side, I was getting flung. In the flat water....even though it really isn't a flat water board...since my balance is only around average or maybe a touch better....I wasn't really laying my weight on my paddle and getting a good hip rotation thru the pull as I would lean the board too much to the side of the paddle....so, I would end up doing more of straight up and down stroke, using my abs to only crunch downward to weigh the paddle. Also, my feet would kill me after a bit, probably because I was putting so much downward pressure from my "ab crunch" style of stroke and because I just never fully felt comfortable on that board, so my feet rarely moved.
We finally spent a weekend demo'ing several boards. This is what we found:
We ran a 2012 Dominator (yellow and red) 14 x 28 w/ 258 L - the board was great, but a bit tippy for me...the foot wells felt a bit weird and no matter what I did, my weight dragged the tail. It was still a better paddle than my Fanatic. Trying to rotate at the hip during a stroke was better, but i would still dip the rails on it. But, if I did, there was a secondary stability there that I did not enjoy on my Falcon.
The next board was a 2013 Dominator (blue & green) 14 x 28 w/ 285 L. This was better than the 2012 version with less volume. However, the spot where I had to stand to trim the board and release the tail, meant that when I put my weight on the paddle and rotated, I would drive the nose down and make a wide wake and it was obvious that I was pushing water.
Finally, I got on the 2013 Bark Laird Race 14 x 29.5 w/ 275 L. While the board has less volume than the 2013 Dominator, the volume is in the right places for me. It does not have the domed nose or foot wells. In fact, it's a LOT like the Candice Appleby Bark. As soon as I stepped onto this board, I knew it was the right one. Also, the day we paddled it, we had to launch from a busy park on Miami Beach that is on the bay side. The bay there is full of jet skis, power boats and Duck Tour boats. The bay was one giant slop fest of big wakes and high sea walls everywhere that just had everything bouncing. Normally, if I was on my Fanatic, I would have turned around and gone home. That board would stall in that type of stuff and I would be falling left and right. My first time on the Laird was pretty much the most difficult conditions I have ever paddled in. I never fell once, only felt like it once until I felt the secondary stability kick in, and I had a blast paddling in all of that mess. My stroke coach at one point looked at me and said he could not believe that I was laughing out loud as we paddle through the chaos. He then said that as soon as we got back from the demo I had better buy the board and that if he ever saw my Fanatic on my car again, that he would personally shove it off and damage it so that I couldn't paddle it ever again....so...I bought the Laird.
In the 3 weeks that I've had it, I have been surfing on it (Florida's little sloppy waves, nothing serious), taken it out in some decent cross wind, and have been doing some distance training on the intra-coastal where I encounter flat water, strong currents, and some pretty serious boat traffic from time to time. The only time that I have fallen is when I have been practicing my buoy turns in the waves or fall of while surfing. Because I can put my weight on the paddle and rotate thru my hip, my feet no longer bother me while paddling because I'm not putting a lot of downward pressure on them. Because the board is so stable, I walk about on it more, and I can change my feet positions constantly while paddle to either trim the board when conditions change, or to widen my stance. The board is a pintail, but I would never know it...very stable and easy to turn. I am even doing buoy turns in goofy stance, which I could never do on my Fanatic.
I'm in what I've been hearing lately as the Clydesdale division...over 200lbs. There are very few of us down here in south florida. At most races, I am up against guys 160 to 180lbs, around 5' 10", on 25 to 28" boards with super high paddle cadences. I'm not going to beat them or place on a consistent basis. In my case, by going wider, I am actually faster because I can put my weight and power into my stroke now. Also, on my 14, I have been working on a slightly slower cadence that let's me set up, pause, and then plant and rotate my stroke and giving my board a second or so to run. Now that I am on a platform that I can use my weight and power on, the nose actually jumps upward during my stroke. I'm still not going to run down the smaller and faster guys around here, but I'm going to be a LOT closer to them during races. And, since I'm not burning so much energy trying to keep my balance and having to do more of an ab crunch style of stroke, I have a lot more energy and power throughout the race.