Author Topic: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review  (Read 17604 times)

Area 10

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Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« on: July 19, 2015, 01:52:46 PM »
A while ago, I asked on this forum for some information about the Bark Downwinder 14ft board. I got some helpful replies, but nothing that I found detailed enough to help me make up my mind about whether I’d want to buy one or not. So when me and my downwinding buddies got a chance to demo this board, I thought I’d take some pics and give you our impressions of it.

First some stats. This is the first Surftech Joe Bark downwind board, and it is 14ft long. There’s not much argument about how wide it is supposed to be because Surftech have helpfully inscribed it as being 27.87” wide. A paddle buddy of mine who is a carpenter pointed out that this mixed imperial and decimal units. So, apart from the fact that this value seems optimistically precise given the tolerances of board building, it is a bit odd… I presume what they really meant was 27 inches and 14/16ths,  since 14/16  = 0.87. Maybe something got lost in translation when the dimensions went to the factory in Thailand. However, compared with the loose (and occasionally wildly inaccurate) dimensions quoted by other brands, the precision of the measurement is a refreshing change.



This board comes in Surftech “Pro-Elite” construction only. Basically, this means a foam sandwich in the standing area, with carbon on the bottom and FG everywhere else. The Bark Downwinder seems a little heavier than my old Bark Dominator 14 which was also in pro-elite, so I’m guessing that Surftech have beefed up the construction since the early days. On my home scales, with fin fitted, and a bit damp, the board weighted 30lbs dead. By today’s standards, this is hardly lightweight. But it is usefully lighter than most AST-type constructions, and my paddle buddies and I thought it a good compromise between cost, weight, durability and performance.

It has a marvellous, deep “ledge-style” handle, with the ledge inside being quite smooth and rounded, and the board is perfectly balanced by the handle when the fin it fitted. This means that although the board is no super-lightweight, it is comfortable to carry, and in strong winds it is easy to let the board “fly” to make it easier as you are walking to and from the water, which is particularly important in a board designed for windy conditions.
 


The fit and finish are marvellous, and Surftech certainly make some other brands’ offerings look a bit shabby by comparison. In fact, we all agreed that in general, although opinions may differ about the use of the orange, this is a beautiful-looking board. The shape is very aesthetically pleasing. It just looks “right”. And it looks fast.
 



However, I wish they hadn’t used a light-coloured, single colour deck pad (this one is a kind of light grey). It looks good, but isn’t very practical, because it gets dirty very easily. I remember back in the day trying to keep the white deck pads of my 2010-11 Naish DW SUPs clean, and it was a thankless and almost impossible task.

This board is quite a different take on a downwind board from pretty much anything else out there. The tail is a pretty conventional pintail for a downwind board.





But the nose is more pointed than many current downwind shapes, looking like a kind of flat water/ocean hybrid shape.





The Bark Downwinder also has probably less rocker than any board currently available that is aimed directly at the downwind fraternity.  In this picture, the Bark Downwinder is on top of a SIC Bullet 14 V2, which itself is considered a low rocker downwind board.



The deck is interesting. It is not scooped out at all like e.g. the SIC BulletV2. The deck forward of the handle quickly develops a pronounced dome, and this carries forward to the nose, like a scaled-down version of some of Joe’s flat water shapes. This seems to work well in terms of rigidity but it does make the board a little more awkward to load of stack on roof racks, and if the standing area was a little scooped, then stability would probably have been increased.
 


The fin is a fairly conventional dolphin-type shape.

So, how does it perform? Well, this board totally surprised me. This is the first board that has actually been called a “downwinder” (although other boards have given strong nods that way by using e.g. Maliko as a name), so I was expecting this to be an out-and-out, highly specialized downwind board. But it isn’t at all that, really. What it is, IMO, is an extremely capable all-waters board. The first thing to note is how fast it is in flat water. It isn’t as fast as a dedicated flat water raceboard, but may probably be the closest so far that a downwind board has come to it. It is faster than the SIC Bullet V2 in flat water, and perhaps comparable to e.g. the Naish Glide Mk2, which was surprisingly good in flat water. In perfectly flat water I could average over 6.5 mph for short distances, with peaks around 7.0 mph. These speeds might not seem fast, but bear in mind that I’m just a perfectly ordinary middle-aged recreational paddler who rarely races, so for me, this is very good for a downwind board, since they tend to be very slow in flat water. The reasons for this flat water speed are pretty obvious – flat rocker and soft rails up front with a narrow nose all help give it excellent flat water glide for a board identified as a downwinder. These design features also give it a good turn of speed upwind.

In choppy water the board’s stability is good to very good. It is not quite as stable as the SIC Bullet V2, but it is still very good compared to most boards of comparable width. In cross-winds and cross-chop it copes very well, and the handling is quite neutral and predictable.

In terms of downwind performance, I’ve tried it in a range of conditions from barely catchable ripples in 10 knots in a fairly protected estuary to waist-high confused choppy bumps in the sea in 25 knots. I haven’t tried it in really big stuff (e.g. 45+ knots and shoulder high+ bumps), but my impression so far is that this board probably works best in mild to moderate conditions, probably in the 15-25 knot range with around knee-high bumps. If the conditions are very small, the soft rails at the front mean that it isn’t especially quick to plane, so you do have to work for the bumps – although no more than on many other downwind boards. And in big lumpy stuff the flat rocker and narrow nose means that you have to have deft footwork to avoid pearling. But somewhere between those two extremes, especially if the swell is lined up, you can find a situation where the Bark will just get blown into bumps with you hardly having to paddle at all, and you can find a comfortable mid-point foot position where you hardly have to move. In those conditions it is a very easy and relaxed ride, and the great handling means that it inspires confidence. On the water, the weight it has over uber-light raceboards can actually be a bit of advantage, adding stability, and giving it a very smooth ride indeed.

The board steers well on a bump, and it surfs well too, for a 14fter. It is quite stiff, and a friend of mine who is 6ft 3” tall jumped up and down on it while on a bump and commented that the bounce was less than for many other boards he had tried, and less indeed than his own AST-construction one. So maybe the dome shape of the nose, and the very slight dome to parts of the deck, helps this rigidity. I can imagine it would be a good choice for the larger but agile downwinder.

So, overall, my impression is that perhaps Joe Bark might have called this board something less esoteric than the “Downwinder”. It is much more than that. Its place in the marketplace seems to me to be much more that of an all-water board for those looking for a 14fter that will do everything respectably well. In that sense it is a very capable board indeed, and it is hard to think of many boards out there that are as capable as this one in such a wide range of conditions. I certainly can’t think of any other all-round distance boards that are this pretty. It is a beautiful-looking and well-made mid-priced and mid-weight board that is downwind capable but would double up as a very capable touring board, or even be respectable for the causal racer in mixed-conditions recreational flat water races. I think this is exactly what many recreational paddlers are looking for, especially those that have to cope with choppy and windy conditions quite often. I can imagine it will be very popular with inland water downwinders in particular, and those who like to mix up their downwinding with flat water touring, or who like to surf their 14fters.

So, if you are an absolute downwind fanatic who likes the challenge of uber-narrow boards, takes part in serious open ocean races, and can afford to have a quiver of boards for every water state, then this board is probably *not* aimed at you. That doesn't matter, because you will probably already own three custom SICs. But if instead you are an intermediate to semi-serious paddler who wants a lot of bang for your buck, likes stability, and is looking for a board that will cope well with most conditions you are likely to encounter, including, but not restricted to, downwinding, then this should definitely be on your list of boards to demo IMO. My downwind buddies and I really like it.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to Surftech or any commercial tie to any other aspect of the watersports business. I pay for my boards just like any ordinary punter.

Muskoka SUP

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2015, 02:14:47 PM »
Thanks A10... Wonderful review.  I'm guessing you'll be adding one to your quiver, or at least, making it the N+1 item .  ;)   Is there any concave to the bottom shape?  Just wondering...

Thanks again for taking the time to share...
It ain't over until the fat board sinks....

Area 10

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2015, 02:27:28 PM »
Thanks A10... Wonderful review.  I'm guessing you'll be adding one to your quiver, or at least, making it the N+1 item .  ;)   Is there any concave to the bottom shape?  Just wondering...

Thanks again for taking the time to share...
Well, not this particular board, because one of my downwind buddies has already snatched that up. But I'd sure like another one, if I can justify to myself owning FIVE 14ft downwind boards (plus three others at different lengths)..and find somewhere to store it....

I'm no expert in bottom contours. But to my eye there looks to be a subtle V in the bottom, flattening towards the tail. All fairly conventional, and unless you put a straight edge on it, it doesn't especially jump out at you. It's kind the opposite approach to the one that some brands are taking with the DW offerings - Joe Bark's board is a subtle and flowing blend of fairly familiar features, blended to create something we've not really seen before. Deceptively clever, I think.

digger71

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2015, 03:04:02 PM »
Thanks for the detailed review Area!  Was trying to decide which board to rent for the Gorge Paddle Challenge next month and am choosing between this and the Amundson TR-X.  Sounds like I can't go wrong either way.

Luc Benac

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2015, 07:49:27 PM »
Would that be a replacement for the Naish Glide V2?
Great comprehensive review based on real first hand experience that is a change from the patronizing pontification and generalities sometime dished around.

Cheers,

Luc
« Last Edit: July 19, 2015, 07:52:19 PM by Luc Benac »
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starman

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2015, 08:36:03 PM »
Nice job Area 10 on the review. I considered doing one but concluded it would be worthless as I own the board and love it. So the combo of the two makes for a lousy review for someone looking for some unvarnished information on a board. That being said you did a very good job of describing the board but I hope you don't mind if I add some of my observations to your review.
 
First I don't understand the problem with listing the width in decimals instead of fractions. Measuring in decimals is more accurate and quite common. Don't know how Imperial Units come into play with your carpenter buddy. Bit of a weird comment.

My board came in at 28.1 lbs without the fin and dry. Yes, the construction is excellent and in 3 months of heavy use I have one 1/4" paint chip on the rail and one near the nose. So no complaints with durability.

You are spot on with the boards flat water speed. Joe Bark mentioned that it was somewhat unexpected when they were testing the prototypes. They also found the narrower prototypes identical in speed. Matt Becker thought he wasted a day GPS testing the different widths. He thought his GPS was broken when the speeds were all the same. But it makes perfect sense to have a fast board in the flats for downwinding. One can't really catch a glide unless you can get into the bumps.

What makes this board so special for me is how well it maintains it's glide. You don't have to be Conner Baxter to get into the next bump, 3 strokes and you are back in business. I've also paddled it against a friends '05 Javelin LE and pissed him off as we stayed side by side in a flat water dual.

Upwind and in cross chop it's excellent and I totally agree with your assessment. The narrow nose profile does not get pushed around and goes where you point it. I have to spend a lot of time humping upwind to get my downwind fun and this board gets an 'A' in that category. 

I'm quite sure I would NOT rename this board. After all "Downwinding" is where it's at and this board excels at it. Buyers may overlook this board if renamed. They may think a board that "will do everything respectably well" is not "great" at anything which would be a big mistake.

I would never worry about pearling the nose. I've plowed through whitewater, buried it up wind and down wind, stuck it deep when catching waves and it's never knocked me off. The nose never plows, never stalls the board and always comes up for air in a relaxed manner. I just worry about catching bumps. The nose just knows what to do without any drama on the part of the paddler.

The flat deck with just a subtle recess where you stand is a plus. It's very easy to surf this board since you don't have those f*#@ing side rails that the bird bath decks have to trip you trying to get some weight on the rail and no sharp edges to put holes in your shins. I like the light colored pad as it keeps the board cooler when sitting in the sun. The handle is just as described.

Basically I experienced what Joe Bark told me would happen, "if you paddle it you"ll want to own it". And Area 10 you experienced my first impressions when riding it when saying "this board totally surprised me". It does so because the shape is so elegant. Nothing radical like deep V's or tunnel bottoms. It's roundness makes you think it will be tippy but it's stable. It's called a "Downwinder" but it's fast in the flats when you were expecting it plow like the other downwind boards. And when you get wind and bumps it is just flat out fun to ride.

So I just used a lot of words to say that the Bark Downwinder is a board that speaks for itself and you need to paddle one. But everything I said was very positive about the board which is as expected. Like I mentioned in the beginning I demo'd one and liked it so much I bought it so I am hopelessly biased.

Oh, and I was told they are planning a 12-6 version of the board.

Luc Benac

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2015, 08:54:04 PM »
You guys are describing a board that would be perfectly at home here. We do not have "Hawaiian or Cape" downwinder at 30 knots plus in big swell.
So it is a little bit the luck of the draw of what will come your way during the week-end. Mostly flat and/or confused chops with a bit of downbreezer and you have to "earn" it upwind/crosswind most of the time. I just went the way of an 2015 Allstar that can cater to 90% of my paddling conditions but it looks like this could have been an option (except of course that I would not have found a nice deal on a used one...:-) ).

Thanks for great reviews.

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Area 10

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2015, 09:41:00 PM »
Would that be a replacement for the Naish Glide V2?
Great comprehensive review based on real first hand experience that is a change from the patronizing pontification and generalities sometime dished around.

Cheers,

Luc
Thanks Luc. One of my downwind buddies has a Naish Glide Mk2 and would like to have the Bark as a replacement. He commented that it is a board that has most of the advantages of the Naish but none of the foibles. The Bark isn't quite as fast as the Naish in small easy stuff (a group of us did a back to back comparison of the two boards in nanobumps and light wind 48 hours ago) principally because it doesn't plane as quickly, but the Bark copes with confused conditions well, whereas the Naish gets hugely technical if conditions are all over the place. Basically, the Bark is a lot easier to ride, in a wider set of conditions IMO.

yugi

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2015, 04:39:07 AM »
Thanks A10 and Starman for the review and insights.

I do like subtle soft shapes that work. Love everything about the shape of this board and the comments confirm it works. I think DW boards are great allrounders anyway so it’s cool with me. No confusion there that it doubles as a great allrounder.

One thing I remembered from a previous discussion on this board was Starmans comments that in testing the narrower versions weren’t quicker.


You are spot on with the boards flat water speed. Joe Bark mentioned that it was somewhat unexpected when they were testing the prototypes. They also found the narrower prototypes identical in speed. Matt Becker thought he wasted a day GPS testing the different widths. He thought his GPS was broken when the speeds were all the same. But it makes perfect sense to have a fast board in the flats for down winding. One can’t really catch a glide unless you can get into the bumps.


I’m curious about this. Current prevailing wisdom is that narrower hulls mean greater non-planing speeds. So this introduces a very refreshing new and different outlook onto that dogma. Of course I understand it’s never just width but shape-and-width.


I’ve also paddled it against a friends ’05 Javelin LE and pissed him off as we stayed side by side in a flat water dual.


maybe you meant ’15 ???

Fast on flats like a x26 race board? Interesting.

Do you think this all holds true for a 160lbs agile kind of guy?

Area 10

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2015, 06:04:36 AM »


I’ve also paddled it against a friends ’05 Javelin LE and pissed him off as we stayed side by side in a flat water dual.


maybe you meant ’15 ???

Fast on flats like a x26 race board? Interesting.

Do you think this all holds true for a 160lbs agile kind of guy?
Sounds like starman was on good form that day. We've got to be realistic here: The Bark DWer isn't quite as fast in pure flat water as an equivalent width and weight flat water board, but it's as close as would make no difference for a non-racing recreational paddler. Put it up against Joe Bark's 14x26 D2 flat water raceboard and with similar ability good paddlers on top of both I'm sure at the end of a mile the D2 would be a good few seconds ahead. But if that race had also included similar width heavily-rockered downwind boards (e.g. the M14, SIC Bullet V1, Coreban Dart etc), then the Bark Downwinder would be a good few seconds ahead of them. But, of course, racing DW boards in flat water is a bit like using a fork as a spoon. Instead, I think the utility of the flat water speed of the Bark Downwinder board is for e.g. touring when there's no wind, and that it's nice to know that if during your DWer the wind backs off leaving you with a flat water slog, you are not going to be stuck trying to eat soup with a fork.

starman

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2015, 10:48:39 AM »
Thanks Area 10, your comments and perspective make you a far better reviewer of boards then I'll ever be. I did make it sound like the Downwinder would be snapping at the heals of all these flat water boards like the D2 and Javelin but that's not ever going to happen over an 8 mile course in the flat stuff (assuming equal paddlers).

I should mention that, like all production boards, one size does not fit all. Narrow widths may not have tested faster but it's still available to those more comfortable on a board under 28. For that matter it's available in wider versions as well. It will just have to be a built as a custom by Joe. And yes it is more expensive then the Surftech version. The weight comes down as well and add more carbon and $ and it gets even lighter. That's one cool thing with a Bark board, if the production Surftech model doesn't fit your needs then a custom is always available.

Oh yea, that was a bad typo. It was a 2015 Javelin LE and the width was 28. Which is a very nice board and I hope to hop on it a few more times.

Eagle

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2015, 11:28:13 AM »
A10, Joe is definitely sticking to his California design roots with his DWer.  The subtle vee is such a quiet smooth shape that many Bark boards are well known for.  Your review and comments makes complete sense based on the pics and shape.  It sounds like Surftech has beefed up the Pro-Elite layup also which is a good thing - compression dents are a no-no nowadays.

Starman, I thought that the DWer keeping pace with a race board was pushing it a bit also.  Nice to see your reply to clarify that.  Obviously you really like your new board and it looks super fast on flat compared to any other DW board currently out there.  Looks like a fun ride.   :)







Fast is FUN!   8)
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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2015, 11:41:49 AM »
Ah, thanks starman, now I understand. Well, the Bark Downwinder 14x28 may well be pretty much as fast as the 2015 Naish Javelin 14x28 in perfectly flat water with an average weight paddler on both. That Jav is a pretty big board that might suit the larger paddler best. I think that if me and my (average-sized) friends were racing both of them in flat water it would probably just come down to who was feeling fitter on the day, and what the course and conditions were like. Given the choice, I'd paddle the Bark in most circumstances, especially if there were buoys, but that's just a personal preference: I very much like how easily the Bark turns in flat water - you don't even really need to do a kick turn because you can do a cross-bow stroke and the board will turn 360 pretty much on the spot from the normal paddling position. So if the race involved buoy turns it would give a huge advantage. The downside is that the Bark doesn't track as well as many dedicated fłat water boards, but that's the design choice that Joe has clearly made, since there will ałways be a trade-off between turning ease and tracking, and for DW you want a board that turns easily. Maybe if the head-to-head was a 200m straight line sprint with powerful paddlers the Jav would take it. I dunno. It would be an interesting experiment.

Btw, if you are paddling the Bark DWer in flat water, I found that paddling with your heels at the back of the handle about the fastest position. Of course this may differ for different people, but I just wanted to flag that standing slightly forward of the standard paddling position might be a good idea, to release the tail and take full advantage of a longer waterline. Just a few inches can make quite a difference.

starman

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2015, 01:24:15 PM »
Ha, that's funny you mentioned the foot position for the D'winder Area 10. I was out yesterday with my wife in flat ocean water with a slight bump and she was checking the trim for me. The heels at the rear of the handle was found to be the sweet spot for a clean release at the tail. I'm at 220 lbs so the volume distribution must be very good.

We'll be in Hood River the first two weeks of Aug so I'm hoping for at least one "nuke" day on this board.

bing

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Re: Surftech Bark Downwinder 14ft review
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2015, 08:26:05 PM »
Hi Area 10 - great write up.  I may have missed it, but how does the Bark compare to the SIC Bullet 14V2 for downwinding ?