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Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard

03.10.17

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Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard

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  • The Big Earl comes rolled up in a breathable bag.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The backpack straps on the bag make carrying this 29-pound board and a little extra gear a breeze.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The package includes the board, a K-pump, a repair kit, and fin setups for deep and shallow water.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The unrolled board.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Pumping this drop-stitch board to the point of rigidity takes a bit of effort. The K-pump manages this air pressure, but other pumps likely would not. - Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The Leafield C7 valve is high quality and durable.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The inflated board.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The bottom of the board has three slots for the fins.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The fins usually need a little coaxing to slide in.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Once the fins are in, small plastic keys insert to make sure they don't slide back out.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The larger fin is great for tracking in deeper water.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The deck of the Big Earl has plenty of grip, and the center strap is a good handle for transporting the inflated board.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The rear strap and d-ring on the NRS Big Earl.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The nose straps and d-rings can easily take a pretty hefty load.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on Flathead Lake, Montana.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • This board is durable and has a high volume, so it is a great fit for families.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on Flathead Lake, Montana.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Kids love exploring on the board, and they don't have to worry about hurting themselves if they fall on it.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Because the board packs up so well, it ends up going places regular boards just won't, like the San Juan River.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on the North Fork Reservoir.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Getting ready for a paddle on Fall Creek Reservoir.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Inflatable boards are a great choice for families because they are so forgiving and durable.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Kids can learn the basics of paddleboard balance with low consequences.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on Flathead Lake, Montana.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Because it isn't made from a hard fiberglass shell, falling off or on this board isn't a big deal; you may be inspired to try something different.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on Dexter Reservoir.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Paddling the NRS Big Earl on Dexter Reservoir.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • The Big Earl takes well over the recommended 200 pound weight limit, so you may be able to bring a friend with you.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Preparing for a paddle on Oregon's Summit Lake.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Enjoying views of Diamond Peak from the Big Earl on Summit Lake.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
  • Crowded lake shores aren't such a big deal when you can paddle to a remote corner and enjoy your own piece of water.- Gear Review: NRS Big Earl Stand-up Paddleboard
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NRS Big Earl Specs

  • Length:  10 feet 6 inches
  • Volume:  211 liters
  • Width:  30 inches
  • Thickness:  4 inches
  • Weight:  29 lbs
  • Recommended total maximum load weight is 200 pounds.

Where to get it

The bottom line: The Big Earl's durability, portability, and buoyancy make this inflatable stand-up paddleboard a good choice for anyone paddling on rivers, traveling to their paddling destination, or carrying extra gear. While the board probably won't win any speed races, the dimensions keep the board stable, friendly for beginners, and suitable for river currents as well as flat water. 

Preparing for a paddle on Oregon's Summit Lake. Photo by Halvor Tweto.

It has been almost a decade since NRS introduced the Big Earl to the stand-up paddleboard universe, and back then it was one of only a handful of options for inflatable boards. Since then it has gone through some iterations and slight modifications, but the essential design hasn't changed much due to a commitment to the core purpose of the product. This is a board of modest length and broad width, which makes it stable and forgiving in all kinds of conditions, including whitewater. The Big Earl isn't fast, but it isn't supposed to be. Instead, this is a rugged workhorse that doesn't mind the bumps and scrapes that would gouge and ding hard boards beyond recognition. And it is tough: I've pushed it over and through river rocks and sandstone, dragged it over hot sandy beaches, and thrown it into the back of trunks and truck beds without caution. Over the years it continues to perform well and without complaint. The Big Earl comes with fin set-ups for deep and shallow water. The fin mounts themselves are the greatest opportunity for design improvement: They are rigid plates of plastic mounted in an otherwise flexible and rollable board, and thus they are prone to cracking if the board isn't packed or rolled properly. It is difficult to imagine how another system would work, however, so it may just be one of the trade-offs (along with speed and weight) that come with owning an inflatable paddleboard. 

Inflatable boards are a great choice for their portability. The Big Earl easily rolls into a bag with backpack straps that NRS includes with the board, and the bag is large enough to accommodate the included pump, fin setups for both deep and shallow water, a repair kit, and a paddle that breaks down. The total load should be under 35 pounds, which is light enough to pack into plenty of your favorite backcountry lakes and rivers. Alternately, with some careful packing and a bomber box or bag, this could easily be checked on your next flight to a watery paradise. You just can't beat that kind of convenience for a personal watercraft.

This board's buoyancy means that it can accommodate extra loads with ease, and rigging gear on the front is easy given the number of D-rings. You can easily strap up a small cooler for a picnic on the far shore away from the crowds, or you can pack up a few dry bags with enough gear for a multi-day trip. There is enough space in front for children or pets who are game for a ride, as well. In terms of versatility, this carrying capacity really opens up new possibilities for use and destinations.

The board's drop-stitch construction means it requires plenty of air pressure to achieve the necessary rigidity, and this is the probably the most significant drawback to any inflatable board. The pumping takes both time and effort...and you always have to push in more air than you think is necessary. Once you have it inflated, however, the board is both rigid enough to support a paddler with extra gear and soft enough to absorb impact if you (or younger paddlers) slip and land on it. This makes an inflatable board an ideal option for families and beginning paddlers who don't mind the initial pumping ordeal.

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