Stand-up paddleboarding has continued to soar in popularity this year, with more people than ever investing in one of the best inflatable paddleboards and best beginner SUPs. The problem with SUPing, however, especially for those relatively new to the sport, is that once summer starts to wane and the sea gets a bit bumpier, it’s not so easy to do the stand-up part of the paddling pursuit.
Paddling shouldn’t be confined to summer, though. There are plenty of excellent reasons to keep on kayaking and SUPing into autumn and beyond, but you do need to be a bit more confident in your kit and your capabilities. A paddleboard that transforms into a kayak promises to be the perfect versatile vehicle for the kind of choppy days the shoulder seasons often deliver.
So I decided to put the Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP and Kayak from Isle through its paces along the south coast in the midst of autumn to find out whether one craft can really be all things to all paddlers. Read on to find out how I got on.
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: price and availability
The Isle Pioneer Pro SUP–Kayak hybrid is available as a complete package in the US for a total recommended retail price of $1,370. In the UK and Europe, you have to buy the Isle Pioneer Pro SUP II board (RRP £653/€890), install the Isle-Link connect system and then add components such as the Cloud Kayak Seat (RRP £100 / €135) and Cloud Foot Brace (RRP £48/€65) separately, and then invest in a hybrid alloy paddle (RRP £100/€135).
A much better option for UK and Europe-based paddlers looking for a hybrid board-boat is to go for Isle’s Switch [external links] model (RRP £818/€1,114), which comes with everything (seat, footrest, convertible alloy paddle, pump, leash, bag) included.
When sold as a package, the Isle Pioneer Pro SUP–Kayak hybrid includes an inflatable Pioneer Pro SUP board plus following components: a Remix Carbon SUP Paddle and extra blade, the Cloud Kayak Seat, Cloud Kayak Foot Brace, Totora Hand Pump, a rigid touring fin, a 9ft lightweight straight leash and the Pro Series wheelie backpack, which can accommodate the entire package, just about…
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: specifications
- Board lengths available: 9ft 6in / 10ft 6in / 11ft 6in
- Width: 9ft 6in: 32in/81cm; 10ft 6in: 34in/86.5cm; 11ft 6in: 36in/91.5cm
- Weight (board only): 9ft 6in: 20lb/9kg; 10ft 6in: 23lb/10.5kg ; 11ft 6in: 26lb/12kg
- Max carry weight: 9ft 6in: 195lb/88.5kg; 10ft 6in: 300lb/136kg ; 11ft 6in: 450lb/204kg
- Colours available: Ice, coral & sun / Slate, navy & ice / Seafoam, navy & ice / Grey, slate & coral
- Style: Inflatable
- Accessories included: Bag, pump, paddle and extra blade, seat, footrest, leash
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: design
For avoidance of doubt, the Isle Pioneer Pro SUP-Kayak Hybrid rig is a stand-up paddleboard that doubles as a sit-on-top kayak (sort of), definitely not a kayak that can be used as a SUP. The central component of this package is the excellent Pioneer Pro SUP board, and the kayak conversion kit is really just an add-on element.
Purchasing all elements separately would cost you a pretty penny, so the package is definitely the way to go if you want the versatility of using the board as an SUP and a sit-on-top kayak.
Crucially, the Pioneer Pro SUP board sold with the package comes with the Isle-Link connect system fitted. This is a series of multiple little fabric hoops, located almost the entire length of both sides of the board, which can be used to attach the inflatable seat and footrest (or other extras). It’s a very versatile system, allowing you complete freedom to choose where to position your seat and rest (or even to add additional seats if you have a larger board with a bigger capacity).
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: SUP performance
As mentioned, the inflatable SUP board is the most important part of the whole set-up, and arguably, most people will spend the majority of their time standing up on the Pioneer Pro, so let’s look at this first.
Available in three lengths (I tested the middle 10’ 6” option), the Isle Pioneer Pro II board is 6 inches thick and feels really stable in the water whether you’re stood up on it, kneeling or sat down. There’s a large standing area with a textured finish to stop your feet from slipping and to allow for various leg positioning options (including yoga stances if that’s your thing).
There are hauling handles at either end of the board (so it can be comfortably carried by two people when inflated), and you’ll find a third one in the middle for solo carrying. There are no bungees included on this board (useful for storing things such as water bottles, snorkel and mask, and extra layers), although you could potentially add some by using the Isle-Link connect system (aforementioned fabric hoops along each side of the board).
The Pioneer Pro has a more rounded-nose design than some other speed-orientated boards (including the Isle Switch, another hybrid model, which boasts a pointier profile in order to move through the water faster when you’re kayaking). It might not be the speediest board in the brine, but it feels very secure and stable when you’re out amongst the waves.
There is a single large fin underneath, which means the board tracks really well in calm water, and can be used for touring. This fin slots into place after you have finished inflating the board, and adding the fin is a little tricky at first – it requires some elbow oompf to snap it into the groove and get it into position, but once it’s locked in it feels nice and solid. I think you’re unlikely to loose this attachment while out on the water.
If you’re purely using the Pioneer Pro for SUPing, the Isle-Link connect system might become an annoyance, and you might even catch a toe in the hoops if you’re unlucky. Presumably, because it has this system in place, the Pioneer Pro doesn’t come with any of the D-rings you typically see on SUP boards for attaching seats and bungees, which means you have to go with the models made specifically by Isle.
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: kayak performance
If conditions are more challenging than you’re comfortable standing or kneeling up amongst, and things start to get a bit wobbly, or if you just feel like sitting down for a bit, or if you just prefer paddling in a kayaking position, the ‘Cloud’ seat and footrest can be inflated and added to the board in seconds.
It genuinely is very easy to hook these elements on wherever you want to position them, using the Isle-Link connect system. The seat is simple to tension, and once this is done, it offers reasonable back support. However, once perched on the big inflatable cushion, I found the positioning to be far too high up for comfortable kayaking over any distance – I’m used to sitting in a low position in a kayak, and this level of elevation felt odd and threw my centre of gravity right off. I also found the footrest fiddly to securely fix to the board – it felt flappy and borderline useless when it came to trying to engage my torso and put in a proper paddling stroke.
Perhaps I was expecting a bit much. The kayaking set-up on this board really is only for low-key recreational paddles in very gentle conditions – it’s not intended to facilitate any serious sit-down paddling across distance, and it’s certainly not for use on technical water.
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: accessories
The Totora Hand Pump included is a dual-action hand pump that allows you to pump both the board and the seat/footrest up to the required extent (15psi) very quickly. The pump has a slim body and a removable foot, so packing it into the Pro Series wheelie backpack is easy. This oversized backpack, complete with decent wheels, is excellent for storing and transporting the board and everything that comes with it.
But it was the Remix Carbon SUP Paddle and the extra blade that really impressed me. The ingenious design of this model means you can transform it from a long single-blade SUP paddle with a T-grip into a double-bladed kayaking paddle, complete with options to adjust the length to between 235cm and 245cm (which will suit pretty much everyone. There’s no option to feather the angle of the blades, so the offset is zero (probably best for basic paddling), but the blades do have a power face and can be used effectively in both configurations.
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: verdict
There’s no doubt that the Pioneer Pro SUP from Isle is an excellent board that stands up well against the other main players in this increasingly competitive market, including companies such as Red Paddle. I really enjoyed paddling the Pioneer Pro, and I think it has a lot to offer as a buoyant board for beginners and a stable touring rig for slightly more advanced SUPers – if I was judging the board alone, I would give it at least 4 stars.
Selling it complete with a conversion kit to turn the board into a sit-on-top kayak is a neat idea, and the Remix paddle is brilliant, but I really felt far too high up on the inflatable seat, and the footrest didn’t do much for me at all. The Isle-Link connect system is clever, and it allows you to place the seat wherever you want it, but I think, in all honesty, I’d prefer a SUP board that has the usual D-rings that permit you to add any seat of your choice.
Isle Pioneer Pro Hybrid SUP review: also consider
If you are quite new to paddling and you’re looking for a SUP board that works well for standing up, kneeling or sitting down, then it’s hard to go past the excellent Entradia 10'10" from Two Bare Feet; it doesn’t come with a seat, but you can get for a reasonable price and attach it easily using the D-rings.
If your budget is a bit bigger, consider the Red Paddle Co Ride MSL, a brilliant beginner-friendly board with top-quality accessories. For more experienced SUPers, the 10’ 6” Surfstar 10’6" Advance Star is a decent board.