After spending some quality time riding the Focus SUP Smoothie 10’10, I said if I could only have one board, that would be it. But since we are lucky enough to have a number of demos to choose from, I also get to ride the Focus Cali 12’6. When the shipment arrived it was nearing 8:00 pm. It was getting dark out, but I couldn’t wait to test out this board. So I headed to the pond in the dark to give it a quick spin.
I am not a particularly fast paddler. At 5’2 my reach is a little limited so I thought I would try to compensate for that with a bigger board. The Cali is 12’6 x 28” wide. It is pleasantly stable because of its width and as I have found with all of the Focus boards I have ridden, their shapes feel good underfoot. It is a fast board and it is very quiet in the water. The displacement hull cuts nicely through the any chop and the bottom is specially designed to release water and increase glide. There is enough volume in the tail that you can get way back on it to pop the nose out and execute all the pivot turns you want. It spins very easily.
I have taken it out in the pond numerous times and love how much it rewards my efforts on the flatwater. We got it mostly for training purposes and so Mark wouldn’t get such a lead on me when we go out paddling together. And so far it is great as a training board, but it hasn’t helped me gain a whole lot of ground (or water) on him.
Anxious to try it in open water, we went to Bristol Harbor. The plan was to paddle across the harbor to Prudence Island. When we left the shelter of the cove, we were out in 10-15 knot winds and a fair amount of wake and swell. I learned a big lesson about displacement hulls on this paddle. Mark charted a course that would have us tacking like a sailboat to avoid heading straight into the wind. This was not working for me. When I told him I had to head straight into the wind rather than have it hitting me from the side, I admitted that it sounded crazy. But I assured him it was the way it needed to be. So he adjusted our line and we headed straight into the wind. We got about half way across and decided to change things up. We turned around and got a free ride with the wind at our backs until we angled toward Hog Island and got it from the side again.
It didn’t make sense until later that night when we stopped and thought about how much of a displacement board rides below the waterline versus a planing hull. Mark was riding a hybrid board so the effects were not as severe for him. But when you are on a full displacement board in a cross wind/swell, the entire length of the board is subject to being pushed by the water and wind. The hard rails basically make a wall against the water, whereas a planing board will sit more on top, the water is allowed to wash right over it and the result is you can more easily make directional adjustments.
The Focus Cali has the most comfortable deck pad I have ever had the pleasure to stand on! It would be nice if it were a slight bit wider…a tough feat given the shape of the rails, but my feet are right on the edge and as I mentioned, I’m really short. I realize it is a race board as opposed to a touring board so it makes sense that it doesn’t have tie downs, but they sure would be nice when it’s not being raced (which is most of the time…especially in our case). The carrying handle is very comfortable in your hand and the board only weighs 26 lbs, so transporting it is a piece of cake.
This board is very versatile and an excellent choice for everyone from recreational racers to serious racers, those looking for a training board, or for smaller riders looking for a touring board. The 28” width is on the wider side for race boards, so it offers plenty of stability for most intermediate riders under 200 lbs. And it would be a great choice for a smaller, less experience rider. It is a board you could definitely grow with. The width will not hold you back at most levels and it will actually be an asset. It doesn’t matter how fast the board is if you have to use all of your effort to stay on the board. There are a few variations on the Cali so there is really a board for everyone. There is the 9’6 Cali Kids, the 12’6 (both Epoxy and Carbon versions), 12’6 Free which is 2” wider for added stability and geared more toward touring, beginners or larger riders, and a 14’ version..
The Cali is a really fun board to paddle! As you would expect from it’s size, it glides and tracks really well and the width makes it stable without making it feel like “too much” board. I look forward to spending more time on it and taking it back out into the open water. It performed great out there, but I need to learn how to better handle it in a variety of conditions. Can’t wait to see where it will take me!