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The Great Bear is my first paddleboard. I made the purchase as a very inexperienced stand up paddler. But, I have lots of experience in kayaks, and am relatively athletic. When I started writing to sales reps (from several manufacturers), and talked to retail sales folks, everyone tried to sell me a smaller, more all around board. I think they felt that the characteristics of the boards I was interested in were only suitable for more advanced paddlers. However, I am very pleased that I stuck to my guns. Given the conditions in the salt waters I will be paddling (Port Townsend Bay, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and possible some exposed Pacific coast), and what I want to use the board or (day long adventures, overnights, fishing adventures and hauling crab pots), I can't think of a better board. Sure, I could have bought 3 boards. One for fishing and crabbing, one for exercise and speed, and one for overnighting. But I only wanted one board. The Great Bear seems to be a great fit so far.
The following comments are coming from a very inexperienced stand up paddler. I think I probably had about 4 hours on a stand up paddleboard before I purchased the Great Bear. So, they may be taken with a grain of salt.
I have been paddling a 5.5 mile run off of North Beach a couple times a week on the Great Bear since I bought it. The last time I did the run, my GPS says I am averaging 3.43 mph. There are tide currents along this section of the Straits, so sometimes they are pushing me, and sometimes they are slowing me down. There are also times when there are very small swells and light winds. The board is not as responsive as another 14' foot board that a friend paddles. But when I have the wind and tide at my back, the Great Bear does much better with handling small waves than his. I wouldn't consider trading. The rockered bow and stern are a definite plus for these partially exposed waters.
One day, I paddled a 4.5 mile run with my dog. She weighs about 45 pounds. Can't say that she enjoyed sitting still, but she did. The board rode really well with the extra weight. I noticed the weight of the dog, but still was able to move along nicely. I have not purchased a crab license for this season, because it was late in the season when I bought the Great Bear, but I am hoping to use if for dropping and pulling a couple of crab pots when crabbing season opens next year. It is not going to be an ideal crabbing board, but I am pretty sure it will work. I will likely make a forward deck pad to protect the bamboo deck from being scratched by crab pots.
Within the month, I plan to do an overnighter, just to see how the board handles gear. I will camp at a place I have kayaked to, so I am familiar with the area. It is a salt water trip, with relatively narrow channels. The water is quite protected, however, there are places in which the currents can be quite strong. So, as I did when I was kayaking, I will plan the trip to run with the tides. I am not anticipating any challenges. If the Great Bear passes that test, I will likely try to do some overnighting in the San Juans.
Can't wait to get out on the board again tomorrow. Tomorrow, I plan to cross Port Townsend Bay. This will be the first time I ventured more than a half mile from shore. The challenges of Port Townsend Bay are mostly (very annoying) small boat wake. I have found that when I hit these small steep chops, the board really slows down. I do much better if I drop to my knees and just plow through the chop, and then stand up again once the wake has passed under me.
All in all, I am very happy with the board. Of course, I don't have too much to compare it to. I still wonder if there is a better boat out there for me. But I am pretty sure it would take three different boats to meet my needs more completely. As I gain more experience, and my paddling technique improves, I will likely have a better and bigger perspective.