C4 XXL Review iSUP or iSuck? and a short lesson on board shopping in Canada

iSUP or i-suck?

Cool September mornings, snow on the peaks, no crowds in the parking lots at Lost Lake, and Brian Bielmann images in the front of my mind courtesy of the Swell 2 show last Thursday…time to get on the lake.  I love fall in Whistler and I REALLY wanted to love the C4 iSUP but in the immortal words of Billy Bragg, “Oh love is strange.”

I spent three days with the C4 iSUP XXL 10’9″ this week and like so many summer loves from days past, the iSUP (inflatable stand up paddle) and I had our moments but when the clouds rolled in and sunlight faded to grey the hype fell to my feet like the water cold rushing around my ankles.  iSUP, I’m sorry, but I’m really not that into you.

Part 1 – The Myth

The iSUP myth is undeniable.  Adjustable paddles that fit in the car, awesome! A 10’9″ board that rolls into a backpack sack with it’s own pump and drops in the hatch back without pulling out the stroller, perfect!  An excuse to slip on my Matuse 2mm v-neck surf shirt…ya baby! But that’s where the love affair ended.

Like any summer love, we cut to the chase…from the first pump I was disappointed.  The pump handle was cracked at the thread where the valve insert was also missing – a.k.a. where someone at the rental shop tried and failed to glue the plastic fitting back together. I know, no fault of C4..but not the best start.  OK, moving on, I pumped until the pump handle would no longer compress – with my hand squeezing the crack – and the board was firm. Yes! I snapped it up with one hand with the jazzy nylon carry strap and popped it onto the glassy lake.  Stepped on, one paddle, and NO…the C4 XXL (?) immediately flexed and bent into a banana shape and sunk to the water line under my feet.  This can’t be right? Out of the water, more pumping, more firm, back in.  No better, but it was early, the lake was calling and I paddled it out.

I’d tell you how it handled but it didn’t.  The rocker was so pronounced under my weight (185lbs) that there was no sweet spot, no chance it would plane or even begin to glide.  Each paddle stroke made the board bend more under my feet.    C4…XXL…Fail.

PART 2 – Hit Me Baby One More time

Back to the shop.  Just to be fair.  They offered to let me keep the board for another day and the tiny girl at the desk (who paddles herself and loves the C4 iSUP’s) sent me away this time with a new pump!! OK, let’s try this again.  We headed back to Lost Lake but mama bear and two cubs sent us packing to Rainbow Park on Alta Lake.  Pump, pump, pump…valve on new C4 pump not working…pump until the pump handle won’t compress and the board squeals – literally – under the pressure.  Step on…same bend.  Step off, more ridiculously hard pumping, back in the water…bend, sink, pivot.  WTF?  “Something is wrong I say to my wife.”  I paddle up wind and felt the board bend under my feet with every gust.  Back to shore. Repeat pump…will not take any more air…back in the water…bend, sink, I’m outta here.

Part 3 – I’m Really Not That Into You

Meanwhile back in ‘the lab’ I get out the computer and the measuring tape (my wife has lost interest after a week me of convincing her ‘we need this’ and is convinced I’m obsessing…but damn it, this is summer love babe, it’s September and I need to know what happened?)  “Every report on this board says people love it?” I tell here.  “You should write about it.”  She says.

So why didn’t the C4 iSUP XXL work?  My first guess is the tacky ‘i’ Apple reference but here are a couple real life signs…1st, found the C4 instruction video – and yes, I did everything right – check.  2nd, it’s inflatable, what did you expect?  Next the tail of the tape, the C4 10’9″ XXL massive 34″ spec. width was right on but the length measured no longer than 10’4″ – even on the curve(?).  In fact, stood up next to a new C4 10’6″ in the shop the difference was indistinguishable??  Did I get a shorter, chubbier version of the XXL? Was it less volume? Did the staff give me the wrong board? Did the photo evidence really show the tail fins out of the water? I don’t know…but I know this isn’t area 51 and a 185lb guy shouldn’t sink a 200 litre SUP.

Meanwhile back to the shop, “…sorry guys, I wanted to love it.”  Immediately guy who wasn’t working the last two days says, “Ya, no worries.  I’d like to tell you different but a lot of bigger guys say that… and we’re selling them off anyways.”

Post script:

A word to the wise when shopping for SUP boards in Canada…you don’t always get what you pay for.

There is no place in the retail word where the US v. Canadian pricing divide is greater than surf boards.  I shopped for a Naish Glide 12.0 (glass) last year and saw prices in Canadian board shops up to $2300 while the same board in the US at retail is $1600-1700 (FYI: wholesale cost for either is $1200.)  You do the math.        

A short lesson in surf board / SUP retail…big US supplier with no interest in the tiny CDN board market gives CDN distributor the rights to purchase and re-sell their boards at 30 to 50% higher than US retail MSRP, end of story.  I’ve been in this business for 20 years and while prices vary on hard and soft goods north and south I’ve never seen a cash grab like this.  Do your homework and find the closest US price + shipping and you may be surprised how many $100’s of dollars you can save shopping around.  Next, take that to your Canadian dealer and they will pass along the message.  Only time and consumer revolt can turn the tide. 

That said, I am independent, and if you know me I am also the biggest self-proclaimed shop local advocate this side of 49 degrees lat.  Bottom line…shop at home.

1. I don’t sell boards unless they are either from Canadian producers OR purchased at fair market wholesale…which usually means direct from the US supplier at the same wholesale price they offer US accounts.

2. Don’t let CDN board shops tell you ‘shipping is so expense’…shipping a board from Oregon to BC, or from Vancouver Island to Whistler for that matter, is the same or better than to or from any other destination. Dealers don’t tell you shipping skis and snowboards is expensive…the operating cost is in the price.

The only arguably legit difference in price in imported boards is the debate around tax and duty.  My advice, NAFTA reigns supreme – any board manufactured anywhere in North America is duty-free (and remember boards made in “communist” China are subject to duty in Canada and the US).  As for taxes, while BC’s HST has hammered additional upfront cost on dealers, it has not changed the consumer tax rate.



  1. Hold the press!! Just spoke to someone at the shop and they have another C4 XXL that is actually a 10’9″…going to try it out and give C4 one more chance! In the meantime…the story stands.

  2. Aloha,

    Thanks for the review. Seems like you got a bad board. It does happen and I apologize for the inconvenience.

    Yes, pressure equals performance in the inflatable world. It looks as though you were at about 14psi in the photos. Perhaps have the guy at the shop inflate it for you, just so that you know it can be done- Pressure is the number one goal- it needs to be at 17psi (you should be able to compress the rail with your thumb about 3/16 with a firm push). C4 did have an issue with a batch of pumps that has been addressed. Also, you may find that the board, once put in cold water the air will compress. When we compete at Vail for the TEVA games, we will inflate the board, immerse it in the water for a few minutes and then top up.

    As you can imagine, rocker and outline are things that we have worked very diligently on in regards to our iSUP products. As far as board function and performance goes- these are two key factors that we have not overlooked (even though it is much simpler to produce a flat inflatable board, or to bend the material into a crude rocker profile). Currently, we are the only company that seems to have mastered this art. However, giving a set rocker into what is essentially a piece of fabric is difficult at best. We do allow for 1″ tolerances from our rocker template but it seems as though the board you have has more then you desire. Believe it or not, we have had some athletes request the kind of rocker you have as they find it performs better in the whitewater. Noa Ginella won the TEVA games 2 years in a row on an iSUP with extreme rocker.

    As silly as it sounds, consumers often expect the same kind of feel and performance out of an inflatable board as they do a rigid (epoxy) board. An inflatable will never feel like a hard board. Period. However, it is for the other factors that make the iSUPs so popular; their durabilitly, portability, safety and believe it or not- their performance is environments where epoxy boards are reduced to matchsticks.

    Hope things work out for the second time around, you find a satisfactory product to test and we can keep you in the water.

    Feel free to contact me: Liam@C4waterman.com

    Aloha from Hawaii.

    Liam Wilmott

  3. Thank you for the response Liam, I will be sure to try C4 again in the spring. As I mentioned, I went back to the dealer and unfortunately all of the pumps, even the owner’s personal pump, were all broken and he suggested I wait to take a board out when the replacement pumps arrive and he didn’t know when that would happen.

    Snow on the peaks now…so that may not be until spring for me.


    ps. That said, I am still baffled how the board I sampled was a full 5 inches short of spec?

  4. Aloha Hi,

    Once again I apologize for the inconvenience. If you are hankering for a better pump before you get too snowed in, we have them in stock here and I can send you one (free shipping) and you can get a board from your dealer and go have at it.

    The board size is odd, but my only explanation is that these boards are not made in a mold like epoxy boards, they are cut and built by hand using a template, so there is room for human error.

    I guess you had a custom XXL. J

    Have a great winter.



  5. Hi,

    I’m sorry to have read about your poor experience with the isup board. I can say from my own experience that the 10’6 isup is not really a flat water board for cruising around on, but rather a surf or river (rapid runner) board. I just returned from Oahu last week, and while there, was able to take the 10’6 out for a few days. I found it was key to make sure the board was inflated as proper as i could get it to be. We had it out in some 3′ – 5′ waves on the North Shore and played around with some small waves near Waikiki too. After getting used to the flex in the board we were both impressed with it’s performance and agreed to buy one to use on some of the standing waves in our Manitoba rivers. I’ll try to post some fun gopro video of that this spring or summer. Maybe the video could change your mind.. Or not..?..??…..


  6. From a Canadian isup owner to another, I’ve owned a C4, “owned” being the key word. My pump lasted about 8 trips to the lake. and the board rail blew out about 18 months after purchase (after 1 year your warrantee is over) C4 sent me another pump that seemed to be built better, on inspection of the pump it was a Red Paddle Co pump with a C4 sticker over their logo. I purchased the 9’11 BK pro with removable fcs fins, great fins (fcs M5’s I think?), but the hex screws on the fin boxes were not stainless and rusted after a few uses. As for the rail of the board, I paddle a werner paddle with a paddle guard, so you cant blame the paddle and still the seam of the rail to the top deck of the board blew apart. I did a lot of research into isups as i felt that durability would be the best and C4 seemed to be leading the charge into design and function. I live in Ontario on the great lakes so my paddling is everything from 3′-6′ freshwater surf to calm lakes and rivers (nothing crazy) cant understand how my board wouldn’t stand up to that amount of use, I also followed the care instructions to a tee because I take pride in my gear. I didnt give up on the isup concept so I kept looking and found Red Paddle Co, I have no tie to any one board company but I own two Red Paddle Co boards and have not one bad thing to say about them! They pump to higher pressures and are stiff as hell even in freezing conditions, my one board (9’2 surf star ) has rail batons that increase stiffness even more, as for durability they are actually a board inside a board at the same weight as the C4. just my 2 cents.

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