Blackfin Ultra CX Review 2023: OverviewiRocker has just announced a whole new line of ultralight inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboards (iSUPs) dubbed, fittingly, “Ultra.” These boards use all new constructions and designs to remain high performance, while being lightweight and compact. We’ve been testing the new Blackfin Ultra CX for a few weeks now and are excited to share this review with you. In a nutshell, the Blackfin Ultra CX is ideal for paddlers who travel frequently or have limited storage and transportation space, but want a high-performance all-around iSUP. The new construction techniques and materials used in these Ultra series iSUPs has drastically increased the performance capabilities found in the iRocker paddleboard lineup, and similar technologies are currently found in only a handful of other iSUPs. With this recent release of advanced products, I believe the paddleboard industry as a whole is on the horizon of a new age in inflatable paddleboard performance.
— Blackfin Ultra CX Summary Ratings and Review – —
Blackfin Ultra CX
Construction & Durability
Features and Versatility
The Blackfin Ultra CX is a compact iSUP perfect for those who travel frequently.
- Compact design
- New construction
- High versatility
- Incredibly stiff
- Carbon fiber rails
- Excellent tracking
- Action mounts and removable bungees
- Great warranty
- Electric pump included
- Deck pad needs to be extended farther back
- Would love to see it packaged with a second fin option
Construction and Durability
The Ultra CX starts with a brand new woven drop-stitch core. Woven drop stitch is typically considered to be stiffer and lighter than traditional knitted drop stitch to begin with, but iRocker didn’t stop there. In addition, the Ultra CX also has a new pattern in the space yarns that stretch between the deck and hull of the board to keep its shape and increase rigidity. These space yarns have also been woven into an X shape (vertically from deck to hull) rather than a traditional linear drop stitch (going directly up and down from deck to hull). This further increases rigidity and reduces weight.
Around the outside of the board, the Ultra CX still has a triple-layer composite construction and carbon fiber rail layer, same as what is found on the other Blackfin iSUPs, to add both stiffness and impact/abrasion resistance.
This all adds up to a board that is not just theoretically stiff, but noticeably stiff on the water as well. While bounce testing on the board I hardly noticed any amount of bend. What little bend it did have produced only the slightest amount of reverberation.
When making a lightweight iSUP, it’s a delicate balance between reducing weight without removing so much material that it becomes overly delicate or can’t stand up to typical use. The Ultra CX walks that line well and I’ve had no indication that it is any less durable than the other Blackfin series boards.
|Max Capacity||320 pounds|
|Board Weight||19.8 pounds|
(SUP & accessories)
|Returns period||90 days|
Features, Accessories and Versatility
— Click on hotspots for additional details —
One thing I love about iRocker is they don’t skimp out on the built-in features of their boards. They want to make sure that when you get an iSUP from them, be it a Nautical, iRocker, Blackfin, or the new Ultra series, that it is up to whatever task you put it toward.
The Ultra CX is no exception. Even while designing a lightweight iSUP (19.8lb), iRocker still made room for front and rear passenger grab handles, two (very sizable) cargo areas, and three multi-use threaded action mounts. While it doesn’t have the Scotty mounts found on the other Blackfin iSUPs, the Ultra CX is more of a high-performance all-around board rather than a fishing-specific one.
The cargo bungees have been upgraded with plastic clasps at each end for easy removal. Personally I wouldn’t take the front cords off, but I could see myself removing the rear ones. Unless I’m overnighting on the board I don’t typically use rear cargo areas for daily needs. I like to play and move around while paddling, so storing items behind me usually just gets in the way.
The center carry handle is offset from the center of the board to allow it to fold in half when putting the board away. When picking up the Ultra CX it’s important to note where the handle is and how long your arms are. If you grab it from the “wrong” side you might not be able to comfortably reach the handle. For me, the handle was placed just inside of where my natural standing position is, so it was not in the way. For shorter paddlers under 5’6” you may have to stand wider than normal to avoid standing directly on the padded handle. If the handle was unpadded or if the padding was removable, this would be less of an issue as it would sit flat against the deck of the board.
On the underside of the board the Ultra CX has two fin boxes. These are the same size flip-lock fin boxes that are used on the sides of iRocker’s other iSUPs (slightly shorter than the center fin box on iRocker’s other boards). There are two 9” long fins included with the Ultra CX that use this shorter base length. We’ll get to how that impacts performance in the Maneuverability and Tracking sections below.
The finboxes and fins also feature a new locking pin that attaches directly to the fin once it is installed. I personally find this feature to be redundant. I’ve never had the experience of a fin falling out while on the water, and I’ve not met someone who has. I’ve only ever lost them in the parking lot when packing up for the day. I would love to have seen the Ultra CX packaged with a second set of shorter fins, but the good news is that the standard 5” side fins available from iRocker fit the finboxes just fine. You just won’t be able to use the new locking pin as well.
The new line of Ultralight boards also use a brand new bag. The compact boards fold into a much smaller space than the normal Blackfin or iRocker boards and their lighter weight makes them easier to carry as well. The new bag has a roll top closure that is secured with velcro and a buckle. There are no wheels on these new bags, but their smaller size and weight make them very easy to carry as a backpack, or even like a suitcase using the top handles.
Outside there are three pockets (the front pocket has a zipper) and four compression straps. Inside there are even more pockets on the sides of the bag. There are also loops to help hold the new five-piece breakdown paddle in place rather than hanging loose in the bag.
The front panel unzips all the way to allow easy access to put the board away. I will note that folding the Ultra CX is not as easy as other Blackfin boards. I’ve found that I really need to make sure all the air is out of the board (using the deflate setting on the included electric pump) before trying to fold the board up. I’ve also found that, more than other boards, I have to be very careful about the size and angle of the fold. While it’s not an impossible task, it’s not quite as easy as a traditional board bag.
Along with the upgraded construction, the Ultra series boards include the iRocker 12v Electric SUP Pump as a standard accessory. Electric pumps are one of our most recommended accessories for any board, so it’s nice to see them included with the board to begin with. I do wish there were an option for a compact hand pump, though. One of the great things about ultralight boards is that they are light! That means you can take them to paddle places where you might not have been able to before. We have several beautiful alpine lakes here that would be perfect day trips hiking in with the Ultra CX, but that means I’ll either need to grab a hand pump from another board or bring along a 12v battery. iRocker does offer a 12v battery for their electric pump. There is plenty of room in the carrying bag (and even in the pump bag) for a battery though.
A high quality paddle is the icing on the cake of any paddleboard kit. iRocker’s paddle blade design is shared across all of their lines – and for good reason. The blade itself is a medium-small size with a rectangular shape. This gives you a really consistent feel in the water whether you are paddling quickly or casually cruising along. The soft scoop on the power face catches well in the water without holding too tightly when taking the paddle back out.
The nylon blade is relatively light and has a little bit of flex to make the paddle feel softer on your muscles and joints when paddling for a long time. When paired with the carbon fiber shaft of the standard Blackfin paddle, the whole package comes together nicely with just the right balance of power and flex for all-day paddling.
The Ultra CX paddle has a five-piece design. The paddle blade itself, three sections for the shaft, and finally the handle insert. The basic push-button lock design on these sections is lightweight (actually, the whole paddle is 0.5 ounces lighter than the normal Blackfin 3 piece paddle), but it does have one, very big drawback. There is a small amount of play where each of these sections interlock. Often, when there is only one such joint, you may feel a little bit of looseness when holding the paddle in your hand, but not when it’s in the water. In this case, the amount of play is magnified by the number of joints and it’s very noticeable when holding the paddle, and also very noticeable when using it on the water.
At 5’9”, I’m essentially average height for a male in the United States. I don’t have a particularly long or short wingspan either. When I hold a SUP paddle in my naturally-inclined position, my hand rests directly on one of the button locks on the five-piece paddle. Aside from being a tad uncomfortable for me when paddling (either letting the button rub my hand or moving my grip unnaturally in or out) I was also constantly worried about accidentally engaging the button and dropping the bottom of the paddle mid stroke. I’ve used other five-piece paddles in the past without this issue. My hope is that future iterations of this compact travel paddle either adjust the length of the individual pieces, or move to a 4 piece paddle all together. That would cut down on both the button placement issue and loose connection issue. With the height of the carrying bag I do believe there is plenty of room for a four-piece paddle.
Stability comes from a combination of the size, shape, thickness, construction, and fins of a board. The Ultra CX is 32.5” wide at its widest point, which is just in front of the standing area. This wide-point-forward shape is great for paddling forward with your body leaning over your toes. From this point back to the tail, the Ultra CX tapers quite drastically to a narrow square tail. This significant change in shape reduces the board’s volume and greatly impacts its stability.
When I first stepped onto the Ultra CX I immediately noticed two things: 1) “this board is stiff” and 2) “that doesn’t feel like 32.5” wide.” When standing still on the non-moving board, It felt less stable than its closest-in-size cousin the iRocker All-Around 11’ (11’x32”). Not by a lot, but by enough that I noticed. With my feet in the main standing area I got used to the difference pretty quickly. While the size is comparable to the iRocker All-Around 11’, the Ultra CX’s primary stability felt much more like the iRocker Sport (11’x31”).
When I bounced up and down on the board, there was almost no flex. After I stopped bouncing there was just the slightest hint of reverberation as the board settled back down. Rocking the board side to side was also easy and smooth with no catching or popping characteristics.
Next I tested the Ultra CX’s secondary stability. This is feeling out how easy it is to balance the board on its rail – with one side of the board lifted out of the water. This secondary stability indicates how well the board does when in choppier conditions and how long a paddler has to correct any imbalances before they tip the board too far onto its side. The Ultra CX was a little trickier to find its secondary balance point compared to the iRocker All-Around 11’, but once I did, it only took a little bit of effort to hold it there.
One other thing that is really important to note here is that there is no rear deck pad. The deck pad ends about two and a half feet short of the tail of the board. When stepping back onto the tail of the board, instead of having the grippy surface of the deck pad to support your foot, you are now on the slick PVC surface of the deck. Combine that with the narrow outline of the board at this point and overall stability drops significantly. For advanced paddlers this instability creates a “sporty” feeling that keeps you on your toes (and heels), but is not confidence inspiring for those learning to advance their skills.
Shorter and wider boards tend to be slower than longer, skinnier boards, but the Ultra CX’s shape and rigidity have bucked that trend. In a 50 yard sprint test, the Ultra CX beat the iRocker All-Around 11’ by half a second each time. But the performance didn’t stop there.
While most paddlers aren’t sprinting all the time, many do like to cruise at a decent speed for fitness, exploration, or just getting from point-to-point. How efficiently a board glides across the water determines how frequently you need to paddle to maintain that cruising speed. Using the same 50 yard benchmark we found that the Ultra CX glides the same distance using 1.5 fewer strokes per 50 yards compared to the iRocker All-Around 11’.
Overall I was very surprised by the speed of this board. There’s just enough rocker in the nose of the board to keep it up on the surface and gliding well without greatly reducing its overall waterline length (which would reduce speed and tracking).
The Ultra CX’s twin-fin design means that you must have two matching fins installed at the same time or you’re going to have a seriously hard time paddling, or at least in paddling in the direction you want to go! The included 9” fins have a significant amount of rake (how far back they sweep). Between the long length and large rake, the Ultra CX can be very difficult to turn quickly.
One of our primary maneuverability tests measures how many forward sweep (turning) strokes it takes to complete a 360° turn from a stand still. While carrying out this test I found that while the first stroke turned the Ultra CX nearly 90°, the twin 9” fins immediately began to transfer any sort of forward-ish energy into forward movement. This caused the board to make a very large circle to complete its 360° turn, using an average of 9.2 strokes to do so. For comparison, the iRocker All-Around 11’ takes an average of 5.1 strokes to complete the same task.
Completing the same task using reverse sweep strokes was quick and painless though, and the Ultra CX behaved significantly more like other boards in its size range.
With such a large turning radius it encourages paddlers to take the next step (literally) in technique by using a pivot turn, sometimes called a step-back turn. By stepping back to the tail of the board and lifting the nose out of the water, you essentially turn any SUP into a ~4’ long board and can spin most SUPs in about two paddle strokes.
The Ultra CX does pivot-turn smoothly through the water, however it is very challenging to do so. The lack of a rear deck pad means you are standing on the slippery surface of the PVC deck and/or the cargo bungee cords, so your back foot is not as secure. The narrow tail outline has little width or volume, so any shift in weight from your toes to your heels rocks the board side to side. If you are an intermediate or advanced paddler, this gives the Ultra CX a really “sporty” feel that can be fun and challenging. If you are a beginner or intermediate paddler wanting to try your first pivot turns, I do recommend you look into a board like the iRocker Sport (11’x31”) which has a deckpad all the way to the tail and a raised kick pad for further support.
The finboxes on the Ultra CX do accept the side fins from other Blackfin/iRocker boards. If you do want to increase the maneuverability of the Ultra CX, they would be a great option, and one I wish came included with the board.
While maneuverability on the Ultra CX may be tricky, tracking is about as easy as it gets. Those same twin 9” fins that make it hard to turn do a great job of converting paddling energy into straight-forward movement.
While cruising around I had no issues keeping the Ultra CX on target. Even if I dropped my forward stroke form, it kept on trucking.
Between paddle strokes the Ultra CX resisted turning very well, showing only slight signs of deviation from side to side as it neared stopping if I did not continue to paddle.
While sprinting from a stand-still, the Ultra CX did turn slightly with the first paddle strokes, as all SUPs do, but once I had forward momentum I could easily paddle 15+ paddle strokes before feeling the need to change sides.
Warranty and Customer SupportiRocker offers one of the best customer and warranty services available. In addition to their 3-year warranty on the Ultra CX and 1-year warranty on accessories, they also offer a 90-day return period that’s no-questions asked. If you don’t like your board for any reason, you can ship it back for a full refund of the purchase price. If you do have questions or concerns about your board, or need to file a warranty claim, you can reach iRocker through their website, email, phone, or social media.
ValueWhen rating the value of an iSUP we always look at the package and company holistically rather than focusing on just the MSRP. We compare similar quality and purpose boards, their accessories, warranties, and performance. With this in mind we’ve found that the Blackfin Ultra CX offers excellent value for its price. With its current launch pricing, it’s even better. The Ultralight and Compact iSUP market is relatively niche, but it’s getting larger. The Blackfin Ultra CX is a serious contender for the discerning paddler, and comes in at a very competitive price.
Overall Impressions/Review Summary
The Blackfin Ultra CX is a fast, sporty compact all-around iSUP that is ready for travel. It’s loaded with quality onboard features and included accessories. While it may not be the ideal beginner iSUP, it offers a great opportunity for intermediate and advanced paddlers, or those beginners who don’t mind a slightly steeper learning curve. The new woven drop stitch construction is truly an excellent and high-performing design.