Starboard All Star Airline: Overview
“I wanna go fast.” If you’ve ever said this before you absolutely must check out the All Star Airline series of iSUPs. Not only are these boards fast, they are well made, stable, and use unique construction elements to deliver the absolute cream-of-the-crop performance you’d expect from, arguably, the Number One name in Stand Up Paddleboard racing – Starboard. We tested the 12’6” x 25.5” Starboard All Star Airline. This is the smallest variation of this board available and not suitable for most paddlers. Starboard makes the All Star Airline in several different sizes – all with great performance.
This review is going to be a little bit different than some of our other reviews. Because the Starboard All Star Airline is such a specialty board it’s almost impossible to compare it to most of the other iSUPs we review. This review will be from the perspective of the All Star Airline as a racing board for intermediate and advanced paddlers.
— Starboard All Star Airline Summary Ratings and Review —
Starboard All Star Airline (12’6” x 25.5”)
Construction & Durability
Features and Versatility
Wow. This board is fast, stable, stiff and performs amazingly well.
- It’s incredibly fast – almost scary fast. The All Star Airline can absolutely compete with similar hard racing SUPs.
- It’s surprisingly stable. Not how beginner iSUPs are stable, but considering its small size, intermediate and advanced paddlers will be right at home on this board.
- Excellent construction with Fusion PVC, heat-welded rails, and woven drop-stitch fabric for a stiff, durable, and lightweight build.
- Additional PVC and carbon fiber stringers for even more stiffness.
- Tension adjustment cable that wraps from the top of the nose under the board to the fin box allows users to change the rebound and maintain stiffness.
- Raised standing tray increases stability, comfort, and board control.
- Super grippy deck pad keeps your feet from slipping and gives tactile feedback for your foot position near the raised kick pad.
- FCS Inserts and a forward cargo bungee let you secure training aids, water, dry bags, and more.
- The All Star Airline is an expensive iSUP, however the construction and performance of this board are worth the cost for those serious about racing.
- The included Net Positive Race 23 fin is okay, but we prefer a stiffer, lighter fiberglass fin for racing.
Construction and Durability
Starboard has taken out all the stops when it came to building the All Star Airline. The construction quality is top notch and the materials for both the board itself and its extra design features are equally high-quality. All of the materials and construction choices have been selected to create a board that is stiff, light, and durable, and it shows when on the water. There’s no doubt in my mind that the All Star Airline will well-outlast its warranty.
There are so many cool things going on with the build of this board that I feel like it’s almost easier to tell you what isn’t unique about the Starboard All Star Airline. But that would be a short list and pretty boring, so here we go with the interesting stuff!
The All Star Airline starts with the Starboard “Deluxe” construction: woven drop stitch fabric (stiffer and lighter than a standard knitted fabric) and a fusion laminated PVC shell (stiffer and lighter than a standard hand-laminated build). The seams are heat welded to create a physical bond between the layers, and the rails are made with heavy duty, reinforced PVC material. That’s the basics, now on to the rest.
To increase stiffness, the deck is reinforced with two additional PVC stringers that run from nose to tail and the bottom has one extra-wide carbon fiber stringer to increase stiffness. But what really takes the design and construction lead is the tension adjustment cable. This aramid cable (the same material as the well known Kevlar® by DuPont) hooks onto the nose of the board, runs over the nose (across a hard plastic nose cone), and runs under the board to the single US fin box at the tail. Essentially, aramid fiber does not stretch. Because the cable is sized to be just slightly shorter than the board, as the weight and body movement of the paddler press down on the board, the non-stretchable aramid cable prevents the board from bending farther down.
Check out the photo below. I’m 50 lb over the recommended rider weight for this particular board (the smallest in Starboard’s lineup of All Star Airline iSUPs), I’m bouncing up and down on it, and this is how much it bends:
Long story short, this board is stiff on the water. Interestingly enough, though, it was not the stiffest race/fitness iSUP we tested in our bend test. The bend test is good for benchmarking boards generally, but this also isn’t the first time a board felt better on the water than what its bend test indicated.
Lastly, the All Star Airline has an EVA foam standing tray built into the deck. These elevated wings give you a positive stop at the edges of the board so you can push your feet into them for a wider stance and more control on the edge of the board. On such a narrow board, the standing tray is really appreciated and honestly does help increase the overall stability of the board. The standing tray does mean the board folds up differently than most iSUPs, and thus fits into a different shape bag. Overall I feel that any awkwardness the bag may cause is made up for in the performance of the board.
(SUP & accessories)
Features, Accessories and Versatility
The All Star Airline is a racing iSUP first and foremost. This is not an all-around board, nor is it a touring board (though the larger versions could be used for light touring). However, that doesn’t mean it is devoid of any other features. To my surprise there’s even a 4-point D-ring and bungee system at the nose of the board capable of holding a couple decent-sized dry bags! While overall the All Star Airline is low on the versatility score, its hyperfixation on speed makes up for it. The All Star Airline is built for fitness and racing, and little else.
In addition to the bungee system on the front of the board, there are two FCS style inserts in the front of the board. These inserts can be fitted with adapters for action cameras, GPS units, or even RAM ball mounts for additional accessories. For those serious about racing or using their SUP for fitness training, the NK SpeedCoach fits quite nicely, and is easy to read, in the closer of the two mounting positions.
There are two race handles on the front half of the board and one center handle. These race handles give the paddler a very stable way to hold the board without it tilting while sprinting during a beach start or finish.
The EVA foam standing tray really is well implemented on the All Star Airline. It’s large enough that you do gain a better feeling of stability and traction, especially while on the board’s edge. The rest of the deck pad is a combination of a pebbled and diamond-groove pattern in the main standing area and kick pad, and a flat, pebbled-only section between the two. This gives you tactile feedback for your feet placement without needing to look down.
Like most high-end iSUPs, the All Star Airline does not include a paddle, but does include a lightweight leash, high-quality double-action pump, and Starboard’s Net Positive Race 23 fin (23 cm/9 in). The leash is quite comfortable and lightweight. It’s not one I would use for big-wave surfing, but should easily hold up to the rigors of fitness paddling and racing. The Net Positive Race 23 fin is a good starting point for this board, but is a little lacking in stiffness and glide for the serious racer. The transportation bag is quite a bit different from other iSUP bags. Because of the EVA standing tray, the All Star Airline must be folded in a specific way rather than rolled, so the bag is quite wide, but thin and short.
In this section in particular I think it’s important to reiterate that this is not a normal board review. Because the All Star Airline is specifically for intermediate and advanced paddlers, racers to be specific, it’s not really fair to compare it to all-around or even touring iSUPs. Overall, when compared with non-racing iSUPs, the All Star Airline is incredibly unstable, however when considering its overall size, its purpose as a racing sup, and comparing it with other racing sups (both inflatable and hard) it is very stable when taking that into account. It did offer some challenge to stability when standing still, but that became easier as I started paddling. The All Star Airline also had good stability when it was leaning on one rail or the other, so even if the board wasn’t totally flat, I still felt secure and could continue to paddle while I tilted the board back.
Beginner paddlers looking for a fast board should seriously consider starting with touring boards at least 28” wide, if not wider, rather than jumping straight into a performance board like this. We didn’t get a Ferrari when we started learning to drive, we started with mom’s minivan or a nice Geo Metro and went from there (I’m still waiting for my Ferrari, though). Now, on with the review.
The All Star Airline really is surprisingly stable for a 25.5” wide board in general. That 25.5”, by the way, includes a little bit of extra width from the standing tray “wings.” When I saw this board for the first time, I had already resigned myself to spending a lot of time swimming, but instead found out that I actually found it just surprisingly stable to paddle. In particular the Starboard All Star Airline has excellent secondary stability – balancing on its rail.
Primary stability is how stable a board feels when it is flat. Does it tend to roll side to side on its own? Does it feel difficult to balance while just standing? etc. At 25.5” wide I would be lying if I said it didn’t offer a challenge for my stability while standing still – and of course the folks at Starboard may be ripping their hair out going “Why is he on that one!?” when realistically I should be on the 12’6” x 27” or the 14’ x 26”. The answer to that is simple – this is the board that was available for me to use for a week, and I wasn’t going to pass that up! Overall though, with just a little bit of effort I was able to stay upright while using the All Star Airline. I did feel it rolling and rocking under my feet with slight changes in pressure from me or the water, but as it rolled toward one edge or the other the secondary stability takes over.
Secondary stability is how stable a board is when it’s not flat. It’s what keeps you dry when you are riding the rail for some edge steering or getting buffeted with boat wake or waves across the side of the board. Here again we see the EVA standing tray taking charge and giving just a little extra width and lots of excellent grip to keep the board under control. Holding the Starboard All Star Airline on its edge for the photo above was actually pretty easy for me to do! When leveling back out, the All Star Airline was predictable and easy to control without over-correcting.
Again, it’s important to remember that this review is coming from the perspective of an intermediate or advanced paddler. Beginner paddlers who aren’t as confident on a board, haven’t built up the stabilizing muscles, or haven’t had time to practice reactionary paddling to self-stabilize are going to have a very different, and very wet, experience. Another consideration here is that this version of the All Star Airline is 12’6” x 25.5”. It’s the smallest version Starboard currently makes and is rated for paddlers up to 180lb. At 230lb I really don’t have any business being on this board, but I still found it to offer decent stability for me. Had I tested the 12’6” x 27” or, even better for me, the 14’ x 26” versions I could only imagine the stability improving even more.
Take a look at the photo below. That’s not a grimace – that’s a big ol’ smile. The Starboard All Star Airline is a seriously fast, seriously fun paddleboard. It accelerates incredibly quickly, and just crushed it in our speed testing for both top speed and cruising speeds. How fast is fast? It’s fast enough that I’m seriously considering ditching my own carbon fiber race board for a Starboard All Star Airline.
The All Star Airline has the same outline as the carbon fiber (non-inflatable) Starboard All Star. The long, gently tapering shape reduces drag allowing the board to be paddled faster. The Rail Edge at the tail end of the hull is also designed to reduce drag. It’s a small plastic piece that produces a hard 90° corner at the tail end of the board, just as the board shape begins to round out over the tail. The concept here is to reduce drag by allowing the water to cleanly release from the tail of the board rather than “stick” to the board and generate drag on the tail. Does it work? Now that’s the question of the day. I don’t doubt that it does what it is intended to do – provide a clean release for water leaving the board. I do have my questions about if it makes enough of a difference to actually be noticeable, particularly since the tail edge of the board does still sit in the water. I’m going to bet that for all but the most elite SUP racers in the world, a tiny breeze or what we ate for breakfast will ultimately make more of a difference in efficiency for the rest of us.
Using the NK SpeedCoach my top speed on the 12’6” x 25.5” All Star Airline was 6.1 mph (9.8 kmh). Now, again, it’s important to note that this particular model is actually too small for me. I did have the occasional wobble here and there while sprinting. Had I been on the 27” version I believe my top speed would actually have been even higher as my stability would have been significantly improved. Starboard also makes 14’ versions of this board in 24.5”, 26”, and 28” widths. As board length increases, top speed typically does as well.
As a reference, I also paddled a 14’ x 25” NSP Ninja carbon fiber flatwater sprint SUP (composite construction, not an inflatable) and clocked my sprint speed at 6.4 mph (10.3 kmh). Our fastest paddler of the day hit 6.5 mph (10.5 kmh) on the All Star Airline, and just barely faster on the NSP Ninja at 6.7 mph (10.8 kmh). Keep in mind the Ninja is both longer, narrower, and a sprinting specialist. To have a 12’6” inflatable SUP perform so closely to a 14’ carbon fiber race board is, to put it lightly, incredible. I have a hunch that on the 14’x26” All Star Airline I would be just as fast as on the 14’x 25” Ninja.
We also tracked our cruising speeds using paces that would be much more suitable for longer distance races or fitness paddling. I closed the gap between the All Star Airline and the Ninja just a little with a “fitness cruising” pace of 4.8 mph (7.7 kmh) vs 5.0 mph (8.0 kmh), as did the other paddlers in our group.
One more speed comparison for you. To date, the fastest touring iSUP I’ve tested is the Hydrus Paradise (review coming soon). This board is 12’6” x 30” x 6” and clocked a sprinting speed of 5.5 mph (8.9 kmh) and a cruising speed of 3.9 mph (6.3 kmh). The speed gains of a racing iSUP compared to a fast touring iSUP are definitely noticeable.
Maneuverability and Tracking
SUP racing comes in many different varieties. Other than very short sprint races (typically 200m or less) SUP racing involves some degree to maneuvering, whether that is a single buoy turn in flat water or technical surf-zone maneuvering. The All Star Airline, like other racing SUPs, relies heavily on body position and board control for maneuvering. However even when paddling casually, the All Star Airline responds well to steering strokes. I did find perfectly straight tracking to be a slight issue while in a dead-sprint, however I feel this is due more to a mismatch in board and paddler size than an actual performance issue of the board. The other paddlers in my group testing the All Star Airline found the tracking to be excellent.
As paddleboards get longer they tend to lose maneuverability. There’s physically more board in the water resisting the force from your turning strokes. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it does keep you from turning easier, it also keeps you tracking straighter.
While paddling the Starboard All Star Airline I found that it was actually surprisingly maneuverable. High quality turning strokes at low speeds did get the board turned around quickly, and steering strokes were really effective while paddling.
The other side of that sword, though, is that I was also surprised at its tracking ability. I often found myself turning more than I’d want before being physically ready to switch which side I was paddling on. Though I do chalk this up to the board being undersized for me. The smaller board means I can more easily move it around with my body as I paddle. The other item I attribute this surprising turn of events to, is the included race fin. The Starboard Race 23 (23cm/9in) is designed for speed more so than course maintenance like the Starboard Dol-Fin 22 (22cm/8.6in).
With the appropriate size board and quality paddle strokes, I feel that the maneuverability and tracking performance of the All Star Airline will balance out quite nicely and more in-line with what most paddlers would expect from a racing iSUP – holding course better with a small sacrifice to maneuverability.
Warranty and Customer Support
Starboard offers a two-year manufacturer’s warranty on their inflatable SUPs. Because Starboard does not currently sell direct to the consumer, paddlers must work with retailers (locally or online) to purchase their Starboard products and work with those retailers for any warranty issues. Any return policies are at the discretion of the individual retailer (or pertinent regulations for your area). Starboard is available for customer support via email.
Determining whether or not an individual board is a good value takes much more than looking at the price of the board. The board’s construction, materials, design, performance, package, and of course its closest competitors. In the case of the Starboard All Star Airline – even though it is an expensive board – it’s absolutely a great value if you are in the market for a top-performing race/fitness board (and an even better deal when you consider the cost of a rigid carbon fiber race board!).
Overall Impressions/Review Summary
I love it. I’m a part-time racer at best, but it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do more of (requiring far more travel to do so in my case). I have a 14’ x 25” carbon fiber race SUP (it’s the NSP Ninja we used to benchmark the All Star Airline’s speed) and after paddling this, way-too-small-for-me, inflatable board, I’m basically sold on replacing my carbon fiber board with a Starboard All Star Airline. I would opt for the 14’ x 26” to maximize my speed and match my size. This is an extremely high-performance iSUP that was made to run with the big dogs – and win. If you are an experienced paddler looking for an incredibly fast inflatable racing SUP, look no further, the Starboard All Star Airline is made for you.
Starboard All Star Airline iSUP FAQ
Is the Starboard All Star Airline a good paddleboard for beginners?
“Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.” The Starboard All Star Airline is a high-performance inflatable paddleboard that is built for intermediate and advanced paddlers, and is very unforgiving for beginners. Beginners looking for a faster paddleboard, or a board for fitness paddling, should check out the far more stable options in our Best Touring iSUPs list.
What size of the Starboard All Star Airline is right for me?
The 2022 Starboard All Star Airline comes in six different sizes. Each has its own recommended rider weight, and many of the nearby sizes overlap their rider weights. Shorter paddlers, paddlers who want a lighter board for easier transportation, and those who are more focused on fitness rather than top speed may want to consider the 12’6” versions and choose a width based on their weight. Paddlers who are looking to race competitively should consider the 14’ versions for additional speed and choose a width based on their weight and desired level of stability.
Is the Starboard All Star Airline stable?
Yes - but not in a traditional sense. The All Star Airline is designed first to be fast. The reduced widths do reduce primary stability, however intermediate and advanced paddlers will adjust to this difference relatively quickly as long as they are on the appropriately sized board.
Is the Starboard All Star Airline really as fast as a hard race sup?
All other things equal (paddler, paddle, conditions, etc) - Yes. The All Star Airline is incredibly fast and when pitted against an even faster (by design) hard board that was longer and narrower, it came within just a few tenths of a mile per hour in top speed. An equivalent-sized All Star Airline should at least match the speed of a hard board, if not exceed it, depending on the specific board designs, conditions, etc.
Is the Starboard All Star Airline worth the cost?
If you are an intermediate-to-advanced paddler looking for the best possible inflatable race board you can, it absolutely is worth the cost. If you are just looking for a faster board that still has stability similar to an all-around SUP, then you will likely find a Touring iSUP to be a better option in both performance and value.
How many movie quotes did you put in this review and what movies are they from?
Thanks for noticing! I counted ten from the movies: Cars, Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Ford v Ferrari, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Top Gun. Can you guess the theme I went with?