By now many of you who know me, also know I have been a fan of Bark Race Boards for quite a while. I now have 3 Bark Boards, which I plan on reviewing and giving my thoughts on what I like and don’t like about each one. Today’s review focuses in my Custom 14’ Dominator.
First let me say, that when buying a Bark, you are not only buying a race board, but you are buying (in many cases) a personalized piece of art, compliments of Joe and Charlie.
When you place your order, you not only work through your dimensions (based on your size, ability, weight, and conditions/locations you ride in), you also have a chance to get real creative with what you want your board to look like. I designed this board by combining ideas from photos of other boards I had seen, and trying to imagine what other colors and textures might look like. In truth, it turned out a little more wild than I typically prefer. If I had it to do over again, I might have had Joe skip the “Rope” effect on the center purple stipe. I probably would have had him make that stripe a solid color. In any case, I still think the board is beautiful, even if it’s a little wilder than my normal taste. The workmanship is also impeccable.
In addition to the colors, textures, etc. I also had Joe make some other customizations for me. instead of the heart logo at the top with the “B” in it, I had Charlie build me a logo with the State of Texas replacing the heart.
Another thing I had him do for me on this board, is to place a logo/design on the tail, that a friend of mine created for me. This also makes the board truly mine, and not some off the shelf mass produced board with 2,000 identical versions of, floating around.
Finally, I had Joe go with a different pad than he normally uses. This pad is typically only for prone paddle race boards. I had Joe install it on my board, because I struggle with foot problems. I felt like this pad, which is softer and at least twice as thick as the standard pad, might help with that. It is ridiculously comfortable, but did take some getting used to.
While the comfort is great, there is a down side to using a soft pad like this. The traction on this type of pad is not as good as it is on a standard ribbed pad. Still, I have yet to ever fall off the board, so I don’t know that it is a problem, especially if most of your racing will be on flat water. I also tend to paddle with Vibrum Five Fingers (summer) or Surf Booties (winter), so that helps with the traction too.
OK, so enough about the design. How does it perform?
All I can tell you is, this is definitely my favorite board, and I have about 9 to choose from in the family quiver. It is about a 1/2 MPH faster than my 12’6 Bark/Suftech, and destroys any of my other boards (other than my wife’s 12’6 Bark). I have clocked the board in the high 6’s in MPH, but Joe tells me the Beckers (Matt and John, his R&D guys) have gotten a similar board over 8MPH. That is flying!
Aside from the fact this board is just plain fast, the best thing about the board is the glide. It just glides better than anything else I have ever been on, including other 14’ boards, including Joe’s own Bark Expedition. This isn’t just my opinion. That is what I typically hear from anyone I let ride the board.
In addition to the better glide allowing the paddler to go father with less energy spent, it also makes for a more enjoyable ride. The displacement hull design just slices through the water, effortlessly. While that is a common theme amongst most boards with displacement hulls, this board just takes it to another level. One of my friends (who already had a racing board from another manufacturer) was so impressed after riding my Bark, he went back to California and purchased himself a Bark that week.
In addition to the tremendous glide you get out of a Bark Dominator, you also get unreal tracking from the hull design. I typically get 10-12 strokes per side, no problem. If there is no wind, I am often only switching sides due to arm fatigue, and not tracking issues. Joe’s nose design actually protrudes into the water a little more than other displacement hulls. It is designed to be in the water, displacing at all times and not just when cutting through chop. This design gives the board the best tracking I have seen yet, but there is a downside. You have to learn to do a pivot turn if you want to make anything resembling a tight turn. Having that nose in the water, means it doesn’t like to go sideways, so you have to pull the nose out (pivot turn) when turning.
One other thing you will hear Bark owners always comment on, when discussing their boards, is stability. I have ridden a lot of race boards, and none of them that perform at anything close to this level, can compare on stability. Some claim to have faster hull designs, but they give up stability to produce them that way (think pin tails, tall rails, with high centers of gravity, etc). If you spend a good amount of your energy just trying to stay on the board, that is less energy you have to propel yourself forward. In the end, I would say those boards are not faster at all, or even as fast, in real world situations. Like I said, with Joe its about “Balance” when discussing performance versus stability. If you sacrifice one for the sake of the other, you will regret it in the long run.
The only thing I don’t like about the board, compared to my Surftech Bark 12’6, is that Joe did away with the raised footwell rails. I really liked those, because it gave me something to brace my feet against when riding in really choppy waters. Joe said he did this to allow water to flow off the board faster, and not pool up. This was especially important to people in really cold climates. Still, for me I preferred it.
Customizable, Fast, and very Stable. Unbelievable glide. The most comfortable board I have ever ridden on, period. Whether you choose to race or not, I doubt you will find a more pleasurable board to ride. It doesn’t have the tie-downs that other touring boards have, but it will get you there quicker and in many cases, more comfortably. Its worth serious consideration for anyone wanting a flat water racer, or touring board. I have been told it performs great in down-winders too, although I have yet to really try that. I can tell you it will catch and ride wake from cruisers on my local lake, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear it does well on down-winders.
Pricey compared to mass produced race boards. For people on a budget, you may choose to forgo the custom Bark, for one of the new Surftech Bark’s. You will get all of the same performance, at a considerably lower price. The downside is, your board will look just like a lot of other people’s, but that’s not an issue for many potential buyers. The only other downside is, you are stuck with the standard dimensions. For people under 200 pounds, this won’t be a problem. For bigger guys, stick with the custom. Get it dialed in right for your size and weight.