125L FREERIDE / FREERACE BOARD TEST 2020 : THE NEW BREED OF ‘FAST’
TEST EDITOR: Tris Best
SECOND TESTERS: Joe North And Dan Hallam
TEST LOCATION: Portland Harbour
The desire to go fast and the ability for windsurfing to deliver the addictive exhilaration of doing so, will always be one of the sport’s best traits in the world of watersports. It’s what attracts most people to the sport in the first place – seeing people buzzing across the water, going faster than most other waterborne craft and seemingly having more fun than most too. And I’m sure many of you reading this can still account of the first time you experienced the sensation of planing, no matter how long ago that may have been!
This test was originally published in the March 2020 issue!
The arms race to uncompromisingly search for ever faster speeds has been tempered by the understanding that control is also key to achieve results, even on the highest podiums such as the PWA World Tour. What’s interesting is to see how this change in awareness has filtered down into the large commercial disciplines, namely the freeride sector. Read the marketing scripts of most brands and the focus is undoubtedly there for boards to become easier and more practical to use, without compromising performance. The short, wide and thin movement of the recent past has certainly hit home and many brands have followed. Yet there’s also the argument on the ground (and we hear it fairly often in the centre) that it has gone too far for some, making the boards hard to get going, too twitchy in a straight line … and ultimately slow!
Directional stability and the ease at which the sail’s power can be converted to straight-line speed is ultimately the winning formula for early planing and user-friendliness. And the easiest way to achieve this is by increasing a board’s waterline – its length. Looking at the boards in the line-up today, there’s a 50-50 split between short/wide and those returning to a slightly longer length, using 240 cm as the median length. And by reducing width (particularly in the tail) the straps are closer to the centreline, making them easier to locate and get into, no longer requiring a big step out onto the rail.
The motif of the freerace board for a long time was that of a “detuned slalom board”, but in that lies a very human problem. By marketing a category ‘detuned’, there is always going to be a small voice in many heads that freerace is compromised; that a greater speed could have been achieved if they just plucked up the courage and opted for the ‘bells-and-whistles’ slalom option. Well, there is some truth in that argument, as slalom boards are also becoming far easier to use as each season goes by too. However, the breakthrough has been achieved in marketing freerace boards (some call them fast freeride) for what they are actually good at: and that is going fast, comfortably, over a greater distance and longer period. Plus being easy to turn when you come to the end of a run. Think of the freerace board as a Super G board – the kind you’d like to use for extended races such as the Defi Wind, where energy conservation is the key to success. Real performance for less rider input. I’ll give you a personal example where the freerace board came into its own. On a couple of occasions now I have been fortunate enough to have the friends and rescue support to partake in a bit of a downwind adventure, be it from Portland to Kimmeridge or vice versa. On both occasions I opted to use a freerace board and enjoyed every minute of the challenge. And on both occasions I was joined by friends on full slalom setups. They compete on the national tour, are very accomplished sailors (in the pro fleet) and would consider themselves windsurf fit. And yet, to say they were hanging at the end of the voyage is a bit of an understatement! On a freerace platform, there’s the ability to power it with something other than a fully cammed race sail (on both occasions I used a no-cam freerace sail), whereas slalom boards crave power to retain control, and need to be sailed with a committed stance at all times. It’s a simple analogy, but hopefully one that will resonate with some. Freerace is best defined as a fast board with comfort and practicality at its core, and as such is best placed for long sessions in real world conditions.
One extra thing to add is regarding the fin. Slalom boards are sold without fins as standard, as most customers in the market for a slalom board already own their own fin quiver. All the boards on test here are supplied with fins, yet in some (but not all…) instances their performance can undoubtedly be enhanced with the use of a high performance blade. We used a quiver of F-Hot RWS-3 fins during this test – a UK manufacturing company that creates some of the most precise and wonderfully crafted carbon fins you’ll ever see. You can read whether they made a difference in each individual report.
The last thing to consider is to do with foiling. Windfoiling is rightly front and centre in the sport’s spotlights for 2020 (especially considering the recent Olympic decision for 2024), so it’s no surprise to see that all bar one of these boards are foil compatible. It seems the landscape and understanding in foiling is becoming richer in the sport with every passing month, with user-friendly low aspect foils emerging and mast/fuselage lengths for rapid progression becoming more standardised. The RYA have developed one of the first and best teaching models in the world, and the rewards for learning to foil are high. And what is more, without exception, the foiling capabilities of these boards are excellent. More than just sporting a ‘foil ready’ sticker, this new breed of board is truly a hybrid in every sense of the word, working equally well with both fin and foil. So, if you want a board to go foiling with as well, and increase your time on the water, these boards won’t let you down. Just be mindful of the foil you choose to partner them with…
We’ll start with the Severne Fox — a design that has remained the same for the past three seasons, and for good reason. It has set the benchmark for performance and comfort possible in challenging environments, and continues to do so. It needs to be lit … and is not one for a foil, but if you want a board that backs you when you’re blasting into the unknown, look no further. The Goya Bolt is the new kid on the block. A real all-rounder, whose ease and relaxed manner belies the potential it has. Performance comes easy and it never comes unstuck. The Fanatic Jag is much more involving to ride, accelerating in a snap and keeps the rider thinking as they charge about the bay. It is also undoubtedly the most fin sensitive, the board’s real potential being realised when partnered with the F-Hot blade. The RRD is at the other end of the freeride spectrum. Short and incredibly wide, it is a manoeuvre-focussed platform, where a rider just needs to weight the tail and wait for the magic to happen! The new Magic Ride from JP also tackles the same design brief but comes from a different approach. Long, narrow yet remaining thin, it has a more traditional and familiar feel, with an auto-pilot gear that can be engaged for effortless plug and play joy. Push hard into the gybe and the full rail can be used. Want a go at foiling and JP have an exclusive foil-compatible Powerbox in their Pro models to house the Neil Pryde foil. The Rocket+ from Tabou is an amazing all-rounder itself, which found particular favour with the more experienced pilot. Lively, alert and captivating to sail, its high performance is accessible ‘out of the box’, the fin supplied providing a surprisingly impressive level of return. Which leaves the Futura from Starboard, a board helping to define the new breed of freerace platforms. Fun and engaging to sail in a massive wind range, it is just so comfortable for long periods of use, yet has enough crispness and response for the rider to enjoy, whatever their ability. And to cap it all, there is then the added bonus of true foiling capabilities for those lighter wind days too!
THE LINE UP