FREEDOM REDEFINED: 130L FREERIDE BOARD TEST 2021
EDITOR: TRIS BEST // SECOND TESTERS: MAURIN ROTTENWALTER, JOE NORTH, CLAY YELLAND AND HARRY SOMERVILLE
TEST LOCATION: PORTLAND HARBOUR // PHOTO: TRIS BEST
I believe the freeride sector of the windsurfing market is where the magic really happens, even though some may question this. Surely, I hear you say, most of the drama in our sport happens in wave sailing, or the other extreme disciplines of speed sailing or slalom? Well, you’ve got a good point. But we’re referring to an altogether different type of magic. And it’s the sort that we’re lucky enough to see every summer at the centre. It’s the moment when new blood comes into the sport; that moment that they experience the pure exhilaration of planing for the first time. The freeride discipline is their ticket into the sport and has rightly been a genuine focus of the industry as a whole for quite some time. In order for the sport to flourish … hell, even survive, it needs to have this new bloodline.
Equipment development in freeride has been about trying to speed up rider progression as much as possible: the easier and sooner people experience the joys of planing, the more likely they are to remain in the sport and consider themselves one of us! Concepts to achieve this goal have constantly been introduced, trialled, reviewed and evolved. Wide style boards; wide and thin; compact parallel-railed planshapes … the list goes on. The iteration in design hasn’t ceased, even though some of the designs on test here are quite a few seasons old. Yet, there’s a fine line here between making something easy to use and sapping the fun and thrill out of the product – the key ingredient that brings us to the sport in the first place! As with everything, there needs to be some considered room for progression. A board shouldn’t patronise and dumb down the excitement the sport can provide. It needs to be exciting to help facilitate the rider being pushed out of their comfort zone.
The inevitable result of having such a wide-reaching design brief has been a broad spectrum of product styles, leading to a reclassification of the discipline itself. Freerace is a term that has been used for many seasons and freerace boards were once simplified in description as simply, “de-tuned slalom boards”. But time has moved on and that strapline does the whole genre a disservice. To use a skiing analogy, they’re more like ‘Super G’ boards, designed to cover greater distances at speed, where real emphasis is put on both comfort and control rather than just out and out speed. And with the introduction and maturity in wind-foiling knowledge, the goal posts have moved naturally once again. It is now very conceivable to have a truly ‘hybrid’ platform; one that performs with both fin and foil, without feeling that it is compromised in any way. The practicality of fitting foils in place has been addressed, with enlarged or elongated bolt holes incorporated in most of the applicable fin boxes here. There are more strap options relevant to a foiling setup and a greater number of low to medium aspect foils that serve largely as the domain for freeride wind foiling. So, whilst there are some well-established designs in this test group, serving as great benchmarks, it’s fair to say that development certainly hasn’t stood still.
The Goya Volar is one of the oldest designs in the test lineup, yet its shape shows no sign of becoming antiquated. It very much embodies the spirit of everything that ‘freeride’ stands for, providing a passive, fun and hassle-free ride. Fanatic’s Blast is also entering into its fifth season, the original compact design having absorbed the brand’s direction and initiative from their compact stubby wave board development. It’s a board that extols the credentials of the compact concept beautifully, so much so, that if you haven’t tried one for yourself yet, you need to try it to believe it. Performance comes easy on the Blast and it’s truly magical round the corners. The Super Ride from JP is an all-new design for this season; the brand’s second iteration of their own compact design. Longer and wider than the original, its design creeps back towards convention (as, it seems, all new design concepts tend to, further down their development line), the 124’s main calling card being its incredible ride comfort. You simply can’t help but get on with it! The Carve from Starboard is another new design, delivering freerace-esque performance potential with freeride ease. It asks little of the rider, yet delivers bucket loads of performance. The Fox 140 from Severne is the largest board here and places the rider right on the rail when the outboard straps are in use. Comfort levels through the fittings are excellent, the board providing wide-ranging ‘Super-G’ style blasting, and coming into its own when the chop gets fruity. The Simmer Monster is the other large contender in this group, feeling fast and loose and the closest in nature to a full-blown slalom board. That said, its pulled-in tail nigh on eliminates any stress or back leg burn experienced whilst on glory runs, the Monster easy to stand over and control if required. The RRD Firestorm is more of a classic freerace offering, its flat bottom and thin deckpads making the feedback both direct and involving. If you want to really feel and experience everything as you sail (yet still have a ‘get out of jail free card’ up your sleeve) the Firestorm could be your ideal match. And finally, we have the Fifty from Tabou – the fully-fledged hybrid option in the pack. Sharp crisp and involving, like many in the group it can be used with either fin or foil. The big difference with the Fifty though is that its outline, tail width, fittings and deck shape mean that it can be used with all foil types, from low to high aspect, without feeling the issue is being forced. So often a ‘jack of all trades’ falls into the trap of being a master of none … but for the freeride sector, now more than ever, to have the genuine versatility to perform with both fin and foil, makes a very attractive proposition, extending a rider’s wind range and enjoyment levels exponentially.