SPEED SLALOM MACHINES
Report by Dan Newman Pics by Mark Kasprowicz
(This review originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Windsurf Magazine. To read the latest features, print and digital subscriptions for readers worldwide are available HERE.)
Moving on from our previous run of wave and freestyle-wave tests, we turn our attention to some much faster kit. This time we checked-out some speed/slalom boards and put six of the finest approximately 110 litre/69 cm wide boards under the microscope.
Slalom and speed sailing is becoming ever more popular with growing slalom fleet sizes at both international and national levels, which is creating demand right down to the grassroots.
All of the boards on test are between 68 and 70cm wide. Construction wise they are all the top-level models available, which means they are extremely lightweight but also more on the pricey side. However, in some cases, slightly more durable and affordable options are available.
There’s also the growing popularity for strapping a portable GPS to your arm and competing with people anywhere in the world or just trying to beat your own PB. While we tested this gear the 50-knot barrier was repeatedly smashed, using a lot of production equipment, which just proves how much better the wide range of products on the market are getting season-on-season.
SUIT YOU SIR?
Who are these boards designed for? Well, bar one (Tabou Speedster) all the boards in this test are top level race boards designed for the elite to race head-to-head in international events such as the production board only PWA Slalom 63 format. That’s right, you get to sail the same boards as the current podium toppers straight off-the-shelf of your local dealer. Sound a bit daunting still? Don’t be put off because modern slalom boards are not the super technical beast that they used to be and are generally a lot easier for everybody to sail and enjoy some high performance on. In fact, unless you’re totally into carving turns, then these are in reach of any riders capable of planing in the straps who simply want to go as fast as possible – but bear in mind they’re expensive bits of kit to dent-up if you’re still learning the basics and prone to the odd catapult.
Although many brands offer a ‘de-tuned’ and more comfortable ‘easier-to-control versions based on their top-end racing boards, nearly all of this selection had extra attention to detail regarding comfort and stance. Of course this could be because they are intended to sell as-raced on the PWA to ‘mere mortal’ customers, but also it’s worth bearing in mind the pro tour and many national tours offer extended reaches and long distance races in their mix of courses, so a little more luxury in the pad and strap and stance department becomes an advantage. Also, due to the range of possible racing conditions and that, bar the start, the only real windows to make large gains when racing are around the gybe marks, the brands tend to have a good balance between top speed and manoeuvrability in mind – once again, all good news for the consumer.
A year on from the ‘Arab Spring’ and life is still as safe and settled as ever in all the windsurfing meccas of Egypt. It’s a shame to hear that visitor levels are down due to politics but the wind still blows and the water‘s wide open and waiting so we can only say ‘get down there!’ Once again we headed out to the warm waters of the Gulf of Aqaba’s Dahab and were hosted by the impressive Harry Nass centre 2. Unless you’re only into full-on waves, this is a windsurfer’s paradise and the ultimate place to pitch these types of boards head-to-head against each other. Despite a run of untypically light wind days we scored a good range of conditions on our 2-week trip, with winds ranging from fifteen up to around thirty knots plus a good variety of water states, from smooth-and- flat to large chop and rolling swell outside – ideal for testing them to the full. We also had a good range of different sails available to use and take full advantage of the conditions. The 7.0 multi cam race sails (also tested and reported in this issue) being the most-used in the conditions we had, plus some larger, cammed 8m sails as well for lighter days. The sailing in Dahab is amazing and although this wasn’t the windiest trip we’ve had there, we had a great time racing all over the bay, as well as screaming up and down the speed strip – just not quite up to 50 knots though!
After a mammoth unpacking session and before we strap them up, we always pore over each board and note the main features and settings, quality of construction , straps and pads and assess all the key variants (mast track distance from tail, stance etc.) and look for any major discrepancies to quoted facts and figures (bar volume). At this point we weigh boards ‘dressed’ with their sailing weights including straps and fins (where appropriate) included. In future we plan to quote both naked and dressed weights due to some heated debate on the issue! Once on the water we try them in every type of water we can, at each end of their quoted spectrum of use using all the sail size ranges also on test to broaden the wind range we can sail in. We’re sure to swap fins and rigs and riders continuously and make daily notes on each board’s behaviour, with sailors of all weights contributing their reactions.
This time we also began to experiment with a couple of Navi units supplied by GPS-speedsurfing.co.uk and hope to be able to integrate that kind of data more in the future. Without more units we found it difficult to keep track of all the rider/sail/board combos when comparing the side-by-side tracks at the end of a day on the water. We’ll keep investigating this side to see how we can better collect and use this information in later tests.
This time we had two lightweights, (myself and Fraser Green) and two both taller and heavier riders (Toby Gibson and Brian McDowell) to hand.
You’d think in a slalom/speed board test it would be easy to say which board is the fastest, a clear winner? But the results are not all about speed, with comfort, sailing position, turning ability and acceleration being some of the main considerations. A lot depends on the type of water you’ll mostly sail in, your height, perhaps harness type and stance, ability and, of course, the types of rigs you have or intend to pair them with. (Would you pick a high-and-forward-pulling upright position, deep downwind speed run stanced powerhouse rig for a turny board? Or an easy-handling and fun-to-gybe sail on an all-out straight-line speed hull?) After hours of in-depth assessment we’ve laid out the key characteristics of each board for you to choose based on your personal preferences and likely matching quivers. Read on and see which is best for you – enjoy! DN
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