IF SWISS ARMY MADE WAVE BOARDS
85L WAVE BOARD TEST 2018
Test Editor Tris Best // Second Testers Maurin Rottenwalter, Joe North, Dan Hallam, Dan Linton & Tom Squires
Photos Tris Best // Test location Kimmeridge, Rhosneigr, Overcombe & Daymer Bay
Testing wave boards is never a real hardship, particularly when it is the sector of the sport for which all the testers, without exception, have a true passion for. The difficulty in testing them around the UK shores is chasing down consistent conditions to reach meaningful conclusions. That said, there is significant value in testing these products in ‘real world’ conditions – conditions that the vast majority of the magazine’s readership experience at their favoured break.
This test was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue.
There are a few trends emerging from the test that are worthy of note. Firstly, several of the brands have looked to consolidate and simplify their board range, making the choice clearer for the consumer – no bad thing in our opinion. To keep the multi-fin options open and mitigate the risk of disaffecting anyone, many boards now have five fin boxes, so that they can be set up in a number of ways, from single fin to twinzer, thruster and quad. The permutations are potentially endless, especially when you add fin styles and stiffness into the mix. Whether we have them on review here or were in our test line up last year, most of the brands here have a five-boxed-board in their range (save for Goya and Quatro who have stuck to offering dedicated single, thruster or quad designs). Onto the question of whether to choose thruster or quad. It is, as with every kit consideration in the sport, such a subjective question that the answer HAS to largely be down to personal preference. We were lucky enough to test in a pristinely clean cross-off day, when the grip and connection to the face bestowed by quad fins was hard to beat. The transition back down the face also had an extra dynamic, enabling you to really gouge and throw spray or use the speed you’ve harvested and project off the section. But for all other occasions, sailing in real world chop (especially the days with strong currents making the sea like a bubbling cauldron out the back), the thruster fin setup was the choice for most.
The second design movement for a few brands seems to be a subtle refinement of the compact wave board concept, to bring it more in line with convention. Starboard’s A.I.R. is comparatively long at 220cm, whilst the Slate from JP is not far behind at 219cm. Parallel rails, rearward stances, low noses and fast rockers – the core principles are still there, but in a more enigmatic fashion.
It’s the same with every radical design concept, whatever the industry. You initially come to market with the new idea, aiming to make a bold, eye-catching statement and define a new approach. You aim to grab the headlines and display the potential of the mesmeric theory behind the concept in all its glory. What happens thereafter, once the dust has settled and the market place has recoiled from their wonderment, is that (if the concept has legs) it is wholeheartedly adopted by the industry. With more time spent developing the concept it slowly begins to merge with convention (after all a ‘conventional’ design is just that … current and accepted … and for good reason), until the void between the two is almost negligible. And so this second (even third) generation of compact wave-board design from some brands has come of age, possessing qualities from both camps.
But let’s approach this from the other tack for a minute and look at the sort of person that might be in the market for a new 2018 85L wave board. The fact is that they are undoubtedly going to be an accomplished, experienced sailor. They have their favoured tack, their own style of riding … and very likely their own favoured brand that they trust and remain loyal to. So for a different brand to come in and break this loyalty, it has got to be pretty stand out. The trick is for you, as the reader, to be honest with yourself and choose the board to match your style. Sailing on a production board approved by Marcilio Browne or Victor Fernandez is not going to make you instantly sail like a champ. So what are you looking for? Early planing, upwind ability and control are a given, but do you prefer boards with a loose, electric and attention-demanding ride, or would you prefer a more sedate, planted approach? How do you ride waves – through full rail engagement and weight on your front-foot, or driving hard through the back-foot and pivoting on the tail? Do you crave grip through the bottom turn and cutback or prefer the tail to release at the apex? Now throw into the mix the various wave conditions you want to sail in, from lumpy coastal muck to clean glistening cross-off utopia … and everything else in between, and you begin to understand the complexity of the task in hand.
But let’s not get too carried away. The simple fact is that a board is a board … and the instant you stand on it, the feedback it provides will say a lot regarding whether you will get on with it or not.
Does its nature, its style of riding, resonate with you, or will it take longer to understand its worth? This instant impression is important and we’re pleased to say there are many real gems in this group that inspired us every time we got on them. Take time reading the reports and see if their description matches the character you’re after.
There’s one last point worth making. With brands introducing new technologies every year (and the addition of Severne boards from a new fabricator in China), we felt it worth investing in some accurate weighing scales to measure the naked weight of each board. Retail prices continue to increase and whilst some brands (namely Fanatic and Starboard) are rightly focussing on responsible, sustainable manufacturing, does the end product represent quality and value for money? Well, the result from measuring weights may well prove so, with many of the boards’ naked weights actually coming in LESS than those quoted by their respective brands.
So onto the boards, and let’s start with the newcomer – the Nano made in Severne’s exclusive factory in China. It’s the most compact design in the group and the more we used it, the more we became drawn to it. It’s incredibly versatile and will really flatter those with a back-foot biased style. The Tabou comes from the other end of the scale – the most niche design in the group, coming into its own in clean, powered conditions. The Quatro is the only dedicated quad design in the group and provided the most dependable platform, giving the rider the confidence to tackle anything that they were confronted with. The A.I.R. from Starboard is easily the widest in the group and carries weight well, but doesn’t release from the water as we expected, given its incredible light weight. Instead it takes top trumps for its smoothness of ride, its rails seeming to bite and glide through anything. The new Slate from JP is best described as a super fun play tool, planing early with a fast and connected ride that can’t help but inspire. It is a great all-rounder, only matched in potential by the Grip from Fanatic. An incredibly adaptable machine, it shows that compact designs don’t have it all their own way when it comes to versatility to make the most of any environment. The Wave Cult from RRD is also a very versatile contender, with a high riding style on top of the water’s surface, giving it a very lively and energetic nature. That leaves the Goya – a true wave board in every sense of the word, whose rails seem to speak to you and provide an unbelievable amount of useable feedback, allowing you to really feel and exploit every wave you ride. We had a lot of fun testing these boards this year, with some truly class defining designs in the group.
THE LINE UP