Cape Town has long been a secret winter spot for testing products for many windsurfing brands. F2 began their testing here in the eighties with Werner Gnigler and Klaus Walther, working with our local shaper Jonathan Paarman, this is where I learnt how to develop products. Cape Town and its surrounding spots like Langebaan, Swartriet, Elands Bay, Brandvlei etc, all offer amazingly consistent winds and waves from October to March, which is the perfect training and testing time for riders and brands. We do a good portion of our Wave, Freeride and Slalom testing over winter in Cape Town/Langebaan, as well as some video and picture trips with our team riders. It´s ideal to combine both of these as conditions might often be better for shooting, other days better for testing. We try to have the core test team there for between 6-8 weeks over winter, split usually into 2 trips so we can keep getting prototypes sent down, allowing a progressive R&D to take place, instead of showing up with a ton of boards and just choosing the best one. This allows us to improve the products and also test with a little less pressure than trying to do everything in one trip. We also combine our Maui shoot with testing, do a Canaries test trip and riders keep testing during the year to make sure we have a 12 month development cycle, or even longer on some products, up to 36 months. On Freeride products we do regular trips to Lake Garda all summer, as it´s also perfect with the 2 prevailing winds, as well as normal customer input.
At the same time, Cape Town is quite different to many other spots. It has a prevailing SE wind that builds very quickly, especially in the warmer months. This can be very tricky when testing, as you generally do not want to be testing too many products in 35 knot+ winds. So you have to get the timing exactly right, being prepared and knowing which spots work with what conditions = a lot of time checking forecasts, driving and basically being 100% prepared. We´ll drive to Langebaan for example early if we see a good SW wind forecasted for the day, meaning no wind in Cape Town, but Langebaan will deliver a good thermical SW, maybe even switching to SE. It means unloading all the wave gear, loading up 1 or 2 cars with slalom/freeride gear and driving down early so we can rig up basically everything you need to test. As the wind picks up, you don´t want to be running around trying to find fin screws or rigging up different sails, this works in spots where the wind remains the same all day, but not in South Africa – so you really need to be on your game. On the other hand, it means you can also get through a remarkable amount of different board/sail sizes in one or two days, so it can also be quite efficient, if you get the timing right!
Cape Town itself might seem simple – SE wind blows all the time, but if you want to test/train in good conditions, it also presents its challenges – do you wait all day till 1500/1600 for the SE to fill in on the Table View side, or do you wake up at 5am and drive to Cape Point to miss the traffic rush hour/sail with a 4.0 instead of 5.3. Is it actually windy at Cape Point when you are sitting at Witsands with 5.3 weather? Even on the days when the wind is blowing in Table View from early morning – will it do the midday drop, are there any waves at Sunset or Hakgaat, will Big Bay work in the evening when it´s too windy elsewhere? When we have 3 or 4 different waveboard sizes to test, we could easily sail 95/85/75 litre boards within one day and do four different sessions and 4 different spots to try and find the ideal conditions to test each product. The same goes for the riders, do they want to train strong wind jumping, or light wind down the line. Starboard or Port tack? Flat water freestyle or wave freestyle? Each change in conditions has quite a big impact on the feeling of the gear and also the technique needed to adapt, especially in slalom. Milnerton Aquatic Club, called MAC, is situated at Rietvlei nature reserve. Slalom testing on the Vlei (lake) at MAC offers fresh water but short chop. Table View has salt water, rolling swell waves and very big gusts and Langebaan has smooth or choppy water with currents etc….you need three types of fins for each spot sometimes! Of course all of this testing is still more fun than a day in the office, but perhaps not quite as simple/relaxed as you might think!