LIVING FAST ‘N FREE – 110L FREERACE/FAST FREERIDE BOARDS TEST REVIEW
(This feature appeared in the July ’13 issue of Windsurf Magazine. Print and digital subscriptions are available here.) Report by Iain Hunter Pic Mark Kasprowicz
Read our findings on four of the best 2013 circa 110-litre freerace boards.
Freerace boards can be broadly described as de-tuned race boards. These hulls are fast and exciting and often born of race-winning pedigree, but with a few tweaks making them a little bit more user-friendly. Slightly softer, thinner rails and slight tail rocker enable the boards to have a broader range of use from full-on straight line speed, to tight carves – and even some freestyle.
Based at West Wittering on the central UK South coast for this test. Simon and his team at 2XS have a great set-up right on the beach. With annual membership or for a daily launch fee, there’s a big car park with a grassy rigging area, a club house with showers and a kitchen, and safety cover. They also provide kit hire and lessons so check out their website for the low-down on what they offer www.2xs.co.uk. There are a couple of options at Wittering, at low tide there’s ‘The Trench’ which is brilliant for flat water speed runs, when it’s high tide it’s a beach break blowing cross-onshore in a south-westerly and around the corner there’s an extended stretch of water between Wittering and Hayling Island which ranges from fairly flat to serious chop depending on the wind. Believe me when I tell you, we experienced it all from 3-ft. breaking waves, rolling swell, bone-shaking chop to flat water in winds from 12-25 knots!
HORSES FOR COURSES
The beauty of these boards is their flexibility and, to maximise their potential, it’s vital you carefully consider the type of conditions you’re going to be using your chosen board in, what you want to get out of it and what rig you will be using to power it. Stick a 7.5 race sail on these boards and they will skim across the water almost as fast as any full-on slalom board, but powered by a 6.5 freeride sail they loosen up, almost begging for you to throw them into a loop or spock (when you feel this change in character, it comes as no surprise to discover that The Fanatic Hawk is descended from the original supercross boards). It’s a wonderful thing to have a board that can offer so many options, the old days of having a cross-over board that did neither discipline particularly well are behind us, we now have boards that do many things almost as well as their dedicated cousins – it’s a great thing! Note the inclusion of the Tabou Manta in this test, whilst the Thunder is their actual freerace board – due to availability issues we tested that a couple of issues ago in our dedicated slalom board test instead. Read on however, to see that it’s no mistake that it’s been included in this freerace test.
As I mentioned previously we tested the boards in many varied conditions, but the best example of their versatility came during some sessions when we were having a brilliant time racing around at top speed on 6.5s in breaking waves like we were in full-on wave-slalom mode! We jumped them, we raced them off the wind in the flats, we carved them in fast, tight arcs in between waves and we carved them long and wide on the face of swells or on smooth water inside. Whilst others guys on the water were working hard to stay planing on their 5.5s and wave boards, we were having the time of our lives and the smiles on our faces (and blisters on our hands) told their own story! I think I can speak for the majority of the test team when I say this sort of ‘wave slalom’ was not just a brilliant alternative for marginal conditions, but actually more fun and easier than it would’ve been on the smaller kit. With boards as good as these, the prospect of being able to jump high, (although freestyle waves or centre straps and beefier constructions might’ve been more appropriate), carve easily and to go fast is an opportunity none of us will pass up in a hurry in the future. I’m sure you’ll have as good a time as we did and it would be great to see this becoming more popular, perhaps even getting back into the international competition scene?
As always we strap the boards up (in full-on stance mode for this category – ‘one from the front and one from the back’) and avoid making assumptions on looks alone. Only after they’ve been on the water do we take a closer look and make some detailed measurements.
This means sailing with fewer preconceptions and enables us to determine whether what we experience in practice can be attributed to one or more of the technical details. In our tables we display the ‘naked’, brand quoted weights, and the ‘dressed’ weights we record ourselves, i.e., including foot straps and fin. We always start with mast feet in the centre of the mast track and adjust them forward and back from there before noting any observations. We also ensure each sailor tests each board with different sails in different conditions to cover as many variables as possible all bringing us to a general consensus of opinion – that we believe is comprehensive given the ‘real world’ conditions at hand. Thanks to Nik Baker at K66 (Fanatic and North distributor) we also had some North Platinum booms with adjustable outhauls and North Shox XTR mast feet to keep a constant feel to the power delivery.
Currently it seems the cool thing to do is to get on the small kit as soon as possible and I must admit to being guilty of this myself, I’m always desperate to jump high and ride waves, but this test has really opened my eyes. It turns out I’ve missed the speed! These boards will work in a variety of disciplines and conditions and, to the competent intermediate, they have the potential to be whatever you want them to be although some suit some types of sailing or conditions more than another.
For example, the RRD Firestorm is extremely manoeuvrable whilst the Tabou Manta, with its seemingly limitless top-end speed, unsurprisingly felt much more race-biased. You need to identify which of these is your preference and remember, to get the most out of these boards. Therefore you need to seriously consider what it is you’re going to power them with based on what you have and/or plan to buy in terms of sail types in the future. In many cases a more ‘compact’ freerace sail would be the most obvious or preferred option and, rather handily, you can read our review of those a little later in this issue! Enjoy! IH
READ THE INDIVIDUAL REPORTS: