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The development and continual improvement of the freestyle wave board is surely one of windsurfing’s greatest success stories. Peter Hart tells you how to tweak technique and set-up to exploit the full range of possibilities.


I  have an almost unnatural relationship with my 103 freestyle wave board. It has its own passport; lives in the spare bedroom and in the past 6 months I’ve probably seen more of it than my family. If I got points for the water-miles I’ve covered on it, I’d be able to fly around the world for nothing. I’ve just come back from Tarifa, where for 7 days the ‘levante’ blew between 15-30 knots – sometimes over a head high swell. Backed by 3 sails and 2 fins, I could handle every situation with the one board. I blasted; I rode waves; I did the odd trick (very odd in some cases). Yes a 103 is about 20 litres too bulky for 30 knots but it still offered so much more than pure in and out survival. When things get tricky, often the best board to sail is the one you know really well. A good freestyle wave covers so many bases that you get to sail it a lot and get to know it really well. You may have already surmised that I’m a bit of a fan. I can’t think of one reason why someone looking to experiment with styles, widen their general repertoire and become a more rounded windsurfer, wouldn’t have one. So, remaining as impartial as possible, over the next few pages I aim to clarify the concept and then explain how to make it perform in various areas. But first, to appease aging sceptics, let’s quickly turn the clock back.

‘Wave/slalom’ and ‘Chameleons’
Windsurfers of a certain vintage may wish a pox on the whole cross-over concept having been corrupted by early interpretations – ‘do everything’ boards which ‘did nothing’ very well.
In the 80’s and early 90’s design features were more polarised. Speed came from sharp, slab-sided rails and straight narrow outlines. Manoeuvrability came from soft edges, and heaps of rocker. Hence in that era, speedy boards carved only long precarious turns and wave boards were slow to plane and just … slow.

The new category, ‘wave/slalom’, therefore sounded oxymoronic. Shapers, who were asked to fashion this all-rounder, felt they’d been burdened with the impossible task of building the perfect partner for the sexually confused teenager. What they came up with was a hairy, beer swilling rugby type wearing scarlet lipstick and a tutu – i.e. something that failed to appeal to those on either side of the fence. It stunk of compromise.

Rigs were the issue. They were still quite ‘draggy’ producing a lot of sideways force that had to be resisted by long edges (260cm plus) and relatively big fins. The only way to make a board more manoeuvrable at speed was to make it smaller and thinner and load it with a smaller sail, which then demanded high winds. Hence the whole cross-over concept ran out of legs in boards much above 85ltrs. The deciding factor was, and still very much is, the fin. If you have to fit a big fin to resist the forces of the ‘grunty’ sail you need to get planing, the ‘wave’ bit of the ‘wave/slalom’ evaporates.
Cutting to the modern chase, the gradual development of ever more efficient rigs that produce less and less lateral drag, has allowed us to shorten the outlines. Losing 30-40 cm of edge brings huge benefits:
–  shorter boards turn better. There’s less resistance, less rail to trip over; they conform better to a curved wave and fit between chops.
– there’s less dead wood. The volume is more useable. It’s under your feet and in extra width, which means that smaller boards feel more stable and bigger boards are more controllable.
Today you don’t have to shape a board like a court jester’s slipper, with six inches of tail rocker, to make it turn. Manoeuvrability comes as much now from the blend of outline, rail profile, underwater shape AND the fact that more efficient rigs allow us to use smaller fins. So it is that the once distant qualities of speed and manoeuvrability are edging closer and closer together. Today’s boards are like cars. They all are fast. Some are faster than others determined mainly by the size of the engine.  Boards, purely in terms of shape and design, share more in common than ever. What makes them behave differently is the size and style of rig you use; where you stand; where you direct the power and the size and style of fin. We now have a board that allows you to really play with those alternatives. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the modern freestyle wave board.

Fsw’s offer inboard and outboard strap positions. It’s nice to have the option, but I believe going outboard is to miss a trick. The greatest transformation you can make to your sailing, if manoeuvres are on the agenda, is to learn to sail the board from the middle. To find comfort in a straight line, you have to stand taller and more inboard and drive the board, not the fin and rail. Not only are inboard straps easier to get into, but this upright stance nearer the centre line, with the front foot as the platform, is the best position from which to pop or drop up or downwind into carving moves.

//  Unless you stand tall and inboard using inboard straps, they will feel uncomfortable.  PHOTO by Hart Photography.

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//  The 103, 5.7 sail and 26 wave fin = manoeuvre heaven. The in-straps carving 360 is a good test to see how well the fsw is set up for moves. It’s hard if you’re over-finned, over-sailed and standing on the edge. It’s a move, which forces you to keep the board flat and carve off the front foot.  PHOTO Wightshots/Barbara Close.

Making the Choice – understanding the design.
Freestyle wave boards all lie somewhere on the freestyle to wave spectrum. Which you plump for depends which aspects of those two designs most appeal to you. Let’s describe simply what both are good at.

Freestyle Board. The thrust of modern freestyle is to do big aerial moves (often off flat water) at huge speed. To achieve that, the modern freestyler needs a board that planes fast and early with a small sail (the smaller the sail the easier the trick is to control), and that pops (jumps) easily. What we have, therefore, is a low-nosed ‘slabby’ railed board with hard release edges with a flat, slalom board rocker-line and a very thick tail, which pops easily out of the water.
What isn’t it good at? Not much cop at carving. The thick rails make it bounce and trip– and thanks to the tiny fin it’s not the board you’d choose for screaming around in chop. Its application is very specific – get it planing and then immediately do something very dangerous.
Wave Board. Jumping is important but most wave designs are about smooth rail to rail carving. The key is to be able to initiate turns suddenly and steeply (i.e. without bearing away) engaging all the edge to draw tight fast arc turns on the wave face without tripping or out-running it.
Hence a wave board looks like a surfboard with a curved outline and thin grippy rails. Small outboard fins have a dual purpose of driving you around turns and holding the rails in. It has exaggerated nose rocker to help you bottom out of steep drops and jumps, and varying degrees of tail rocker to add a bit of ‘pivot’ and ‘snap’ to the end of turns.
What isn’t it good at? Nose and tail rocker mean it pushes a bit of water so can be slower to plane and marginally slower when on the plane. It’s not the best upwind.

The Blend

So by blending the best of both you get a board, which planes early, is rapid, pops easily into jumps and carves hard fast turns. What is there not to like?
It’s easy to spot where boards lie on the spectrum. The most revealing indicators are the nose and tail. The lower the nose and the thicker the tail, the more oriented it is to speed, early planing and popping into ‘new skool’ freestyle. The thinner the rails and higher the nose, the more wave oriented it is. Choose a board for the conditions you get, not the ones you dream of getting, and then play to its strengths. But just a word about freestyle – it’s not all about mid air contortion. The style of tricks (I prefer to call it ‘classic’ rather than ‘old skool’) that most aspire to, such as duck gybes, up and downwind 360s etc, start with a fast, hard carve which is easier on a freestyle wave with a wave bias. And if you are interested in new skool, the ‘basic’ tricks such as Vulcans and Spocks, which involve a pop, a twist and a backwards slide, are arguably easier to learn on a freestyle wave than a dedicated freestyle board because its softer edges are less likely to catch.

Some are reluctant to go down the fsw route for fear of what it might say about them – i.e. they don’t know what they want. They’re not good or committed enough to sail a dedicated wave or freestyle board and so have plumped for a compromise. Tish and pish. Here are 3 good reasons to embrace a fsw.
1. There’s a clue in the title. It promotes a sailing style in its own right. Freestyle in the waves. It doesn’t have to be crazy stuff. In a spot like Jeri (Brazil) where the waves are small, the wind is windy and there are long flat patches between swells, fsws reign. Their early release and extra speed add another dimension to the session. On one run in you’ll do a full speed trick (old or new) on the flat. On the next you might tap into a wave – and on the way out no board is better at jumping. It’s a style of sea sailing where you’re getting your dynamism more from board speed than wave power.
2. A flat water wave board.  Wind is easier to find than waves. Wave boards are not so great on flat water especially if it’s gusty – they don’t have enough ‘glide.’ But using a fsw you have the extra speed to imitate wave moves, hard carving etc, but without the wave.
3. Inspires a change of style. It’s the perfect stepping stone from free-ride to wave. It’s a board which has free-ride/speedy qualities, but which encourages a lighter footed, more manoeuvre based set-up and stance.

It’s ALL in the FIN
The tuning range of a FSW is huge and it’s largely down to fin choice. The one supplied covers the most options but that is just the beginning. All the fins displayed work with this board and totally change the feel and how you sail it. It’s currently set up with the tri fin thruster arrangement for proper waves. The 26 is a single fin option for more speed in waves and general manoeuvres. The 30 works with most things but specifically for a bit of blasting and sails of 6 and above. And the 22 freestyle fin works with the 5.2 sail if you’re into a bit of new skool pop and sliding – but not much else.

//  Many horses for many courses. PHOTO Hart Photography.

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//  A bit of blasting. The 30 cm fin gives you a familiar free-ride feel. How much lift you get from the fin determines your stance and, upwind, whether you sail the board flat or windward edge down. PHOTO Wightshots/Barbara Close.


Fsw’s are many things to so many people depending on the size (of the person and board), sailing location and style. I am going to share my experiences of sailing and tuning my 103 for different occasions. They are not necessarily the views of the management – but it’s a start. I have chosen the big end of the fsw scale – 110 litres is about the chunkiest available – because they offer the widest possibilities. As you go under 90 litres, the need for control, usually in lumpy seas, mean they’re often almost indistinguishable from wave boards.  If you fear you’ll be spending half the day with a screwdriver constantly re-tweaking, let me reassure you that in every mode I use the inboard straps, a waist harness and 32” lines. All I’m changing is sail size, boom height and fin.

Scenario 1  – The FSW as a happy Blaster
We have 15-18 knots of wind. It’s bumpy/choppy. There’s open water and mates about who might want to spar. Although they’re committed speedsters, you may want to confound them by throwing in the odd gybe. If you’re from a blasting background, you need to recalibrate. For the same conditions on a free-ride board, you’d rig the 7.5 on a 120 with a 40cm fin. We need to introduce a different feel and will try to go as fast by lightening everything up, making better use of the power and sailing more efficiently off the toes.

The Fin

My 103 comes with a 30cm cross-over fin (straight in the middle, swept in the tip). The US style slotbox that accompanies SOME  fsw’s, won’t accommodate much bigger. (On test this month though, more boards house power boxes than US – 4PB v 3US). Although the blurb advocates a sail as big as 7 sq. m. for my 103, for that fin I feel a 6.5 is the best match. A wave/freestyle sail is best because the higher effort lifts you into a taller stance and unweights the board. A slalom design by contrast shoves the board down and relies on a big fin.

Setting UP

If you’re struggling to tell the difference between the wave boards and fsw’s, say in the rack of a hire centre, apart from the label on the flanks, the fsw reveals itself by offering inboard and outboard straps. This is a good thing. Outboard straps put your feet in the best position on the rails to drive the fin. You may want to use the board in a race.

If you’ve come from free-riding, even though the fsw outboard straps aren’t that outboard, the stance will feel familiar. But here comes the ‘but …’, I have actually never used the outboard straps on any of my fsw boards. If you’re looking to move towards wave sailing, or just improve your gybes, use the inboard settings from the get-go. It’s the biggest most significant change you will make to your style. Which holes you use for each strap depends on your height – but I go for the biggest spread (front straps forward, back straps back), which in turns gives you the greatest freedom to move and gets you used to the wider, more stable wave sailing stance. And here’s the biggest difference, open them up so your front toe reaches across the centre-line. From that position you can get into front foot carving – another major change.

Getting going. The whole thrust of manoeuvre based sailing is to be mobile between the feet and enter manoeuvres with speed, but NOT over-powered. In general that means you have to work a little to get going. Even though a 30cm offers reasonable resistance. It only starts to lift as you’re planing. You can’t hoof against it at slow speeds and hope for a reaction. Even on a big fsw with a 6.5, be of the mind set that it’s the rig, not fin power, that gets you planing. So basically unload the fin completely by bearing away much more than you might be used to.


For the 15-18 knots blasting session I’ll raise my boom up a bit, just above shoulder, to encourage a tall, toes-down stance. The 32” lines are long enough for me to hook in early and hold the rig upright as I move into the straps. It’s a complete delusion to think you have to be over-powered to go fast. Loads of power does give you performance on the extremes of up and downwind – but in the area where you’ll be doing most of your performing – within 10° of a beam reach – that extra power is just drag.

The speed stance

The speed stance, and windsurfing in general, is about reacting to different pressures. And above all, about feeling what’s going on in your hands and under your feet.
The advantage of this ‘less powered up’, manoeuvre based set-up, is you have more freedom to move, hips, feet, hands everything. So as you get going consider the following.
Stand tall. Having the feet inboard and deep in the straps feels strange and uncomfortable to start with – but only if you drop the hips and hang outboard, at which point the ankles bend uncomfortably. So stand taller, lift the hips, let the legs straighten, stand more over your feet, sail off your toes and get a feeling of driving the board rather than the rails.
Mobile feet. Just because the straps are inboard, it doesn’t mean your feet always have to be inboard. Nicely powered, you’re not threatened. You don’t need the straps to glue you to the board. If you feel the 30cm fin starting to lift the windward edge, react to that force by pulling the feet out of the straps an inch or two. Most of the time my feet are some way out of the inboard straps – and only deep in them for moves.

Upwind sailing always demands the cutest trim. Fsw’s have a flatter rocker and a hard release edge that bites. But it’s now, if you’re an ex free-rider, that you have to begin to unplug that back foot. If you’re really powered up, yes you can run a flat board and push the fin quite hard. But just comfortably planing, you may have to unweight the tail, move the hips further forward and sail more off the front foot. You’ll know if you’re pushing too hard – you just stall.
Speed. Going fast on a fsw is about giving to the power and letting it pull you along rather than hunkering down against it.

“ It would be harsh to say that big free-ride kit makes you lazy … but it does ”

Trying to overtake someone when you’re maxed on slalom kit, you lower your stance, tighten the core and actively drive harder against the fin and rails, veins bulging, tendons straining. But on a fsw, stand up, drop the toes and concentrate on running a flat board – and then play with the fore/aft trim to make that perfect connection. On a more wave oriented fsw with nose-kick, you want to get the nose up a little to stop it slamming into chop. A higher boom helps, as does less outhaul and a little more back foot pressure.

DAVE WHITE and fsw love.
Dave White, former world champ speedster, is famous for making all boards go fast. His favourite party trick on photoshoots is to overtake pro slalom’rs on his fsw and is in little doubt as to the design’s speed and endless versatility.  “If the mobile network hadn’t already taken the initials we’d be talking about EE’s as this category covers Everything Everywhere. If you want to be pedantic you could find a few conditions where a FSW might not fit the bill, though apart from 8.0m sails I’m struggling to think of a time where I couldn’t have opted for a FSW and had a good sail.  The key to this versatility is the fin or fins. At its extreme, I’ve watched Shaun Cook win a slalom round on a FSW using a 38cm f-hot slalom fin. At the other end of the scale, I wouldn’t travel without a 22cm wave fin. Does that mean they’re providing the wrong fin, definitely not. It’s just the one that covers the most bases. I’ll use the 22cm wave fin in my 106 when it’s all about riding, though I have another fin that fits between the two for my everyday south coast conditions.”

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//  Whitey tanking using a 28cm fin and ripping on the same 106 with a 22cm wave fin. PHOTO Shaun Cook

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SCENARIO 2 – Carving tricks and Moves.
17-24 knots of wind – flat water with the odd breaking ramp – this is fsw heaven.  The emphasis changes to fast, fun carving tacks and gybes, ducks, 360’s, floaty chop hops etc. I go for a 5.7 and a 26cm wave fin. Sail and board match each other perfectly. For those coming off bigger kit, the fin feels … small. As one guy said as he stepped on such a set-up for the first time, “has this fffff thing got a fin?” The wave fin is less a lift device and more a means to help control turns. At 26cm, it is still huge by a pro wave or freestyler’s standard, but unless it’s howling you don’t get the free-ride, speed sensation of the board releasing onto the fin. The board rides a bit lower, feels a bit stuck on the water. But that’s a positive for carving moves where you WANT the board to hold in.

The general tip is again to react to the forces. With even less coming under your back foot, you should naturally favour the front foot more and more, to the point where you even place the back foot forward of the strap. Look down and on most points of sailing you’ll see your harness hook above your front foot. You’re standing more centrally using the front foot as your platform. The big change now is that sailing upwind, your windward edge rather than the fin is your source of resistance. Push it in with the heel of the front foot.

The bigger fsw’s (100 ltrs +) are generally designed towards speed and early planing but still work brilliantly in small waves, especially in bog and ride conditions when you have control of speed and power. You need to be sympathetic to its design and favour a ‘pivoty’ style to make sure the thick rails don’t get stuck in the face.

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//  Perfect size fun waves for a big fsw. Cutting back off the top is where thrusters can really help you maintain speed and control.

BLESSED BY A FSW Case Study 1:  Doug

Doug is a bit of an athlete. In-between sessions in Ireland, while I took the group on a SUP tour, he followed … swimming. He’s that sort of bloke. It’s an attitude that was mirrored in his sailing. He loved the physical challenge and therefore craved wind and big powerful kit; which was fine but not when it came to tackling waves and especially not when the wind was fluffy. The first step to ‘de-grunting’ him was to suggest a 103 fsw. But his first move, despite my suggestion, was to turn it into a free-ride board by loading it with a slalom 7.0 and having a 34cm fin specially made. It didn’t work that well. The big sail shoved it too deep. Since then he’s completely lightened up. In Kerry this year we reduced both fin and sail and he’s now using the fsw as nature intended – standing taller, sailing more and more on the toes, needing less and less power to achieve the same speed and above all, sailing and gybing more and more off the front foot.

//  Doug still a little too much on the back foot but in the process of being transformed by his 103 fsw. PHOTO Hart Photography.

BLESSED BY A FSW Case Study 2: Greg
Greg arrived on a wave course having learned his craft free-riding with huge kit on the lakes of his native Hungary. Short lines, seat harness, hunkered stance; he was the model of 90’s technique. He’s a very bright bloke (consultant cardiologist) and extremely fit and wiry. His approach was to buy a wave oriented 95 fsw with thrusters. We changed his basic set-up, longer lines, higher boom, waist harness to get him off the back foot. The rest came just from reacting to a new feeling. After a year, he’s now riding down the line with the best of them. “The fsw is fantastic,” he says, “it forces you to sail differently but at the same time isn’t so different and radical.”

//  Greg extended, relaxed and laying all the rail of his 95 fsw.
PHOTO Hart Photography.

//  Smart folk buy the board to suit where they live. Harvey, resident of Tarifa where wind is plentiful and waves are sporadic, favours a small fsw for its speed and versatility.
PHOTO Hart Photography.

The fsw introduces you to a wave board styIe of full rail carving. You become more aware of the mastfoot as a carving device responsible for controlling the front section of rail and the feet the back section. It helps now to lower the boom a couple of inches to just under shoulder, which allows you to drop on top of the boom and apply that mastfoot pressure as soon as you lean the rig into the turn. But the biggest change is to shove the front foot deep into its strap and initiate turns with the toes of the front foot. To do that you have to bend the ankle, which projects your whole body forward and puts you in a far better position to control the exit. A good exercise is to practise edge to edge carving across the wind. Leave both feet in the straps. Because the back strap is so far back, you have to favour the front foot or you stall out.

We’re in the glorious force 5 zone where pretty much every combo planes (under the right guidance). Looking to go more new skool, my alternative in the same wind is to go for a bagged out 5.2 and replace the 26 with a 22cm freestyle fin. This is a good intro. to the ‘big board, small rig’ style of sailing. Less power makes many tricks easier, especially upwind ones involving a sail transition – eg duck tacks, push tacks, upwind 360s. And the smaller fin makes the ‘pop and slide’ tricks more achievable. How to get into modern freestyle is a tome for another time.

SCENARIO 3 – Into the waves
Read Tris Best’s fine review of 105 fsw’s in this very issue and you will note that fsw is a pretty broad category –  they are all equal in the waves – but some are more equal than others. Much depends on the stable and the shaper – some have taken their wave designs and made them a bit straighter – others have taken their freestyle designs and made them a bit curvier.  With all of them, notably these big ones, you accept what they are and play to their strengths. It’s not a board you’re looking to tuck, Kauli style, into the pocket of 15ft pitching Punta Preta lip. For the expert it’s the best option on semi-planing days when the swell is lazy. Its extra speed creates dynamism out of dead situations. On days when you might have taken a SUP with a rig, you could take it up a notch with a floaty fsw. For the amateur, the advantages are more obvious. 90kg Yorkshireman Steve Mather, learning to love the waves, describes his love for his 103. “It gives me confidence to get out and survive the lulls – but what I most like is that it’s flattering. You can give the edge a bit of a misguided kick and it will keep going!” When it comes to turning on the face – well you keep pushing until something catches. In general it’s good to favour more of a back foot style – that’s pressure back not weight back – to stop the straighter edges catching in the face. The lower nose on some models means you have to be a little more cautious taking steep drops.

The Thruster Option

Design advances are gradual but fsw’s seem to have come on enormously in the last few years – notably their wave performance. Many now come with an option for thrusters (small side fins). I was a little suspicious when I saw these appearing in the bigger models, believing they may be a market-led addition. Thrusters pull the taiI into the water, which is just what you don’t want when you’re trying to get a big board to release in marginal winds. So they’re not really a flat water option – unless it’s howling.  Interestingly, as you will read in this issue’s fsw review, several brands (Fanatic, Goya, Quatro) provide thruster boxes, but only supply the board with a single fin and blanking plates for the thruster boxes. So the option is there but with reasoning that single fin is best for most. But they really do help on the wave face giving you the confidence to push a little harder without the rail skipping out – they also keep the board driving round and stop the board stalling during the cutback.

Conditions permitting, in the next issue Harty will be looking at ways to get into and improve your wave riding when it’s onshore (and probably cold). Spaces on his courses are few and far between these days so check out the schedule on his site www.peter-hart.com and book early!

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