Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Windsurfing Magazine Board Test

We have been in Avon, NC at the Windsurfing Magazine Board Test for the last two days. On Sunday, we arrived early and got a couple of hours of good wind to test a few boards. Yesterday, the wind was in the 30 knot range - a bit too much to test boards here, which are 100 l and bigger.

Since I like speed surfing, I have been thinking about buying a slalom board, so the opportunity to try some slalom boards here was one of the things that drew me here. I got a chance to test two slalom boards from the leading brands which were similar in size, but rather different in style (until the end of the board test, I won't be able to mention which exact boards I tested).

The difference in these two slalom boards is just amazing. I sailed one in 7.0 conditions that I usually like more, the other one overpowered with a 5.8 cambered race sail. Both boards have a reputation of being very technical to sail, so hoping to have a lot of fun on them in the first 20 minute test drive is perhaps too optimistic. Both boards felt very fast, even though I was not anywhere close to tapping into their full speed. The first board would require quite a lot of adjustment in my sailing style. I'm really glad I tested it, because it now seems very unlikely that I'll buy it anytime in the near future. I sailed the second board under conditions where racing pros might have used this board and the 5.8 sail I was using - but for me, a 20 liter smaller board and a 5.0 sail would have been plenty. But while I could never gain enough control for good speed runs, I was much more comfortable on this board. I am looking forward to testing both boards, as well as the other slalom boards here, in the next few days. Hopefully, the fun factor will increase with a bit more practice.

I also tested several free ride boards, some oriented towards speed, at least on towards control in harsh conditions. The last board was a very pleasant surprise - it's from a brand I had never sailed before. Despite being about 20-25 l bigger than what I would have usually picked, it was extremely comfortable, controllable, and fun. It pays for this with reduced top speed, but for fully powered conditions in not-so-flat water, I'll gladly take this trade off. Other testers here brought smaller versions of the board as their private boards, and confirmed that the brand is well known for control and comfort.

One thing I learned is that the board test is not all fun - you will be sailing boards that you don't like at all. These boards will not be the same for all testers; I have traded test boards on the water where the previous tester seemed very glad to get a different board, but I had a great time on the board.

The wind meter reading yesterday reached 30 mph averages, but it seems that the meter understates the true wind on the water. At one point, I was planing on Nina's 76 l wave board with a 3.7 m sail that was trimmed really flat - I almost never get to sail on gear this small. I did not get to sail it for long yesterday, either, since Nina came and claimed her gear. Like most other testers, I did not have any desire to sail the bigger test boards under these conditions, so I took out my 62 l F2 Missile with a 5.0 North Ice sail. This combo worked extremely well and was a lot of fun. The chop and swell outside was sizeable (at least for Hatteras standards), but the narrow speed board and the 26 cm week fin I used handled it very well. Going upwind was a dream, I was able to point the Missile higher than I could ever dream of on most other boards. Unfortunately, I don't get to practice much on this board, so I am still struggling to get it started. In the 5 mm boots I used, getting into the back footstrap once planing was pretty much impossible, so I had to start with both feet in the straps. Out in the chop, this ended up being almost too much for me when the wind picked up a bit more. On my last run in, getting started again took forever, and I eventually sailed in with the back foot out of the strap. That worked fine, but it was amazing how much more work this was for the back leg. Still, this was a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to getting more Missile practice soon. For 5.8 days, though, I'll have to replace the top batten on the KA Koncept first, which broke - perhaps during one of my more violent catapults on the slalom gear.

The best runs of the day where on a test board from a brand that so far I have only had positive experiences with. It is one of the smallest boards in test, but still bigger than what I'd usually have chosen for the conditions. I first tried going out on a 3.7, but the wind took a little break, forcing me to walk back. As soon as I reached the shore, it picked up again, but I still switched to the 5.0. With that, I was slightly overpowered, but the board handled it just beautifully. I had the feeling I just needed to think what the board should do, and it happened all by itself. Stick to the water - done. Jump - and there we go. Play with the waves - no problem. Really amazing for a board this size, it felt a lot smaller, except when I wanted a bit more volume. I came off the water with a big grin on my face that did not fade for a long time.

The forecast for today was a bit crazy and included a Tornado warning, which made us de-rig everything last night. A few brave surfers went out this morning in winds that were even stronger then yesterday, and seemed a lot gustier. Nina and I took a break, after sleeping in a bit. That turned out to be a good choice - by the time we would have rigged and made it out, the thunderstorms had arrived. They have now passed through, though, and it's looking great out there - maybe it's time for some more fun before the wind turns and dies down.

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