First Impressions

Boardseeker

Equipment test

NORTH SHOX.XTR

Released: Now Price: £249 (RDM + SDM)

There’s been a lot of hype about the SHOX.XTR extensions recently, mostly based around use for freeriding, speed and racing. But this review focuses mainly on their use for wavesailing.

There was plenty of anticipation to try these funky new extensions when they first arrived with us way back in March. Since then we’ve had opportunity to try them in the waves of Cape Town, the UK and even Greece.

So, what are they?

Well, the SHOX.XTR is a shock absorbing extension from North Sails. It has been designed around the concept that shock absorbency is paramount to performance in many other sports, and windsurfing should be no exception. Take motor racing, mountain biking and running for instance. You wouldn’t drive a car with no suspension or race a mountain bike downhill without it, and you certainly wouldn’t go running in wooden soled shoes. The idea does make a lot of sense when you think about it…

How does it work?

Over to North for the technical explanation: “Since windsurfing equipment is clearly exposed to further wind and weather stresses, high tech Polymers from BASF take over the damping function. During a special procedure these Polymers are resinated with precisely defined air embeddings. Through this process we reach a similar fast response-behavior like an air-suspension high-end mountain bike. Just as a bike suspension fork avoids riders being thrown off over bumps, steep chop will now simply be ‘absorbed’ by the SHOX.XTR, instead of inducing a catapult.”

And in practice?

The extension has two settings for travel: 60 or 80mm – the latter being designed for bigger chop and waves. It also incorporates North’s ratchet downhaul system and is available in both SDM and RDM versions.

The SHOX design meant it wasn’t possible to make the extension compatible with the standard North pin base, so the special base (included in the price) is unique to the SHOX.

On the water, do you notice a big difference straight away?

The first time we tried it, we used it on a minimum travel setting with a 4.5m sail and 75L board in Cape Town (choppy and wavy). We were surprised and somewhat disappointed to find very little (if any) difference in feel or performance. So the next day, we boosted the travel to maximum in the same conditions and suddenly the difference became much more apparent.

You don’t really notice the rig feeling any different, but under your feet the board feels smoother and softer, almost like it’s riding on its own cushion of air over the chop. The difference in feel is subtle but noticeable – particularly if you swap back and forth to a regular extension you notice a harder ride without the SHOX.

What advantages does it offer?

As well as softening the ride of the board over chop, there are a number of advantages that we have found for use in waves.

1. The SHOX reduces ‘board slap’ when heading out over chop. This is particularly apparent on modern twin and quad-fin boards which tend to sit lower in the water and are more prone to ‘slapping’.

2. When powered up and heading upwind over chop / small waves, it’s noticeable that the SHOX stops the board flying off the top of the chop as much and gives more control – particularly in steep chop and overpowered conditions. As far as we can tell, it doesn’t seem to adversely affect jumping performance.

3. When waveriding frontside in choppy conditions, the SHOX helps smooth the board through the initial stage of the bottom turn. Once the sail is fully sheeted in and the rail engaged, the difference is negligible. However, before this when your weight’s coming over the board and you’re starting to sheet in, there is a notable advantage when using the SHOX.

4. Landing jumps is one of the claimed benefits of the SHOX. We didn’t really notice much difference when landing jumps tail first (as you usually would), but anything that involved landing flat definitely benefited from the shock absorption. It’s not so apparent until you land really hard – the kind of jump that could potentially snap a board or rip the rig out of your hands. That’s when you really appreciate the extra ‘give’ that the SHOX offers.

5. The last advantage we spotted was when wobbling out through white water (particularly in more powerful waves). When the white water hits the bottom of the board it sends much less of a jolt through your rig and feet when using the SHOX.

What disadvantages does it have?

In on-water use, we haven’t found a single disadvantage over a regular extension yet. In terms of set-up, there are two issues that are worth noting.

1. On the RDM extension there’s nowhere to store the rope (North ’11 sails will include a pocket at the foot of the sail). Because of the nature of North’s ratchet system, you potentially end up with two loose ends that need to be secured. You can tie them off around the extension, but this negates the advantages of North’s easy on/off ratchet system.

2. The other slight niggle is with the push button attachment of the extension to the deckplate. Ours was very sharp (which has apparently been fixed on the production models), but it is still a more fiddly system than the traditional North pin.

Is it worth the money?

The killer question! But that, I’m afraid, is up to you and depends entirely on the size of your wallet. Head to head with a normal extension, we would chose to use it every time, but we aren’t going to pretend it’s cheap! It might be cheaper than a snapped board though…

More info: www.north-windsurf.com

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