Things are starting to get quite complicated when it comes to choosing a waveboard. First there were single fins, then twin fins and now we have quads and thrusters as well as onshore and sideshore variations of those themes.
With all these concepts, it's important to remember that it's the performance of the board that matters, not the number of fins the designers have chosen to achieve the performance. If a board goes fast, turns well, planes easily and works in a wide range of conditions, does it really matter how many fins it has? We think not.
Therefore, we resisted temptation to group these wave tests into single fins, twin fins, quad fins etc. Instead we invited manufactures to submit their best ‘all-round’ wave board. A board that would perform in a wide range of UK/Euro conditions, but also be capable of coping with some down the line conditions when necessary. The choice of how many fins it had was completely down to the manufacturers.
Are Multi-Fin Waveboards Better?
Last year we saw the first twin fins enter the market and were immediately impressed with the turning potential and control, which ultimately allowed the rider to get a looser feeling from a bigger board.
This year, there are more twin fins available, but also a resurgence of thruster and quad fin set-ups. We have had opportunity to try most of the new wave boards on the market now (not just the ones in this test) and whilst we would stress that the difference between boards is not only a result of the number of fins (shape plays an even bigger role), there are definitely trends in how boards with one, two, three and four fins perform.
Single fin boards are generally a little faster and earlier to plane than multi-fin boards and have better acceleration. The biggest difference in a straight line however is the way they ride. They tend to have a more ‘free’ and frictionless ride, with the nose riding a little higher and the rider able to drive through their back foot onto the fin. They are arguably still the best performing board in a straight line, but are not as controlled at the top end as multi-fin boards which tend to stay more ‘planted’ when overpowered.
The biggest disadvantage is in the top turn, where multi fin wave boards have really opened up a whole new dimension of tight carving turns. A single fin is still ok off the top if you hit a section of the wave to help bring the board round, but carving on the open face, particularly in cross-on conditions, single fins are so far behind the best twin fins. The key drawback to this is in cross-on conditions, where a twin fin can come all the way around the top turn to the point where the sail powers up again, whereas the single fins tend to get stuck pointing downwind and take much longer to power the sail up and drive into the next turn.
Twin fins really opened up a whole new world of wave performance when they were first introduced to production boards last year. They are a lot tighter turning than single fins, have better control in the slide (off the top) and have better control in a straight line when overpowered, because they don’t lever the board out of the water in the same way as a single fin does. The net product of all this is that riders can use bigger boards without sacrificing manoeuvrability which equals bigger wind ranges and easier sailing in lighter/gusty wave conditions.
The drawbacks include the boards being more ‘planted’ in a straight line, so often feel slower and harder to get going than single fins - even if they often feel worse than they actually perform and the bottom turn doesn't feel as secure as a single fin, particularly on bigger, faster waves.
We haven't actually had much chance to try these, so won't say too much. From what we have tried and heard, they tend to sit somewhere between a single and twin in terms of performance. They are tighter turning and more grippy in chop than a single, but not as loose as a twin. They also have an increase in drag in a straight line, so perhaps not quite as good as a single, but still with the driving feel of a single fin.
If the rumours we have heard are true, we will be seeing more thrusters on the market next year as replacements for single fin wave boards (but still with the option to remove the thrusters).
At first we thought that Quads would replace twin fins by offering more grip and drive in the bottom turn (and straight line) whilst still offering the super tight turning potential. Having now sailed variations from Starboard, JP and Quatro, we have to say that the Quads feel more like alternatives than replacements to twin fins.
They certainly have more drive in a straight line, particularly when going upwind or underpowered. They are also more grippy on the wave and turn properly off the rail of the board. However on smaller waves, the twins still turn tighter, with more ease and feel generally more playful.
The Quads are awesome in bigger, smoother waves where they grip with massive security and carve full rail driven turns. However, to get this grip they need to be turned using the whole rail of the board. If you try and turn them tight off your back foot (for instance when overpowered or on small waves), they really aren’t happy. Twins still seem to be better for tighter snappy turns, whereas the Quads come into their own with more grip and drive in longer, wider arced turns.
The criterion we used for testing
Each board was examined and rated for overall quality and fittings and tested on the water across 5 main performance criteria:
Get up and go – What is important to most wave sailors is not the absolute top speed of their board, or the early planing. Instead, the most important factor is how easily the board releases and accelerates to a good speed (particularly through shore break) and gets them ready for the first jump.
Jumping – A good board for jumping is a board that has good ‘get up and go', feels directional when lining up a wave, releases well from the wave and has good float and a feel in the air.
Cross-on riding – Cross-on riding is pretty self explanatory, and is usually a mixture of front side and back side riding. When riding front side, the sail is often powered up for a time between bottom turn and top turn in the clew first position. A good board should hold speed through turns, be comfortable in clew first position when the sail is powered up and be able to perform a tight radius top turn with ease.
Cross –shore riding – Again pretty self-explanatory with the wind from the side or side-off, and predominantly front side riding. The main difference is that you stay on the wave a lot more and can use the wave to generate speed more easily. Boards that excel in cross-off conditions, need control at speed, are comfortable in both wider and tighter turns and transition easily from turn to turn.
User Range – Some boards are best suited to less experienced sailors whilst others to more advanced sailors. This criteria was introduced to illustrate which ability/s of sailor each board is most suited to.
It is important when doing comparative testing between boards to eliminate as many variables as possible. We chose to use identical North Ices as our test sails on the boards.
The Ices are renowned for their light handling and great wind range. We had two quivers of 4.2, 4.7 and 5.3m sails to put the 75 litre boards through their paces. Combined with North Platinum RDM masts and RDM Power XT extensions, they were fantastic rigs that allowed us to get on with the job of testing boards without worrying about the rigs.