Welcome to the first ever Boardseeker Magazine equipment test! It has taken us a great deal of time to decide whether or not we wanted to go down the route of product testing.
After 4 years of deliberation, we have finally decided to take the plunge. Our online delivery lends itself perfectly to a testing format. We have access to a very experienced team of testers, are based in a great location for testing and perhaps most importantly of all, we are willing to be honest with our findings.
Over the past decade, the internet has made many changes to the way people live and operate. Using the internet for test reports, we are able to offer several advantages over printed magazines such as: interaction, ease of accessibility, archiving (no more searching through old magazines) and best of all, its completely free for you to read. What’s more, all of the testing has been carried out on the shores of the UK, ensuring that the kit is tested in the conditions that you will be buying it for.
At a later date we will add video to our tests, but for the time being, we have focused simply on producing a high quality, honest and accurate test.
We open our testing schedule this month with one of the most popular board categories on the market; 120 litre Freeride boards. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to your feedback.
What is a Freeride Board?
In most sports, ‘Freeride’ is the product that generally does it all. Say ‘freeride’ to a windsurfer however and they are likely to think; 100-150 litres in volume, designed to plane early, easy to gybe, reasonably fast and with a focus on flatter water and a slightly lower level of sailing ability.
With this in mind, it has been interesting for us to discover that the range of freeride boards tested here has been so broad. On one hand, we have a board in this group that is well capable of winning National slalom races, with speed to rival many slalom boards on the market, yet at the other end of the scale we have an alternative board in the group that would be entirely comfortable for someone taking their first steps into basic waveriding.
Each board has a different emphasis, with some more focussed than others. Whether designed for advanced sailors or someone in their early stages, flat water blasting or coastal sailing, speed or manoeuvrability, there is a board in this group that will suit you. The trick is finding the one that will suit you best. Our interactive overview page should make this easy for you.
It used to be simple. A board was chosen based upon its length. Then the importance of volume was recognised and the emphasis changed. Over the past few years, there is a movement towards scaling boards based upon their maximum width. It’s fair to say that it has all got rather confusing!
So here is a bit of theory and we promise to stop after this! The 'useful' size of a board changes depending upon whether it is planing or not.
When not planing, the size of the board is determined by its volume. This is the weight which can be floated on a board. A 120 litre board will support roughly 120 kilos of weight (including the weight of the board itself and the rig it is carrying). So if you weigh 80kg and the weight of your board and rig is 20kg, you will need 100 litres to float. A 120 litre board will give you 20 litres of positive volume. If you plan spending time off the plane, we would reccomend a positive volume of at least 20-30 litres.
When planing, the size of the board is a product of;
- The planing area (the bit in contact with the water)
- The speed the board is travelling at (the faster it goes, the bigger it feels)
- The angle the board is travelling across the water (the more the nose is trimmed up, the more ‘lift’ the board will generate and the bigger it will feel).
So in short, any measure of size such as length, volume, width or otherwise is only ever going to be an indicator, because its impossible to calculate the 3 factors above at any given time. Our advice is to pay attention to the volume, particularly if you are planning to spend some time off the plane (eg uphauling etc) and then look closely at the sail size recommendations of the board. This will give you the best idea of how the board will fit into your quiver. So far, we have found most of the sail size recommendations are fairly accurate and we will be encouraging the manufacturers to improve on these (where necessary) over the coming months.
Why should you buy a 120L Freeride Board?
For many brands, this is their best selling board model. And it’s no surprise. There is probably more range on these boards then any other on the market. In general, they can be used with a sail range of around 5.5-8.0m and are entertaining for everyone from beginner carve gyber to advanced rider.
For advanced sailors, these are great fun blasting boards with up to 8.0m sails for summer use and lighter winds. For beginner freeriders (of average weight), a 120 would be a nice board to progress onto after getting the basics of harness, footstraps and planing sorted out on a bigger board.
We wouldn’t recommend these boards unless you are fairly competent at using straps and harness and are making your first steps towards carve gybing. If you are still working on straps and harness technique, you will be much better off on a bigger board.
If you are getting to grips with the straps and harness, dont be tempted to go too small. Sailors of average weight will still be able to use this size of board in a force 3 to improve tacks and non-planing gybes, which are a must if you want to keep your sailing moving forward. A smaller board will 'close the door' to this.
The Criteria we Tested to
As well as examining and rating each board for overall quality and fittings, the boards were tested on the water across 6 main performance criteria;
Ease of planing – Some boards plane early, others plane easily and some do both. For most freeride sailors, it is important that the board gets planing early, but is not too demanding of technique.
Speed – Nobody likes getting overtaken!
Control – When conditions get rougher and windier, you want the board to remain comfortable to sail.
Advanced Carve Gybe – People who are consistent at gybing, want a board that is fun to turn. The board should be nimble enough to adjust your turning arc and flexible enough to allow for different styles and techniques.
Beginner/Intermediate Gybe – For those still working on the carve gybe, a board should be tolerant of unrefined technique. It should be stable and secure underfoot, even when the rider is a little heavy footed and footstraps should be well positioned for ease of foot change.
– We define the ride as being either ‘passive’ or ‘active’:
- Passive: + Board is easily balanced and rides without much rider input, - Not as exciting to sail and less scope for experienced riders to extract extra performance
- Active: + Exciting, lively feel and can allow experienced riders to work the board for extra performance, - Could be a little too frantic for riders looking for an easier board to sail
So which is the Best Board?
As far as we are concerned, there is no one ‘best’ board. We tested boards across a set of performance criteria (described above) and ranked them for performance within each.
Using this information, we are able to help you choose which is the best board for you. Your priority might be to have the fastest board in the test, or the most manoeuvrable, or the easiest planing or perhaps even the prettiest or cheapest. There is no one board that does it all.
Instead, we have set up the Overview Page to allow you to easily pick the best board for you, based upon the criteria that you consider most important. For example, if you want the fastest board, click ‘speed’ and the page will rank the boards in order of fastest first. Click ‘price’ and the boards will be sorted in order of price etc etc. Using a number of these filters, you will easily be able to identify the best board/s for your needs.
A final word on fins. You will notice from our ‘Detailed Reports’ page that many of these boards would benefit from an extra fin or two. The massive range of these boards has been discussed above, but if you really want to maximise this range, it’s fair to say that the stock fin may not suit all purposes. So follow our recommendations on each report and get an extra fin if required…..you will be rewarded with even more range from your new board. Maybe one day, the manufacturers will supply 2 fins with this size of board!
There are so many variables in windsurfing that we feel it is important when testing to minimise these variables as much as possible. When testing boards, we have used identical test rigs to ensure that the rig is playing no part in any differences established.
We chose to use NeilPryde Hellcat sails in 6.2m and 7.7m sizes. Combined with X9 components, these rigs were outstanding and had our test boards planing in the lightest or breezes and still sailable when people were freesailing on 4.5m’s!
We also chose a set of the excellent MFC Liquid Pro freeride fins (from 36cm to 44cm), so that we could determine how different sizes and shapes of fin may affect each boards performance.
» Now proceed to the overview page!