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2017 Fanatic Wave Boards on Test: Everything You Need to Know

Adrian Jones reviews the Fanatic quad, triwave and stubby...

Photography by J.Carter & Fishbowl Diaries

I remember many years ago, when the Brits first started going to Cape Town in mass, there was a local guy out there who really caught our attention.

Plenty of the world’s best pro’s had adopted the place for their winter training at the time, but this local guy was a stand-out on the water. In fact, he was making the rest of the pro’s look pretty shabby to be honest.  He was always a bit of a mystery to us, as nobody in our group really knew who he was, yet he was sailing nearly every day and nailing the biggest back loops we had ever seen.  Over and over again..

His only identifying factor was a big Fanatic logo on his sail, so in the absence of any further information, we nicknamed him ‘Fanatic man’ and spent years trying to back loop like him.  All we ever knew about him was that he was some kind of tester for Fanatic.

It wasn’t until several years later, when I set-up Boardseeker, that I managed to find out who ‘Fanatic man’ actually was…

You might be wondering where I am going with this, but before I review the 2017 Fanatic wave range, I think it’s worth hearing a little bit about the driving force behind the Fanatic brand.

Fanatic are a brand who do their home work.  Of all the brands out there, I can confidently say that when Fanatic release a new board, you can guarantee that they have put a lot of thought, development and testing into it.  They have a very close-knit group of riders, who feedback directly to their shaper, Sebastian Wenzel.  None of their riders are allowed to use custom boards from other shapers and the whole approach is very scientific and methodical.

Quite frankly, it’s how development should be done and it’s the reason that Fanatic shapes are always so consistently good.  I’ve never tested a ‘duff’ Fanatic board and where some brands are happy to experiment with new ideas on customers, Fanatic won’t release shapes until they are thoroughly tested and worthy of production.

Last year was a perfect example of this when Fanatic introduced their funky looking Stubby range, pioneered by one of their top riders Klaas Voget.  This wasn’t some new concept to gain instant attention and then be shoveled under the carpet a year later.  Fanatic gave Klaas free-reign to develop it and then secretly tested it for over 12 months before becoming the first to release a board of this shape onto the market.  And what a board it turned out to be.  Since then, many brands have tried to emulate it, but as of yet, I’m not sure any have come close to beating it.

In an age where budgets are tight, you can certainly understand why some brands find it tempting to cut corners when it comes to testing and development.  It’s a very costly business.  But with Fanatic, it’s thanks to the passion of their brand manager Craig Gertenbach that they continue to invest so much time, effort and money into their development program.  Craig is a die-hard windsurfer at heart.  He grew up in Cape Town, was a Fanatic sponsored rider in the early nineties and one of the top wave sailors on the World tour, before becoming a tester and working his way up through Fanatic to become their brand manager in 2004. A position he has held ever since.

Craig still has the ability to push his team riders hard on the water, but most importantly, he understands windsurfing and in particular, wave sailing.  He understands what makes a good board, not just for his team riders, but also for you guys, the buying public.

It’s a very rare balance in business to combine the might and power of a large corporate brand, with the raw passion and ‘finger on the pulse’ thinking that would normally be associated with a much smaller brand.  Yet Craig manages to achieve this with Fanatic and the 2017 wave line-up epitomizes it perfectly.  Everything is top quality, as you would expect from a big brand, yet sandwiched right between the now legendary Quad and the highly regarded Tri-Fin is the innovative Stubby. It’s a quality line-up, but also a cutting edge and fairly intriguing one.

Whilst the team riders and shaper have obviously all played a big part in this, there is no doubt that Craig has been instrumental in making it all happen.  He is the man at the helm.

Sadly, many brand managers in our sport end up becoming too far removed from the sport itself; too busy with the day-to-day running of things to get excited about the intricacies of the latest wave board shape.  But luckily for Fanatic, Craig’s passion for wave sailing started more than 20 years ago on the beaches of Cape Town and it’s a passion he has not lost.  He may have moved from South Africa to the board room of Munich, but he has not lost one drop of enthusiasm or passion for the sport.  To me, this is the distinguishing factor that makes Fanatic the brand that it is.  It’s what makes them so consistently good.

Now, it might seem that I am being a bit charitable here as the prologue to a wave test, but I think in an age when wave boards are approaching £1800, it’s more than just the board that we are buying into.  It’s the brand as well.  We want to know that the brand has the expertise and the drive to make that board the best it possibly can be.

With Fanatic, I think you should feel reassured that there is a passion for the sport that is apparent right from the very top of the brand.  It’s apparent on every board I have ever tried from them.  And it’s apparent in this 2017 wave line-up.  Craig may be Mr Fanatic now, but I still remember him as ‘the Fanatic man’.

Now let’s hear how their 2017 wave range stacks up…

Fanatic Quad

Volume: 81
Width: 57.5cm
Tail width (30cm): 35.5cm
Length: 223cm
Weight complete: 7.48kg
Track from tail: 117.5cm
Strap spread: 62.5cm
Fins (Quad): Slot

Fanatic Triwave

Volume: 82
Width: 57.5cm
Tail width (30cm): 36cm
Length: 220.5cm
Weight complete: 7.25.kg
Track from tail: 117.5cm
Strap spread: 61.5cm
Fins (Tri-fin): US & Slot

Fanatic Stubby

Volume: 77
Width: 55cm
Tail width (30cm): 39.5cm
Length: 210cm
Weight complete: 7.30.kg
Track from tail: 113cm
Strap spread: 62cm
Fins (Quad-fin): US & Slot 18cm & 12cm

On the Beach

Graphics may be subjective, but it’s hard to argue with Fanatics choice.  Year after year, they just seem to hit the nail on the head and this year is no exception.  All three boards look great and really eye catching, but also give an impression of quality.  As usual, the fittings are top-notch, with great straps (that have an inbuilt anti-twist system) and fins that have been chosen and tested to suit each individual board.

All three boards were impressively light and we like that Fanatic opt for a slightly wider stance on their waveboards.  This gives more control and a more stable base.  Of course, you can always move the straps closer if you have shorter legs or just prefer a narrower stance, but this wider base does give the boards a more dynamic feel.

Looking at the basic shape of the boards, the Stubby is the exception with a shape that looks more like something from science fiction than board design.  It certainly draws a lot of attention on the beach.  A few people have commented that the shape is ugly, not following the established outline of a regular board, but we reckon it looks pretty cool and high tech.

The Stubby sits about 10cm shorter than the Triwave and around 13cm shorter than the Quad.  When it comes to width, the parallel sides of the Stubby give it the narrowest max width (55cm) but the widest tail width (39.5cm).  That’s over 3cm wider than the other two!  The Quad and Triwave share max widths (57.5cm) but the Quad has a slightly narrower tail (35.5cm)

Mast track positions are consistent on the Quad and Triwave, but unsurprisingly the Stubby’s track is nearly 7cm further back to compensate for the length and shape.  The straps are also set further back on the Stubby.

Straight Line Performance

Off the beach, despite being slightly lower in volume, the Stubby is the first to plane and perhaps most significantly, the easiest to get planing on.  All that tail width (right under your feet) makes the board very supportive and gives a wonderfully stable base to power onto the plane.  The Triwave is not quite as quick onto the plane as the Stubby, but once on the plane, it accelerates faster and reaches a higher top speed.  Surprisingly, the quad wasn’t actually too far behind when it came to early planing.  It’s definitely the last to get going of the three, but with the track slightly rear of center, it lifts up pretty quickly for what is essentially a very dedicated wave board.

As touched on above, the Triwave was the fastest of the three when it came to top speed.  This board is blisteringly fast for a wave board and rides with quite a locked-down feel to it and a lot of smoothness, making it controllable and easy to access that speed.

We expected the Stubby to be the next fastest, but there really isn’t a great deal in it between this and the Quad.  The Stubby is the easiest to reach top speed on, with that wide tail helping with acceleration, whereas the Quad is more sensitive underfoot and requires more technique to get the speed out of, but overall, there really wasn’t much in it.  We did find that mast track position made quite a difference on the Quad.  Anything just back of middle, really helped to liven the feel up in a straight line when it came to speed and acceleration.

Upwind the Stubby is pretty exceptional for a wave board.  That wide tail helps the board climb upwind and keeps it going really well through the lulls.  The Triwave was next best for upwind followed by the Quad.

Comfort and control underfoot was good on all three boards but for different reasons.  The Stubby feels very compact, with a lot of the boards volume right under your feet, giving it a very controlled, comfortable and easy feel.  In fact ease of sailing was a factor that really defined the Stubby.  When you see it on the beach, you think it’s going to be a technical board to sail, but it isn’t.  Despite it’s unusual proportions, it is very conventional in the way it rides, but definitely easier than a normal wave board to get the best from.

The Triwave has a very smooth ride.  In fact, it seems to almost iron out the chop with the nose staying locked down even when overpowered, keeping things nicely under control.

The Quad fin has a more reactive ride, but quad fins are renowned for keeping boards under control and the Fanatic Quad is no exception.  That narrower tail, more drawn-out profile and the Quad fin set-up are this boards assets when it comes to control.

In terms of sail carrying capacity, The Stubby 77 was perfectly comfortable with a 5.0m sail, even with 85kg riders on it.  It didn’t feel under-sized at all, whereas a regular board of this volume probably would.  5.3m was also ok, but anything bigger was stating to push it a little for heavier riders.  There was no doubt that the board had better sail carrying capacity than a regular board of this volume, so don’t get put off by the quoted volume.  At the top-end, this board can handle as small a sail as you would like to use.  We did find however that once we were well over-powered on 4.0m’s the water tended to be quite choppy and the other two boards were a bit more comfortable in the chop.  Also in the air when the wind was extremely strong (3.7m and below) we could feel the nose starting to get blown around a bit compared to the extra control that the pointier nose of the other two boards offered.

The 82 Triwave was probably at it’s best between 4.5m and 5.3m sails, but it’s locked down smooth ride, did make it perfectly usable right down to the smallest of sails.

The Quad 81 likes a bit of power (ideally from the wave but if not, at least from the sail) so we found this to be best suited to 5.0m sails and below.  In the strongest winds (4.0m and windier), this is the board we would choose out of the three.

Jumping

For jumping we would go with the Stubby for 80% of conditions.  The Stubby is easy to get up to speed on, goes upwind and downwind really well, allowing you to hunt out the ramps and that wider nose helps punch the board skyward off the wave, even if it has started to break a bit.  In the air, the shorter length of the Stubby is also noticeable making it feel more agile and controllable, particularly in spinning maneuvers.

The only time we would be opting for the other two boards over the Stubby would be in choppier and windier conditions. The narrower tail of the other two helps with control when approaching the ramp in choppier conditions and the narrower nose gives more control in the air when its very windy – think overpowered 4.0m and windier.

On the Wave

There really is a big difference between these three boards on the wave, both in the style of riding and in the conditions that they best suit.

In on-shore conditions, the Stubby was exceptional.  It turns so tightly, but manages to hold so much speed at the same time.  It really opens up opportunities in poorer conditions for more turns, with more speed and therefore more power.  Even when you happen to lose your speed, it is by far the easiest to get back up to speed on the wave and manage to snatch a few more turns out of where you would otherwise find yourself bailing out on the other two boards.

In the bottom turn, the Stubby is really easy and predictable.  Whether you are snapping a hard, tight turn off your back foot or opening out the bottom turn and using more of the rail, the Stubby relished both styles.  The larger Stubby (88) that we tested previously struggled a bit with the longer, more rail driven bottom turns, but there was no such problem with this smaller (77) version.

In the top turn, the wider nose and the fact you are often carrying more speed, helps the Stubby to ride up over the white water rather than punching through it and slowing down.  On the more open-faced waves, there is a huge amount of grip when you plant the rail and turn hard off it.  With all that tail width, it’s easy to throw a lot of spray!

The other advantage we noticed of the Stubby was when top turning over powered. The fact the board turns so tightly in the top turn allows the sail to depower quicker and keep control with a lot more ease.

With the straps and track positioned so far back, its no surprise that the back-side turn is also a major strength of the Stubby.  Whether carving, popping or snapping a back-side turn, the Stubby was the best of the three when it came to backside turns.

So where does that leave the other two boards in onshore conditions?  Well, to be honest, in these conditions, the other two boards almost felt boring in comparison.  The hard thing for the Quad and the Triwave is that they are actually still pretty good boards in onshore conditions.  It’s just that the Stubby really is exceptional.

It’s clear that Quad needs good conditions before it lights up.  It doesn’t necessarily need big waves, but it needs some steepness and a bit of power from the wave.  As soon as it gets this, it really does come alive.  It’s a heck of a transformation.  In softer waves where you don’t have much speed and are turning more off your back foot, the Quad almost feels stiff in comparison to the Stubby.  But as soon as the board gets on a steeper wave, it feels like something out of the Matrix! It is unbelievably fast, reactive, precise and sharp on the wave.  It’s like playing a video game at times, where the board is reacting and snapping a super hard and fast turn, better than you could have expected, before your brain has even worked out what you wanted to do.  It is amazing in the right conditions.  But it’s also a bit average in the wrong conditions.

The Triwave has one big plus point on the wave and that is its smoothness.  It feels like it just glides through the turns, smoothing out any chop that dares get in its way.  It likes to be turned using its rail and it grips exception well when the rail is engaged.  It’s very easy, very smooth and holds its speed well.  However there is a downside.  For more advanced riders, the Triwave feels stiff.  It’s a board that likes to turn with a certain tightness and nothing you can do will persuade it to turn any tighter.  On its own arc, its gracefully smooth, very trustworthy, and easy on technique, but there is nothing the rider can do to get it to tighten up for a sharp, snappy turn.  Well that’s not entirely true, because there is one thing…a smaller set of fins.  Using a smaller set of fins, positioned closer together did improve the snappiness and tight turning of this board to an acceptable level.  It won’t blow minds, but it’s better if you are into that sort of thing.  But then so is the Stubby.  Much better in fact.

In bigger, more sideshore conditions, the differences in styles of the boards remains apparent, but the gaps in performance are perhaps reduced somewhat.  The biggest mover is the Quad, which really starts to get fired up on the power from the waves.  In more side-shore conditions, the Quad is such a refined and top-quality board.  If conditions (and your technique) are good enough to be able to turn using the shoulders of the board in the bottom turn, what the Quad offers in return is incredible.  It’s worth noting that whilst we found the Quad livened up in a straight line by bring the track back a little, it actually turns best when the whole rail is engaged, so what you may be gaining in straight line performance, you may be losing in the turns.  It’s worth experimenting with as it makes quite a difference and different styles of sail and technique will find different optimum positions.

In bigger waves, the grip and smoothness of the Triwave are real assets and that lack of snappy turning becomes less of an issue.  For more advanced riders, it felt more at home in the bigger, steeper waves than it did in the smaller, onshore mushy ones.  But then again, if you are this good and bigger wave performance is what you are looking for, then the Quad is probably going to be your better choice.

And then there is the Stubby…and what a board this has turned out to be, because even in bigger waves (we tried it in up to logo high) and more side-shore winds, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.  It doesn’t have the same sharpness, grip and precision that the Quad has on a full rail-driven turn, but it’s still right up there and definitely offers more scope for snapping tighter turns off your back foot, when you fancy a bit of that.  The compact shape and tighter turning off the back foot make it feel less potent, but more playful than the Quad in decent waves and it has loads of pop and control in aerials.

Overall, we probably wouldn’t choose it over the Quad for big waves and down the line riding, but we certainly wouldn’t be at all disappointed to be using it.  It’s really more about a different style, rather than one being straight-up better than the other.  The Quad is more purposeful and oozes potential, whilst the Stubby is more playful and accommodating of technique.

Overall

I have to admit that I wasn’t blown away when I previously tested the larger (88) Stubby, but this 77 has me sold.  Completely and utterly sold.  I’m still not sure if it’s a size thing (ie at 83kg’s I’m too small to get the best from the bigger Stubby) or whether there is some variation between the shapes of the two boards, but whatever it is, for me the 88 is a good board, but this 77 is an absolute cracker.

So good in fact that when compared head to head against the now fairly legendary Fanatic Quad and Triwave, I’m having to dig quite deep to find arguments for either of the other two.

Let’s start with the Triwave.  I think the Triwave is a great board thanks to its speed, ease of use and its smoothness.  Before the Stubby, it would be the board I would recommend for the less experienced riders or those who don’t sail in epic conditions on a regular basis.  But in my mind, there is a big shadow lurking over it in the form of the Stubby.  I honestly believe that anyone looking for either an easy going wave board, or a board to be used in less than ideal conditions is going to be better off choosing a Stubby.  The Stubby is easier to sail, offers more range of use and has more potential on tap as your skills develop.  I can see why the Triwave would be the safe option, because it looks conventional.  It is conventional.  But if you are this way inclined I would urge you to try a Stubby before getting your wallet out.  The only bone I can throw at the Triwave would be potentially in the bigger sizes, where perhaps that extra speed and the smoother, more rail orientated turn may be an attractive alternative to the larger of the two Stubby’s.

The Quad on the other hand is still an absolute winner in my mind.  In good conditions (think powerful waves) I can think of no other board that offers this level of grip, precision and speed.  But you have to be really honest with yourself before choosing the Quad.  Because compared with the Stubby, the lights really do go out on the Quad when the wave isn’t steep enough, or indeed if your skills aren’t good enough to keep yourself in the steep section of the wave.

The truth is that for 80% of riders out there, I think you are going to find the Stubby, not just the best performing of the three, but also the easiest and most fun to be on.  The Quad will shine for those good enough to handle it (in the conditions that suit it) and the Triwave will still be an option for a select few; perhaps those who prefer the gunnier, more traditional feeling of a conventional wave board or just don’t like the look of the Stubby’s controversial proportions.

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