At last, we are back in action with our 2015 comparative wave product tests on Boardseeker.com! To kick off, over the next few days, we are going to be checking out the hugely relevant ‘all-round’ wave sails, all new for 2015.
If sails aren’t your thing right now, then don’t panic as coming up over the next few weeks, we also have a full test on the latest and greatest 80 litre wave boards, as well as new-school multi-fin freewave 95 litre boards, so keep a check on here or sign up to our weekly Boardseeker.com newsletter, to be sure not to miss anything!
This test will be released in parts. Today, you get the test introduction, followed over the next 9 days by a test report each day on each individual product (Gaastra IQ, Gaastra Manic, Goya Banzai, NeilPryde Combat, North Hero, Sailloft Curve, Severne Blade, Simmer Icon, Tushingham Bolt) and then on the final day you will get a full comparative and interactive overview allowing you to choose the best sail for your own specific needs.
Because we like to do things properly, we have tested two sizes of each of these sails (4.5m & 5.0m). Firstly, this allows us to test them fairly within their correct wind ranges, but it also allows us to identify any variations between sizes, particularly in ranges which may go from 5 batten to 4 batten between these key sizes or drop a mast size from 400cm to 370cm.
So stay tuned and welcome back to the Boardseeker test program!
The wave sail market is going through an interesting time at the moment. It’s a period of rapid progression as we see 4-batten sails becoming common-place and now nearly every major brand releasing and/or working on 3-batten designs.
So what’s changing? Well, overall it seems that riders are moving more and more towards softer feeling sails. Traditionally, wave sails had 5 battens and with older technology and design principles, required a huge amount of downhaul to lock the stability in. There was no doubting that this made the sail stable, but it also made it very stiff and stiff sails are not always the best choice for wave sailing, particularly when it comes to riding.
Wave riding is such a dynamic process that it requires a huge amount of adaptability out of the sail. It requires control and visibility when setting up on the wave, power in the right place and at the right time when driving the bottom turn through to the clew-first position, a quick response as the sail makes the huge transition from bottom turn to top turn and then to go from de-powered to full power as quickly as possible to set-up for the next turn. And bear in mind that this all happens within the course of about 5 seconds, time and time again.
Wave sails have basically got softer so that they can cope more dynamically with everything that is required of them through a wave ride. There are several other advantages too; softer sails make landing jumps more forgiving, can be more efficient at pumping onto the plane, provide more of a feeling of power in the hands in wobble and ride conditions and are generally more forgiving through gusts and chop.
There is one big downside however, and that is stability. When a sail gets too soft, it loses stability and without stability a sail is uncontrollable and unusable. Modern developments in mast and batten technology combined with high-tech sail materials and progressive design have allowed this envelope to be pushed resulting in softer sails that are still able to offer remarkable levels of stability.
Clearly one of the most obvious ways of increasing the sails softness is to drop a batten or indeed two and that’s why we have witnessed the widespread popularity of 4 batten sails and now the advent of 3 battens.
SO HOW MANY BATTENS DO I NEED?
Choice is a great thing, but it also means that things have got very confusing when it comes to choosing a new wave sail. There is simply so much choice on offer right now. We have 5 batten ‘power waves’, 5 batten ‘all-rounders’, 4 batten ‘all-rounders’, 4 batten ‘wave riding’ orientated sails and now also 3 batten ‘wave riding’ sails. And with every brand pitching these slightly differently and blurring the useable range of each with marketing, it makes things very difficult indeed! So lets try to help clarify things a little…
Firstly the battens. Do not get mislead into thinking that a 4 batten sail will be characteristically different to a 5 batten, purely because it has one less batten. There is so much more to the sail design than simply the batten count, which means you really can’t classify a sail purely on how many battens it has. Sure, generally for example 4 batten sails will be less stable and have less top-end than a 5 batten, that is of course the nature of losing one of the major stability components in a sail. However, in practice there are 4 batten sails out there (and within this test) that are actually more stable than some of the 5 battens, purely as a virtue of other design characteristics. So definitely use the batten count as an indication of what the sail is designed to offer, but don’t use it as an absolute dictator of the sails character. Speaking generally however, here are a few benefits that each batten count has the potential to offer:
5 batten designs can offer; stability, control, jumping, easy handling, wind range, ease of tuning, light feeling in the hands when powered up and over-powered.
4 batten designs can offer; softer, more dynamic wave riding performance, control when landing jumps, lighter material weight, a more compact and ‘gruntier’ feel.
3 batten designs can offer; ultimate lightness with regard to material weight, softness, feel, feedback and dynamic response when wave riding.
BEWARE OF THE MARKETING!
Having spent way too much time trawling through the manufacturers websites I can honestly say that the majority make choosing the right sail extremely difficult and in most cases outright impossible. It’s a total mine field out there if you are left to the mercy of marketing to choose your new sail.
Marketing is designed first and foremost to sell sails, therefore the aim is to make every product appeal to the widest audience possible. When a brand decides that they need several sails to cover all the bases (purely because one is not versatile enough to do it all), it then makes it super confusing when the marketing guys do their work and claim that every sail will suit every rider for every type of condition on their website!
Where I am going with this is that you must be uber careful not to be mislead. Take 4-batten sails for instance. I see so many wave sailors using these now in cross-on conditions, who can barely even bottom turn properly yet! Why?! Why make life hard on yourself?! And I can see the same is about to happen with 3-batten sails…
Sure, it’s nice to have the latest and greatest ‘gimmick’, but windsurfing is about having fun, and no matter who you are, you will have a lot more fun on a sail that makes you sail better, for longer, with greater ease and with a bigger wind range, which also ultimately means that you don’t need to buy as many! And for most people that’s still a 5 batten sail (or at least one of the more all-round 4-batten designs). Yet those clever marketers have you all believing that 5 battens are so ‘old-school’ and 4-battens do it all….that was of course until now, when suddenly 3-battens have become the new answer to our prayers…be careful!
BE REAL WITH YOURSELF
It’s probably no surprise that the large majority of wave sails are still developed by pro-riders in Maui. If you watched the recent PWA Aloha classic, I’m sure most of you will have recognised how different this style of windsurfing is to what most of us actually do at home. In Hookipa conditions, which are predominantly wobble and ride, on medium sized sails, in soft, warm winds in a pair of shorts, it’s no wonder that the requirements from the sail are incredibly different to an average European winter gale in sub-zero temperatures!
95% of what the pro-rider is looking for in Maui is how well the sail performs on the wave face, in cross-off conditions (which is very different to how it will perform in cross-on conditions).
95% of what the average European rider is looking for is wind range and control to cope with the rough conditions, wind squalls and over-powered jumping, combined with the fact that their hands are probably so numb they can barely feel the boom! I might be exaggerating a little, but I’m sure you get the point – it’s a massively different remit for a sail.
They key is to be real with yourself and take what those pesky marketers say with a pinch of salt! If you are going to spend 90% of your time in cross-on conditions going in a straight line, backside riding and jumping, then do you really want to sacrifice all that stability, control and ease of handling for a sail that holds its power slightly better through a bottom turn in cross-off conditions?! Probably not.
Philip Koester may not be having his best year on tour, but there is no doubting that when it comes to full power cross-on conditions, this guy is still in a league of his own. You may have noticed that having spent several years on a 4-batten sail with NeilPryde, as soon as he was gifted his very own signature sail with Severne, he chose to go back to 5-battens! And there is nothing ‘old-school’ about Philip Koester!
So don’t be ashamed of going against ‘the cool’ and being head strong about what is best for your wave sailing.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT SAIL FOR YOU
We have always believed that every different rider will require and prefer something different from a wave sail and as such, there can be no single ‘best’ sail in a wave sail test.
For example, if you are super fit and at the top of your game, you may be willing to trade some stability, control and wind range for a better performance on the wave face. However, alternatively, you may be someone who only gets to wave sail a few times each month and who doesn’t have pro-level athlete fitness, in which case, the biggest benefit a wave sail could offer your sailing is probably in ease of use and wind range. You may be 16 stone or you may be 6, you may like a relentlessly powerful sail in your hands or the finger tip control of a light handling sail, you may sail Hookipa every day or the Baltic, however you choose to string it, it’s clear that there is no single ‘best sail’ for everyone.
That’s why we make our tests interactive. It’s a unique system that allows you to choose the factors that are most important to you and then rank the sails based upon this. Over the next 9 days, we will be releasing individual test reports on the Gaastra IQ, Gaastra Manic, Goya Banzaii, NeilPryde Combat, North Hero, Sail Loft Curve, Severne Blade, Simmer Icon and Tushingham Bolt. Once these tests have been released we will finish up with a full interactive overview that will allow you to see how all the sails ranked against each other for each criteria and hopefully assist you in selecting the most suitable one for your needs!
Before signing off, it's important to remember our manners and say a massive thank you to the TWS centre in El-Medano. There really aren't many reliable summer wave sailing locations and even less who are ready to welcome a bunch of Clones and their 30 board bags worth of equipment! Testing is such a logistical nightmare, so we really are massively grateful to the TWS for their hospitality and patience. What's more, they have nearly all the gear tested here in stock, so if you don't want to believe our findings and would prefer to try it out for yourself, you know where to book!