Recently we noticed instructions on an American Airlines packet of nuts that read: “Open packet, eat nuts.” On a Sears hairdryer we found:“Do not use while sleeping.” On a Nytol sleep aid: “Warning: may cause drowsiness.” On Boot’s Children’s cough medicine: “Do not drive car or operate machinery.” Clearly, in this dangerous and complicated world, products of all sorts have to be accompanied by directions and warnings. Test reports such as this one are no different. While we know that using this report in the bath tub won’t cause you to be electrocuted, we still feel the need to provide a few tips for wading through the mass of information that such a report inevitably becomes. So how should you use this report?
Here’s your step-by-step guide:
Step 1 —Look at page 50 and determine which type of windsurfer most nearly resembles you. Most windsurfers fall into one category, but those who sail in a wide range of conditions can fit more than one.
Step 2 —Once you’ve found your category (page 50), read the accompanying discussion of the boards and sails that suit sailors in this category. Make note of products that sound good for you.
Step 3 —Check the content pages for boards (page 53) and sails (page 67) to locate your selections. Read the reviews to help you get a better idea of which products suit you best.
Step 4 —At this point you should have a short list of prospects. If you live in an ideal world (i.e., the Gorge, San Francisco, or at least near a good windsurfing shop), your next step is to demo the products. Failing that, go to a windsurfing resort in the Caribbean or Hawaii, and see about trying gear out there. If your world is less than perfect, with no demo opportunities, it may come down to a coin toss. Take satisfaction in the fact that you’ve improved your odds.
How To Read The Reviews:
These board and sail reviews don’t follow a set format. We find that doing so leads to endless repetition, and that key features, the qualities that set one product apart from others, tend to get lost in a dense thicket of verbiage. So, instead of covering the same territory with each review, we try to focus on the qualities that struck us as most significant. For one board, for example, it may be the construction that’s most noteworthy, for another, it may be the controllable ride that earns praise. In each case we tailored the review to the product in an effort to give you the most important information in as few words as possible.
It’s also important for you to realize that we don’t pull our punches. Only rarely do we find a product that doesn’t suit any of our testers, but when it happens we tell the story like it is. No doubt, there are sailors who can like the boards and sails that our testers don’t care for, but we’re guessing they’re as rare as hens’ teeth. In any case, there’s no need to look for hidden meanings and messages in these or any reviews. The sense of tester opinion is spelled out clearly in the lines, not between them.
How To Read The Numbers:
Accompanying each review is a set of measurements and ratings that should help you understand each product’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are explanations of each.
Power Rating —The length of a board tells us practically nothing these days. Volume tells us how much weight a board can carry when it’s not planing. Width tells something about how much weight a board can carry when it is planing; but rocker, vee, tail width and tuck are also important. Therefore, we’ve come up with something we call a Power Rating—an objective formula based on board measurements—to provide a better, though not perfect, indication of how much weight and sail power any given board can carry. In our summary table of board measurements on page 72–73, we present the boards according to their power rating. This is the best way we know of ensuring that boards most similar in sail-carrying capacity are listed near each other.
Measured Length —There are three different ways of measuring board length. We measure them all using one method: A line parallel with the flat of the rocker.
Measured Volume —It’s rare nowadays to find boards far off the manufacturers’ indicated volume. Major discrepancies tend to be in the five- to ten-percent range rather than the 15% to 20% that occurred on occasion in past years. Still, since knowing the true volume of a board is important to many readers, we conducted board volume measurements using a load cell sensor that has proven consistently accurate to within a percent or two.
Width —Maximum board width.
Weight —Dry weight measured with deck pads (when installed) but no straps or fin.
Planing* —Quickness to plane. An indication of how readily a board will get a 250-pound sailor planing.
Reaching* —Speed on a reach. Boards are surprisingly similar in top speed these days, but this rating indicates a board’s speed through a range of sea and wind conditions.
Upwind* —Upwind speed. You don’t have to be a racer to want to get upwind.
Tight Turn* —This rating indicates how easily a board can perform a small–radius turn.
Wide Turn* —An indication of a board’s ability to perform a smooth, fast, controllable wide-radius turn.
Ding Rating —Windsurfers who are rough on their gear or who sail at rocky launch sites should consider getting a board that receives a high ding rating. To perform the ding test we dropped a round, 200-gram weight on the bottom of an upside down board in a spot opposite the mast foot. We started by dropping the weight from a height of just two inches and increased the height for subsequent drops until the weight started making small but unmistakable dents in the board’s skin. The height at which this occurred is the ding rating.
Size Tested —Some sails were tested in more than one size. However, measurements are taken from the specific sail size indicated.
Price —Suggested retail price.
Mast —Length and IMCS (Index Mast Check System. For a complete explanation of this system and how it originated check the Fiberspar website at www.Fiberspar.com) rating for a recommended mast.
Max Boom —The maximum boom length required for the sail size tested.
Weight —Dry sail weight.
Durability —The durability rating is a rough indication of whether a sail is built for super-hard use in surf or more typical use in chop and flat water. A=Bomb proof.
Downhaul Ease —This rating indicates the amount of force required to downhaul a sail. Sails with built-in tack pulleys and those with little inherent downhaul tension, score highest. Sails with tack grommets are the hardest to downhaul and tend to score the lowest. Granted, these sails can be downhauled with tack pulleys, but they cost money, time and trouble and therefore make downhauling more difficult.
Rigging Ease* —A wave sail doesn’t get an automatic “10” in rigging ease these days. If the mast doesn’t slide easily into the sleeve, if the hex key for tensioning the battens isn’t built into the sail, and if the head cap is particularly troublesome, we then rate the sail less than ideal.
Speed* —A rough indication of a sail’s ability to go fast in a range of wind strengths and points of sail.
Power*—An indication of how readily a sail will pull the non-pumping rider onto a plane.
Stability* —The tendency of a sail’s center of effort to remain in one place through gusts and lulls.
Water Start* —A sail’s luff sleeve, overall weight and tip weight determine whether it is difficult to waterstart. Testers were divided over whether cams make a sail more or less difficult to waterstart.
Rotation* —This rating indicates the ease with which the luff sleeve of a sail rotates onto a new tack. While cambered sails tend to score lower on this than camless, the latter doesn’t automatically score a “10.” Some sails have so much luff curve, batten tips can get stuck on the wrong tack until the sail is pumped.
Luffability* —Luffability relates to the ease with which a sail can be carried to the water on a windy day, and once on the water, how easily it can be held in a neutral position, producing no power. Not even all wave sails are equal in this regard.
*When there is a 1to 10 rating, 10 equals the best.
WHO IS THIS REPORT FOR
In our last issue we reviewed boards and sails for windsurfers who are not only seriously addicted to the sport, but who can get out regularly in lots of wind. We described these people as those who sail at least 15 days a year in winds over 15 mph. This issue’s test report is a little different: It’s focused predominantly on readers who are either just starting out in shortboard sailing, or who have shortboard experience but who like to windsurf when the wind is in the 5- to 15-mph range. While this broad group includes most of the best windsurfers in the world – just about every Olympic contender and World Cup pro enjoys racing around in light to moderate winds – it includes experts, intermediates and novices as well. In fact, within this broad category we’ve identified six subgroups, each with its own needs, preferences and keyword.
Keyword: Novice – You may or may not be new to windsurfing, but you’re definitely new to shortboard sailing. That means you need something stable and durable. Fortunately, shortboards are now wider and more stable than ever. The prime example of this is, of course, the Star Board Go. Unfortunately, the new wide Fanatic Bee 289 was available only in a light carbon Limited Edition construction when we did our test, and the new wide-body Bic Techno wasn’t available in any form. Judging from the performance of the Fanatic Bee 289 LE, the thermoformed version will be an excellent choice for light- to medium-weight novices. A little narrower than the Bee, but a proven design in thermoformed construction, we tested the F2 Xantos 310 II. Again, the manufacturer gave us the carbon version of the Xantos to test, but the thermo version is definitely a good option for light- and medium-weights.
Normally we wouldn’t put sandwich boards in this list, and we’d leave out boards aimed at expert riders, however the big Mistral SLE 311 and Seatrend Allstar 80 AVS are not only surprisingly tough against dings but they’re also two of the most stable boards in the test. At 182 liters, 27 inches in width and 166 liters, 31 inches in width, respectively, they were second only to our photographer’s scaffolding as stable platforms on the water.
The ideal sail for the novice shortboarder is light, superbly easy to handle, quick to power up and low in cost. The one sail that combines these qualities best is the Neil Pryde SuperNova. The other camless sail that comes close is the North Sails Sting.
Keyword: Control — You’re able to sail in the straps and hook in, but you may or may not have your jibes wired. You want to relax on the water, not hang on for dear life, so you really prefer it if your board has a smooth, highly controllable ride. Since you see windsurfing as more of a waltz than a tango, you should consider boards like the Drops Freeride 299, F2 Xantos 310 II, F2 Xantos 295 II,Fanatic 289 (the thermoformed version), Mistral Explosion 295, Mistral Flow 284 and Star Board Free 299.
Your sail should be light, stable and superbly easy to handle. The light, stable, no-cams and the more handling-oriented cambered sails that fit this description: Aerotech Ultimate Slalom III, Naish Alana, Neil Pryde V6 FreeRide & SuperSonic, North Sails Pyro, North Sails Sting, and Sailworks Retro.
Keyword: Speed — You don’t race in organized events, at least not often, but you like to go fast and drag race. Most race boards and race-oriented sails aren’t really what you’re looking for because their strength is speed on all points of sail and wind strengths, while you mainly want to go fast on a reach.
Of course, the fastest board on a reach in this test was the dedicated slalom board, the North Shore Maui Slalom 275. Other fast boards are the AHD Free Speed, Mistral Custom 284, the Flow 284 and the Seatrend Allstar 58 AVS.
Sails don’t differ all that much in reaching speed – pretty much anything can go fast for a stretch—but some of the camless models are incredible when set flat on an overpowered reach. The standouts here are the Naish Noa, Neil Pryde SuperSonic, Sailworks Retro, and the Windwing Synthesis when set up in the camless mode.
Keyword: Race — You may not realize that racing is the most social form of windsurfing, but you know that you like it. You enjoy learning the moves of this dance and you take pleasure in performing just a little better every time that you do it. You don’t need a dedicated race board—plenty of people race on freeride boards—but you need something with good range, high top speed and decent handling.
The bigger you are, the wider your board should be. Conversely, more skilled sailors will generally prefer smaller, livelier boards. For heavy–weights with plenty of experience, we can recommend the livelier among the widest boards, the North Shore Maui 280 Racing and Star Board Sonic W-75. For a tamer ride, the two big Seatrend Allstars, the 70 and 80, are competitive despite being freeride boards. For a smooth, controllable ride the AHD Diamond Race 72 and 67 are hard to beat.
For lighter sailors or stronger winds we like the narrower, more conventional race boards. Of these, the F2 Thommen 295 II is not only blazing fast but also ridiculously easy to sail. The Drops Aguera 9’6” is slightly smaller, lighter and livelier.
If you’re one of the few sailors more interested in downwind slalom, the North Shore Maui Slalom 275 is the only real choice we had to test this year.
Race sails aren’t just fast on a reach; they’re fast every which way. While the racier sails in this test aren’t World Cup-level race sails, they do the job just fine for most of us. The ones we like most for recreational racing are, the Gaastra Free Slalom, Hot Sonic, Naish Stealth, Neil Pryde V8 Street Racer, North Sails Zoom and Windwing Synthesis (rigged in three-cam mode).
Keyword: Explore — You can sail out, jibe, sail back, jibe, sail out, jibe, and so forth with the best of them, but back-and-forth sailing isn’t your thing. You’d rather get away and see more of your world, the part just over there, on the other side of the bay, or just south of that island. You’re a good, resourceful sailor—you have to be to enjoy windsurfing in this way. You have confidence in your equipment and your ability to make it work on all points of sail and in a variety of conditions.
Many boards will work for exploring, but the best have a great combination of size, range and controllability. They’re the boards that float you easily, plane off quickly in marginal winds and are easy to sail as the wind and chop increase. When considering all these variables the F2 Thommen 295 II comes immediately to mind for its great combination of volume, speed and handling ease. Others, that will suit the most performance-oriented riders, include the AHD Free Speed, Drops Aguera 9’6” 0.2, the AHD Diamond Race 67 and, for adventurous sailors, both of the big Seatrend Allstars.
The sails for explorers are the rangiest ones and, frankly, these are sails with cams. They need not have THE best speed, but good speed combined with good handling is a big plus. Any sail will do, really, but the best are the easy-handling race sails and the racier of the non-race sails. These are the Aerotech Ultimate Slalom III, Naish Alana, Neil Pryde V8 Street Racer and V6 FreeRide, North Sails Pyro and Windwing Synthesis (rigged with cams).
Keyword: Balance — You’re an experienced windsurfer, but you’re neither a control freak nor a speed freak. You don’t race much, if at all, but you like good performance, being able to go upwind well and venturing away from your launch site. You want equipment with great balance—moderation in everything except, of course, moderation.
The boards that fit this description best are the AHD Free Race 299, F2 Thommen 295 II, F2 Xantos 295 II, Fanatic Bee 289, Mistral Explosion 295 and Mistral Flow 284.
The sails that strike us as the most balanced with a combination of speed, range, handling, weight, durability, price and easy rigging are the Aerotech Ultimate Slalom III, Naish Alana, Neil Pryde V6 FreeRide & SuperSonic, North Sails Pyro and Sting, and the Sailworks Retro.