Jun 18, 2009
11 Big & Easy Freeride Boards
Tested in South Padre Island, Texas
Back in the ’80s windsurfing was the fastest growing watersport in the world. People everywhere were getting wet in the closest body of water they could find no matter what the conditions were like. Then along came technology and a focus on the high-end planing side of the sport. Suddenly only the top 10 per cent of all windsurfers could comfortably ride the fancy new gear. The casual sailor became frustrated with how difficult the shiny new toys had become and moved on to something else. As a result we hear the “windsurfing is too hard” line from far too many people today. We all know that today’s wide beginner boards get people having fun and actually sailing easily on the first day. In this test we look at boards that will help to make next step: getting planing in the harness and footstraps. Here are eleven 125 to 155-litre boards that will help dispel the myth that “windsurfing is too hard.”
Easy Board Test Ratings
Some donkeys will count up the coloured dots we put on these graphs and declare a “test winner.” Sorry, but that’s not how this system works. Reading the following category descriptions will help guide you toward the board that is best for you.
Acceleration: While learning to get into the footstraps it’s not only important to find a board that planes willingly but you also need a board that remains smooth and stable without forcing you off course. This rating shows how easy it is to get a board planing and find the footstraps.
Basic Ride: To make life as easy as possible for sailors progressing into the footstraps it can help a lot to have a usable inboard setting. Higher scores in this category show boards that offer a smooth, stable ride without requiring much rider input (trim work).
Pro Ride: Once you dial in the inboard footstraps, moving them outboard can unlock the true performance potential of your board. Your new-found speed will help you plane through jibes and blast past your buddies. This category rates how much advanced performance a board has for you to grow into.
Jibe Ease: Before you can rip through jibes without losing speed you are content with simply finishing off jibes that are dry. This score rates the ease of jibe in which a high score indicates a board that carves willingly through as much of the turn as possible with as little required technique as possible.
Setup Ease: Some boards have performance that is difficult to unlock without an innate sense of balancing a complex set of factors (sail, fin, mast track position, footstrap position, etc.). Since first-time shortboard sailors do not have this sense, this score rates how easily a board is to setup while still providing plenty of performance and fun.
Getting into the footstraps is the vital skill that opens up the world of planing, carving turns and even jumping. In this test we have boards that are big enough to uphaul and be sailed in light winds, but also respond well as the wind increases. Here we breakdown the 11 test boards into four categories to help you narrow down which one is best for you.
First Timers and Heavyweights
If getting into the straps and making a dry jibe is your goal then either the Goya FXR 145 or RRD X-ride 155 is a perfect choice. They both have inboard straps perfectly placed to inspire confidence and help you learn the skill of trimming a board. This will help you quickly progress to the outer footstrap positions (to reach higher speeds) and even give you confidence to try a smaller volume board if desired.
The Goya FXR, with it’s wide tail, deep vee and perfectly placed inboard straps, has a smooth and stable ride making it feel only natural to want to walk your feet back into the straps. RRD’s X-Ride uses extra volume to create nearly as stable a ride and it is capable of carrying a much larger sail than any other board tested. This extra volume makes learning to initiate a jibe a little harder when compared to the Goya, which actually carves with remarkable ease for such a big board.
Boards to Grow Into
If you’ve learned from day one in high wind and have had some experience planing on a beginner board you may be able to step right onto something smaller with a more responsive feel. These boards are a little harder to get into the footstraps on, but offer better performance as your skill improves and can better handle a little more wind. They still have an inboard strap setting to get you comfortable in the straps as soon as possible before making the leap to more aggressive outboard settings.
Both the Starboard Futura 144 and Fanatic Shark 145 Ltd give plenty of performance to grow into, with their high-end constructions making for a responsive ride once you progress out of the inboard setting. The Shark tolerates old-school technique (a hips out sitting stance) and is easier to dial in, but it does expect a little more trimming from the rider in the outboard strap setting. For the price-conscious consumer, the heavier and more durably constructed Bic Techno 148 and JP Fun Ride 140 offer excellent performance to the progressing sailor and are the best choice of these boards for anyone riding in choppy conditions. The Techno works great for larger riders in particular providing an effortless ride for years to come. One tester said of the JP’s Fun Ride, “It’s like a moped… it’s fun to ride no matter who you are, even though an advanced rider’s not supposed to like it.”
High Wind and Lightweights
We tested these boards in South Padre Island, Texas with 7.5-metre and 5.7-metre sails. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where even a 5.7 m2 is considered big then one of these boards is probably the best choice for you.
Quatro’s Freeride 125 would compare favourably to the Bic and JP if not for being noticeably smaller. With this said, it is the obvious choice for smaller riders or for people learning to get into the straps in windy places with choppy waters. The Exocet Kona 10’5” shocked us with its flatwater planing performance on windy days, plus it made it possible to get some South Padre Island gulf-side wave action on lighter days. The only quirk of the 10’5” is that it is a little tippy compared to the other test boards for most first-time shortboarders.
For some windsurfers, getting into the straps is where the fun really begins. If blasting past your buddies and flying through jibes is your current goal then one of these three boards is the perfect choice.
The Naish Free Wide 140 has the stability and smoothness that progressing sailors desire, but is a little trickier to get into the footstraps compared to the boards in the previous categories. It is still a great choice for the determined first-time shortboarder putting a premium on speed and performance they can grow into. The Tabou Rocket 140 Ltd has some user-friendliness as well, but it’s really better off in the hands of a more experienced rider. Some technique is required to get it up onto the fin where it breaks free and becomes a completely different and incredibly fun board. The Mistral Energy RD 140 is like putting a Ducati up against a fleet of Harleys. It takes a refined touch to dial it in, but in the right hands it will out-manoeuvre and pass the competition at will.
Test Editor: Derek Rijff
Test Team: Andy Brandt, Ed DeHart, Pete DeKay, Tom Lepak, Brendon Quinn, Derek Rijff