Jun 20, 2009
Fourteen Easy-Riding Sails
Tested in South Padre Island, Texas
This year, the Windsport test crew invades the sailing launch at Windsurfing Inc. in South Padre Island, Texas to check out 5.6-6.0 m2 sails designed to maximize your fun on the water. To some people fun is simply not getting catapulted while for others it’s about going really fast, jumping off chop or carving a perfect jibe. In this test we’ll help direct you to the right sail to give the perfect amount of fun with a minimum amount of hassle.
Brand-New Test Format
As you can tell by all the words in this test write-up, we put a lot of effort into our tests. However, it has been brought to our attention that sometimes readers don’t have time to do all this reading. In response, we are introducing a graph with each sail’s review, highlighting their strengths in the following categories.
Power: It’s not as easy to gauge a sail’s power as people think. Any sail can be tuned with a high draft that pulls like a freight train, but this doesn’t translate into forward motion. For this freeride test we equate a good power score with a higher draft that still has the efficiency to move the board forward (accelerate it). A sail with a lower score likely has a lower draft requiring more skill on the rider’s part for early planing.
Speed: A fast sail is one that remains in control when powered and feels light in the hands so you can easily pass your buddies. The control comes from its ability to keep its shape and remain stable through gusts. The lightness can also be described as an “efficient” or “slippery” feel as it moves through the air with less resistance or drag.
Transition: A combination of a number of things make for a manoeuvrable sail. The most important is ease-of-balance. High-scoring sails usually have a lower draft and shorter boom for a nice, light feel. Another important characteristic is the sail’s ability to depower and stay neutral; this makes balancing mid-transition easier. Lastly, a sail whose battens rotate seamlessly makes for a smoother transition in power.
Customize: For sailors who notice small adjustments to the downhaul or outhaul, tuning is about getting the sail to “feel” right. Sails sensitive to a tuning score of high allow riders to “customize” the feel. Through downhaul you can raise or lower the draft affecting how you lean against the sail and how its power affects the board. Likewise, outhaul tension subtly affects the sail’s efficiency and how well it balances in transitions.
Set-up ease: This refers to how quickly a sail can be properly set up in the hands of a sailor without the time or desire to fine-tune their gear. Sails scoring well here are less sensitive to downhaul adjustments, making it easier to find a similar feel from day-to-day. It’s not that downhaul and outhaul have no effect, but that tuning is more for wind range than feel.
In the most part, the manufacturers categorize these “fun” sails as freeride types. The term “freeride” has gained popularity in a number of sports, but in windsurfing it equates to recreational riders who generally seek flatwater performance. Manoeuvrability is important in this size range, so you won’t find sails with camber inducers or a ton of battens. What really sets a freeride sail apart is that it’s easy to rig and requires less fine-tuning to perform well. You spend less time messing around with your gear on land and more on the water having fun.
These sails are by far the easiest to set up properly, requiring minimal knowledge of the technical side of sail tuning. Their hassle-free nature allows you to focus more on your sailing performance rather than worrying about deciphering reactions from the sail.
With an option to be purchased as a nicely priced complete rig, the Bic Cruiser makes shopping for a rig a breeze. On the water the sail is super light and has enough performance to help you progress quickly on your first highwind board. The Gaastra Pilot takes performance one step further, offering a more refined look and feel.
Many experienced freeride sailors seek speed more than any other sensation on the water. These sails still rig easily but are more tunable than the progressional sails.
The fastest sail in the test is the Maui Sails Pursuit followed by the Sailworks Hucker. Choosing between the two is not difficult as they perform differently in how they get you up to speed. The Hucker has a more powerful feel from the moment you start to accelerate whereas the Pursuit has less low-end grunt but a slightly lighter feel at speed.
These six sails are for freeride sailors valuing transitions, or turns, above all else. A big part of what makes them so capable is that they’re built to handle abuse. This means that you’ll feel confident pushing your limits or sailing more intense conditions without fear of what your gear thinks of your choices.
Having six battens and higher drafts, both the Severne Gator and Aerotech Phantom have the stability and balance to work equally well on freeride or bump-and-jump boards. The Gator’s slippery feel makes it faster on flatwater, while the Phantom’s compact shape gives it better balance in transitions. Despite only five battens, the use of seam shaping in the design of both the Ezzy Wave Panther and Hansen B-Wave HCL allows them to be rigged with similar stability to that of the six-batten sails. Their shorter boom lengths and lower drafts make them feel lighter in the hands and a better fit for more manoeuvrable boards. Through tuning, the Wave Panther has one of the largest wind ranges in the test, while the Hansen Control Leech (HCL) gives the B-Wave a great wind range at any setting you choose. The easily tuned Naish All Terrain is a perfect choice for bigger sailors with its high draft and unrivaled low-end power. It will rip in all conditions from small chop to full-blown waves. Loft’s 360 Free is so well-balanced that it could also fit in the Crossover category; however, we’ve placed it here as testers felt its slightly longer boom and less overly sensitive tuning give it more of a personality that any-level rider will enjoy.
With a little fine-tuning these four freestyle and wavesails can be as fun for the average freeride sailor as any other sail in the test. These sails can be customized through tuning to perform however you want them to. However, setting up the sail with perfect downhaul and outhaul takes more work, and even in the hands of an advanced rider it may a few sessions to get things dialed-in perfectly.
Neil Pryde’s Firefly has the biggest tuning range in the test, allowing for a huge adjustment in how the sail feels and the wind range it covers. It is very light in the hands with useable power, making it an amazing freestyle sail that you can tailor to your fit your style. The Goya W3D is a true power wavesail with great fine-tune ability, allowing it to fit equally well in bump-and-jump or down-the-line conditions. The Worldsails Surge works best with a reduced-diameter mast (RDM). It is a lightweight wavesail with reasonable power that can easily be turned off when needed. On a standard-diameter mast (SDM) it is very stable but not nearly as responsive. The Simmer Icon is the most sensitive sail to tuning in the test and this is a good thing. You can customize the Icon perfectly to fit your style and it won’t be beat when it comes to lightness and crossover performance.