Sep 18, 2008
Destination Equipment Test
San Carlos, Mexico: Fifteen 5.0 m2 wavesails
Windsurf magazines show page after page of pros ripping apart giant waves. They, of course, are doing this on the latest and greatest in wavesail technology. Yet at your local beach, where there may not be a breaking wave in sight, you’ll see people riding these same sails. Today’s wavesails serve a purpose to the average windsurfer beyond being cool. They are easy to rig, built to last and offer superior control when the weather turns nasty. This is one of the thoughts we tried to keep in mind as we packed up a van with 15 wavesails for our second annual fall trip to the wavesailing utopia of San Carlos, Mexico.
Not only is it possible that a wavesail never see a wave, but it may never see two waves remotely alike. If the wind is blowing onshore, sailors ride predominately with their back to the waves, which is called backside riding. Sideshore and side-off winds allow for quintessential frontside riding, where you face the wave while making a bottom turn. Waves also break differently depending on the contour of the bottom and the angle a swell reaches land. Bigger and steeper waves are powerful enough to generate speed without much help from the sail, while smaller waves need the sail’s help. Peeling waves allow you to make a number of turns and give time to build up speed. Crashing closeouts, like sandbar shorebreak, provide little time to build up the speed needed to hit the lip, let alone outrun whitewater. Companies with vast sail lines will have as many as four models for wave use, each fitting a certain combination of wind and waves. The 15 sails we brought to San Carlos fit into three groups—down-the-line, multi-condition and power wave—with power generation being the most noticeable difference from group to group.
These thoroughbred wavesails are designed for the ultimate conditions, where sailors charge down the line in sideshore or side-off winds and the resulting clean and peeling waves. Power is not as important as control and a light feel. These sails tend to have lower drafts, shorter booms and flatter profiles, design traits that allow for maximum control (on/off power) and provide balance when carving from rail to rail. When used in bump-and-jump conditions, the trick to finding power from them is efficient sail handling. Efficient riders more in touch with fluctuations in the wind can use their on/off power—which some might call twitchiness—as feedback.
We got our hands on six down-the-line models that spent the most time in San Carlos’ most famous section, the Chili Bowl. The Simmer Vision has more seam shaping and a higher draft than the others; it takes a little commitment, but a super-light feel provides a ton of confidence. With proper tuning, the Hot Sails Maui Fire feels light and has enough power to attack any wave. The Gaastra Manic, Naish Session, Neil Pryde Zone and World Sails Surge all have less seam shaping, shorter booms, low drafts and tighter leeches than all others. This provides a light feel and supreme control, letting the rider sail aggressively. Of the four, the subtle difference is in softness, with the order of most to least being the Zone, Session, Manic and Surge.
Companies label these sails “competition wavesails” because they suit traveling around the world and performing in any wave conditions. These versatile sails have middle-of-the-road power, control and manoeuvrability. A multi-condition sail that has a longer boom will have little seam shaping. One with a lot of seam shaping will have a low draft. They offer less power when compared to the next group, the power waves, but have a lighter feel for maximum manoeuvrability.
We brought six sails that all fit into this group based on their power output. Within its wind range, the Aerotech Charge’s lightness and power take on any wave and all but the heaviest-handed riders. Severne’s Blade has a similar feel but with a higher draft and shorter boom. It’s also a little more stable for control on bigger waves and more wind. The North Ice trades off a little power for an even lighter feel on the wave. Going with a much softer feel, The Loft Lip Wave and Windwing Bash have the most transparent rotations in the test. On really fast boards or bigger waves they sacrifice a bit of stability, but otherwise are the least involved sails of this group to ride. The most unique feel in the test is the Ezzy SE, which combines softness and stability, power and control, even lightness and durability.
Designed for onshore wavesailing and other less-than-ideal conditions, the power waves generate plenty of power to get out through shorebreak and guarantee speed for setting up wave sections to lay into. They generally have a longer boom, more seam shaping (shape that is obvious even when there is no wind in the sail) and a higher draft. These sails are great all-around highwind sails for bigger riders.
Of the three sails in this category, the Goya Wave has the most power, with plenty of seam shaping and a high draft. The longer boom on the Global generates ample power, and its slightly flatter profile pays off when hitting the lip. The Sailworks Revolution has a huge tuning range that can create almost as much power as the Goya and can be toned down to almost fit in with the multipurpose group.
Gaastra Manic 5.0
Within the Gaastra lineup, the Manic’s all-grid construction, shorter boom, flat profile and lower clew make it the best choice for down-the-line wavesailing.
Meticulous attention to detail gives it an incredibly clean look without being cheap or flimsy. The recommended settings for boom and luff length are perfect, plus tuning for draft height and range is accomplished easily.
San Carlos is a place where the Manic shines. Its flat profile and light feel make it nearly invisible on the wave. If you’ve got some timing and know how to use a wave to generate speed, this sail lets you rip unaffected by the wind. If you do need a little wind to help you out, the Manic is still a pleasure. The power comes on and off so quickly, you can easily regulate how much you need. It still takes the intuitive sail control of a rider with a light touch to be comfortable right away, but if you’ve got the technique, this sail helps you feel more composed as you push your limits.
Hot Sails Maui Fire 5.0
Hot’s new hardcore wavesail, the Fire, replaces the legendary SO for 2008. Designer Tom Hammerton calls it more of an evolution than a new beginning, with more softness and transparency. Hence the name change. On Hot’s own Hot Rod mast, the Fire rigs up easily with less of a heave on the downhaul than most others. The leech twists off rapidly, so small adjustments can make a noticeable difference both visually and on the water. Small changes in outhaul tension make a noticeable difference in sail power as well.
As the softest sail in the test, the Fire is hot on the wave with true power on/off ability. Regulating the power is easy and smooth, so you’re in complete control of how much speed you take from section to section. Even with plenty of downhaul to try and lower the draft, we found the Fire top-heavy enough to help get weight forward and drive the rail. On some sails, a high draft makes balance off the lip awkward. But the Fire’s short boom, high clew and lightness make it easy to shift weight and react to the wave.
Naish Session 5.0
The Session, Naish’s down-the-line hardcore wavesail, has a lower draft and less power than the Naish Force. Dialed-in recommended settings make the Session a true set-it-and-forget-it sail. The new panel layout adds durability without changing how the sail shapes up under tension. Should the recommended setting not have the draft exactly where you want it, the sail can be repositioned by altering the downhaul tension.
This sail has plenty of elasticity without feeling spongy or unstable. It goes completely neutral when luffed, has plenty of power when sheeted in and, with its short boom, is one of the lightest-feeling sails here. Add to this the fact that, through tuning, the draft can be tailored to almost anyone: high for aggressive riders to drive the rail, and low for smaller riders or those who want better control off the lip or when overpowered. Like other hardcore wavesails, the Session suits riders with a lighter touch to find the power. Good elasticity lets it take shape and power up quicker than most.
Neil Pryde Zone 5.0
Out of Neil Pryde’s five-battten sails, the Zone has the shortest boom, flattest profile and a low/forward draft, making it the lightest feeling and most suited for down-the-line riding.
Anyone loving the little things in life will be impressed with the attention to detail. Recommended rigging is spot-on, and all of the extensive features are engineered into the sail like no other.
Being a down-the-line wavesail, it’s no surprise that the Zone has a light feel and true power on/off ability. It feels a touch softer than the other hardcore wavesails and, as a result, powers up quicker because it takes shape sooner. The draft is a little higher than its closest rivals but, with added downhaul, can be rigged with a similar feel. Most of us prefer this setting for the ability to easily manoeuvre the sail off the top of the wave. The higher draft is great for holding an edge through high-speed bottom turns. It has a monofilm window that may not be as durable as X-ply, but the testers enjoy how much easier it is to see through while setting up to hit the lip.
Simmer Vision 5.0
Simmer has been at the forefront of wavesail design for as long as people have been riding waves. The Vision, Simmer’s down-the-line sail, is also available in an all-X-ply version called the X-Flex.
Even though the Vision has a fair amount of monofilm, its Kevlar tendons, O-ring clew and liberal use of Dacron make it one of the best built. Tuning-wise, the Vision has a different look to it. With more seam shaping than most, the leech reacts differently to downhaul tension. Watching the battens flatten (pull under the mast) is a better tuning guide. Even though the sail looks “normal” once rigged, there will be more shape than in others before the boom goes on.
Due to ample seam shaping, the Vision looks like a power wavesail. However, the first bottom turn immediately changes this view. A perfect amount of elasticity allows it to progressively depower mid-carve and go to the lip without struggling with the wind. It is at this moment that you realize why the name Vision is ideal. The monofilm window is a luxury we enjoy after head-bobbing on the other grid sails.
World Sails Surge 4.7
World Sails is a smaller company that sticks with a simple two-sail lineup. The Surge is its no-cam offering and from size to size gets subtle modifications to tweak the sail for the most common conditions.
One requirement for a wavesail is that it can be rigged quickly with little fuss, and the Surge does just that. Free of clutter, the sail has a clean, no-nonsense look to it. Tuning is simple; the leech softens progressively with downhaul tension.
After years of testing larger models of the Surge (usually 5.7 m2) in flatwater, we finally gave this smaller version a ride in some waves. To no one’s surprise, the Surge feels right at home in San Carlos. Even though it is the only highwind World Sail, the Surge has a thoroughbred wave design with light handling, plenty of responsiveness and true on/off power. Like the other down-the-line sails, it likes having the wave accelerate to top speed and rewards with flawless handling that remains controlled no matter how fast you go.
Aerotech Charge 5.2
The Charge is a light, five-batten down-the-line charger. This year’s design has more shape down low to aid control in challenging conditions.
Despite vague, wide-ranging rigging specs, it tunes easily. The leech softens progressively when more tension is added, and it’s not until the leech gets really loose that the battens pull behind the mast. This ensures clew tension with little outhaul even if you bag out the sail for power.
With its long boom and soft elastic feel, this is one of the most powerful sails in the test. The flat on-the-beach profile takes proper sheeting to expand and generate power, and when done right even convinced one tester he was riding a 5.5. We found the range of the Charge to be on par with other sails, but since it was the first one on the water, it was also one of the first to get blown off the water. Through tuning, the Charge’s power can also be tailored to complement less-than-ideal conditions. Aerotech labels this its sideshore wavesail, but it can easily be a one-sail wonder for any wave setup.
Ezzy Wave SE 5.0
The Wave SE is Ezzy’s only highwind sail design. Designer David Ezzy builds it as much for Josh Angulo to win wave contests as he does for the everyday rider looking for a good session.
The recommended settings are spot on, with most adjustment for range being accomplished through the outhaul. It’s no secret that Ezzy sails are durable, built using Spectra-lined monofilm that is actually lighter than nylon.
With so much shape sewn into the sail we were unsure if the SE would disappear on the wave, allowing us to be as aggressive off the top in San Carlos’ side-off winds. The result was a surprise: while there was more power on tap than the flat sail, it was so manageable that none of us felt we had to back down on our sailing. Subtle balance shifts are needed to hold the power off the top, but the low and forward draft is so predictable that it doesn’t take long to figure out. The ability to have power when other sails don’t makes it easy to hit sections even when our timing is off.
The Loft Lip Wave 5.0
Having spent time in Maui during his formative years, Loft designer Monty Spindler knows what makes a great wavesail. Settling in Tarifa, Spain, to establish his new brand has taught him that a sail like his Lip Wave can do more than ride waves.
Constant evolution of the Lip has resulted in a durable sail. The sail is so tunable, we find ourselves straying from the recommended specs, with dramatic results in how the sail feels. You will not be doing this sail justice if you simply take Loft’s specs to be written in stone.
As Loft’s only sail designed for wave use, the Lip does an incredible job of splitting hairs between power and responsiveness. Less downhaul makes it powerful and well-suited to onshore conditions, while more flattens the Lip out for a softer feel and better on/off power required in sideshore wavesailing. When bagged out it’s still not full-on power, and in down-the-line mode the longer boom makes it a little heavy, but no other sail can alter its feel as much as the Lip Wave.
North Ice 5.0
North calls the Ice its “competition wavesail,” which refers to the fact that on the PWA tour a wavesail must be able to perform in any conditions.
A couple years ago North began making bold steps forward to stand out both visually and detail-wise. Along with accurate recommended settings, there are guides to help each individual set downhaul, outhaul, harness-line placement and boom height. To say that some thought goes into the final product of a North sail is an understatement.
The Ice works well in San Carlos’ down-the-line conditions, with the ability to offer a crisp feel and true depower. The boom length and a draft that can be tuned high keep it from being gutless, allowing you to generate speed when needed. The Ice sits right between a powerful, quick-planing sail and an ultralight, down-the-line sail. It is elastic and takes a moment to truly fill out, but the slightly higher and farther-back draft gives stability to the sailor who needs immediate power for balance.
Severne Blade 5.3
Severne’s Blade is a control-oriented wavesail that can cover the needs of nearly every wavesailor no matter the conditions.
When it comes to tuning, our favourite setting has the leech looking floppy before the boom goes on, and then tightens to a more contemporary look with outhaul. At this setting, the draft is lowered to a more comfortable height.
The Blade does a great job of finding the middle of the road in wave terms. It has a deep, locked-in draft that drives through a bottom turn while being elastic enough to flatten and depower if needed. The high draft forces you to be aggressive, but the cutaway clew and light build make it manageable while manoeuvring on the wave. There is enough power to ride in onshore conditions, with enough depower available that, if your timing is good, you’ll be fine in epic down-the-line surf as well. Being slightly bigger than the other sails, it doesn’t always get enough credit for its power. Hurting it even more is the fact that its top-end stability and great balance let it compare to the 5.0s even when it should be overpowered.
Windwing Bash 5.0
With a long heritage of building sails to suit West Coast conditions, the Bash is Windwing’s one-sail wonder for sailing any wave conditions. It is available in two constructions: the full-grid Enduro and ultralight Comp.
We were able to quickly dial in the Bash, having gotten familiar with it from previous tests. The Bash’s draft is sensitive to downhaul and outhaul adjustment. Our favourite setting for San Carlos conditions is with as much downhaul tension as possible before the battens pull so far behind the mast that outhaul tension is lost.
The Bash feels light in your hands, with plenty of softness for smooth power control. It’s not a powerhouse but shapes up quickly, so the power it does have is found quickly and easily. It has a higher draft that forces a rider to get weight on the rail in a bottom turn. With some sails, this forced us to attack sections harder than we needed to, but with the Bash having a flatter profile it could be depowered early in the turn to help regulate speed and timing.
Goya Wave 5.0
Francisco Goya bases his company on Maui, so you know his sails have spent time in epic conditions. Yet the Goya Wave is designed as a one-sail wonder for all types of wave conditions.
The Goya has a clean-looking, all-grid build and rigs up nicely but with a slightly different leech twist. When downhaul is added, the leech doesn’t soften as much as expected. There is a downhaul guide at the top of the sail, but we find it valuable to get familiar with how the batten above the boom moves when tension is added.
A true power wavesail, the Goya drives the rail through bottom turns and takes you to the lip with copious speed. In most wave locations this power will help you reach sections you wouldn’t otherwise, but in San Carlos it takes perfect timing as well as some large huevos to charge the lip this hard. Its high draft and serious power make it a great onshore choice. San Carlos doesn’t set up well for jumping, but the Goya finds ramps when others stay grounded.
Maui Sails Global 5.0
In its third year, the Global is firmly entrenched as Maui Sails’ all-around wavesail. It complements the Legend by offering the power needed for less-than-ideal wave spots.
While rigging the Global we’re surprised to find plenty of seam shaping and a hefty amount of luff curve. This means you can really crank the downhaul before the sail will flatten and have the lower battens pulled behind the mast. It also means it is very outhaul-tunable. We went slightly beyond the recommended outhaul setting to tighten any excessive leech flop.
The Global gets power from a high draft and one of the longest booms in the test. It’s one of the first sails on the water when conditions are light and feels at least a quarter metre bigger when compared to the hardcore wavesails. Not only does the Global have plenty of power, the power is easy to find. This means there will be little time wasted and plenty of jumps to be had while getting back upwind after riding a wave. With this in mind, the Global feels fairly light in the hands and has reasonable depower off the top of the wave.
Sailworks Revolution 5.2
Being refined for nearly 15 years, Sailworks uses feedback from team riders traveling around the world to make its Revolution perform everywhere from Ho’okipa to the Columbia River Gorge.
The Revolution offers a large tuning range for conditions and draft placement so any rider can dial it in for any location. The well-placed downhaul guide and accurate recommended specs make it easy to dial in.
With a minimal amount of downhaul, the Revolution has a soft feel and plenty of power, perfect for heavier riders or onshore conditions. Add an inch or more of downhaul, and the sail has a crisper and lighter feel. This is the setting we prefer in San Carlos’ down-the-line setup, but even at the maximum setting it has more power than the hardcore wavesails here. No matter how you tune the Revolution, it’ll have enough power to get you planing quickly. The hint of softness dampens gusts while letting the sail expand and generate power immediately. The Revolution is a great onshore wavesail and, with tuning, adeptly covers nearly every rider’s needs.
Gaastra Manic 5.0
World Surge 4.7
Ezzy Wave SE...