Dec 2, 2008
Every sport has a sub-language created devoted participants. For example, all windsurfers know what it means when someone refers to a “5.0 day” or being “hooked in.” Within this sub-language, sometimes common words become “bad” words. Mention catapult to a windsurfer and see his or her face turn white with fear.
A word that surprises me in its lack of respect from windsurfers is freestyle. Any shop manager will quickly agree that it has become a bad word. But why? It’s really a term for equipment that will let you go out and do whatever you want. Magazines and videos show pros doing impossibly contorted moves on this gear, so the average Joe quickly throws out a tricks-are-for-kids line when a salesperson mentions looking at freestyle gear. These customers are missing the point. Pros hit these crazy tricks because this is by far some of the easiest gear to sail.
Consider a board’s volume. Most freestyle designs are the most stable, fastest planing, efficient through lulls, easiest jibing and best jumping boards a company makes. For sails, the term freestyle isn’t as well defined, but a good freestyle sail will be light, well balanced and have enough power to get you planing in the smallest puff. How could people not enjoy this gear? It might not be very fast, but the average sailor will often find that the pluses far outweigh the negatives.
Some sailors have figured out what freestyle boards have to offer and quickly progressed beyond all their buddies. Many reach a point where they think, Let’s see if I can learn some new-school tricks. More often than not, they find that the confidence this equipment gives them to progress so quickly also makes the tricky stuff easier than it looks. Today, nearly every beach will have at least one sailor—with a real job—working on some sort of aerial transition.
To help shed freestyle’s unattractive image, we compiled a playful pile of toys at this year’s Windsport test in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Test editor: Derek Rijff
Test team: Andy Brandt, Ian Brown, Ed DeHart, Pete DeKay, Tom Lepak, Derek Rijff
Thirteen Sails with Style: 5.6-6.0 m2
This year we received 13 sails between 5.6 and 6.0 m2. All are no-cam sails capable of being used in almost any wind and water conditions. Some are more straightline-oriented than others, but none will give you an excuse to avoid trying a new trick—especially if that new trick is your first jibe.
Five of the test sails stand out for their straightline performance. Amongst them, we find the biggest individual differences from sail to sail. Sailworks’ Hucker is the most powerful and best suited to driving a board setup with dual back footstraps. The Naish All-Terrain can do almost anything but is made for cruising with its power and higher draft. The same can be said for Severne’s do-everything Gator, although the feel is a touch lighter and more responsive (twitchy). At a price well below anything else in the test, the Bic Cruiser surprises us performance-wise. It might not survive as much abuse, but it feels light, well-balanced and efficient. The Loft’s 360 Free is a versatile sail that provides the progressing sailor a comfortable feel with reliable pull.
The remaining eight sails all balance well on freestyle and freestyle waveboards with inboard straps and are a perfect match performance-wise. With a hope of spreading the gospel of freestyle, we further break them down according to amount of power versus control. A good freestyle sail, or any sail for that matter, must have power and control. However, at the pro level, there is more of a split as to which is considered more important: guts or glory.
Sails with Guts: Goya’s 3D Wave is one of the most powerful sails in the test and, if not for a softer, more elastic feel, could compare well to the Naish All-Terrain. With its softness, reduced foot area and short boom, the Goya tempers its power for decent control in tricky situations. The Aerotech Phantom has a stiffer, more efficient feel than the Goya but displays a similar balance through transitions. As we move on to the Neil Pryde Alpha, we find a sail with a lot more responsiveness. The power is plentiful and easy to find, but reward is available to sailors with some finesse. It doesn’t go as neutral as Simmer’s Icon, but compared to the 3D Wave and Phantom, there is less chance of it powering up mid-manoeuvre. Even though the Simmer depowers and becomes neutral when sheeted out, it’s so soft and elastic that it powers up quickly and with little effort.
Sails for Glory: The last four sails tested all get the nod for showing exemplary control from the ease at which they go completely neutral. It’s important to mention that power to plane is available, but it takes better technique and patience to find. The Gaastra Poison and North Duke go neutral so easily, they give confidence to push our personal freestyle limits. The difference is that the Duke is a touch more responsive with a more forward draft, while the Poison’s lower draft and softer feel give it slightly better balance. There is no question the Hot Sails Crossfire is the lightest sail both in static weight and feel. In transitions, it’s amazing how this can improve your sail handling and completion rate in new tricks. The only tradeoff is a little less stability in stronger winds. Being the first sail thrown into the van to go wavesailing, the Worldsails Surge feels almost as light as the Crossfire, with enough grid to withstand repeated washing in the shore pound. It’s a little more stable than the Crossfire but takes added patience to find power.
The Phantom stands out from other power wavesails due to its crisp, responsive feel. The significant amount of seam shaping and extra batten give it a locked-in, stable feel, and the top twists off cleanly for efficient cruising through big gusts. All this straightline goodness makes for a noticeable rotation in transitions and a little unwanted power in more technical moves. As usual, Aerotech has refined many lesser details, including the mast pad, mast tip and user guides, for better durability and easier rigging. Recommended settings are slightly vague, but with the interactive rigging guide, your favourite setting is easily remembered. Plus, the luff is short enough that, in a pinch, rigging on a 400-centimetre mast is possible.
Bic Cruiser 6.0>>
If you never looked closely at the Cruiser rig, you would be hard-pressed to explain why it’s so inexpensive. Even with an aluminum boom and 30 per cent carbon mast, the Cruiser is one of the lightest-feeling sails in the test. It powers up smoothly, and the draft is low enough to make it very manageable. It balances well on all boards except for the most racy double-strapped slalom shapes. The only time on the water this sail doesn’t over-achieve is upon getting overpowered, when it becomes unstable. The Cruiser’s availability as part of a complete rig package removes consumer frustration. Everything needed is here and easily put together for an affordable price, but care is needed to ensure a long lifespan.
<<Gaastra Poison 5.8
It is selling the Poison short to dismiss it as just a wavesail. The Poison has everything you can want and just so happens to be built wave-tough. It’s a near-perfect blend of power, control, speed, manoeuvrability and balanced rider position. The power is not immediate but is easy to find and builds as the sail fills with wind. The top speed is impressive while the top twists off enough to dampen big gusts. For transitions, the low draft makes this bomber sail still feel light and balanced. The Poison rigs up easily with a clean look and plenty of details to help you along. Recommended settings are spot-on and give you a perfectly rigged sail right out of the bag.
Goya Wave 3D 5.7>>
For immediate power, look no further than the 3D Wave. Ample seam shaping and high draft provides reliable pull to balance against as soon as you start sheeting in, urging you to move back into the straps. Once there, the pull is constant, helping you mow down chop like it doesn’t exist. For carving, the Goya’s drive helps to hold your edge through aggressive rail pressure. Its abundant power may require a little more technique for popping jumps, but once mastered, it helps you launch huge off the smallest ramps. The refined panel layout makes for a clean-looking, durable sail. Rig at least to the recommended settings, and don’t be afraid to go beyond for a lighter riding feel.
<<Hot Sails Maui Crossfire 5.9
The Crossfire’s mostly monofilm construction, low forward draft and prominent luff curve shaping make it the lightest-feeling rig here. This will help all riders during transitions, while for freestylers who must be able to handle a sail in odd positions, this weight advantage will become addictive. Testers made moves on the Crossfire that wouldn’t have been claimed on any other test rig. In a straight line, the lightness provides a great feel until overpowered, plus some attention is needed for earliest planing. Kevlar rip-stop rope, a robust luff sleeve and the use of Dacron in high-wear areas guarantee a long and healthy life, while rigging is simple on the Hot Sails Hotrod RDM.
Loft 360 Free 5.8>>
With one of the longest booms in the test, the power in the 360 Free is immediate and constant. This allows the 360 Free to breed confidence from the moment you sheet in, as the power is easy to find. Also, the sail’s top flexes well enough to keep you from getting jerked around when going through gusts. The high pull and long boom help drive the rail and smooth out chop while carving but feel slightly awkward during complex freestyle moves. The 360 Free is full of features to make your life easier. Rigging with the Powerex RDM is straightforward, and since the sail has such a large sweet spot, it is easy to find the same feel from session to session.
<<Naish All-Terrain 6.0
Naish claims to have put power into this large All-Terrain, but we’re surprised how manageable this power is. Usually, power sails end up being a handful once up to speed. The All-Terrain has a lighter feel that balances well on both wider and narrower boards, perhaps because of the cut-away clew. This lightness is also appreciated in transitions, allowing it to live up to its name. We’re not calling it a wavesail, but for working so well on bigger boards it shows impressive range. It has plenty of sail-care features and rigs nicely to spec on the Naish Firestick RDM. There is plenty of tunability both through downhaul for draft height and outhaul for power.
Neil Pryde Alpha 5.8>>
Despite being marketed as a power wavesail, the Alpha crosses over into bump-and-jump conditions perfectly. With a fair amount of seam shaping, the power comes into the sail quickly and remains solid as the head twists off in gusts. It can be tuned by adding downhaul for boards with centred footstraps, but the flop in the head becomes a little excessive. In transitions, mating the large luff sleeve with an RDM mast allows it to go more neutral than any other sail with this much power, making for great pop and sail handling. Design- and feature-wise, this is a well-put-together sail. Recommended settings are spot-on, and with the X-Combat RDM, rigging is easier than ever.
<<North Duke 5.9
With slightly less grid monofilm than the other crossovers, the Duke feels light. It has a flat on-the-beach profile—taking its shape on the water from its luff curve—making it a joy in transitions. While rotating on any jibe or aerial, you never have to worry about an unwanted pulse of power, and it takes little effort to keep the rig balanced. Power-hungry riders may find this lightness disconcerting, while more efficient riders will love its responsiveness. Top-end speed is impressive, as the Duke feels very slippery, but in big gusts, care is needed to keep control. North goes the extra mile to ensure a perfectly set sail first time out of the bag.
Sailworks Hucker 5.6>>
Sailworks sent the Hucker for this manoeuvre-oriented sail test since we enjoyed the Revolution in our wave test (see Issue 115). It is clearly the most straightline-oriented sail in the test due to its long boom, seam shaping, amount of sail area below the boom, and highest draft in the test. The Hucker has serious horsepower and an ability to withstand even the biggest gusts. It matches perfectly with a faster-shaped crossover board, providing great power for pop. The Hucker is well built with impeccable stitching and reinforcement in all high-wear areas. It can be tuned for a huge wind range and performs equally well on Sailworks’ reduced- and regular-diameter masts.
As a middle size in the Gator range, the 6.0 m2 is designed to balance both manoeuvrability and straightline blasting. This Gator meets this goal by mixing a middle-of-the-road draft height and full foot area with a light feel (from the cut-away clew) and luff curve shaping. There is just enough immediate power to appease anyone while still having some responsiveness for technical sailors. At speed, the Gator feels slippery and well balanced but becomes a handful in larger gusts. In transitions, its lightness, neutral power and seamless rotation encourage carving. There is a good tuning range both for draft placement and power, with spot-on recommended settings.
Simmer Icon 5.9>>
The Icon is a versatile sail that is sensitive to tuning. Small adjustments make for visually noticeable differences that change its on-water feel. It always has an elastic feel while powering up and reacts to gusts, but less downhaul provides a higher draft preferred by power-hungry riders. More downhaul lowers the draft for a lighter, locked-in feel preferred by freestyle sailors. Having so much power while still being able to go neutral makes the Simmer a favourite for light winds. The Icon is built to withstand serious abuse. Recommended specs are accurate, but take care, as a half-centimetre adjustment can make a noticeable difference.
<<Worldsails Surge 5.7
It is no surprise that the Surge, as last year, reclaims the title as most wave-worthy. It feels incredibly light, due to a flat on-the-beach profile and low forward draft, despite being built to withstand punishment. Compared to others it requires more patience to find power, but with proper technique, plenty is available for fun in even the choppiest conditions. The flat profile is stiff enough to hold through big gusts for a decent wind range. Lastly, it has great on-off power that is required whether hitting the lip of a wave or attempting a complex aerial. New details have been added for better durability and care, while rigging to spec and beyond gives all the range you need.