06 November 2017

Find your perfect (kiteboard) match

Written by Ben Wilson, Posted in Kitesurfing How To

If you're confused by board talk, read this

Find your perfect (kiteboard) match
During my kite coaching sessions I always touch on what goes into a surfboard - shape, fins, channels, tails, reinforcements, nose and rocker. There are a lot of elements that combine to affect the performance of a surfboard and let me be honest - there’s no magic combination, because every person and every day is different. 

Your level, size, weight, what you want to do (airs or turns), whether you're surfing, kiting, or both is going to vary so picking just one board isn't going to work for most people. And often a board that started as your perfect match might not work for you anymore as your skills evolve. So don't get too attached - be flexible, try new things and don't be afraid to ditch your old favourite for a newer model. We always say to treat your surfboard like your girlfriend…. But on this occasion you might want to keep your options open.

Below I’ve broken down and explained some of the ingredients that go into surfboards and how they work in different conditions.

ROCKER

Rocker refers to the amount of curve a surfboard has from nose to tail. Lots of rocker means a lot of curve and tends to be good for steep drops and tight turns. A low or flat rocker is better for going upwind and planning. A rocker that's focussed primarily through the nose is good for pushing through wind chop and bumpy faces. 

* A side view shows the amount of curve or rocker a board has from nose to tail

DHD ben wilson signature rocker

 

VOLUME

Surfboard volume is measured (usually in litres) by the amount of water a surfboard displaces (they do this by putting it in a water bath and seeing how much the level rises). Boards with more volume tend to be better for upwind efficiency and catching waves. If you’re new to surfing or kiting a bit of extra volume will allow you to catch waves further away from the breaking area of the wave.

If you’re a beginner surfer you’ll really need a separate surf and kite board – your surfboard will need either a little or a lot of extra length and volume to allow you to catch waves closer to the shoulder of the wave so your take-offs are less critical. You’ll also be able to practise turns on a slower, steadier board. Your kiteboard needn’t have that extra length and volume so when you’re selecting make sure you separate your requirements into two categories.

BUOYANCY

Buoyancy refers to how floaty your board is. So there are a few factors here and although the main one is volume, foam density and construction are really important too. Denser foam will be less buoyant than a lighter one and PU construction will be less buoyant than epoxy. Remember that epoxy is stronger but tends to chatter more. A really buoyant board will allow you to get onto waves easier but too much might mean you sit too high on the water and struggle to get a rail.

SIZE REFERENCE POINT

I’m 6’2 and weigh 82kg

On my DHD signature performance surfboard for surfing and kiting I ride a 6’2 wheras in the kite-only version I ride a 5'7".

If I’m only kiting I’ll go down to a 5’10 on the same style board. This not only drops length but volume and width as I no longer need the extra for paddle power.

On a kite-only Drifter 2.0 I ride the 5'7"

On the kite-only Stallion V2 I ride 5’2”

NOSE SHAPE

Similar to the tail, the narrower you go with a nose the more traction you can get and faster you can go. On the flipside, the narrower you go, the less stability you’ll have. If you go really wide, especially around your front foot, the board will plane better and be more stable yet harder to turn and control in critical situations. Finding a balance is really important.

* Some very different shapes that each serve a different purpose

boardlineup 2018

TAIL SHAPE

Basically, the wider you go the more stable the board but the harder it is to control and turn and when it turns it’ll slide out more.

The narrower the tail, the faster, more predictable, and more controllable the turn.

I like a rounded square (squash) tail; it’s a great all-round shape for small-medium sized waves because it’s predictable and holds speed with control. You can also have a version of this with a more diamond shaped tail that will turn more like a smaller board (e.g. a 6’2 with this narrower tail will perform and turn more like a 6’1).

Everybody loves a swallowtail because they look great. They also define the two sides of the board and throughout turns are a little more unpredictable and can break free, giving your turns more flare as you to slide out.

A rounded pin or pintail is best for speed, flow and high-speed turns in medium-large, steep and hollow waves. When you’re laying down rail, a pintail will lock in and give you lots of control.

VEES, CONTOURS AND CHANNELS

The idea behind these is to direct water passing under your board in a certain way to affect the board’s behaviour.

Vees are convex and will basically allow smoother rail-to-rail transitions.

Concaves increase speed and drive.

Channels can give you extra hold and length through turns.

Put very simply anyway… Mostly you’ll find varying combinations of these on the bottom of all surfboards that give you a bit of each. Channels are newer inventions and are causing a lot of excitement at the moment, and for good reason. Although difficult to manufacture, in good, smooth conditions they can give a board more traction and control to enhance the performance of your rail and fins. 

ben fcs dhd

FINS

Your two main choices are quads or thrusters. You can also get really technical and consider size, flex and shape, but for now we’ll just talk about having either 3 or 4 fins.  

Fins create drag and lift, and help hold and change direction.

The back fin on a thruster is a backing/stabilising fin that’s shared when switching from rail to rail.

Boards are shaped to channel water through the back of the board. Water hitting a thruster’s tail fin will slow you down. Water rushing out the back of the tail unobstructed (quad) does not cause this deceleration. This provides an advantage is in really small and really large waves. A surfer on a thruster must work harder to generate speed whereas a quad will accelerate quicker and with less effort.

Overall difference? Quad fin setups produce a looser/skate-ier sensation because they lack the back stabilising fin. You may notice your quad is very responsive but sometimes you might feel a lack of control on the wave's face when doing turns. However when taking a late drop on a critical section or in the barrel on a steep, hollow wave you have two fins to lock into the wave face versus sharing one back fin like on a Thruster.

Overall a Thruster is more stable and predictable than a quad when doing turns, however unpredictability can be fun in certain moments, for example when you do a turn and you slide further than expected or flare the fins out higher on the lip.

Beyond that I like a fairly rigid fin for surfing and kiting and have gotten really hooked on the FCSII range of keyless fins that snap in and out in a second. It’s been a revolution for me...

CONSTRUCTION

Most people ride standard PU surfboards (polyester /PU and certain types of epoxy) because it feels amazing; it has flex and feels alive. But the problem is it isn’t strong. So we try to get around that with other materials like epoxy that are stronger and also allow easier mass production. The problem with this is we start compromising flex and feeling so boards end up feeling dead in the water.

The most common thing I hear is from my clients is (they think) they don’t need a performance board because their surfing is at a beginner or intermediate level. They say they, “just want something strong that will hold up.” What they don’t realise is this flex and “performance” is not just important for during turns on a wave; it’s also important when you’re riding over choppy water and bumps that you really appreciate it. It flexes over bumps, sits better in the water doesn’t have that chatter that shakes up through your feet and into your knees. So what I’m saying is, no matter who you are you still need something that performs and something that is more than just a rigid lump of plastic.

We’ve finally found something that’s stronger and we’ve put a huge amount of thought into the placement of reinforcements so that it’s just enough to strengthen the build but not so much you feel you’re riding a lifeless door.

2018 BWSURF BOARD RANGE 

So how does this translate to the new range of BWSURF boards? Well our current line-up has 5 very different boards for different people and conditions.

My signature DHD surfboard comes in two versions - a surf and kite version that's custom-made and and a kite-only version.

I always travel with the surf and kite version because it's saves space on boards - I know I'll be both surfing and kiting nearly anywhere I go so I can usually manage with just this one board. I'll surf it in the morning and then kite it in the afternoon, plus it's great for a wide range of waves. However when it's really windy I prefer to switch to a smaller board with less volume. For me that's the kite-only DHD. 

The kite-only DHD has less volume and runs a little shorter, as most kiteboards do. It's good for a huge range of wave sizes and shapes but also handles higher winds when you need something with great performance in the waves. We made this board for ripping into waves no matter their size and no matter your level; it'll get you in the pocket or let you carve some turns on the open face. It's manufactured from the same high-tech materials used in the Stallion and Drifter 2.0 that are ultra durable yet still have plenty of flex so you still feel like you're riding a real surfboard. 

Our other performance board is the Stallion Overhead. It has a somewhat similar shape to the DHD (narrower tail and rounder rails) but belongs to the noseless family. Whether you choose the DHD kite-only or the Stallion Overhead is really down to personal preference.

The Drifter 2.0 is a hybrid that takes some of the ingredients from my performance board and a few elements from a retro or fish style board. It’s great for mushy, sloppy waves and lighter winds. We’ve been making this board shape for years because we ride it so much. On the latest reincarnation we’ve gone a little wider under the front foot, shaved off some volume so it performs better for kite-only, and flattened out the rocker. It’s now also constructed from similar materials to the Stallion for extra durability. This all combines to give you more speed and planning but also means steeper waves are a bit trickier to navigate so on big days you’ll need a step up.

The Stallion V2 is our noseless board that I consider an alternative to the Drifter – great in small-medium waves. It’s another hybrid board but its rails are more parallel and its rocker flatter than the Drifter (and DHD). It goes upwind really well and the distribution of volume throughout makes it an easy board to ride; anyone can jump on it and it’s going to feel great in any wind and average waves. For a lot of kiters transitioning from twin-tip, it’s a really relatable style so they’ll feel right at home and can still do plenty of airs and tricks. 

For me the Drifter and Stallion V2 are two boards that might look quite different but ultimately do a similar job. If you’re mostly riding in flat water and small waves doing tricks then the Stallion is preferable but if you’re always hunting for waves and want to do some turns then go the Drifter.

About the Author

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson, a big-wave kitesurfer and co-founder of BWSurf. A pioneer of the sport, Ben was one of the first to use a surfboard in harmony with a kite and he continues to drive the sport in new directions.

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Ben Wilson Coaching 2017

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