Freeride or freerace, cam or no-cam?
Updated: Apr 6, 2019
If you're an intermediate rider, and you're looking for gear that perform on a higher level, heres a couple of alternatives that you might want to take a look at.
The choices we make concerning what gear to use are often heavily influenced by our well-meaning sailing comrades. Their personal preferences does however not have to coincide with your own. Listening to well meant advice from others can leave you with gear that takes the fun out of windsurfing for yourself. I hear stories of how people has quit windsurfing due to gear that wasnt right for them.
So to shed some light on one of the more common issues - Freeride or freerace, cam or no-cam, I’m going to share my own, recent experience on the matter with you.
This year I got four board and sail ranges; The PD slalom, the F-race, the F-cross, and the F-ride. For sails I’ve got the 4 cam Racing blade, the 3 cam Switchblade, the no cam Oxygen freeride, the Purelip wavesail, and the budget Unifiber Maverick.
The explanation why I’ve got all four series, is that I plan to host equipment demos this summer. Windsurfing gear is so expensive I find it unreasonable that we have to buy without testing first, so I decided to get the most relevant board and sail types for anyone to test in order to get a qualified opinion on what type and what size of boards and sails you are comfortable with. So if you or your local friends/windsurfing club wants a demo, please give me a shout, and we’ll see if we can arrange something together. This way you can try a number of combinations and different sizes, so you can decide for yourself what type and what sizes of gear is better for you.
I’m going to compare the two freerace orientated set-ups I used in yesterdays session; the 110 f-race/6.8 switchblade/37 gasoil to the 112 F-cross/6.3 Oxygen/37 Gasoil.
Boards and fins were at little big, but as the water in Soma bay is dead flat, and there’s a downwind current when the tide is going down I felt comfortable using them for improved upwind capacity. I also think that most intermediate riders will benefit from some extra volume in the boards.
The sails: The no-cam Oxygen 6.3 has relative to the 6.8 cambered sails the same planing capacity, as the cambered sails are calibrated to work better towards the higher end of the wind register and is constructed and trimmed accordingly. This means that you will be able to hold cambered sails in more wind than a no-cam sail of the same size. The Switchblade’s profile is dead stable and does not move or twist in your hands as long as you’re able to hold it down. This transforms into forward directed speed, as much as you can handle.
On a negative note, the sail is heavier compared to the Oxygen and thus is a handful to handle when you carry it, pull it up from the water, or waterstart it. On the reaches it does however feels lighter in the hands than the Oxygen due to its fixed profile. Pumping the sail feels more efficient for the same reason - as the profile is set you feel the power is led through the sail with little loss of energy compared to a no cam sail where the monofilm moves around when you try to pump it. The main advantage for cambered sails you see on the race course as these sails perform better both upwind and downwind.
The Oxygen feels lighter during handling, and waterstarting is a breeze. Directly after flipping the sail it yanks in a forward lateral movement in your hands, so you have to sit deeper when you grip the new side in order not to get pulled off the board. The Oxygens in the smaller sizes (>6.3) are very stable on the reaches, with little or none alterations of shape or performance. The ride does however feel a little coarse compared to the seamless performance of the Switchblade, but if you don’t compare it to cambered sails, you’re in for one of the smoothest and stablest rides any no-cam sail can offer. For the bigger sizes I feel the difference between cam and no-cam is increasing, in the favour of cambered sails. Even the 8.5 freerace 3-cam keeps its shape and its impeccable performance.
As for top speed, there was no marked difference between the 6.3 Oxygen and the 6.8 Switchblade. This has to do with the fact that the Oxygen in effect is a no-cam freerace sail with enough battens and twist to deliver high end performance on all accounts, with all the advantages of a no-cam sail.
As for the boards the 112 f-cross and the 110 f-race offers slightly different rides.
The 110 f-race has more volume in the rear and rear straps placed laterally towards the edge of the board, slalom board style. It does however come with alternative screw insertions toward the middle to make rear strap entry easier. For those of you that haven’t used slalom equipment be aware that one of the biggest challenges of your ride actually is to get your back foot into the straps. The less aggressively placed screw insertions is as a big advantage if you would like to try on a more race oriented board and feel at home at once.
With the f-race you start by using the medially placed insertions, and advance to the lateral ones when your ready. With a good fin, you’re in for some pleasant slalom racing with this board. It handles beautifully on the reaches, its fast and feels very controlled. Compared to my last years full slalom carbon boards, I would say a little too controlled to my liking, but I can’t say if the difference is primarily due to the fact that this is a freerace board or if its a construdtion with fibreglass bottom. I guess both factors are at play. In the jibes it performs more controlled than any slalom board I’ve tested, even through heavy chop. Yesterday I sailed for 6 hours, and nailed all of my jibes but one. Not having to deal with the nervous jibe characteristics of the full carbon slalom boards is an advantage which in most settings (f.ex racing) will make up for any lost time on the reaches .
The F-race has another practical feature. All Patrik freeride/freerace and slalomboards over 110 ltrs volume are foilready. This adds to the versatility of the boards, and means that if you're a lightweight rider you can sail in various conditions with a one board quiver.
The 112 F-cross is a Freestyle-wave board which is the true allrounder of all windsurfing board classes. With a wave fin it works adequately in wave conditions, but replace this with a carbon slalom fin, and you’re in for a surprise! The speed of this thing is far better than you would expect from an allround board, and if you add the response the board has in turns and through the jibes, I’m baffled by the level of performance in both ends of the register.
We did some neck & neck racing with the two set ups and found that the faster rider went faster on either of the alternatives which means that the speed potential of the 112 F-cross is very good. In fact we did 30.08 knots peak on it in one of the legs with the no-cam sail.
We also switched rigs, and it turned out that the F-cross was a perfect match with the cambered Switchblade as well, it even worked very nice and balanced with the 7.8. The largest no-cam sail we have for the 112 is a 7.3 Oxygen. I don’t think I would go any bigger as the forces in a no-cam sail isn’t as forward oriented as in the cambered sails.
The tail of the F-cross is considerable thinner than on the F-ride. This primarily affects the ability to keep planing through the jibe, but the ride height on the reaches is also affected. Put simply you will feel safer and more controlled riding the F-cross, as you ride lower.
Rear strap entry is also a lot easier as you don’t have to climb out on the edge of the board. If the footstraps are set narrow, you will still be able to maintain a stance pretty close to a slalom board. If you don’t search for speed, the ride can feel a little dull, but if you push the pedal to the fiberglass, this board performs beautifully, and clearly would be my first choice if I could choose one board only, due to its amazing allround qualities.
To sum this up; If you lose your sail in the water more than 5 times every session, choose no-cam. The advantages cambered sails offer on the reaches are quickly neutralised by the struggle of handling a heavier sail with a water filled mast pocket.
Do however keep in mind that the larger the sailsize, the larger the advantage of cambers is. On a big board in less wind, you are also less likely to drop the rig that often. The handling issues are restricted to carrying the rig, out on the water a big cambered rig feels smaller and lighter in the hands compared to the no cam sails. For myself I prefer cams in sails from 7.8 and up.
As for boards my personal preference is the 110 F-race, mainly because I appreciate its race-like properties. I love the feeling of being pulled by two wild horses, board flying on the fin and barely managing to hold on to the sail. The F-race feels considerably more controlled than the carbon slalomboards, this is part due to the neutral shape of the board, and part due to the carbon/fiberglass construction which gives the ride a softer feel.
To me, the F-cross feels even more muffled, even if it seems to be just as fast as the F-race with the right fin. Get me right - the F-cross/Oxygen is great fun, but I feel like I need to challenge myself more, because I still have so much to learn. I suspect that the 94liter with a 5.3 in strong winds will feel more appealing to me, but this combination haven’t been tested yet.
My testing companion is 100 kilos, and is equally clear that the F-cross is his all time favourite board. He tested the 102 last year, immediately fell in love, and supplemented the quiver with the 94 and 112 this year. He does however prefer to be overpowered as he feels the board comes more alive then. He also ordered 4 carbon slalom fins from Gasoil, fitted with powerbox heads to go with the boards. As he had the same positive experience with the Oxygens (first time on no cam sails for years) he ordered the 5.3,6.3 and the 7.3, and says he is in freeride nirvana! He’s sailing almost as fast as he did with his slalom gear, but with less effort, and way more control. He considers that a 125/130 liter slalom or freerace board is all he needs to have a complete quiver for all conditions, wave, freeride and lightwind slalom and even foiling.
So for versatility, early planing, ease of handling and control, but still with a tremendous speed potential - choose the F-cross paired with the Oxygen, and you might want to throw in a decent Gasoil carbon fin to unleash the speed-potential of this package.
If you’re curious about slalom racing, but are hesitant to go all in on the most extreme alternatives do consider the F-race with the 3 cam Switchblade to go with it. This package offers great performance, but lets you maintain the feeling of control, its lighter and less brutal than the full on racing gear, and will leave you with the feeling of accomplishment at the end of every session. Carbon fin is mandatory with this kit.
As for carbon or fibreglass option, the fibreglass boards are ca 500€ cheaper, more durable, only 0.2 kgs heavier, and provides a softer more controlled ride. The slalom GET boards are made with a combination of carbon (top) and fibreglass (bottom). Most Patrik PWA riders use one or more GET boards, especially in the smaller sizes as they appreciate the control they gain during the jibes in full-power conditions. This tells me that performance-wise its not clear that 100% carbon is better as a rule. Another aspect with the fiberglass boards is the inflation of prices on windsurfing equipment we've seen in the last years. I applaud any manufacturer that provides high quality, well performing equipment to the market at less expense for the consumer, instead of driving the pricing spiral upwards every year. With boards at 2500€ and upwards, huge parts of the potential market is being shut out, especially the youngsters.
If you want to test these two alternatives yourself this summer, give me a shout when I'm close to the place you live and I'll prepare a demo for you and your friends!