WORDS ? Jim Gaunt
There is so much gear on the market now, from all-round gear that is as appropriate for early intermediate riders as it is for high-performance athletes looking for something that works in all conditions, to more super-focussed equipment, specifically developed for certain types of freestyle, such as C kites and incredibly stiff twin-tips, that have been refined over many seasons.
When we test gear for the magazine we try to squeeze out the character of each item, to figure out its personality and find out who it would most suit; recommending it to the most appropriate riders and guiding others elsewhere.
I'm lucky enough to have a constant supply of brand new gear racked up in our equipment room, ready to roll. As nice as that is, it's also nice to narrow down the gear that's perfect for my style of riding and build up my own quiver.
I've been riding surfboards for a few years now and, after a trip to Boa Vista in the Cape Verdes last February, thought I'd found my dream board ? the North Kontact 6'3. It's a sleek and slender down-the-line weapon and I found it to be an absolute joy in those perfect conditions. Very narrow and straight in the rails it apparently goes against what I should be looking for for 90% of my riding time, which I spend in blustery, cross-onshore mush on the south coast of the UK. But I thought 'what the hell', and that it would be nice to have a focussed board to make those rare sessions in perfection even better. After all it's those days that we live for.
Researching for your own surfboards and reading the traditional hype for what's recommended for the average, blown-out, mushy wave conditions that most of us kite in regularly, you'll be pushed towards a more buoyant and well-rounded shape; it will be easy to gybe, hold its speed well as you go round crumbling sections and be easy to ride in less than perfect conditions.
All this is very true, but I think there are exceptions to those rules. I recently rode another high-performance board, like the Kontact, which wasn't designed for such everyday conditions. The RRD Gitana 6'1 is incredibly narrow and gun-like, but I absolutely loved it in my home spot slop.
I should point out at this point that I wave ride back-side at home, and I'm fairly light at 70 kilos. What I found was that a thinner and narrower board bit and gripped much better for longer for me through the turn. Engaging the heel-side rail and opening the shoulders up, I was holding much more speed coming out of the turn, keeping the carve tighter and requiring less pressure on the rail. On rounder and more bulky boards I find I bounce a bit through the turn and need to put much more weight on the rail and when the clean walls and peaks move around a lot, as they do at home, you need to be adaptable and nimble enough to be able to line up the hits at will. Perfection is predictable, crumbling lumps aren't.
The point being that when approaching a new gear purchase I've learnt to open my mind, and to try as much as possible. One rider's enemy is another's best friend.
My North Kontact started out as a purchase I thought I might have the pleasure of but once or twice a year. It now permanently lives in the back of the van.
As for the Gitana, it's currently in Ireland, under the feet of Neal Gent, going front-side down-the-line, hopefully in perfection. It will then be heading to Hayling Island to Chris Bull, who'll be pressing a bit more weight and both a switch and regular stance through its robust rails. We have a varied team of testers, all with different ideas on what works for them and what should work for others. We'll be revealing all character traits of the Gitana, and many other items of hot new gear for 2011 in issue #48, out in November.
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