THE TRUTH ABOUT STUBBIES

It seems that every so often, something groundbreaking gets introduced to the wave market. Over recent times, we have had multi-fin wave boards and 4 batten sails, but the most recent trend to hit the beaches are ‘stubby’ wave boards. These radical looking boards look quite different to a regular wave board, being generally more parallel sided and thinner. The question is; are they the next big evolution, or are they just a fashion trend? We sent Adrian Jones to find out...

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FANATIC STUBBY

Volume - 88

Width - 57.5cm

Tail width (30cm) - 41cm

Length - 213cm

Weight complete - 7.52kg

Track from tail - 113cm

Strap spread - 62.5cm

Fins (Tri-fin) - 19cm + 2*12cm (US & Slot)

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STARBOARD REACTOR

Volume - 87

Width - 61.5cm

Tail width (30cm) - 39.5cm

Length - 211cm

Weight complete - 8.17kg

Track from tail - 117.5cm

Strap spread - 63cm (double plug straps)

Fins (Quad-fin) - 2*14.5cm + 2*11cm (Slot)

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JP SLATE

Volume - 86

Width - 56.5cm

Tail width (30cm) - 39cm

Length - 218cm

Weight complete - 7.45kg

Track from tail - 117.5cm

Strap spread - 56cm (double plug straps)

Fins (5 boxes) - 20cm + 2*10cm (Slot + mini-tuttle)

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This style of board is generally acknowledged to have originated from surfing with the Vanguard. The idea in surfing was to ‘rethink’ the surfboard with the aim of making the board as efficient as possible at the expense of cosmetic good looks. The rails were designed to be straighter to increase speed, with a wider tail for more lift and a shorter nose to reduce swing weight. Introduced around 4 years ago now (some would argue a little earlier by other custom brands), the shapes have had mixed response. They certainly haven’t taken the World tour by storm, but on the other hand, the popularity of the boards is increasing and many people are utterly convinced by them claiming that they flatter technique, generate more speed on the wave and make smaller conditions more fun.

After North Kiteboarding successfully adopted a theme of the concept and JP introduced a SUP range, it wasn’t long before Fanatic decided to check out what the fuss was about. Fanatic were the first to get one of these new-style boards into windsurfing production in April 2015 (although Stone boards in Australia did have some custom designs knocking around earlier than this) and since then most of the major brands have jumped on board with their own versions.

This mini-test looks at the models offered by the three major brands leading the charge; Fanatic, JP and Starboard. Although following a similar theme, all three have implemented the concept in different ways. Fanatic is the brand that holds most true to the original concept with the most parallel sides, squared nose and tail with a very short length. The JP comparatively could be conceived as a more conservative approach with more length and a narrower tail. Meanwhile, the Starboard concept is fairly unique, going very short and very wide, but keeping the wide point well forward with a relatively narrow tail. This gives it more of a ‘wedge shape’ in plan compared with the relatively parallel sides of the other two boards.

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ON THE BEACH

All three boards look pretty radical on the beach and certainly attract a lot of attention. The Starboard probably looks the most extreme, because its nose looks so wide and short compared with the relatively narrow tail.

The Starboard is designed to be a quad fin, the Fanatic a tri-fin and the JP comes with 5 boxes, but on the advice of JP, we tested it as a tri-fin.

All three boards have a version of the double diamond tail, with the Fanatic again holding most true to the original surf board shape. Board volumes are quoted as roughly similar to each other 86 (JP), 87 (Starboard) and 88 (Fanatic), however on the water, there definitely felt to be a pretty big difference between them. The Fanatic felt the biggest by some margin, but probably more or less true to its quoted volume. The Starboard felt a good bit smaller (maybe more like an 82 litre regular board), but this could be due to the narrower tail, but it was the JP that felt the smallest. To be honest, you could easily believe that it was an 80-litre board.

The sail carrying capacity matched up with these finding. The sweet spot of the JP was probably a 4.7m sail and was comfortable from 4.2m up to 5.3m. The Starboards sweet spot was probably also a 4.7m sail (as it needs a bit more power relatively) and was good from 4.5m to 5.3m, whilst the Fanatic felt perfectly matched to a 5.3m sail and was good from 4.7m (just!) up to 6.0m.

The max widths, perhaps give some hint as to why the sizes of the boards feel so different. The JP is the narrowest at 56.5, then the Fanatic at 57.5 and finally the Starboard at a whopping 61.5 – that’s 5cm wider than the JP! Bear in mind though that the Fanatic and JP are actually relatively narrow max widths for boards of this size. It’s the tail widths and straight sides that give them their ‘size’.

The tail widths are therefore a slightly different story, with the JP once again the smallest at 39cm, then the Starboard at 39.5cm and finally the Fanatic at 41cm.

Comparing weights, the Fanatic and JP are near on identical at 7.52kg and 7.45kg respectively, with Starboard packing a few extra pounds at 8.17 kg’s. The other thing to note is the mast track position, with the Fanatic’s track positioned 4.5cm further back than the other two boards.

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OFF THE BEACH

Now the fun bit! I have to say, that for such extreme looking boards, all three felt surprisingly ‘normal’ underfoot’. And that’s a good thing! Even the Starboard with its incredibly short nose, felt very traditional to sail and there were no worries at all of the nose diving etc. The Fanatic and JP are very easy boards to sail in a straight line – easier than a regular wave board. The Starboard is slightly more technical because it needs more power to get going.

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The quickest to plane off the beach was the Fanatic, by quite a margin. It’s probably the earliest planing wave board of this size we have ever sailed. All that width under your back foot and the square shape just seems to keep the volume where you need it – under your feet and under the rig. It also goes upwind like a train, again thanks to that width at the tail. It’s an extremely easy board to sail; very balanced, well trimmed, well mannered and secure underfoot. The short stubby nose also gives it lots of control at the top end. It’s not the fastest board on the water, but is plenty fast enough and reaches its top speed with ease. In chop the ride does get a bit less comfortable, most likely a result of that tail width. The tail width did also sometimes feel like you almost needed a double back strap in a straight line, even with size 11 feet! Now, I know that you are never going to put a double back strap on a wave board as you wouldn’t be able to turn it, but there was a definite feeling of having to sit your back foot out on the rail a bit more to get the best out of it in a straight line and then wiggle it back in to the strap before jumping. And jumping is something the Fanatic is very good at. Any board that planes quickly, accelerates rapidly and goes upwind easily is going to make a great board for hunting down jump ramps. The shorter length and compact proportions also make the board really controllable in the air and for rotating moves like forwards.

The next quickest to plane off the beach was the JP, but this is a hard one to call, because I’m not sure how much of this is purely down to the relative size difference. As mentioned above, there is no doubt the JP feels a lot smaller underfoot than the Fanatic. In fact having later compared it against the Fanatic’s 77 litre smaller sister, I would say that it is much more evenly matched to that board rather than the 88 tested here.

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Anyway, the impression I have is that the JP is actually very nippy. It certainly has the fastest top speed of the 3 boards here and I think if it wasn’t for it feeling so small, it would be right up there in the early planing as well. Overall, I get the impression that if the sizes were more equal, the JP is a slightly faster, more reactive board than the Fanatic underfoot, but a little more technical to sail and not quite as quick to plane or get back upwind on. The fact that it is a lot smaller just exaggerates these differences even further. One criticism of the JP is the deckpads. The heel bumper for the front pad is positioned too far away from the strap meaning that the edge of it sits right under your front heel and doesn’t give the most comfortable experience. The back heel bumper is correctly positioned, so doesn’t suffer this problem. Like the Fanatic, the JP is also a great jumping board. Fast, directional and able to get back upwind quickly are all great assets. In really windy stuff we did notice the nose starting to get a bit of ‘windage’ in the air, but otherwise it’s quite confidence inspiring having these ‘compact’ looking shapes under your feet.

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The Starboard is noticeably slower than the other two boards to get planing on. The style of the shape (and perhaps the quad fin set-up vs the tri fin of the other two) just seems to hold the board back from releasing as early and easily as the other two. The top speed also suffers making the Starboard the slowest of the three in a straight line. Once going, there is plenty of grip from the quad fin set-up and upwind progress is good, but you need power in the rig to keep it going. For this reason the Starboard was better suited to smaller sails (around 4.7 and 4.5m) and more powered up conditions.

WAVE RIDING

My initial expectation was that these boards would be dynamite in small, mushy, onshore conditions. For getting out through the waves, staying upwind and generally having an easy time getting around and being in the right place at the right time, the Fanatic and JP were brilliant.

On the wave however, I wasn’t as blown away as I thought I was going to be. As you are lining up on the wave, the shortness and compact feel of these boards is amazing. They give the impression that they are going to be super manoeuvrable and when it comes to backside slashes, they are. Nothing comes close to these boards when it comes to a good backside snap. The short tail and the back strap being positioned so far back makes them incredible for snapping a backside turn on. The Starboard is undoubtedly the best here, probably due to the narrower tail and the back strap being so far back on the board. It’s got the best backside snap of any board our testers have ever sailed!

But once that set-up snap is over and you look to go front side on the wave, I have to admit I was expecting better things. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I really thought these boards would knock the socks off a traditionally shaped wave board in onshore front-side riding, but I honestly don’t think they do. Before we go any further, I think we need to get specific with each board as they each have different qualities.

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So starting with the Starboard…The Reactor arguably feels the best of the three in the initial set-up. It has that amazing backside turn and the very short, yet pointed nose give a real impression of intent. As you drop down the wave and bank the board into the bottom turn the first 20-30 degrees or so of the turn feel brilliant, but then at the point where you would generally start to tighten the turn up a bit, the board just seems to lose its speed and refuses to tighten the turn. It’s quite disappointing really because it offers so much promise at the beginning of the turn of being a loose, nippy, snappy little riding machine, but in reality, it’s very pedestrian in the way it bottom turns. You have to just let it take its time through a wider bottom turn, with little scope to readjust the arc of the turn. If you have managed to carry enough speed through the turn (which isn’t a forgone conclusion as the nose can be quite draggy if you get the trim wrong), then the good news is that the top turn is better, offering plenty of grip and a reasonably tight arc. Linking turns together is hard though as it just doesn’t seem to hold speed through turns. Unfortunately, I found it really difficult to place who the Reactor would be suited to. It could be argued that a less experienced rider will enjoy the more sedate turning experience combined with the feel of a shorter, more radically shaped board, but I am really not convinced they are going to have the technique to hold speed through the turns. I have to say, that I am actually not convinced full stop. Starboard make some amazing wave boards, but I really am struggling to see what benefits the Reactor offers over their other shapes. And even in present company, it simply can’t compete.

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Which brings me on to the Fanatic. Thankfully, the Stubby is a lot more convincing. It doesn’t feel as purposeful initially as the Starboard, due to its bigger, more squared off nose and wider tail, but once you bank into a turn, it feels a lot more potent. You have more ability to adjust the arc of the turn and it holds speed through the bottom turn much better than the Starboard. That wide tail, allows for less than perfect technique and for those who are still mastering their turning and prone to standing a bit upright, will find the Fanatic very forgiving and one of the easiest boards out there for learning to wave ride on. The wide nose also gives a fair amount of security, even if it is only perceived! It just makes the board appear stable, safe and compact underfoot. The wide nose does help when coming back into the lip or white water, where the Stubby definitely floats up and over the wave more than a traditional board. It’s also amazing for any kind of new-school freestyle tricks like backside 360’s, takas etc if you are in to that sort of thing!

It’s not perfect however. Whilst I think intermediate riders will love the easy going, safe, floaty feel and forgiving nature of the Fanatic, I think advanced riders might be scratching their heads a little more about what’s on offer. It holds speed well through the turn, but being honest, no better than a good regular wave board. There is also a little hiccup in the bottom turn that can be noticed by advanced riders who push hard. Moving the fins and track back helped, but didn’t eradicate it completely. Overall, it doesn’t quite turn as tight or with the same looseness and snap that an experienced rider can get out of a narrower tailed regular board. All that tail width has to have some consequence when it comes to turning and it is noticeable when you try and carve off a less steep wave. It just doesn’t wrap around with the same tightness of turn as a good regular board. It’s a hard one to call. I had a lot of fun on the Fanatic. It’s a very easy board to sail. Incredibly easy. And it does flatter your technique in many ways. I enjoyed every minute I was on it, but I couldn’t help but feel that when I really wanted to push it, the board was holding me back. At the top-end, I found myself working around it’s limitations rather than it compensating for mine and I really didn’t expect that particularly in onshore conditions. Interestingly, as this test was nearing completion, I got my hands on the 77 liter version of this board and I have to say I was a lot more impressed with it. A lot more impressed…so perhaps it’s a size thing. I get the feeling you have to sail a smaller board than regular with these Fanatic’s to get the looseness out of them (for the record, I am 84kg’s). They have the speed and ease of planing to cope with using a smaller board, so I guess it makes sense.

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And then there was the JP…The JP is already a smaller board and as such leans more towards the advanced spectrum of sailors. It feels a lot looser and just generally a lot smaller and more agile on the wave than the other two. You can adjust the arc of the turn, you can snap a pretty hard carve out of it, it has a fantastic backside turn and that wider nose helps it float up and over the white water when riding mushy conditions. Less skilled sailors will probably still find it a little easier than an equivalent (lets say 80 litre) traditional wave board as it gives a more secure and stable feel and accelerates well, but it doesn’t offer the same level of security and ease as the Fanatic. The JP is a much more reactive board underfoot and out of the three boards tested here (in this size and for an average weight rider), would be the choice of the advanced rider. The problem I have here however is working out what it offers an advanced rider that a regular wave board doesn’t. It’s a super nice wave board, but I am struggling to ‘get it’. I agree that it potentially planes a bit quicker than an 80 litre wave board (but this is quoted as 86 litres!) and goes upwind a bit better thanks to the tail width, but on the wave, it just isn’t as loose and snappy as a regular shaped board. It’s also less fond of the chop and rather than having a short chopped-off nose, like the original surfboard concept, the JP’s nose is actually virtually the same length as a regular wave board from other brands (albeit the JP regular boards are a bit longer still), but wider! I can’t see the benefit. All I can suggest is that it offers a different sensation and a radical look and if that’s your thing, it’s a damn fine board. Or if you are into learning new school freestyle tricks such as Takas, backside 360’s etc, then these boards make things a lot easier. But if you ask me what makes it better on the wave face than a good regular 80-85 litre wave board, I honestly don’t know.

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Well, there is one thing actually…aerials. These boards (the Fanatic and JP) are both pretty awesome for aerials. The extra width in the nose and tail gives loads of pop on take-off and a very stable base for landing. So if you want to learn aerials, then I concede that these boards are winners!

SO WHO ARE THESE BOARDS FOR

With most gear we test, it becomes immediately obvious who it will suit, but these boards have had me scratching my head more than any product I have ever tested. I think despite them all following a similar concept, we have to consider them separately because they are so different.

Firstly the Fanatic. For me, the Fanatic is the easiest board to place and in some ways makes the most sense. The way I see it, the Stubby 88 is an amazing first time/ intermediates wave board and it makes poor conditions feel a lot more fun. It is so easy to sail, I don’t think anything compares to it as a first time wave board. People who might once have shied away from an all-out wave board and opted for a freewave for their introduction to waves, should now definitely consider one of these. It will plane as easily as a freewave board (possibly more easily), but offers more wind range and control, great jumping, yet at the same time will turn much better and more easily on the wave. I don’t think there has ever been a better first time or improvers wave board. When it comes to really advanced riders, I’m not so sure. Looking in isolation at the 88, I’m really not convinced. I know Victor used one in the lighter onshore conditions at the PWA event in Klitmoeller, but he also used a freewave there the year before and that just reinforces what I have said above really. The only fly in the ointment here is the fact that I have now tried the 77 litre version and have found that to be a lot more potent. Whether that’s down to a variation in shape or just the sizing, I don’t know. At 84kg’s, I wouldn’t normally have a problem with an 88 litre board being over-sized for me, but perhaps the nature of these boards changes that. If you are interested in the 77, we will be releasing a test on that very soon, but for now I can say that the qualities I have experienced as an 84kg rider are notably different to this 88 litre model.

The Starboard Reactor is a harder board to place, because I simply don’t think it works as well as it should. It’s too slow to get going and too difficult to hold speed in the turns to be of enough relevance to intermediate wave sailors and I don’t think it’s ‘Reactive’ enough to appeal to advanced riders. It’s a shame, because I can see the potential with this board. I wouldn’t be surprised if Starboard tweak it a bit and come up with a winner, but for now, I’m not convinced.

And finally the JP. I find the JP difficult to place because it’s such a polished product. It’s a great board that works really well. The problem I have is that I just don’t know what makes it special. It’s a different sensation of riding and it’s a very funky looking shape that will turn heads, but is it better than a regular wave board? I’m not convinced. I wonder if JP have tried to target the radical market with a board concept that actually lends itself better to the improver market, therefore not quite getting the best of either. We will be testing the Slates’ bigger 95 litre sister soon, so it will be interesting to see if that stacks up more comparably with the Fanatic 88.

I can’t help but think that when people see the obscure shape of these boards they naturally expect them to be rubbish… 1/10 level boards. When they then sail them and realise that they actually work pretty good and are maybe even a 6 or 7/10 board, they are so blown away by the fact that they work, they forget there are actually plenty of 9 and 10/10 wave boards already out there.

That said, I can see a real future for these boards. Like wide-style freeride boards such as the Gecko and Firemove have revolutionised the freeride market of late, I can see how this style could also have a place and purpose in smaller boards. I’m sticking my neck out a bit here and could be proven wrong, but I actually don’t think the future of this shape is going to be in radical wave boards, I think its going to be in freewaves and more easy-going wave boards. The massive wind range, straight line performance, sheer ease of sailing and the fact that despite all of these qualities, they can still turn pretty well on a wave just lends itself perfectly to the freewave and improver wave market. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this shape opens up a new style of cross-over board that could be used for both flatwater freeride and wave use with just the change of a fin. It might sound daft, but the shape really has that much range. The hardcore wave market on the other-hand puts much more emphasis on how well the board turns at the sacrifice of all the rest, and ultimately, I really don’t think this style of board turns quite as well as a traditional shape can. Time will tell…

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