FIRST IMPRESSIONS - STARBOARD QUAD 81 (Wood carbon)
Released: Jul 09 Sizes: 66, 71, 76, 81, 86 Price: £1399 (Wood Carbon), £1299 (Wood)
When we first heard that Quad fins were making a comeback to windsurfing, we have to admit to being less than enamored by the prospect.
Even if they worked better than a single fin (or twin), would they really warrant the extra weight of 4 fin boxes, the extra cost of 4 fins, the extra hassle of attaching 4 fins to the back of your board and most of all, would they eliminate Twin fins, which most of the industry have spent the last two years persuading us to buy?!
When we received the Starboard Quad 81 four weeks ago, it’s fair to say that it was going to have to be something special to impress us...
WHAT IS IT
Well, to state the obvious, it’s a Starboard wave board with four fins. Having replaced the long time successful Evo with the Quad in their 2010 range, Starboard are clearly very confident in the merits of this style of board.
Starboard actually produce 2 versions of this board (each in 2 constructions): The Quad is a four fin set-up only and available in Wood construction or Wood Carbon (Starboard’s lightest construction). The Quad Convertible is exactly the same board, but offers a single fin option (extra box) and is only available in the Technora (heaviest) or Wood (middle) construction.
ON THE BEACH
So first of all, is it heavy? Well our test board weighed in at 6.2kg bare. Compare this to the weight of last years Evil Twin at 6.1kg and the weight clearly isn\'t significantly higher.
So, how about attaching four fins every time you want to go sailing? This was actually quite a pleasant surprise. The front two larger fins (16cm) are mini power box fins, so bolt through from the deck very easily - arguably easier than attaching even one US box fin. The rear 2 fins have an allen key fastening system, which allows for a small amount of adjustment forward and back and again is very easy and fuss free to attach.
So far so good then! But what about price? Well, a 2010 Starboard single fin Kode in Wood Carbon retails for £1399. However the Quad in Wood Carbon construction retails for......well, exactly the same actually - £1399. So the price is not a draw back either.
So before our team of skeptics completely ran out of excuses of why Quad fins ought to be a bad idea, we decided it was time to hit the water!
ON THE WATER
Our test Clones have actually had a lot of time on this board over the past month, sailing mostly in Rhoisneigr but a little bit in Scotland as well. All the testing has been done in cross and cross-on conditions, with no down-the-line yet. The board has been tested with sails from 4.2m up to 5.4m and a good range of Clone testers (from 60kg - 95kg) and mixed abilities.
In a straight line, the Quad has a unique feel. In many ways, it sits somewhere between a Twin and a Single fin. It has more grip and drive than a twin fin, in that you don’t have to be light on your back foot like you do on a twin, but it doesn\'t feel quite as ‘free and fast’ as a single fin.
Spin out is virtually unheard of. You occasionally get the feeling that one of the fins is a little unhappy (ie you experience a little bit of a dragging sensation), but even if you try, it’s almost impossible to get the board to spin out. Even at slow speeds, there is a huge amount of grip which lets the sail power up and gives good performance. In lighter winds with bigger sails, the board feels just slightly ‘stickier’ than others we tested against (single and twins) to get onto the plane, but in some ways makes up for this thanks to the huge amounts of grip delivered by the fins, which provide the rider with plenty of confidence to push against them whilst getting going.
At top speed, it feels a little bit ‘draggy’, but when put head to head with other boards, this seems to be more of a feeling than a performance issue, as the Quad is reasonably fast. Sure, you will probably go a little faster on a good single fin (certainly with a faster sensation), but there is plenty of speed on tap for all types of wave sailing, so speed shouldn’t be an issue.
Upwind the board is very good. In total it is carrying 54cm of fin power, so we guess it should be! Whether underpowered or overpowered, the Quad points well and makes very good progress back upwind, allowing you to maximize your time on the wave face!
So the real question is, just how good is this Quad on the wave? Well, for most purposes it’s excellent! There is a very unique feel to the board that makes it feel different to anything you will have sailed before in the turns. When it engages, it grips like its on rails. It holds speed through turns incredibly well (perhaps more so than any wave board we have sailed before) and it transitions really well from rail to rail, allowing you to really milk the wave and provides a very surfy feel to the way it rides. Off the top it grips like hell and with all that speed carried through from the bottom turn, it gives you everything you need to throw bucket loads of spray.
The other great thing about this board is that in a similar way to twin fins, it has very good top end control. When a single fin gets overpowered, you start to notice the board riding too much on the fin, which gives control issues in a straight line and reduces the maneuverability on the wave face. In the same way as with a twin fin, this Quad stays flat in the water when overpowered and on a wave face remains completely loose and relatively unaffected by an overpowered sail. The real advantage of this is that you can use a bigger board. We found ourselves still completely happy on this 81 when well powered on 4.2m sails (in cross-on conditions) - normally we would be reaching for a smaller board. Bigger boards, are generally faster to accelerate, quicker to plane and hold their speed better in wave riding.
So its all good then and the time has come to trade your single or twin in for Quad....Well, not quite. Whilst the board is superb at everything detailed above (which in fairness covers most people wave sailing), there are instances where its performance isn’t quite so convincing.
The great thing about a twin fin, is that when a very good rider does a top turn in cross on conditions, they can easily control how much the tail breaks out and slides. This slide can make wave riding look more impressive, can de-power the sail in the top turn in cross-on conditions and for very advanced riders can lead into takas and all sorts of other new-school sliding antics.
As a result of its incredible grip, the Quad resists sliding like a bank manager facing a pay review. In fact even more so than a single fin and this made it less popular with our advanced Clones who had the ability to control this kind of move. It generally seemed that the better the sailing ability of our Clone (up to PWA standard), the less they liked the board in cross-on conditions. This perhaps also explains why we saw none in action at the recent PWA Pozo event (despite most of the pros now owning one).
The other factor that became an issue with our top level Clones was the bottom turn. Whilst the board grips well, turns tightly and holds speed extremely well for most riders in most instances, there are isolated occasions when pushed very hard that the board objects and decides to stop turning. This seemed to occur mostly when the riders weight ended up being a long way back on the board for whatever reason. For instance, when trying to turn extremely tightly back into the pocket of a small wave at slower speeds. When this happens, it somehow feels like the fins have become unhappy and instead of turning, the rail buries and the board goes straight on leaving the rider to fall between the sail and board in the bottom turn. It’s a rare occurrence, but one that left the Quad as a slightly less convincing prospect for our advanced (PWA Standard) Clones in cross-on conditions.
Never-the-less our advanced Clones all agreed that in cross-off conditions, the Quad could potentially be excellent thanks to the extra grip and drive. We will keep you posted on this when they get a chance to try it.
So where does this leave us?! Well lets start from the top; The weight isn’t a significant issue (at least not in this wood carbon construction), fin attachment is easy and price is exactly the same as a single fin board.
On the water, the Quad has good straight line performance - perhaps not quite up to the best single fin standards (ignoring upwind ability for a second), but generally better than a twin. On the wave face, it grips like nothing we have ever sailed before, turns tightly and holds speed incredibly well, giving a very ‘surfy’ feel to the way it rides. It also has great control (allowing you to use a bigger board) and this is all combined with excellent upwind ability.
On the down side, it doesn’t tail slide easily and if pushed very hard in the bottom turn by pro-standard riders, can get a little bit temperamental.
It can’t be ignored that over the past month, we have let a good number of amateur riders try this board and almost all have come back with a massive smile on their face claiming the board to be something special.
Overall, despite our initial skepticism of Quad fins, there are definitely many great features to the Starboard Quad that are unique and will appeal heavily to non-pro standard wave sailors in all conditions (and probably pro-level riders in side-shore conditions). Its impossible to make a generalized judgement on ‘quads’ based purely on one manufacturers version of it, but in present form, we would take a punt and say that the Quad is likely to prove more of a threat to the future of single fin wave boards than it will be to twin fins. Starboard have definitely come up with something here that is new, exciting, beneficial and potentially most appealing to the every day wave sailor rather than the seasoned pro (at least in Euro conditions).
Over the next few months, we will be bringing you a full test on this board against multi-fin boards from all the other brands (including the JP Quad). We will also be testing the Starboard Quad 76 vs Starboard Quad Convertible 76 in single fin mode. Stay tuned!