After a couple of months wait it finally arrived, my North Freestyle fish. After first seeing this board in the product booklet for the 2008 board release I just felt it was what I was looking for.
As a twin tip rider and surfboard rider I was starting to look for a board which was more along the lines of surfboard but with kiteboard characteristics. I really like to ride strapless and have many subtle movements in my feet positions and was enjoying the surfboard, however the surfboard presents limits and is larger under the feet when you have the power of a kite. Also the drag from surfboard thrusters and the ultimate fact that a surfboard will not put up with the rigors of kitesurfing.
I wanted a board that would allow both strapped and unstrapped, and having tried surfboards and larger boards with straps I really did not want a barge hanging off my feet when I was jumping.
I have ridden smaller stap kiteboards that my mate has and they seem very nice, but a little more specific to the purpose. The versitility I was looking for was a surfboard type feel, small and light and strapped or unstrapped.
The board comes as pictured here and you can ride strapped or no. The fins are a plastic feel and very flexible. The board has a V bottom from 2/3rds up from the tail and a concave to the nose. In surfing terms these are quite aggressive.
The skyhook pads of this board offered something new, and for me untested, so I was keen to take the chance and said to the shop, just order it for sure.
Well, first test OCT 2007 at Goolwa Beach 3 - 4ft swell, side onshore, light to moderate wind, only issue was it really was not windy enough so I thought a down winder to at least feel the board out, then it kicked and I really got to try the board out.
the water was surf and although can be choppy the test was not really in any extreme chop as between the waves is reasonably flat.
White water can be difficult with surfboards and larger boards and so only a good dedicated board can perform well in these conditions.
Rider weight, 68 kg, experienced kiters of average experience kiter ability, many years surfing (pure surfing) and therefore lots of experience with surfboards and surf.
Take off to the plane, instant planing and no drag at all. The board is light under foot and has little float to support weight as expected, but as soon as it is moving it is supporting you, a little more speed and you are planing.
I rode it first without straps and the skyhooks really worked well, I was not sure what to expect and thought maybe they would be somewhat gimicky, however they were very practical and you could jump quite high in comfort with your toes just under the hooks, I thought you would have to really press in under the hooks but actually you hardly have to think about it. The weight of the board is very light in the air. The width of the hooks is reasonably wide when both feet are under the hooks however this provides control over the entire board and confidence to place the board wherever you want. Doubling for freestyle action or just popping over the waves.
Going into white water was easy, the rails don't get overly affected by the white water and you can charge into the white water without having to concentrate too much on nose up. With the shyhooks you can really hit the white water and pop over landing in the V of the back half of the base of the board softly squirting the water out on landing.
the front foot position is best suited as far a possible forward as this allows for better control and smooth entry into chop. foot too far back meant too much white water under the front half of the board and then you felt like you where back on a larger surfboard which was getting banged up under the front of the board.
Keeping my foot forward entering white water and breaking waves allowed for nice cutting into the wave and easy pop over.
Similarly white water hitting the rails side on did not faze this board like I have been used to on a surf board, the board cold cut a line into white water with little effort.
Turning on waves or flat water is really good, the board will turn fast and whips, you can hit the lip and rotate the board on its axis. it felt loose and you could do aerials and surf tricks and turn up the wave against the kite pull.
Carving, well this is something I really felt ready to test and review on, having been a dedicated bottom turn freak in surfing for years and trying to emulate that on my surfboard kiting I really wanted a board that I could bottom turn on wave or no wave lay my hand down and feel like I just turned out of an 8ft wave.
First attempt was cautious, but the board turned a hard arc in what felt like super geometry. so I went back for seconds, this time get all the power I could and lay down flat and drive that rail in, well, it arced and railed the corner like a jet. I just could not get enough of this and kept edging hard whipping the Rebel across the window and leant over into harder and harder bottom turns. You could force them as tight as you wanted.
Exit from the turn, once you got it right (after I realised this by accident) all you had to do was shift your weight forward which put weight over the concave front end of the board and it accelerated out. Now after years of sailboarding and surfing and hearing this all the time about the exit acceleration my new board would have I never really felt that it was this marked. This board does actually accelerate out of the turn, fast, just move the foot or lean forward and it would shoot you out of the gybe.
Out of the entire session this was the most noticeable quality of the board. I am quite astounded as to how sharp and smooth the carve was.
Flipping and spinning would be easy, my small skills showed that during gybes when I could just turn it under foot.
Edging, powered and speed
I was quite powered up often down the line of the wave and then excaping from white water, although going as fast and possible across chop and wash the board did not skip or slide and the fins did not cavitate or make a noise.
The board can be edged really hard and felt like a twin tip, but also it could be ridden lazy off the fins, the fins did not let me know they were there, they just did there business and kept me straight.
Because of its lightness it does not seem to worry about being over lit, as long as you remain confident with the board it will remain confident with you in critical conditions. If you panic without the straps and start tripping over yourself you might leave it behind, but that'd be your fault.
The limitation here is larger surf and critical bottom turns as it just starts to be too big and have too floaty and rounded rails. This is not what the board is designed for.
Here was my worry, I had the gybe down pat and looked like I knew what I was actually doing on a surfboard. I had tried other smaller kiteboards and was never competent in the short time I had on them. So I thought I would have to learn and practice to get this, however I gybed it first time and then again and again. It was difficult to work out how a board that was so loose underfoot was also so steady in the gybe and changing feet.
I was switching feet and was confident to go out the back of the surf and gybe back. This was a pleasant surprise.
The snub nose meant no worries about digging in and also more importantly no pointy nose to hit. Larger waves were great with the ability to wait until the last second to drive down with the lip. I was still cautious with my new board but felt about how this would improve the more I rode it.
The skyhooks were also handy when the board was loose providing a good grip, also water starting you could just hold one and slip your foot under the other and drive the kite, you're away.
I rode the board with straps as well and it felt light under foot, I did put the straps too far back and felt there was too much nose, the board then felt more like a traditional board and I really needed to move the straps. Also with the front strap back the board did wobble a bit on the nose. As soon as I had my foot forward it was a dream.
I was having do much fun without them I decided to take them off again. However for my next session I have set them up per the photo here and therefore I feel the control of the board is more freestyle.
When you first put the straps on the deck grip is so thick that you don't think the screws would go through, but with presure and desire they do and then the deck grip will compress a bit and it sits better.
I still am not sure what the design is with the variation on the lugs as they are parallel to the centre and you have to put the straps to oe side. I don't know if it is structural (outside a stringer) or what, but it feels okay on the water.
The straps are adjustable only on the screw ends which is provided with 3 different holes for different lengths.
The board has a nice position where you can ride off the rail and fins to head up wind, up wind is no problem.
Over powered, it seems to hold a good rail and harder rail if you are powered up. As it is light you don't feel paniced in over powered and excess speed.
No board can do everything, but this comes out close where your conditions are regular 2-3 ft onshore and sloppy. In larger waves 4ft and where white water becomes very solid and hard to pop over and where speed down into the bottom turn is getting too fast the board is too floaty and will slide out.
This board provides fun and versitility, light and fast, just plain heaps of fun.
The board has specific structural feature, you can check them at the North Website
info on the Freestyle Fish.
The downsides as requested on kiteforum.com:
Well the down sides are really all the trade offs with going from twin tip to directional, or not having a larger line driven wave board. It cannot take heavy surf or high speed with wave driven bottom turns, it will spin out under such conditions. over 4 foot its just like a cork, get a wave board like the North Kontact 2009.
I would say that if you are looking for a down the line board which locks into the line of the wave and is not too responsive to rear foot then this is not the board. In otherwords it is not a Gun. And for Larger critical surf where you don't want stingy whippy rail to rail it would start to feel too alive. It is whippy and responsive, but it it does engage the rail and will turn like a railed surfboard.
The best way to describe it is a mix between a nice carving thruster and a twin fin. But it does not ride just like a twin fin at all. (like there is no fixing of the directional momentum) it has arcing directional momentum.
the other downside is that there is only one size, This might mean that larger heavy weights find the board a little smaller and would use it as a really small wave whippy board.
I would like to see North bringing out a larger one next year after they test its market as if I continue on this board the way I feel I will, larger super light wind option will be worthwhile, and this would be more Gunnie for a light wind rider too.
There seems to be little trade off to the light wind - strong wind, it really did take a stronger wind well. I would be more confident to take this out in strong wind than some floatier twinies that I had ridden.
You can defintely feel the flex in the board, very comfortable Does that help?
Another update on the board, after more sessions and different conditions. I feel I have conformation of this board being a more highly manoeuvreable action machine for small to med waves but especially small stuff.
If you are cruizin long straight lines back and forth, you picked the wrong board, if you wanted a line picking sleek and slim gunn, this is not the board. It is waiting, begging you to find the next bit of chop, wave lip, swell line, white water, whatever, just bang off your next move.
When cruising straght lines for long distances the width of the board becomes more apparent, you are wasting the board. I had it in some medium swell on full onshore and getting out the back was hard. You had to find long hard edging lines to work your way out the back and through serious chop and rips etc. Now the board cruises fine but I found in the foot straps for a very long period you notice it is wider than the tracking slim wave board that would do this easier, also I kept thinking 'once I get out there I can start to ride these waves and get this board into action.'
in the end I rode some bigger chopped up waves but with the wind direction and the chop and the extra wave size it was more suited to just pikcing a line with the wind still in the kite and cruise back, this was okay with the board but a total waste if its talent, which would have had me turn straight down into the wave and cut back, reo etc, but you couldn't as you would under fly the kite.
Hence I felt like I was working agains the width of the board a bit and defeating the purpose of using it, better to twin tip or slimer rocket fish style and hold line.
All in all I am trying to say, small to medium swell, riding with heaps of moves, making the most of the waves etc. But if the swell or wind demand long lines and picking long lines holding a long choppy edge into swell to gradually make your way through endless big white water out the back and then turn and hold the line back in, A decent longer slimmer wave board will cut it better.
The other thing is that this board is so nice without footstraps, I mean really nice, lots of fun and variation in foot positions finds multiple sweet spots comfort positions which you just can't get with the straps.
for example coming out of gybes with strapless there is a super sweet acceleration spot then move the edge and engage to go hard up wind then foot back for loose tail and so on.
The best explanation for this board is "Super Fun in most conditions"
Hope this is useful to some, I have tried to give the best overall review on how I find this great board.
Captins Log - star date Nov 4 2007
This has become a bit of a blog now on my travels on the new board. I just had a great weekend of good wind with nice building swell. The location was Kent reserve and wind on Sat was 15 - 20 knots with wind Sunday 20 - 30 knots, mainly sitting around the 26 knot area.
Conditions is flat water to chop then 2 - 3ft swell with the occasional small but intesense chop mixed in. Sunday the swell was a little bigger. The swell although onshore is quite clean as it is over a reef and the breaking waves are regular and clean. inside at the main beach there is a reef that makes the swell wrap around and stand up but it is smaller, however very offshore and therefore the lack of size is made up with the fact that you are ridding an offshore wave.
Sat I used my Rebel 10m and Sunday on the 7m and both days I was strapless.
Sat was great, smallish 2 ft with occasional 3ft swell but more a 'small' day. The direction made for nice lines and ridding goofy backside (I'm natural), driving my heel into the bottom turns and flicking off for reos makes what is normally a fight against the kite pull into real surfing feel, I really feel on the fish that I am surfing down the line and pulling off decent reos and little aerials off the lip and white water. The sky hooks work well with the aerials and when you are going down a more intense wall to chop.
I have really got used to the sky hooks and the width of them as you need a clear deck to ride on when not using them hence the compromise of having them closer together or not in the basic design. On the way out with this type of periodic swell (it is not like endless white water) the sky hooks are great, up to 3ft waves make it easy to feel like you are safe with the board on your feet. On this day the wind did not affect the board at all in the air, Sunday with stronger wind at times over 27 knots meant having to keep the board angled properly to the wind as otherwise it would try to blow the board off. Generally however and even in this wind it is managable in the air on the sky hooks.
Sunday was very strong wind and I contemplated using the twin tip, however I decided to use the 7m Rebel and go strapless to really test this board out. It was great it holds a hard edge and goes up wind like on rails, but also down the line of the wave you can instantly take off speed by biting the tail in. top to bottom on larger waves 3ft+ with shoulder high walls (at least) the board is sweet as. Strapless was great and I felt on the longer smaller waves 2ft+ with waist high waves like I was really calving up the surf and feeling really great. The larger faces with extra wind were great too but you have to concentrate and can't just really let it all go like smaller waves unless you are prepared to loose the board occasionally strapless.
The board is really good in these conditions and then I come into the inner reef where the offshore 2fters were breaking, some of these were up to waiste high but lots of them were small 1ft lines. The I was whipping the kite back and forth across the wave going bottom turn to reo and riding quite hard rails at top to bottom. The board got better as my skills improved and was perfect for these conditions.
I am more and more impressed with what this board offers, so much fun and I feol like I have had a great kitesurf and and equally great surf.
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