Behind The Brand

Slalom R&D

Winner of multiple PWA events and countless national titles, as well as two Vice World Champion titles and two IFCA World titles; no board has been tweaked, tuned, tested and tortured more than the Falcon TE in its continual quest to be the best. We caught up with Dani Aeberli (Fanatic Product Manager) and World Cup riders Pierre Mortefon, Jordy Vonk and Marco Lang to find out more about the R&D process.

For slalom racing, what would you say is the hardest feature to design -speed/control/gybing/range – what are your most important criteria?

Pierre: You need to find a combination. A board has to be fast, plane good, gybe easily and stay comfortable - even in hard conditions. Sometimes you will have a rocket that is not gybing, or the opposite. You need to play with all the different aspects to find the right magic potion.
Marco: I guess everybody thinks the fastest board will win, but that’s only 50% true. Without acceleration, early planing and control you will never win any races. You cannot build a board with the ‘best’ of everything, so you have to find a balance between all these features.

How far ahead of the season do you start testing new prototypes? And what does that process involve?

Jordy: It really depends per board. We are basically over one year ahead. So, the moment the 2020 boards are on the market, we are already working on the 2021 range.

Dani, you look after all product development. Aside from testing, you are the link between Sebastian and the team riders. Can you tell us the process of how that works?

Dani: A well-organised R&D and testing process is the key to producing a winning board at the end of development. First, we get as much feedback as possible on the current boards from our dealer network and all the international and national team riders; and filter all the information to learn what improvements or changes they would like to get. As we also work very closely with Duotone sails, we must stay up to date on what they are working on to ensure that the boards and sails match perfectly in every size. After that, I will have the first chat to Sebastian about the changes in the feedback report. He will make the first CAD drawings according to our wish list, and then we have a closer look together at the file, before sending a final CAD file to our special Fanatic R&D and Custom Factory. They build us the prototype according to the CAD file, and then ship it to whatever destination we require to test this particular shape for the first time. Some team riders will join the testing, and we also get many local and national riders involved in testing the prototypes. I will then get all information and feedback together again after every session. Most important is having a workshop close to the test location, so I am able to modify the boards right away if there is any need to update any details on the shape. As a benchmark, we also keep the current production board as reference. If the board is better, we send the master to production.  If not, we start to make the next prototype until we reach our goal to get the next ‘Magic Board’.

Do you find that the fastest prototypes generally are the ones that are easier to sail, or do the fastest boards always feel like they are on the edge of control? What makes you decide on which one is best?

Pierre: It has to be a good mix; I will never choose the fastest one. I will take the easy one to go fast for as long as possible around the course. For sure you are sometimes on the edge, but you definitely need something comfortable to be fast on the track.

Jordy: Control = speed. But of course too much control won’t be fast. We always tune up in a way that we’re on the edge of control; but in general we see that a board with amazing control is always fast, it just has to be alive enough to have it working on the racecourse and in gusty conditions. We’re always testing one-on-one, which is an easy way to see the differences in speed and control.

In the team, what happens if you don’t all agree on the best board?

Pierre: When it happens we continue to test trying to make everybody happy because at least all the customers will not like the same thing, so it has to be nice boards for the maximum of people.
Marco: We have a high racing level in our team and everybody is really experienced. So it’s the job of Dani and Sebastian to find a balance between all the riders, but mostly we all agree with the decision of them! 

When developing prototypes, do you test boards from other brands?

Pierre: Yes, and it’s important to compare to the other brands for various reasons. You can learn a lot trying some other board about shaping, but also about your opponents’ skill and tactics. When something is good from another, why not try to be better!
Jordy: We sometimes try other board brands to get a feeling/understanding of what they’re doing. But our ‘old’ model is always the reference while testing.

Would you say that the wind range has increased in the boards – especially in big boards?

Pierre: Yes for sure, now I can sail my big board from 8 to 20 knots – medium from 14 to almost 30 knots and my smallest board is a 97l. The wind range is certainly the point we progress the most in the last few years.
Jordy: Definitely. We can get so much more control in boards now, that you see that all boards have gotten a touch bigger. For example the medium board is 71.5 wide now instead of 70 wide a couple of years ago. It’s bigger, so better in light winds; and due to the amazing control you can still hold it very good in strong winds. A bigger board with more control creates a bigger range.

How much effect does a different brand of sail have on the board? Would you set it up differently?

Pierre: It can have some effect true, but I think our boards are really working with different sails. You can tune your board according to the sail, moving the mast track and the footstrap position can make some big changes.
Marco: Some sails will really push the nose down, whereas a few are lifting the board much more.

When it comes to tuning, is there an optimum place for the mast track?

Jordy: There’s not one optimum place, as usually we can use different sizes with the same board, which sometimes also need another mastbase position. Also when people are using another sail brand on the board it can be different again. So in the end it’s just possible to give riders an indication instead of one exact point.

Can you tell us what the technical difference is between a race and a freerace board (like the Jag)?

Pierre: The main goal of the race board is to win races. For this you need to have a fast board but also something comfortable that helps you to focus on racing, and not on driving your board.  But it’s true that’s a freerace board is easier to sail. The goal of those boards is just to have fun rolling some friends – our Jag is the perfect example for this!
Marco: The main difference is the control and the comfort. For a hobby windsurfer it is much easier to reach the top speed with a freerace board. The real race board is more alive and physical to sail but you reach a better top speed.

What effect do the cutouts (and tail shape) have on the performance?

Dani: The tail section is the most important on every board shape, as it’s the part that is most of the time in the water. We spend a lot of time refining the tail section, to find the right balance of control and top speed - and also of the general trim of the board on the water. It is really detailed work at the end of the day that will define a true winning board.

With the three smaller boards updated this year, can you tell us what you did, and what impact it has on the water?

Dani: High wind boards are very special, as you need to focus mainly on the balance of top-speed/maximum control and great gybing. We started on the new 97l first, and found an outline that gave us incredible control, and where all of us were automatically faster in a straight line because of its great balance and ease of ride. So based on the same design concept, the 90l was also updated to have the same riding sensation. The new 80 TE is not just a high wind slalom board. It’s also the perfect light wind speed machine for all the guys who want to make personal GPS best on sail sizes up 7.5m2 sail sizes.

Thanks guys, any final comments?

Pierre: The more comfortable your gear is, then the more pleasure it will give you - and the faster you will be!