The rumours were in fact quite true… Gaastra planned to join the formula board market late in 2007 and delivered to their every word with the release of the Gaastra Vapor 2008/09 FW board. To comply with the ISAF regulations of a minimum production run of 10 boards, Gaastra has already produced the first 10 Vapors and I have been lucky enough to get my hands on one (number 004 to be exact). Enjoy a short review of the board and some background information on its development from my talks with Steve Allen and others involved with the board.
Arriving in Poland in August 2007 to train before the Allegro Cup in Leba, I caught up with Steve Allen and his Polish training partner Hubert Mokrzycki (POL-25). I had heard whispers of Tabou bringing out a formula board for 2008 but I was still suprised to find Steve and Hubert with 2 prototypes of the new board out on the beach. Despite the Tabou footstraps, it was completely blank of graphics and from first view looked a lot like a Starboard 160. The cutouts being the only visual difference; one board with the Starboard cutouts and the other with some deep F2 looking cutouts.
Steve had been riding the Starboard 160 for most of the season (see here why he used the 160 and not a 161) and had wanted to make some improvements beginning with modifying the nose shape and also a slight difference in the bottom shape. Suprisingly enough, from what I could gather there were only these 2 prototypes made, which is a stark contrast to Starboard who usually boast an incredible amount of prototypes tested to come up with their new boards. They tried both cutout shapes but found the Starboard ones to be better than the F2 type. Also note that Steve and Hubert did the entire development on this board (Ross Williams wasn’t included in the development it seems).
From what I was told, Steve’s first use of the production version was during the FW World Championships in Brazil. Hubert informed me earlier that month in Poland that they had decided to brand it as a Gaastra board, to offer a full racing rig/board package and also a racing board as such didn’t fit with the brand-persona of Tabou.
Sailing with Steve earlier this week in Australia he tells me that in early testing with the new board in Brazil, it was faster on all points than the 160. He also volunteered that others who were testing the new 2008 162 had found it to be no faster than their 160’s. Take that with a grain of salt I should think…
Here are some measurements of the Gaastra Vapor, compared with a Starboard 161.
- 30cm off (1ft off) – 5mm vee; 7mm concave
- 90cm off – 11.5mm vee; 5mm concave
- 120cm off – 13mm vee; 7mm concave
- 40cm from front – 14mm vee; 9mm concave
- Width at 30cm off – 813mm
- Mast-track (from back) – 1260mm
- Mast-track length – 170mm
- Finbox (from back) – 90mm
- Flat (from back) – 600mm
- Cutouts 14mm at centre
- 30cm off (1ft off) – 0mm vee; 1.5mm concave
- 90cm off – 4mm vee; 4.5mm concave
- 120cm off – 19mm vee; 4mm concave
- 40cm from front – 14mm vee; 1.5mm concave
- Width at 30cm off – 807mm
- Mast-track (from back) – 1267mm
- Mast-track length – 170mm
- Finbox (from back) – 90mm
- Cutouts 10mm at centre
So you can see quickly that the Vapor board is slightly wider in the tail and has a little more vee and concave towards the front – actually the concaves continue right into the nose of the board. The Vapor also has a little more rocker (about 10mm vs 7mm in the 161). The mast-tracks and fin position are exactly the same however.
This board is a very similar ride to the two previous Starboards (160, 161) in the sense that you can just jump on it, put any fin in, put the track anywhere and just go sailing. I always felt the F2 boards required a little more finesse in your trimming and technique which made them a more technical ride (although still very fast). This board is very “point and shoot” and doesn’t require constant rail pressure or footing off for speed to keep it trucking upwind; making it very easy to tune!
Initially, the new thinned out nose was something I was interested in really testing out when I sailed it for the first time in windy conditions (+25 knots) at Redcliffe, QLD. For those who don’t know where Redcliffe is, it is by far one of the most gnarliest spots I have ever sailed formula at and happens to be my home spot. Think 3-4m swells that are extremely close together and steep as well as few turtles, sharks, dolphins and crab-pots make this an interesting place to test gear – however it boasts some of the most consistent winds (direction/strength) on this side of Australia. I’m not a fan of chicken straps (as you’ll see below) so I took the board out on this particular day to try and see if I could catch the nose downwind!
About 7 waves in a row I lifted my back foot and kicked the board downwind off the top of a swell to try and dig it in (don’t try this at home kids!). I’ve done this a few times on a 161 and subsequently broken booms, fractured elbows and have had a NP boom logo imprinted into my shoulder as a result of catching its nose in +30 knot winds with big seas! The Vapor doesn’t even look like catching…
On the 8th wave I did manage to aggressively sink the nose under a swell but the board’s shallow entry and ‘boat-like’ V shape all the way to the bow allowed the board to pop out of the water very quickly and lose minimal speed. Downwind, I found the board railing very easily which allowed me to ‘fly-the-fin’ (thank Sam Ireland’s Pro Secrets DVD for that term) downwind keeping the speed and forgetting about the swells in front of me. I believe this board’s strength is its downwind controllability (that’s probably not a word!) and speed downwind.
My only negative in the ride of the board was the rail shape under the footstraps. It is a quite boxy board under your feet and as a result I had sore arches in my feet after 2 hours of hard sailing. Something to get used to I guess, but I never had this problem with the Starboards.
I have been running my footstraps in the second back hole and mast-track in the middle or 1cm back for 90% of conditions. I don’t like to move my footstraps depending on wind conditions, but on other boards you can get away with raking your fins further upright by moving your footstraps 1-2 holes further forward to get your weight more centralised over the fin.
- TIP: If you are raking your fin excessively forward (nearly upright etc), don’t move your mast-track forward too early. Despite what you might think, raking your fin more upright actually helps to keep the nose of your board down as it creates more vertical lift at the tail.
This board likes power and I felt comfortable using my 12m Gaastra Vapor up to 12-15 knots (although I would normally be on my 11m in 12 knots in racing conditions) and has a wide, powerful tail which allows you to really drive from your back foot upwind, instead of railing the board by pointing the toes of your front foot in the strap. In windy conditions you can keep the track back (still in the middle) if you have the control as the nose shape does not catch on the swells and rides nice and high downwind, allowing you to pick your lines through the swells and go for speed – rather than dodging the deep swells that look a little scary!
I also noticed upwind, the board kept flat in choppy conditions allowing you to really keep the power on the fin. This might mean there’s more potential to spin-out a fin in choppy conditions if you are not too careful, so the board might require a little more finesse in your sheeting/breathing technique over the swells. In flat water (we don’t have flat water where I live) the board should track nicely upwind.
I’ll deal with fins in a moment, but for tuning purposes the secret to getting the board to fly is to make sure to get the nose free and lifting upwind. Mast-track, boom-height and fin make a difference in this sense. Use a combination of mast-track back, boom higher (try one or the other first) to make sure you are getting the nose out of the water and you will notice the board feels lighter under your feet and more responsive. When using a new-style softer-tip fin (see below for what I am talking about), you will need to run the mast-track further back (1-2cm from middle) to keep the nose free as these fins generate more lift under the tail and seem to keep the nose down – which is slow!
You can trim this board by feel with a bit of practice. Go sailing and try and get your weight back towards the fin with mast-track/boom-height settings and when you feel the board is lighter under your feet and more responsive – that is the fast setting you are looking for (this could probably be said of ALL formula boards, but it was more noticeable to me on the Vapor). Try it. Go for a run with your track in the middle. Move it back 1cm and try again. Try 1cm more downhaul and boom up 2cm… I think you’ll notice the difference… try to keep the mast-track towards the middle even in windy conditions if you can handle it (the board needs the nose high to trim correctly).
The original prototypes were tested with Hubert’s R13 70 S and R19 70 S– fins and one would assume Steve would have tried his Kashy XXS which he had been using most of the year on the formula tour. I was a little disappointed to hear that the R19 was working well in the board as Hubert’s R19 is an early proto which of course was super-sweet and very soft whereas myself and (probably) everyone else in the world couldn’t get their R19’s to work. However, having a board that works perfectly with an R13 70 S is a great asset as this is by far the most popular fin on the market and one of the easiest to tune. So far I have tested the board with:
- R13 70 S
- R19 70 S-
- Select R07 S (2008 prototype – sorry!)
- Select R07 S- (2008 prototype)
- R13 66 S
- R13 73/70 M
Unfortunately for the point of this review, the Select fins were by far the best in this board. These fins aren’t available to the general public for a few months (my French friends tell me that these fins are now available to order from Select – thanks guys!) however the way these fins work is a good understanding of how this board works…
These Select fins are basically a copy of the Kashy fin’s concept in the sense that they are extremely soft in the middle/tip sections whilst having incredible tortional stiffness (no twisting) to create speed. I’m not entirely sure exactly how these fins work in relation to a standard Deb foil like an R13 (I have some ideas, and might write an article about it another day), however they seem to settle the board on the water a lot more than the standard Deb R13 does and help keep the board trimming nicely downwind. By “settle”, I mean that it keeps the board trimming nicely and prevents the side-to-side cantering that can happen with these modern boards that boast double-concaves. I remember Boogie used to talk about the Starboard boards tilting from side-to-side and that softer fins could help with this phenomenon.
So to summarise with the fins: this is another fantastically adaptable board that should be able to be tuned and get good speed/height out of a variety of fins. My recommendations would be that the best performance will be got out of the newer, softer-tip style fins such as Kashy’s, the new Deb R20 and the new Selects etc. Trimming is the key to getting this board to go fast and a powerful, soft fin will help keep the board railing and combined with a higher boom/track further back will help to lift the nose and reduce the wetted-surface area to go for maximum speed.
In higher winds, I still believe these new-style softer fins work far better and would suggest getting off big fins earlier, maybe down to a 68-66cm (depending on your weight) as this board creates rail pressure very easily and with the wide tail you can easily handle the power of these new fins without too much trouble. An R13 70 S/M will still be a great option in higher winds but I have found I can get better angle out of my R13 66 S in +20 knots as I can keep the mast-track towards the back with this smaller fin and keep the power on it at all times. A 95kg guy would probably do better justice with a 70cm fin in the board in high winds (I am 82kg at the moment).
- Easy to tune/trim
- Fast and safe downwind (probably due to the new nose and slightly deeper cutouts)
- Powerful tail shape allows use of more sail area and bigger fins in higher winds
- Quality construction and materials (although I’ve only owned the board for 3 weeks! – touch wood!)
- Rails easily upwind and trims very straight (no pitching or side-to-side cantering) with the correct settings used
- Gybes very easily
- Full carbon might not be as resistant to heel/foot dents as the pine-wood on Starboard boards
- The name is the SAME as the Gaastra sails (c’mon guys, think of something NEW!)
- Slightly more sharp deck rails than the Starboards – may be a little harsher on your feet on the first ride
- Could’ve been slightly lighter considering the full-carbon construction
Overall I give the board 9/10 and (despite not actually being contracted to ride it whatsoever) it will be my board of choice this season for Formula racing. I’m excited to finally see another option on the market that’s a viable competitor to the Starboard as the F2 boards have not been readily available in Australia the past few seasons and it was starting to become a Starboard one-design class down here!