Ever since the Vanguard/Tomo/Stubby/Meyerhoffer surf shape revolution hit paddle surfing brands have been quick to jump on the band wagon and promote the benefits of these super short performance wave riders.
But what do these ‘no nose’ shapes offer the average paddler over a more traditional surf stick? We paired JP Australia’s Slate 7.6ft (one of the first companies to introduce this style) with their more traditional 8.6ft Pro to answer that question. Are these short SUPs just a design fad or do they deliver the kind of performance that will entice?
JP’s 2016 Slate and Pro are 29” wide and have similar volumes (115L and 128L respectively). Both boards come as a quad fin, but can be tuned in thruster mode. (Note: the demo 8.6ft we used was last year’s model. There’s no difference in hull shape and 2016’s version has a fifth fin box). Length is a foot of difference but the point of stubby boards is to ride them super short. And after all, what do dimensions, on paper, really tell you about performance on the water?
Visually side by side the two JPs are worlds apart, and yet they’re arguable designed for similar conditions – small to medium sized waves and/or slightly breezy conditions.
If you’re a rider switching to super short boards for the first time (i.e. sub 8ft) the biggest thing to be aware of is nose to tail stability. Normally you’d only be concerned with rail to rail balance but as you drop length (and volume) SUPs tend to require deft technique to keep them straight and true.
Sweet spots are usually pre-defined and there’s not much room for error. Riders also have to position their feet offset to compensate. This is true of the Slate 7.6ft whereas the Pro 8.6ft forgives slightly dodgy footwork. The 8.6ft, however, still needs some thought about foot placement as its pulled in nose and tail won’t keep you dry all the time.
Another thing you’ll notice is how much less glide you get with the 7.6ft. This is also usual – the longer the board the better the glide, generally.
JP Slate 7.6ft
We hopped on the Slate for the first outing and after a few strokes located the best paddling stance. There’s a bit of wobble (read lively) front to back and side to side but getting comfortable is a quick exercise.
If you’ve got a way to travel before hitting the peak – such as with SUP Mag UK’s local – then a no nose board takes slightly longer to reach its destination. We appreciate that not everyone will have this issue though.
Hitting the first walls of white water we were sceptical how it would cope climbing the froth. Surprisingly the Slate handles broken waves with ease, its wide duck’s bill nose floating up and over helping riders navigate flotsam.
Scouring the line up is extremely rewarding – the Slate’s pivotal nature making it efficient to spin into position in a flash. As we mentioned earlier, glide is on the slower side and riders will need to adjust their timing accordingly. You’ll need to spot your chosen wave well in advance and begin paddling for the drop a tad earlier than normal.
That said, it isn’t difficult to pick up swells and soon enough you’ll be flying down the face – here’s where the board’s true nature shines through. Picking up speed swiftly it hits terminal velocity in an instant and stays there.
Speed is a good thing in wave riding terms and cranking off the bottom will power you’re poised to bang out your manoeuvre of choice. Slamming in a super loose top turn could be the option and while getting vertical is possible the Slate really enjoys flatter skate style cutbacks – sending buckets flying in the process.
Quad fins allow for lightening quick carves, although the Slate doesn’t drive off the bottom quite as efficiently as in thruster mode. Tri fins also allowed for more vertical rail to rail approach. We’d definitely recommended playing around with your skegs depending on conditions. If waves aren’t standing up or you’re a more vertical rider then we’d suggest three fins in the back. Quad fins seemed a lot better when the waves became punchier, but you’ll need to trim accurately to avoid sliding out.
The Slate benefits from small to medium size waves and does tend to perform better in this environment. When swells increase in size we’d recommend a step up stick be used, like the 8.6ft Pro.
JP 8.6ft Pro
Jumping on the 8.6ft Pro the feeling is miles away from the Slate 7.6ft. For a start you can instantly tell you’re on a longer board – it cuts through the brine much more efficiently and reaches destinations quicker. Stability is pretty similar from rail to rail but you don’t get as much nose to tail rock. That said, riders will still need to be aware of their feet and not stepping off optimum placements.
Getting over white water is easy enough, although watch the narrower tail when stepping back into surf stance. That extra glide comes into play when paddling for waves and you can make drops earlier. If you’re a pro-active rider who ‘works’ their board then generating speed is a given. The main difference being if you step off the gas the 8.6ft slows down and makes turning stiffer – the Slate in contrast just keeps on going.
Off the bottom you can crank the 8.6ft super aggressively and it’ll slingshot riders towards their chosen destination lightning fast – you can carve a lot more aggressively with the 8.6ft. Sticking with the wave’s pocket delivers best results for manoeuvrability – vertical smacks, hacks and cutties are all the more efficient on this part of the wave. If you do end up flattening out then waiting for swells to catch you up is a good idea otherwise it’s more pumping towards the next section.
Some riders may want to drop the size of the fins on the 8.6ft Pro to loosen up the ride a tad. For middle weights, however, the supplied set up is optimum.
Having spent a good deal of time with both boards the most significant differences are speed, drive and style of turns. The Slate 7.6ft hits redline digits much earlier than the 8.6ft Pro and stays there. If you’re a less energetic rider who’s looking for plug ‘n’ play performance in punchy small waves (breaking closer to shore), with slashy skate influenced turns, this could be the board for you.
Paddle surfers wanting a stick for aggressive power surfing, with vertical hits will be better served by the 8.6ft Pro. For our money it’s really a mood thing. Sometimes you fancy getting out and bouncing some lips in a vertical hack style while at other times you feel like slashing and sliding. The 8.6ft copes with breeze and chop better whereas the Slate is much more plug ‘n’ play. In an ideal world you’d own both as part of a quiver.
Slate 7.6ft WOOD – £1199
Slte 7.6ft PRO – £1649
Surf PRO 8.6ft – £1599
Surf WOOD 8.6ft – £1199
Both boards are now available to demo at Andy Biggs Watersports on Hayling Island. Give the shop a call for more info – 02392 467755.