Sky Solbach is staring down a rowdy room of international dealers. If you’ve ever been to a dealer meeting, let alone held the stage in front of a concert hall of retail experts, you would know these gatherings are a combination of formal and informal dialogue where designers like Sky present their new lines and answer questions from the armchair designers in the supply chain and media.
From my experience at these types of events, regardless of the brand, praise is often in short supply. While one dealer questions why the 5’8” is not a 5’9” and others want deck pads on even the strapless pro-models (which are optional anyway), the room goes silent as one Italian distributor vociferously breaks through the chaotic chatter, exclaiming, “Finally the board we all deserve!”
– – – – – – – The entire room erupts into roaring celebration. – – – – – – –
As the surfboard shaper for North Kiteboarding, Sky is charged with presenting the 2016 line to North’s retail clan. The concepts behind kitesurfing’s production surfboards are often ruled by the demand for ironclad warranty policies rather than lighter weight and awe inspiring performance. Sky has been working hard over the last few years to crack this nut and the crowd eagerly listens as he walks them through North’s new Team Series Construction.
With the entire line of surfboards at his back, Sky starts the presentation by comparing his new boards to the standard polyurethane surfboard we all love but can not bare to kite on for fear of breaking. To stand up to the demands of kitesurfing, Sky has developed a combination of materials and methods to balance out the equation of durability, weight and flex in order to stay within the dictates of a robust warranty. Using materials like cork, bamboo and selective carbon zones, Sky has built one of the first production surfboards that can withstand the massive strapless air game of pros like Airton Cozzolino, yet feel responsive and alive for drawing confident lines down the face of waves.
Starting with lightweight EPS foam, the Team Construction uses a combo of laminated materials to create the strength. Part of Sky’s secret equation is taking away as much as it is putting in. A big factor in dropping weight is the epiphany that most of the heel dents and failures happen on the rails. Instead of a full rail-to-rail deck patch of cork, Sky shed unwanted weight by relocating the cork to strips just along the rails. In addition, the Team Series doesn’t come with footstrap inserts, not because of the weight of the actual inserts, but because of the extra layers of glass that are required to safely embed a blocky insert into a deck designed to flex.
The base of the board has a full layer of bamboo and a carbon strip which allows Sky to skip the extra typical layers of glass, giving the board the durability and flex that surfers want under foot while reducing weight. The Team Construction is available in two lines of boards: the Pro Surf series and the Pro CSC series, both of which are visually identifiable with their sanded white finish that reveals the underneath bamboo and carbon layup. The Pro Surf is your sexy full-length thruster that comes alive in shoulder to head plus surf with broader lines and confidence inspiring control, and tracking in more deep and powerful A-frame waves. The first few days of the dealer meeting the Pro Surf shapes were in high demand in the head high peeling lefts over the offshore reefs.
The other Team Construction board is the Pro CSC, a cutoff shape that uses straighter rails, shorter length and lower volume to give riders more efficient planing in challenging wind conditions. The Pro CSC excels in junkier surf where the wave is less critical and the rider needs something a little more playful in shoulder high and smaller waves. Sky admits that he and his teammates have been spending much more time on the CSC when conditions aren’t at an all time high.
The next type of build is the Classic Construction. North has been using this for a couple years with positive results, slightly stiffer and heavier, the Classic Construction uses a full cork deck with patches. It’s really strong with a good feeling, but not quite as light and lively as the Team Construction. The Wam series of boards comes with the Classic Construction, and when Sky retells the story of shaping this year’s line there was a question as to whether this shape would end up as the Wam or the Pro Surf, as the Wam offers no less performance than the Pro Surf, but may be more user-friendly with additional width under the front and back foot, and a slightly straighter template for heavier riders and lighter conditions.
The Whip is another CSC shape that comes in the Classic Construction. The Whip is a cutoff shape that according to Sky is preferred by team riders like Airton Cozzolino for strapless freestyle, and is designed to tackle larger surf than the other cutoff shape in the line, the Pro CSC. When I took this board out for a spin I started consistently landing my first strapless front rolls on the Whip, so I’m a firm believer in the playful and fun shape for both shoulder high surf and aerial attempts.
The last board from the lineup is the all new Nugget CSC, which comes in the Classic Construction. This is a fun board that excels in small junky surf and conditions where staying upwind might prove to be challenging. For those who are familiar with the past versions of the Nugget, the new shape pivots under the tail and is user-friendly with additional nose width, rocker and slightly straighter rails. This board was tons of fun as the swell faded to waist high and less. The extra volume made for playful pumping down the line, clearing sections, and fun little layback hacks. After the Whip and Pro CSC it took a little bit to adapt to the bigger width, but in junkier conditions it was forgiving and enjoyable.
As the meeting continues and Sky moves onto a heated discussion about foilboarding, the real takeaway is that the key to choosing a board is understanding the types of surf and conditions each shape excels in and selecting the model that will match the rider’s style. After riding North’s entire directional line, I would choose the 5’4″ Whip for small beach break days and practicing strapless rotations at Waddell and the 5’11” Pro Surf in Team Construction for the longer period swells lining up on Santa Cruz’s reefs.