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SLALOM! SPEED! Part One: Equipment


Without a doubt there is a resurgence of interest in slalom and speed-sailing. Wherever you look – on the professional circuit, in national championships as well at a local level – people are again interested in going fast.

Like all windsurfing equipment choosing speed and slalom gear involves an element of trial and error and personal preference but in part one of a two-part article, Jon Squires takes a look at the basics of slalom sails, boards and the combination of equipment you’ll need to get on the pace.
Part two will cover off all you need to know about slalom setup, tuning as well as an introduction to race tactics.

The equipment used for slalom has evolved significantly over time but the big changes that have taken place since the mid-1990’s are that boards have got shorter and wider, while sails have become larger and flatter.

The change in board shapes has been due to the need to generate more speed and control, while also making them more effective across a wider wind range.

By making a board shorter, the designer can reduce the ‘moment’ effect that will influence the fore and aft trim. Trim has a big influence on control. Simply put – if you make a board shorter (within reason!), you improve its control. This is of course a simplification of a complex problem involving the variables of rocker, plan shape and length but you get the idea.

To give you an example, a ‘classic’ slalom board from 1995 was around 270cm long and 52cm wide with a volume around 75-80lt. Nowadays, a slalom board designed for a similar amount of breeze (15 – 30kts) will measure 245 x 60cm, while the volume will be about 90lt.

In fact, the biggest determinant of a boards ‘purpose’ is its width and volume. Length is now virtually meaningless as all boards are about the same length!

The width of the board will determine it’s usefulness across different wind strengths. In the same way a Formula board planes early due to it being 1.0m wide, a slalom board will benefit from the same logic. Consequently, light wind slalom boards are often as wide as 80-85cm. Conversely, as the board gets narrower it becomes suitable for use in progressively higher winds. In theory at least, it has more speed potential; this is the reason why speed boards are so narrow – sometimes as little as 42cm wide.

To demonstrate these differences, the outline drawings show three different types of board. Each one reflects the designers’ objective by way of a different outline while the length hardly changes.

Captions: BOARDS. These are the captions that go with the board drawings. In the drawing, the speed board is on the left, the medium wind slalom board is in the middle and the light wind board on the right.

SPEED BOARD (242 x 48cm; 68lt.)
This is a highly specialised board designed for one thing: SPEED. To minimise resistance (drag), wetted surface area is kept to a minimum. Therefore, the board is narrow and has a tiny ‘pin’ tail. To help trim the board aft, the foot-straps and fin box are located as far back as possible. For this reason, having an excellent fin is imperative; typically it is all that is in the water.

MEDIUM WIND SLALOM BOARD (245 x 60cm; 90lt.)
This is typical, modern slalom board. Featuring a ‘stable’ outline, round rails and relatively short overall length, it has been designed for use in good wind upwards of 15kts. A board such as this is incredibly versatile, and will (if necessary) carry sails from 5.8m2 – 7.8m2 to cover a huge wind range.

LIGHT WIND SLALOM BOARD (245 x 76cm; 125lt.)
This board is all about efficiency. It is wide (76cm) and has a correspondingly big tail. These dimensions mean the board has a big wetted surface area; this assists with getting planing (from a standing start) as well as acceleration out of the corners.

When it comes to slalom and speed fins, the golden rule is that a board is only as good as the fin you put in it. The effect that a good (or bad) fin will have on you and your equipments’ performance is always underrated. I recommend that you think of your slalom setup in terms of a rig, board and fin that is a “triumvirate” that will in equal parts determine how good your equipment is.

The length of the fin must be appropriate to the tail width of your board. If you are ‘over’ finned (i.e. carrying too much fin relative to the tail width) the board will stand on its tail and leeward rail. The feeling is like it is trying to break your ankles. This is slow and difficult to control.

Conversely, if your board is ‘under’ finned, it will tend to sit flat on the windward rail and not ‘fly the fin’. Top speed will be non-existent, and the board will feel ‘dead’. It will also ‘stick’ to the water when you are trying to get planing.

Length is not all that counts when talking slalom fins. The style (outline) that you choose will depend a lot on if you are looking for speed or control as well as the typical wind strengths you are going to sail in. There are many different designs of slalom and speed fins and to describe these in any detail would fill an entire page but the drawings below describe the features of some of the more common fin types available for speed and slalom.

To find the best fin for your board, you will have to experiment, as there is no hard and fast rule. The best place to start is with the fin that came with the board, as this will be the size and style that the design team has found to work best. Try as many different styles, shapes, foils and stiffness as you can get your hands on and ultimately it will become very clear as to what works in your board.

Like the speed board, this a highly specialised fin. It is designed for use in flat water and high wind conditions. It is swept back for control, acceleration and unlimited top-end speed.

This is a more conventional slalom fin in a size that is very common. It features a wide, relatively stiff base, which gives control and power while the tip is quite thin giving good top-end speed. To provide good low-end characteristics, it quite upright.

This fin is designed to generate lift in light wind. It is raked forward (upright) and has quite a relatively wider tip than the 34cm fin above. Despite being a big fin, it is still fast as the foil is quite fine.


Typically, for any wind strength, but especially in light air, the sails are larger and flatter (eg: finer) than ever before. This is due to the principle that governs all sails; a large, fine aerofoil is faster than a small, full one. So, by having a large, flat sail you gain not only the benefits of size in light wind, but also control and speed when it gets windy.

For more detailed information on how sails are designed, refer to Jon’s article on ‘Windsurfing Sails: Design & Function’ in the March 2006 issue of Wind&Kite.

Depending on your level of sailing and your budget you could choose a high end flat-water sail or a top-of-the-line slalom racing sail. Some brands are even recognising the popularity of slalom and introducing a specific slalom sail to the range that caters specifically to windsurfers focussed on going fast or participating in GPS Speedsailing.

Your choice of sail size will depend on your own size, the conditions you sail in and the board(s) that you own. Many sail brands have a wind range chart based on an average rider weight to help you determine the right sail sizes for your local spot.

Whatever you choose selecting the right sail and rig combination is the key to getting the most out of your time on the water because as important as the sail is, the framework that it is rigged on is just as critical.

To get the best possible performance out of your sail, it should be rigged on the correct mast as specified by the manufacturer. Doing this ensures that the curve, flex and stiffness of the mast matches the luff curve of the sail. If it doesn’t match, the sail will not perform as the designer intended and performance will be compromised.

A good quality carbon boom is the best “long term” investment you can make in your windsurfing equipment. The bottom line is that it must be as stiff as possible; the stiffer your boom is the less your rig will deform when it gets windy meaning that you can continue to use the sails’ power more effectively. As such, always buy the best boom you can afford; look after it and it will last for many years.

To get an idea of the most commonly used combinations, I asked Pieter Bijl (NED-0) for an overview of the equipment combinations he uses most often when developing product for NeilPryde, Fanatic and Vector Fins.

Recommended Equipment Combinations: SLALOM

Wind Speed (Kts)

Sail Size

Board Volume (lt.)

Board Width (cm)

Fin Size


























Recommended Equipment Combinations: SPEED

Wind Speed (Kts)

Sail Size

Board Volume (lt.)

Board Width (cm)

Fin Size































Selecting what equipment you spend your money on is a big decision. So, I asked Pro-Racer Micah Buzianis (USA-34) what advice he would give about selecting slalom kit.

1.Look around and see what gear is getting the best results on the race course. If you can’t try everything, then go with what is winning.

2.Make sure you spend your money on the equipment that will best suit the conditions you usually sail in. Check out what sizes of sails, boards and fins you and other local sailors are using, and work from there.

3.Try to match up your masts, sails and boards so that they are of a similar generation. They will have been designed to work together, and will probably work better than a “mix’n’match” combination of different generations of equipment.

4.Setup is critical. Once you have the gear you want, start by setting it up per the manufacturers settings. Then play with different settings and sizes to find out what feels and works best for you. This is a lot of work but it is also a big part of the fun; trying different things and learning about how the changes affect you. Once you have a setting that works for you – mark it! Get yourself a notebook to keep all of your settings in and the conditions you use them for. By doing this, you keep learning from where you left off in your last session.

5.Don’t be afraid to ask questions of locals, shops or even top pros. Most top racers have some form of direct access through personal or sponsor’s websites, and are only to happy to offer advice. And most top brands have some form of online support or forum where you can ask questions.

Article by Jon Squires.
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