For many years the Skate was the benchmark for ‘accessible’ freestyle with a heavy crossover into ordinary recreational sailing. It appears that some things don’t change. This year Fanatic have downsized considerably, knocking volume, width and length off both of their freestyle boards to reposition the range.
On the water:
The Skate 97 is marginally the smallest of those on test and looks the least like a purpose designed freestyle as it has the smallest slab tail, one of the narrower tails and noses – and a full set of outboard strap options! The look translates into feel and it immediately feels the most ‘normal’ board, riding pretty much like any freemove, quick to get going, easy to blast, and just like any other 100L board to carve. Despite the slightly narrower max width and tail width it is probably the quickest onto the plane and seems the fastest board once planing. Although easy to turn it feels composed and stable rather than super-loose, with relatively high vee making it feel more directional and grippy than most freestyles. Through freestyle moves it delivers excellent, easy pop but is not the most slidey. It was generally considered better for going in aggressively at speed and then offering a predictable finish, rather than helping to easily finish slower moves with easy slide. Freeride performance is pretty much as good as you will find in any 100L board, with the option of outboard straps really increasing the range for those who may want to take a bigger fin and sail and blast in marginal winds. It would be serviceable in waves too, although the longish flat gives it a slightly stiff feel.
Light hull weight. Very comfortable pads and straps (although one sailor found the smooth pads occasionally slippery). The fin is a high quality G10 that suits the all-round nature of the board, but is a bit big for exclusively freestyle use. Popularity Very high. Second favourite for Adam, equal top two for Jono, equal top three for Emile and very popular with the non-freestylers. Only Annek had reservations due to the lack of slide.
The Skate still has a firm grip on the freestyle all-rounder slot, mixing good freestyle performance with good freeride / freemove performance. While not amongst the best for completing tricks with low power and getting away with under-rotated moves, it is definitely very good for fast and explosive freestyle. It doesn’t need loads of wind to plane but it does need reasonable speed and power to perform. An excellent choice for those still not fully committed to a dedicatedly freestyle future and for those who are happy taking a bit of speed and power into their moves.