Regular PWA podium finisher, Ben van der Steen joins Boards to share why and how to finely tune your gear for top speed.
How many sails do you think you rig in a year? Can you rig your sail blindfolded? I probably rig over 400 times a year. Once, I actually had to help a guy in Fuerte who broke his mast and I de-rigged the complete sail under water without seeing; so I reckon I can rig blindfolded too.
For a slalom sailor like me, that means constantly tweaking, tuning, and testing. But it’s good to start with what you like. I need to go fast, but I don’t always look for just speed, like some do. I look for comfort and control, because without those, a day of racing can be really long.
Then I look for speed at all angles that we sail in slalom: slightly upwind, crosswind, downwind, and deep downwind. Then there is entry and exit on the gybe…is the board easy to control? What about acceleration at the low end and the high end?
There are quite a few things to look at:
BE A ‘GEARHEAD’
You don’t have to be a ‘gearhead’ to win slalom races, but it does help. If you’re not a gearhead it might be good to have a friend who is. It’s true, a good feeling for sail, board and speed can take a long time, but the best sailors have it; plus a healthy understanding of their gear, tuning for conditions, and race strategy. Want to win consistently? You’ve got to master all that!
MY SAILS PICK MY BOARDS
When it comes to slalom, my sail size dictates my board choices; my Tabou Manta 85 is a great board for the early planing and light-wind speed with my 9.6 and 8.6.
The Manta 71 can work with the 8.6, powered up, and all the way down to a 7.1. The small board is for powered 7.1 all the way down to my 5.6. Some gear (mainly sails and boards) I change every year. It’s a cliché, but for sails and boards, the new gear does really seem to do everything better.
Back in the day all the top guys were using custom boards; the winners were whoever had the budget to make fifty prototype boards, and the time to sail them all to fi nd out which board was a real magic rocket… But thankfully those days are over.
This is now what the brands do when they make prototypes. With slalom or racing you’re always on the best version of all the prototypes they have made. In the end, it’s fairer for everyone, plus the production boards now are better than pretty much all of the custom boards from the past.
Love your fins
Your gear is a tool, it’s meant to be used, but treat it with respect and use it for what it is built for. Three metre jumps on your slalom board are a bad idea for your board, and for your mast. And remember this: fins are absolutely sacred. I change my boards and sails all the time, but I have multiple fins that I’ve kept for years and years. When it comes down to race time, this is the most crucial factor to have dialled in, on order of importance: fin, rig, board. You can’t win with the wrong fin. The good news? Almost any slalom board can be competitive with the right fin and taking the time to tune your gear. So, get out there and tune it up!