Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Board Review: McTavish 9-3 Fireball
Dims: 9-3 X 19 1/4 X 23 X 16 X 3.
Fins: 9" center, FCS GX sides.
Glassing: 6 and 6 on top; 4 and a 4 oz patch on the bottom. Polyurethane foam core.
Designed and shaped by Bob McTavish; built by GSI.
Half the fun of buying and surfing a new board, is doing the research and deciding which one to get. I wanted to add a longboard to my quiver for fun, a change of pace, and to surf places where my SUP is not welcome. I've long been an admirer of Steve Walden and Bob McTavish as surfers, shapers and designers (and astute businessmen too). So I took my time and really enjoyed checking out the two boards that made the finals: the McTavish Fireball, and the Walden Magic.
Freeline had both boards in various lengths in stock so I could lay my hands on each, and fully measure them out. One big concern was rocker. My friend Jeff had cautioned me about the McTavish boards...too much rocker, too hard to paddle and therefore not the best wave catcher. We were talking in the context of a specific wave we've surfed, and I wanted to use my new purchase to surf that wave, so his opinion was important. Balancing that out though was the fact that I wasn't going to be able to surf "that wave" very often, and I couldn't afford to be that wave specific. The board had to be more of an all-arounder. Also, I really don't like boards with straight rocker. Yeah, they're fast down the line, fast paddlers and very traditional, but what I like to do, is as much climbing and dropping as I can. Without adequate rocker, the board is just too stiff for my preferences. So imagine my surprise when the Walden Magic measured up with more rocker than the Fireball. That pretty much turned the tide towards the Fireball. (Bob has a lot of videos on You Tube, covering almost all his boards. He's an articulate guy (not just a salesman pushing his boards) so I watched them all.)
At first I was going to go with the 9-1 (me at 150 pounds). But in the end I decided for a little more length (9-3) for better paddling, and more of that longboard feel (read glide). Even though there was an EPS/epoxy Fireball in the rack, I went with the polyurethane (PU) old school construction, again for that weightier longboard feeling. In the end, a traditional ride, with more modern longboard design elements was what I was looking for.
As I was paddling out for the first time, I kept thinking, "hey, this thing's only 7" shorter than my Angulo SUP!" And since my SUP is EPS and light for a standup paddleboard, the weight felt a lot the same. The bottom contours on both boards are very similar too, so perhaps not surprisingly, the boards share some of the same wave riding characteristics. McTavish designs have always intrigued me, and this board (especially the bottom) was no different.
McTavish calls it a three stage bottom (rocker), and each stage is distinctive. The nose is fully concave to enhance paddling and nose riding. The center stage or "engine" is double concave which adds lift and drive. The rear stage is the steering wheel and makes the board surprisingly maneuverable and loose. There's a lot of rocker in this stage and the bottom is still double concave, but with decidedly more vee in it than the center stage.
The plan shape is pleasing to the eye. Rounded pins have always been my favorite tail. I just think they work great and are truly a "one size fits all" tail design. The "tongue depressor" nose is so cool looking and always makes me think I'll be the nose rider I always wanted to be. (This has never actually happened though. Who knows, maybe this time?)
So, how does it ride? It always takes me a bit to get the feel of a new board. At first I was paddling from a position too far back on the deck, and wasn't easily catching waves. And on a 9-3 longboard catching waves should be no problem. Shizizit! Jeff was right I thought. Dammit, what have I done? But I readjusted, moving forward a little and finding a better balance point. From then on catching waves was no problem. Too far forward though had me pearling on one take-off, but as I popped up I weighted back and the nose resurfaced without incident.
The ride itself was smooth and stable with very easy bottom turns and turnbacks. The Fireball does not lack speed and making sections was fun and sure. I could stall back in the curl, run my had across the falling lip, then confidently drop under the lip and section, only to re-emerge and do it all over again. Turn backs almost felt too loose really, but the board responded well as it came about out of the bottom turn, and trimmed up on the wave face. I didn't feel any adverse effects from the centrifugal force of the swing weight as the nose came around. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a bevel in the front section nose rail. This design is supposed to prevent the outside rail from catching as the board comes off a section and heads towards the trough, but it felt like I needed to be well aware of keeping that outside rail out of the water. My sense was that it wanted to go under.
I'm not much of a nose rider, so a "Noserider" is not what I wanted. But I was hoping for a little more stability on the nose than what I experienced during this first surf. On my second wave, I walked up to near the front third to trim through a section and it felt really unstable. I wobbled, bogged and got crushed by the falling lip. So much for that thought I. In all fairness I didn't try that again, instead I settled for wave catching and trimming, turning and surfing very conservatively. This isn't to condemn the board (after all I've only surfed it once) so things will change as I log more time on this stick, but sometimes great equipment will cover for lack of ability above and beyond what is reasonably expected. Maybe it will in future, but I'm probably expecting too much.
Overall I had a great first experience on this board and I'm looking forward to a lot more sessions on this fun and (almost) traditional longboard.