G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

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.


  1. You are going to want your fin collection back so you can get to the nose on that baby. Lose the side bites and fin up in the center box and she'll feel a lot more stable on the tip. Your pivot fin would be a good first choice.

  2. Either great minds think alike, or you are in deep trouble, 'cause I had almost those same identical thoughts. I bought a RFC DeTemple MD3 fin ( a while back and tried it in the SUP but didn't like it. Too hard to turn the board. I also thought it might do better in the kelp, but that didn't prove out either.

    I've now got it in the Fireball. The Pivot Fin is a great call too, but not for the kelpy spots. I'll save that for the beaches or that spot you surf all the time that's gonna have a humongous beach this year!!!.

    When you're done with the fins I'll collect 'em. Lots of room for experimentation, big and small, single and 2+1.

  3. Well I have owned both boards and yes the Walden does have a heap of rocker. The Fireball was the 2nd longboard I ever owned and I was not happy with it, eventually exchanging it for 10' and 9' Bics? which I loved particularly the 9'. I sold the Bics and bought a Walden last year as it just looked a great shape for a longboard. I have recently moved house and the local wave just did not seem to suit the Walden which I really enjoyed where I used to surf previously. I had an advert made up ready to sell it before I took the sidebiters off and tried it as a single fin and now it will be remaining in the quiver as I have a much easier board to paddle with all the higher performance positive attributes that the Walden offers. It also happens to be the best non traditional noserider I have ever owned. Enjoy your fireball and yes do lose the sidebiters and give yourself the opportunity to experience being up there on the nose!

  4. Good info Ramsnake. I haven't posted yesterday's session yet (so little time, so much to do) but I took Andy's and your advice and surfed the Fireball with a single 9" DeTemple. It definitely made the board more stable but it did stiffen things up a lot. I liked the way it felt though and it was well suited for the "a lot of water moving big waves" bumpy conditions. I can hardly wait to try it in smoother conditions.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much of a difference fins makes to the same surfboard. Like you said, you were ready to sell your Walden, changed the fins, and now it's a valued part of your quiver. Thanks for the insights.

  5. Do you still like this board?

    I'm looking around for my first longboard (Belgium coast) and my eye fell on this one.

  6. Bjorn, I sold the McTavish a while ago and have been SUP surfing and paddling exclusively for almost two years. That said I wouldn't buy the Fireball again, instead I would buy the Walden Magic. Not because I don't think the Fireball isn't a good board, it's more of a "been there, done that" thing. Had the Fireball, now let's see what the Magic can do. If I was going to give you any advice I'd say give the Magic a go first. I see a lot more Walden Magic's around my neighborhood than Fireballs. If you don't like it, it won't be hard to sell.

  7. Just picked up my first custom longboard 9'4 fireball 23 in 2 3/4 rounded pin. I got the flatter 07 rocker instead of the normal 08 rocker witch is on the normal fireball. Didn't like the board at all first few surfs but now it rocks very happy with it. Asho