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Windsurf UK, April 2002

The new Free Formula range from Starboard fits neatly in between their Go line-up and their highly successful Formula racing program. The range encompasses three boards, designed to be extremely fast in light and medium winds yet still remaining enjoyable to use when the wind picks up. The board that we are testing here is the 138 - the smallest in the Free Formula range, but at 80cm wide it is far from a tiddler. It has a seamless D-Ram construction, using Spectra Dyneema on the rails for extra strength.

On The Water Considering the Free Formula 138 is 80cm wide and comes supplied with a 56cm fin, it is hardly surprising that it is very early to plane. Similar to the AHD FD74, the extra width makes the boom height drop by an inch or two as you stand out on the rail, so be prepared to raise the clamp to compensate. With such a Formula pedigree this board goes upwind like you would not believe. Whilst testing, other sailors commented on how it looks almost unnatural on the water - its pointing angle seems to defy physics. It does prefer sails with a cam or two, as the composure of this board in powered conditions will benefit from the extra stability of a harder foil. Altematively, the 138 is more than stable enough to be applicable for beginners and intermediates, with a multi-tude of different strap positions available, including plugs for training straps. It has no bad habits in a straight line, and gives a lot of control over the fin; although a smaller one will help make the board easier to maneuver for intermediates. Gybing the Free Formula requires a slight change in style. The extraordinary plan-shape requires slightly more weighting of the rail than normal, but on the plus side, the size of the tail means that it tends to resist coming off the plane. Instead it prefers to take a wider arc and retain good speed. Such is the stability and secure nature of the hull that it forgives a great many mistakes. You can stagger around on the deck when changing the rig round without upsetting the board at all. You could easily win a race with the Free Formula; it will power around a course undisturbed by the gustiest of conditions. Likewise, it is equally ideal for cruising on big open waters.

Verdict The Free Formula has an incredibly wide range of use. Whilst being big enough to learn on for most, it also offers blistering race performance or the potential to simply cruise effortlessly. Once again Starboard lead with a new breed of widestyle freeride board. Could it re-ignite the enthusiasm for racing on a recreational scale?

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