Knowing that I only had a few days to try the NS 88 I was hoping for a bit of a let up in the weather, we had the swell but along with it was 15 - 20mph onshore winds. That coupled with pretty much bang on low tides after work meant just one thing at Gwithian. Hideous, dumpy closeouts, (is that three things?). Anyway the forecast was looking better for Thursday, so in true forward planning style I decided to give it a bash mid beach on Wednesday night.
Sure enough trotting across the beach and staring out at chest high walls of white water I almost said to myself 'Sod it, I'll go back and watch the tour', but there is something about the investment that it takes to put on a wetsuit, even if it's only a little shorty, that makes it inevitable that it going to get wet, plus even with the stiff, gusty wind in my face carrying the little 8'8" was dead easy and not at all like fighting with some mad, kiting, wing of foam that almost has to be dragged flapping down the beach. It's the little things like this that can make a board grow on me.
Low tide Gwithian, like most flat beaches, is full of pits and hollows that churn the inside wash, pushing the board out until it was more than fin deep I had already made up my mind that it was going to be a short session given that I could get out at all.
Popping up onto the deck for the first time told me instantly that this was going to be fine. It was solid as a rock. I kept the nose pointed seaward and paddled alternate sides through the inside wash with no drama until I got caught in that 'pitching zone' just between the safety of the green and the inside maelstrom. Ok down on my knees and bide my time nose on, until I made my dash for the relative calm out back between what passed for a lull.
That was better than I thought but it had taken about 15 minutes to get out and I was knackered.
The swell was chest to head high and not well shaped, the waves were sort of all or nothing making taking off a case of going what seemed to be suicidally late, and I did not particularly want to get caught inside and battle my way out again. So I waited and realised that although the chop was lively I could stay on the board and up right. Ok I fell a couple of times but it was choppy, windy and this was my first outing. Top stuff.
After a couple of aborted attempts to drop in, two of which had me stepping forward to weight the nose resulting in me slipping off the front I made a note to 'self'. Wax!!! I caught a couple of pitching set waves and got the feel that the board was keen to go, conditions were not good but staying on it was a bit of a victory.
I caught one in and felt very positive - this board should sing in the right conditions, and judging from this session, the right conditions could be far from perfection.
Next day - phone call to Rich
'Hi Rich it's Steve, do you mind if I wax your nose?'
I jumped quickly back in as the pregnant pause told me he was probably bucking up courage to ask for a back, sack and crack as well and I knew that I had to stem that one pronto.
'And can I keep it for a few more days - please?'
So, tonight - back to the same spot - the wind had dropped a bit, but more importantly had gone around and was cleaning up the head high sets. The nose was waxed up and every thing looked good to go. Paddling out was fine and I found myself a clearish slot although there were plenty of surfers up and down the beach.
The waves were punchy but going no where. I picked off the second of a set, dropped into a right and just had time to stick in a decent bottom turn back up and off the face of the already threatening lip before popping out still on my feet. Marker down, now relax.
It was not easy, staying on the board was fine - patrolling up the break was good but the speed that the waves were forming up and detonating in shallow water left no time for me to settle. That plus the sheer number of prone surfers in the water made it harder to find a shoulder in space. I had a few but everyone was struggling and every now and then a few big 'sneakers' came striding through just to keep everyone on their toes.
The board then, it's a cracker - a proper surfboard that is 'fairly' easy to stay on and has plenty of float and stability even for someone of my weight (currently 14 1/2 stone, 92.5kgs, the 9'3" must a doddle). BUT it is a shortboard and you need to be 'working' it consistently. It turns hard and fast and even after just two sessions it has been one of only two boards that has not needed too much acclimatisation to stand on and paddle even in pretty adverse conditions. Funnily enough the other was the Nah Skwell 7'8".
Standing and paddling on them is one thing catching waves is another. The transition between patrolling, spotting, paddling to and accelerating into a suitable wave requires so many adjustments, considerations and pre-emptions that are all highlighted on shorter boards. For me on the NS88 this was going to need some work.
Shorter boards don't have the glide and early bump catching speed of boards that are 10' plus. You have to go late, often just under the lip, this means the board needs rocker and lots of it, not just to prevent pearling but also to enable you to set the rail on it's edge and use the rocker to turn the board quickly to the safety of the shoulder, away from the curl. The NS88 does this, however for me the stability plus of the board that comes from it's totally flat hull led me to sort of 'skid' and 'slip' into the catch sometimes just wrong foot me. This is not a criticism, it's the nature of the board and with time and familiarisation could be utilised as a great way to slip in sideways.
I felt the need to get to the front to weight the board but often ended up just side on with the nose dipping under the water stalling any momentum that I had and watching the wave go past. Even then with the nose buried it was solid as a rock and totally recoverable. Setting myself up for the catch was the one thing that I felt that I would need to spend some time getting used to and I think that for a 8'8" performance board that's pretty bloody amazing.
This then got me thinking, my Naish has a pretty well defined central keel line running the length of the board, it does make it tippy compared to the Nah Skwell but I reckon it offers some 'drive' and 'bite' when making those last few paddle strokes that keeps the board pointing where you want or expect it to go rather than have it slip and skid out.
Like I said every board I try teaches me something, but then again it could all be total bollox.