Skunkworks 7 Foot Surfboard Review
Softboard performance with groovy save the planet vibes
Size: 7ft x 23" x 3"
Volume: 62.5 litres
Tested: (above) 5-6ft Grande Plage, Biarritz (below) 2ft Mundaka
But why make boards in Northern Ireland, when they can be made in the Far East at a fraction of the cost, we wondered? Why bother with fancy stuff like environmental and safety standards, workers'/human rights etc etc, all things that would surely punish your bottom line?
How do you even make a softboard more eco-friendly? And WTFeck is heat bonded, anyway?
But above all, do they actually work?
Following a whole load of R&D and plenty of feedback from a few seasons supplying the surf school market across Europe, Skunkworks are unveiling a V3 softboard for 2018, longer lasting boards with non-rashing decks, made without any glue whatsoever, and sourced from raw materials in UK/Ireland, making a minimum of a environmental footprint where possible.
Test pilot extraordinaire Adrien Toyon, (whom you may recall made a world record attempt last year for Surf Europe, riding 17 surfboards in under 3 hours at the WaveGarden Cove) paddled out on the Skunkworks 7ft recently on a forboding, wintry day in Biarritz. Snow had dumped on the Pyrenees, and a thick, solid 6ft groundswell was pretty much closing out Grande Plage.
Ideal conditions to put the Skunkworks 7 Foot through her paces to find out how she handled the juice, we thought.
Here's what Toyon reckoned:
"That was a lot of fun. The board paddled really well, and felt really well made and strong. She took a couple of beatings out there, like me (laughs). It's obviously a lot different from the shortboards I usually ride in competition, and made a really cool alternative to try something new and fun out, instead."
So Adrien liked it then. Thing is, when you're at pro-level, within reason, you can ride anything, pretty much. What would a (below) average surfer make of the board, in average conditions? Scroll down, and find out.
When a knee-to-chest high day loomed on the charts for Mundaka the week before Christmas, a flask of turmeric, lemon & ginger tea was prepared, wholemeal crispbreads were tahini'd, the Skunkworks 7ft was slid lovingly into the 1999 VW Bora estate and BBC R4's In 0ur Time podcasts with Melvyn Bragg downloaded.
Rock n' fricken roll, kids!
"Whether you want to pull into closeout shoreys/not kill people on crowded days/are clumsy at board carrying down stone steps or merely want to share the gift of shred with the previously uninitiated for financial gain or otherwise, soft rocks"
Softboards have come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, and are currently enjoying a massive popularity boom.
Whether you want to pull into closeout shoreys/not kill people on crowded days/are clumsy at board carrying down stone steps or merely want to share the gift of shred with the previously uninitiated for financial gain or otherwise, soft rocks.
Whether it's Jamie o-Brien board transferring at Pipe on Red Bull TV in a Hawaiian shirt and banana hammock Speedos, or a 3 time World Champ coming out with his own line of performance-orientated, soft top epoxy boards, the surf world is hard for soft, so to speak.
Northern Ireland board makers Skunkworks, it should be noted, aren't necessarily going in for that high-performance soft chic, currently. These are boards designed primarily for beginners to learn to surf on, to bash around and abuse in the car park, but also for more experienced surfers to go out and have big fun on, too.
But above all, they're designed to last, without dissing Mother Earth as much as other comparable craft in their genre.
The fins are rubbery, ideal for safety and for schools. Seriously, you don't want razor sharp standard fibreglass, plastic or carbon fins on a learner's board, unless you have an A&E/ doctors n' nurses fetish, well even if you do, you don't want 'em.
Bendy rudders or not, nevertheless the board trims just fine, the combo of a nice outline and curves meaning it can hold an edge trimming up and down an admirably steep wall.
'The combo of a nice outline and curves meaning it can hold an edge trimming up and down an admirably steep wall'
The thing paddles like an absolute dream. Again, ideal for schools but also perfect for tiny, underpowered conditions like micro Mundaka.
Seeing as I didn't have one of those things you put in your gob, I had to hold the GoPro in my hand and was basically paddling one-armed... and it didn't hamper my wave catching one bit. She paddled like a longboard, despite being a mere 7ft, and my paddle fitness not being what it might, after a couple weeks out of the drink with gnarly manflu (hence the turmeric tea).
0ne of the issues softboards -- as in true softboards rather than epoxy boards covered in soft stuff -- can have is with the flex/stiff balance, as too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
As far as your humble tester could tell, the flex was spot on. I threw in a couple cheeky stalls for the sickest of handbarrels/hair dips (hair dips are when you don't get quite as barrelled as a head dip, obvs), and she reacted well. I'd say I easily got more hair dipped than anyone else out at Mundaka that day (partly because I was the only one out, perhaps).
Bottom turns and some radical top trims went down too (again, the best anyone did that day at Europe's/the world's best rivermouth left, by far). The stiffness, they say, comes from two aluminium stringers. They seemed to do the job just fine, those alu guys.
I mean, you probably wouldn't want to be cranking waterski style too hard off the bottom at the Peahi left, nor be throwing down too many Tommy Carroll 'the snap heard around the world's, but for sweet direction changes, cheeky fades, wee speed pumps and the like, you're totally groovy.
The deck reminded me of yoga at the Capbreton Quiksilver Boardriders on Tuesdays with Barbara, only without the stale sweat smell (my mat, not Barbs!*), Buddha's smug self-satisfied grin and without the chanting.
You see, despite the quasi-spiritual nature of empty, leash-less Mundak, soft offshore puffing off the mountains and out of the Urdaibai estuary biosphere reserve, the flapping of the giant Basque flag by the iconic church, I didn't find myself chanting 'shanti-shan-ti--shan-ti-liii'.
But I did non-mindfully chant 'faaaaaarrrk!' a couple of times when pulling back on bombs I thought we're gonna rattle off too fast, but didn't. Some things in surfing are constant it seems -- like blowing the best waves of the day -- whether it's 2ft or 6.
I've always been a bit of a wax minimalist, and had the merest blim in the Bora's boot. That was more than enough, and the cushioning nuzzle of the soft deck welcomed my bootie-less size 9 and a halves like the welcoming embrace of Madeiran sheepskin slippers. Mmmmm.
In summary, the commendable eco-cred in the form of heat bonded, glue-less construction, the responsibly sourced materials, the overall durability and the non-sweatshop Made in Europe vibes should appeal to any surfer or vaguely shred-curious great outdoors sympathiser. A lot.
You're not going to be qualifying for the CT on this board, you might even struggle to qualify for the next round of your local boardriders event, if your local boardriders club is populated with shortboard schralpers. Which it should be.
But if you want a board to have fun with the whole fam, to teach people how to surf with, to go out and shred yourself, without fretting about dings, cranial trauma and the looming spectre of ecological armageddon, well then fill your booties, surf world.
* She showers loads, probably. I mean I've never even sniffed her... oh let's move on!