Every year at Surf Expo, everyone from O’Brien gets together for a big dinner and we all sit around and talk about the industry, what’s going on in our lives and, of course, product. Pretty standard. This year, after dinner was over, Chris Johnson, the head of R&D, approached me and asked if there was any particular direction I think we should go with the boards. Even though I primarily ride behind the boat, I told him that we should try to focus on building a really good board for the cable and for rails. With more and more parks popping up around the world, this sector of the market makes wakeboarding more accessible to everyone and will only continue to grow. So we had an interesting conversation about it for a little while and then we all called it a night.
While driving home I couldn’t stop thinking about my response and how I just shot myself in the foot. Why did I say that we should focus on the cable and rails? Instead, is it possible for us to create a great board for the cable, rails and the boat without making any compromises? I started talking to people about the different qualities that they want in a wakeboard based on the different environments in which they would be using them, and, as I expected, some of these qualities seemed to conflict. This isn’t a bad thing. It just means that we need to reassess what we know about boards and make a product that will truly cater towards the various aspects of wakeboarding.
So after lots of discussions and CAD designs, the first prototype was built and sent out. Being completely honest, I was a little skeptical when I received the board in the mail. It looked great, but it was the construction that worried me a little bit. The board had more flex than I had expected and when I’ve tried flex boards in the past, I never felt comfortable riding them behind the boat. It just didn’t feel the same to me and I didn’t feel as if I could ride those boards to my full potential. That made me a little concerned, but it wasn’t going to stop me from taking it out for a ride.
It wasn’t exactly the most motivating conditions to ride in with it being cold, windy and rainy, but I really wanted to test out the board. I threw on my bindings and decided to go with the fin position closest to the rails (the board was pre-drilled for two separate fin locations). When I started my set, I just wanted to get a feel for the board and how it carves. I was pretty surprised how little the board flexed with normal edging. It actually felt really similar to a regular wakeboard.
Of course, once I started putting more pressure on the tail, I could feel the flex coming into play. Then it was off to hitting the wake. The board popped and released like a normal wakeboard. I didn’t have to make any adjustments. I rode the same way I normally would. With the flat bottom on the board, I was expecting the landings to be a little harder than my Valhalla, but I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t the case. The board seemed to land softer and with the flex it was more forgiving. I was landing in the trough on backside 5's and was having no problem riding off.
There was one thing that was bothering me on the first few sets. I noticed that my take off on crow style tricks wasn’t as strong as normal. I couldn’t dig the board into the wake as well as I wanted to. So, I ended up moving the fins to the inner position and it allowed the board to edge exactly how I wanted it. At that point, I was completely sold with how the board performed on the wake.
Next, it was off to OWC to see how the board performed at the cable. It took me a minute to get a feel for how fast the board was on the rails, but once I did, it was amazing. I rode it finless, so there was nothing to get hung up on and it was really easy to press. It was probably the most fun I’ve had at the cable.
The only other thing left to do was see what other people thought about the board, so I took it to McCormick’s. I left it out for everyone to ride and, in exchange, I just wanted to hear their thoughts. Throughout the day I had a few people test it out. One of my friends from Tampa rode it, loved it and said that he was buying one as soon as it comes out.
He then passed the board off to Bill Parker, who had been killing it at the cable all day. He took it out and was doing massive s-bend to blinds, roll to blinds, back mobes, etc. After several laps, he took the fins off and tested it out on the rails. He was pressing his way around the cable and still doing a bunch of air tricks around the corners. It was awesome to see him pushing it on the board and enjoying the ride. When he was finished, we talked about the board and he was impressed. He really liked the way it edged and released (with and without fins), as well as how soft and fast the landings were. On the rails, he said that the board was slightly stiffer than what he was used to, but it was still easy to press. He pretty much told me everything that I was hoping to hear.
Even though this board is doing everything that I want it to do, we aren’t going to stop testing and run straight into production. We want to see if we can improve on the design even more. I’m looking forward to testing out different sizes and rocker patterns to see the impact on board performance. I’m already completely satisfied with what we’ve come up with, but if we can make it better then we’re going to go for it.
Believe it or not, O'Brien gave me permission to give you a sneak preview of my 2011 pro model. I hope you like it as much as I do...