AIRUSH - STARBOARD FREEWING AIR V2 4M
AIRUSH / STARBOARD FREEWING AIR
WORDS: Jim Gaunt
TESTED BY: Jim Gaunt & Rob Claisse - Progression
TEST TEAM NOTES: I’m going to start with the windows; something that I have sometimes felt are a little surplus to requirements (when their benefits are compared to the practical difficulty in carefully packing the wing away in such a method that won’t crease or damage the windows). Packing away a wing with no windows is a cinch when it comes to easily getting the wing back in the bag, compared to those with awkwardly placed windows. I don’t wing in a super busy spot most of the time, but I do however appreciate that many do and any extra vision that a rider can have is an advantage. I don’t think that lifting a wing up to see who or what is lying just downwind is overly difficult, but I also now have to say that these tall, curved forward windows on the Freewing Air V2 are both very clear but also very easy to roll compactly along the wing’s natural leading edge curve as you press the air out, and are then neatly positioned to let you fold the wing in half to easily get it into the bag. The Freewing Air V2 is also a very compact wing with a curved sweep to the tips meaning aft visibility just behind the wing is good, too. The practical benefits also continue throughout further performance aspects of this wing, making it a really versatile design for a broad range of riders, from beginners through to wave riders and those looking to jump.
POWER I’ve ridden this over a four week period for many sessions, from as light as 14 knots, through to 28 – 30. I don’t think it’s a standout for having the best low end grunt or absolute top end strong wind forward drive, but across its otherwise broad range it is a fun, very easy and really comfortable wing for all the challenges you'll put it through. While the natural power and drive that comes from the Freewing Air V2 isn’t the most powerful I’ve used, the rigid and very stable feel means that every pump of the wing in lighter winds when you’re trying to come up on the foil has a really positive effect. So essentially, with a bit of technique, you can expand the wing’s low end and I managed some fun sessions with this four metre on the F-One Phantom 1280 FCT hydrofoil and a 65 litre AK Phazer in conditions averaging 14 – 16 knots. As a reminder, I weigh around 75 kilos with my wetsuit and impact vest.
HANDLING So what makes the Freewing Air V2 such an all-round performer? Well, for me, it’s largely down to functionality and comfort. Up to now I have been more in favour of the approach of brands who have designed their wings with two, large perfectly placed handles. It may have taken me a little while to experiment with the five handles on the Freewing Air V2 across several sessions in different winds, but now having got used to the wing, I’m settled on the first and fourth handles for most of my general riding. What took me a while to get used to was that the handles I was most comfortable with (1st and 4th) felt like quite a wide spread for my arms at first. However, and particularly so in foiling, products have their own personalities and characteristics, so it just took a bit of getting used to and forgetting what I’ve got used to riding recently. Also what I find when there are several handles to choose from, instead of settling into my ride, for the first half an hour I’m asking myself whether holding the wing in a different way might feel better? In lighter wind I moved my front hand back to the second handle which adds more of a forward pulling feeling, but that wasn’t quite right for general riding (though I imagine it might be on a bigger sized wing). I then raided my image archives when back at my computer and found that the Airush / Starboard team riders, Zane Schweitzer and Victor Hays, seem to always use that second handle for their aerial spins. So there you go... So essentially, in this case, options are a good thing. While I didn’t use the third handle while actually riding, you’ll read in my Phazer review (which was a step down in board volume for me) I needed to stabilise the board with forward movement as soon as possible, so rather than the big stretch to the fourth handle with my back hand, I was able to more easily sheet the wing in with the third handle. This quick input of power was enough to stabilise the board and then quickly make the extra reach for the fourth handle with a more forgiving platform under my knees. Crucially, the handles are firm, so you have a good connection with the wing, are just big enough to be able to swap two hands over on the same handle, and are perfectly comfortable. No rubbing issues at all. A little note on Rob's handle use - he's well over six feet tall and 30 kilos heavier than me and he found that he was using the very back handle a lot (which I wasn't). Switching regularly between the fourth and fifth handles with his back hand for the ideal power he wanted, Rob also found the handles really comfortable, but necessary to switch his hands because the Freewing needs to be sheeted quite hard for more power (as you'll read below). No power shortage though - Rob and I were both using 4m wings in the same session - something we're rarely able to do, given the differences we have in body weight.
DRIFTING AND TURNING The Freewing Air V2 is both nimble, yet sturdy and stable for steady upwind riding. A four metre is a mid size wing, so as it’s not huge, I rarely had any issues with the tip touching. If I did, or if the wing flipped while I was riding a wave, I was quite easily able to flip the wing again while riding. The tips are also really well swept back, so when they did touch down, it was a simple case of just lifting my front arm to release the tip from the water.
Where we really enjoyed the Freewing Air V2 is in the speed that it depowers. The draft / power zone on the Freewing is located further back in the wing, compared to something like the F-One Strike, so the Freewing depowers more quickly. It also means you need to sheet the wing in more for more power. So the Strike powers up sooner, but the Freewing is easier to be more carefree in your movements when throwing the wing overhead and into wind for a tack, for example. You can do it later / more suddenly and not need such thought in your technique. There are advantages and disadvantages to different draft power positions, but as we're finding with lots of current wings, these are differences that are soon overcome (and forgotten about) as you get used to the techniques for your own gear. Overhead the Freewing feels very balanced and in the rolling swell conditions that we often get here on the south coast (rather than long swell lines), holding only the front power handle flags the wing out nicely. So without having to reach for the neutral handle on the leading egde I was able to ride for as long as I liked when pumping or letting a swell carry me as long as it could with just one hand on the front power handle. I know a lot of wings do this, but it felt especially natural on this wing. Crucially, the Freewing Air V2 never felt heavy. It always felt positively positioned and very easy to lift up or drop back into the power. In lighter winds when pumping on a small wave, there was the odd time that I was travelling downwind and lost some power in the wing’s ability to drift. When it dropped vertically in front of me, the compact length of its central strut meant it didn’t catch in the water and I was able to lift it up and reposition it while riding. As previously mentioned, the front handle is big enough to have both your hands using it at once when swapping your hands during a gybe. Essentially anything is possible with this wing, whether you’re darting it into wind overhead during a tack, or spinning it quickly after a gybe. No twisting issues when holding the neutral handle and when I tried my first jumps, I felt plenty of fun lift when I threw my front arm up for power.
Wingmount images this issue were shot using the Flymount Aero - read the review and watch our video here
HARNESS ATTACHMENT The Freewing Air V2 is one of the wings on the market with very robust, webbed harness line attachment points and, having recently converted to riding a harness, especially in strong winds, the Freewing Air V2 feels excellent as soon as you hook in. Perfectly balanced and suddenly able to be held really efficiently into wind, you can simply extend the wing’s range by using the harness line. I used an F-One harness line with adjustable pigtail attachments, and you can read more about my experiences of riding with a harness in this feature in this very issue. A key point for anyone looking to ride long sessions in windy or tricky conditions is the use of a harness line, whether now or in the future, and I have to say the webbing loops on this Freewing Air V2 seem really robust, well sewn in, and ideally positioned.
EXTRA POINTS Kevlar reinforcements are useful if you’re faced with a bit of a walk back at any point and the inevitable dragging of tips across the ground, but yet the wing remains quite light feeling in your hands. I didn’t use them, but the Freewing Air V2 has the two big angled handles at the front which some people may find useful, particularly when learning to swap hands during a gybe. There’s also a very useful strut valve to help dump air from your wing when deflating it and the Boston twist valve for inflation requires a standard mid size inflation nozzle. It’s also really easy to untwist when it comes to letting air out. No fiddly elements or techniques. The Freewing Air V2 is available in four colour combinations, so you don’t have to go with pink, but why would you not?!
“Superbly balanced when you add a harness, the top end of this wing also then extends brilliantly.”
SUMMARY: Essentially this is a very user-friendly wing in so many ways. You will find wings with better natural low and top ends, but the impressive stiffness allows you to find extra performance as your skills develop. Superbly balanced when you add a harness, the top end of this wing also then extends brilliantly. This is a wing to join you from the very first steps on a wing foil through to never ending sessions in more challenging conditions where you want reliability and ease of use to aid your performance. Looks great, has a uniquely sporty, swept back shape and is well made, too. WSW LIKED:
Very practical, easy, all-round performance. WSW WOULD CHANGE: I found the most balanced first and fourth handles a bit wide to begin with, but soon settled into the position, especially so with a harness when they felt spot on.
FREEWING AIR V2 BALANCE POINTS /10: Robust / build: 7.5 Power: 6.5 Depower stability: 8 Strong wind handling: 7.5 Light wind power generation: 7.5 Stability: 8 Upwind drive: 8 Manoeuvrability: 8.5 Ease of use: 8.5 SIZES: 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 & 2m