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I'm currently borrowing a 5'4" Firewire Vanguard from a certain local pro. I've been dying to try one on the kite for awhile but the shop was a little leery of loaning one to a kiteboarder....fair enough. I finally talked them out of one of their personal boards for a few days.
I meant to sit down and write a review but honestly I haven't gotten my head around it yet. It rides totally different than any other board I've been on. I'm not even sure how to describe it yet.
Initially it was just a little weird to look down at. The shape is totally foregin. I was conatantly expecting the nose to pearl and pitch me off but it doesn't. Getting up and riding was crazy easy. It planes at a super low speed. (It is described as a planing hull design. Can't say that I really know what that means). Going upwind was nuts. I know my beach and wind pretty well so I can say with certainty that I was upwinding at about 10-15 degrees closer to the wind than my other boards. I found that I could tack out about half as far as I normally do to get back to the top of the lineup. While riding upwind the board feels a lot like a twin tip in that it is nearly symmetrical nose to tail. the tail feels a little loose like a twinnie too, but the super long relatively straight rail section holds well and angles upwind like nothing I've been on. The ride through the chop was pretty smooth too. It doesn't 'porpoise' like a regular surfboard does.
I had no trouble jibing on it. It is super stable as I turned downwind and after switching feet I was able to bring it all the way around and power up with no problem. It also rides toeside pretty well. On toeside tacks I just moved both feet forward and my front foot closer to the rail in the water and leaned a little back. It cut upwind almost as well as riding it heelside.
It is SUPER wide in the tail section and I thought I would hate that as I've been riding boards with narrow thin tails and liking them. Funny thing is, after the first few turns I started to really like it. It turns different but I could still stand on the tail and get it to turn pretty hard. It draws a very smooth arc. Not as slash and bash as a modern thruster.
In the waves it was super fun. I was able to ride the junky little lefts that usually are no fun on my regular boards. The lefts at Front Yards are backhand and upwind like they are on most of the central coast. The vanguard had enough glide to allow me to actually surf and get just enough speed to get a little out in front of the kite and let it drift toward shore as rode the wave.
On the rights it was again fast enough to really ride the wave while the kite just drifted along.
Bottom turns are nice drawn out arcs but still plenty tight enough to get me back on the wave. Top turns were not quite as snappy as I like but I have to admit that once I just let the board do the work I was able to hit the lip almost as hard as with my other boards, and it just felt so nice and smooth. After the snap at the lip the board reenters the wave well. Even on steep sections the nose never buried in the water like it looks like it would.
I ride Front Yards a lot because....well.....It's my front yard. The waves are rarely good, and were no better today, but I had WAY more fun than the conditions should have allowed. This board just makes everything fun while still being able to perform when needed.
(This is starting to sound like a review...just had to get the mental juices flowing...)
I haven't been able to try the Vanguard in typical Nor-Cal conditions (7m, blown out head high surf) yet but I'll try to get it out in those conditions before I have to return it. I'll also be at Sherman this weekend and get a chance to really feel how it rides in calmer water. Feel free to grab me for a demo if you want to try it.
Overall, I had way more fun than I should have in 12-15 knots and crappy closeout waves. I've been leaning toward the 5'11" Taj model (or whatever they are calling it now) as my next board but the Vanguard just might end up being it.
Downsides? Well, for one, it's not a kiteboard. It is a super lightweight surfboard and Firewire does not yet make a kite version. I personally add a layer of 6oz glass to the decks of my boards and so far they have held up really well to the demands of kiting, but that is another expense. Also, it doesn't slam turns as hard and tight as a typical thruster does. If you just want to slash the snot out of the lip this board isn't it, but it still lays down a pretty good line.
Full disclosure: even tough it sounds like I am a brand whore and just touting the good points about this board, I'm not. I just really loved this board! I have no financial or other affiliation with Firewire, or the local Billabong store that sells them (other than friends that work there and let me demo stuff for free). I just look for super light and strong boards that hold up well to the demands of kitesurfing, and if possible, can also be paddle surfed when the wind isn't blowing. So far, Firewire has been able to meet those requirements like no other production boards.
I case you haven't see it yet, here's a link to the board:
Similar but different... The rail line and tail section are different. It'd be fun to do a side by side.
Thanks for the review/report Monte!
I know of one other person who has ridden a Vanguard with a kite. I believe he buckled it the first session at Dillon this spring and had to have it repaired. A kite model could certainly be a really good thing - clearly the current paddle=surf model isn't meant for kiting.
I'd love to give it a spin at Sherman this weekend - see you up there!
Last I heard no. Do you have new information??
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