Sunday, July 21, 2024
From The MagIn-DepthKite Surfboard Design - Sky Solbach - Trade Secrets

Kite Surfboard Design – Sky Solbach – Trade Secrets

Interview and photos by Axel Reese

This issue Kitesurfing Magazine catches up with North (Renamed Duotone) Kiteboarding’s Maui based shaper Sky Solbach. Originally from Hood River, OR, Sky is the lead directional board shaper at North Kiteboarding (Now Duotone). A top rider in his own right, his understanding of board performance, and what to look for in a board is second to none.

Sky Solbach, in front of his house with prototype boards, on Maui/Hawaii

Waveboard Shapes:

Sky, tell us about the outlines and tails shapes that you use.

Sky Solbach: “There are lots of different outlines and tail shapes you can use to create a desired performance characteristic. Generally speaking, the straighter and longer the outline, the more locked in and control-oriented the board will be. And vide-versa, the more curve there is in the outline, the looser and quicker to turn the board will be. Of course you must also find the balance between outline, rocker, rail shape and fin positions to fine-tune the type of feeling you want to achieve. A pintail for example lends itself well to a board with a very long, straight outline where you don’t want a lot of surface area in the tail, which is ideal for controlling speed rather than creating speed and this is why you see pintails on a lot of big wave boards. A squash tail on the other hand allows you to carry a lot of width into the tail which helps the rider create speed in smaller, weaker waves. These are just two examples of virtually endless combinations. Please see the shots with examples!

Sky Solbach, pintail
rounded squashtail,
smallow tail

Any tip for what length people should choose?

Sky Solbach: “Depending on the type of design we’re talking about, there are a lot of different lengths and sizes of boards. For a “standard” shortboard (pointed nose) I typically advise people to start riding something that is roughly as long as the rider’s height. For the CSC designs, the starting point would be about 6 to 8 inches shorter than that!” 

Sky Solbach, shaping room, on Maui/Hawaii

What can you tell us about Bottom shape?

Sky Solbach: “Bottom shapes play a crucial role in a board’s performance. A typical single concave bottom allows you to essentially flatten the curve through the center line of the board while maintaining more curve over the rail line. The result of this is obviously that when you engage the board in a turn it will drive more off the rail curve, tightening the turning radius. I try to take a very logical approach to bottom contours by simply thinking about what I am trying to achieve with a bottom contour and the more you really start to visualize how a board turns and operates, the more these contours start to make sense. The nugget is a great example of a pretty complex bottom contour with a very logical design approach. It has V in the nose and tail which essentially gives it more nose and tail rocker over the rail line (quicker, more sensitive turning) At the same time it also has a super deep double concave starting in the center and channeling water into the fins (this gives the board control and grip). Because of this double concave that adds so much grip and control, I am able to incorporate a lot of curve into the outline, which works in symmetry with the added rail rocker to help the board turn super tight. Please see the shots with the examples!” 

board with double concave, on Maui/Hawaii


Sky Solbach: “I always think of rocker as a multiple curves. You have the center line rocker, then you have the rail rocker and you have the rocker in between. I constantly compare how my bottom contours (V, Concave, convex etc) are factoring into my rocker lines on the rail, center and in between. You must also find the correct balance between rocker and outline curvature and this can be a very tedious task when developing a new design. You can’t just take any rocker and apply it to a new outline. It just won’t work. You have to develop the rocker to match the outline and vise versa. This includes taking into account bottom shapes. Everything must be working in harmony. 

Sky Solbach, a bottomcurve with a stronger rocker
Sky Solbach, a bottomcurve with a stronger rocker, here a view to the rocker at the tail, (but here it is not a “tailrocker”)
Sky Solbach, a bottomcurve with a stronger rocker and a flat section in the middle of the board


Sky Solbach: “Generally speaking, rounder rails are more forgiving and sharper rails engage more to create grip. This is the reason you see tails of surfboards with square edges and the noses with completely round 50/50 rails. Rail thickness and rail apex also play a big role in a board’s performance. Thicker rails have more deflection (they bounce off the water) than thinner rails, which is great for creating speed in small waves, but you wouldn’t want it on a big wave board where you want to control speed. By moving the rail apex up or down (high rail/low rail) you can also fine tune how the board will handle. The rails are like the board’s “feelers” in the water and when I design a board I try to visualize how the rail shape will affect performance and I design the rail shape to fit each model.  


Sky Solbach, rail with a stronger tucked under edge, on Maui/Hawaii
Sky Solbach, rail with a less tucked under edge, here measured at one foot off from the tail,
Sky Solbach, rail with a less tucked under edge, here measured at one foot off from the tail,
Sky Solbach, rail with a good tucked under edge,
Sky Solbach, rail with a stronger tucked under edge, really soft in direction to the bottom,


Sky Solbach: “Fin placement is a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of surfboard design. There is an infinite number of configurations that offer a wide range of feel and performance characteristics. Below are a few examples of different configurations and their effects on performance.”

Sky Solbach,fins, on Maui/Hawaii

Thruster (3) fin:

Sky Solbach: 

-“moving the fin cluster closer together results in a looser feel and a tighter turning radius. 

-spreading out the cluster gives more drive and hold and results in a wider turning radius. 

-fins closer to the tail give more hold and grip -fins further forward give a looser less connected feeling.” 

Quad (4) fins:

Sky Solbach: 

-“quads closer to the rail offer a quicker rail to rail sensation with more grip/acceleration when on rail but a less connected feeling at speed.

 -moving quads closer to center line gives you a more connected and draggy feeling similar to a thruster.” 

-Introducing more cant angle (fins tilted out towards rail)?

Sky Solbach: “is looser and more draggy at high speed, but offers a connected and direct response at lower speeds and when pumping to generate speed. (Good for small waves) -More toe angle (front of the fins angled in towards the board’s centerline) allows fins to operate at a higher angle of attack, making them better for generating speed in small surf. 

Developing boards requires a lot testing and fins are just one of many variables that go into creating a high performance craft. Understanding the effects different fin positions have on performance is key to achieving the correct balance between board and fin.” 

-What fins do you use specifically for kitesurfing?
Sky Solbach: “I typically use a stiff fin with quite a bit of rake. I like a fin that has a very positive and predictable feel. I never really liked fins that are really snappy and break free easily. I think in kitesurfing we are generally riding pretty fast, so it’s nice to have a fin that can keep up with that. 

-How important is the material of the fin?

Sky Solbach: “Material is super important because of the way different materials flex. A plastic fin will just never be comparable in performance to a glass fiber fin because it bends and twists in a way that it just washes out and is the least responsive feeling fin you can use. Carbon fins can be really good and responsive if they’re done correctly and used in combination with fiberglass. G-10 or glass fiber fins are great for kitesurfing because they have a great mix of stiffness and responsive flex. My favorite fins are usually glass fiber fins. Resin Transfer Molded fins (RTM) are good all round fins and offer medium-range performance.”   


Sky Solbach: “I like to ride with wax. It has a certain softness and stickiness that is just really comfortable and predictable. It can be a pain sometimes, especially when traveling to locations with different water temperatures, but when you have the right wax it really feels good. 

Sky Solbach, waxing a board, at Kanaha beach park, Maui,


Sky Solbach: “Footpads are easier than wax, no doubt and great for strapped riding where you don’t need to move your feet a lot. But pads add weight and to have a deck pad that covers the entire board for strapless riding seems a bit overkill to me. I know people who love riding with deck pads though.”  

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