At A Glance
As I mentioned in the editorial, I was super excited to get a hold of the AFS Blackbird and dive head-first into the fascinating sport of SUP downwinding. The board has a high-aspect design, with notable volume on the nose of the board. The board's triaxial carbon construction, low drag design, and "Y" configuration footstrap inserts are designed to provide dynamic and responsive performance with incredible glide. On test here are two versions: the 6’2 by 21 inches, 90L & the 6’4 by 23.5 inches, 110L.
The AFS Blackbird is full carbon and made in France using triaxial carbon fibre and high-density foam for extra stiffness. It comes with a ¾ length EVA deck pad fitted and can be ordered with or without footstrap mounts. The board does not have handles on the underside or deck, allowing for complete mobility without fear of accidental injury.
The Blackbird comes ready to use, but footstraps/screws, bag, and leash are sold separately by AFS. The board has a pressure vent screw (Breather Screw) included: be sure to tighten it when you go on the water!
Something I really like about all AFS ADVANCED products, including the Blackbird, is that they come with a 3-year warranty, subject to normal fair wear and tear policy.
With regards to the sizes on test here, the 6’2 is an obvious choice for lighter or expert riders. Whereas the 6’4 has a good amount of volume and is slightly wider at 23.5 inches for heavier riders and those that are learning. I got to use both and will discuss that below.
On The Water
For reference, I weigh just under 70kg. I initially took the 6’2 out on the seafront in my hometown of Bournemouth. The issue with that was that I wasn’t only using a less stable board, I was doing it with wind bumps in one direction and swell coming at 90 degrees across me. It made for a rather frustrating session. I also ultimately discovered that I’d placed the foil in the wrong place as well. I figured you have to have failures like this in order to make progress…
Following this I had a couple of super fun SUP surf sessions & a ‘wing drop’ session on the 6’2. In the surf, I found the board to catch small waves super efficiently, and when I was on foil it was so light to pump. Honestly, the weight of a SUP makes an enormous difference to feel when you’re pumping, linking waves, or connecting bumps downwind. The AFS Blackbird feels light & efficient when on foil, something I’m a big fan of.
Onto the ‘wing drop’ session - you’ll no doubt have heard about the Cloud 9 Anchorman. Essentially a sea drogue that you connect to your wing so that you can leave it in the sea. Unfortunately, they had no stock so I bought my own sea drogue as I knew that it could help me with my downwinding skills. Firstly, in 10 knots of wind, the Blackbird gets on foil easily, it has a very low drag and I was often shocked at how soon I was flying with very little effort. Even if you only buy a downwind board for light wind winging, it’s worth it, trust me! Once on foil, I’d drop the wing in the water and practice connecting bumps on the way downwind. The slightly sunken deck on the Blackbird meant I felt well connected to the foil and always in control. I was able to confidently fly downwind and practice reading the ocean. It was invaluable for my progression, a few sessions like that and I felt ready to give SUP downwinding another shot. Once I’d decided I’d gone far enough, I’d come off foil and paddle back to my wing, a really fun way to foil, I highly recommend it.
This session was followed by a weird winter flat spell with no wind forecast for ages. Finally, on the last day that I had the boards, I had the perfect opportunity. 25 to 30 knots and a session in the harbour, where I only had wind bumps to worry about, and no ground swell at all. This time I took the 6’4, with the idea that stability is power. Once I got on the water, the bumps were smaller than I’d hoped, but they were quite steep. The 6’4 Blackbird had ample speed and aerodynamics to assist me up on foil and I was away. It wasn’t a long run, but I got several decent flights of a few minutes. As I mentioned before, the light weight of the board & the sunken deck meant pumping & linking bumps was easy. I had, as many people have, immediately caught the downwind bug. I was actually gutted to give the boards back to UK rep, Paul Wakelin. After just a short amount of success, big plans for adventures were running through my mind. What an exciting sport we’re a part of.
I’m sure some of you will be wondering about the dimensions of these boards, they’re not as aggressive in length as the ‘Kalama’ style boards. They are however narrow, which means their paddle speed is fast. I actually think AFS has got a solid all-round shape here that isn’t so long that you can’t pump it, but is fast enough for an efficient take-off. It’s also an ideal length for wing foiling or SUP surf foiling making it a super versatile purchase for your quiver.
The board's quick takeoff and excellent touch-down tolerance make it an ideal weapon for downwind sup foiling, as well as wing foiling in ultra-light conditions. The Blackbird is optimised to get riders flying quickly and to ensure they bounce up again almost instantly. It’s a serious piece of kit that I know will be popular among a large number of foil-brained frothers. You only have to look to the Mediterranean and French guys like Richard Boudia (see article in this issue) sending it for huge distances on these boards to get you inspired. It certainly has me inspired!
This review was in Issue 16 of Tonic Mag.For more information visit AFS Foils