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Formula Boards and Longboards

Sometimes this discussion is called Formula vs. Longboards. I do not consider this a competition nor do I consider these board types to be mutually exclusive. It should be a symbiotic relationship in terms of helping windsurfing. Both are meant for the lighter to mid winds and start to be beyond their means when one speaks of 25 + knot winds.

Before I get too deep into discussion, perhaps I should briefly describe what these board types are, generally speaking.  I will assume that the name Formula was derived from Formula car racing :-) These boards are typically low rider , wide boards – somewhat similar to the Formula I racing car. Nowadays Formula boards are typically one meter wide and shorter than they used to be and not nearly as long as a longboard.  They usually have very long fins – around 70 cm and use very large sails – from 10-oh to 12-oh. The longboard, as the name implies, is a longer windsurf or sailboard – typically over 11 feet. Measures are relative and it is a simple measure to say that both Formula and Longboards will not fit into the average North American motor vehicle. The Formula boards are really wide and the Longboards really long. Longboards typically have what one calls dagger boards or centre boards. These act like a keel and help the board go upwind. Both boards work well with 8.5’s and I am unsure how large a sail a longboard can handle – probably depends on the board - in races it seems 9.5 is the max.

This discussion of "Formula Boards vs Longboards" is found in windsurf magazines, forums and at the local beach. Interestingly enough, locally there is more discussion and evidence of formula boards than longboards.  Just as I met a fellow who wants to be considered an ambassador of SUP {stand up paddling} in the province of Québec,  I wish to become an ambassador and advocate of longboarding in Montréal !!

I believe longboarding is less about racing than formula. Formula requires a certain amount of wind because it is very inefficient when there is almost no wind – like fewer than 10 knots (i say 10 knots cuz i am a heavyweight of close to 100 kilos). Longboards are fine in light to mid winds and the centre board helps when it comes to those lighter winds. People discuss what happens when longboards and formula boards race and it seems the results are extremely dependent on the course and the conditions. At a certain point, the formula board will just blow the doors off the longboard and other times the longboard will be the predominant winner. This is why I say they are NOT mutually exclusive AND as such I am surprised there are not more people or racers doing both. Perhaps it comes down to cost... Formula boards, sails and masts are extremely expensive. A race longboard is also extremely expensive. Interestingly enough, there are older race longboards that DO show up in the used market OCCASIONALLY.

A bit of history ... The earliest sailboards were longboards. They were long, heavy, had small fins, a centre board and no footstraps. Apparently the first world championships were in 1973. The International Mistral Class Organization/IMCO started in 1976. In 1984 windsurfing became part of the Olympics for men. Board choice has been an issue ever since and there was talk of removing the event from 2012 Olympics.  Early longboards had boat like hulls, but flattened out quickly ... The most famous longboard of today has to be the Kona ONE and perhaps the Starboard Phantom. In the early race days, there were boards like the Mistral Equipe, Mistral Superlight, Fanatic Mega Cat, Tiga Race, the One Designs and F2 Lightning. Today’s longboards are still over 180 litres in volume and usually more than 11 feet.

Racing example:

The Starboard company was infamous (and still is) for coming out with new and innovative concepts when it comes to sailboards. They recovered the industry with the wide GO board and also started the Formula line in about 1999. In around 2002 the boards hit the one meter width and it has stayed there since. Other companies like AHD, BIC, Exocet, F2, Mistral and others have tried to keep with up with Starboard in the Formula arena, but have had difficulty.

Racing example: 

In general people are saying that a Formula board will require about 2 knots less wind than a modern longboard in order to plane – when using the same sail for the same person. This is an interesting idea because typically people say one cannot use the same sail on these different boards since the formula prefers a sail with a loose leech and the longboard prefers a sail with a tighter leech.

So, the longboard can handle lighter winds more readily. The formula does not schlogg well. The formula board can be faster in planing. Both can go upwind quite well. Apparently it takes some getting used to when getting in the footstraps on the formula for the first time – due to board width. The formula has quite a long fin and as such has issues with shallow waters and rocks. They say formula boards are fragile. If you are not racing, one board and two(2) sails should be adequate in either of these disciplines. Both board types get you on the water earlier and both can handle quite decent winds – to about 25 knots.

So, it is just a matter of personal choice !! Since I like to go on the water and almost drift about and explore, I use an old longboard for now (BIC Dufour Wing) . I hope to try a Kona ONE end of July 2011 in Ottawa. These longboards are quite capable of planing and fast...Perhaps one day I will manage to purchase a used one...

For me it is all about TOW aka time on water. This week I sailed every day so far. My w/s buddy, who is selling his 160 and will have only a 130 liter board, would not even consider going out unless steady 16 knot winds. However, he too is considering the possibility of a Kona ONE. Some people "argue" that a large freeride board with larger sails is the "way to go" - rather than formula. I have a 160 liter/79 cm board that i use with an 8.5 and 10-oh. With my weight, the starting point is 12 knots. Under that, I go for the longboard. With a formula i might gain 2 knots ie be able to start planing at 10 knots. I have determined that i can do the same thing much more cheaply - just lose some more weight !! {Allison Shreeve of Australia says she can plane in 6 knots on a Formula board !!}

My motto: Get out there and ride. You're gonna like it :-)
Unfortunately, my skills stop me around the 25 knot mark - also when waves get over about one foot... {for now !!}

Follow-up: Re-discovered a piece on James Douglass' blog: In this post it discusses and shows on the graph that longboards can reach planing thresholds around 12 knots whereas Formula boards do this around 8 knots. However, it is NOT until 12 knots in the Formula arena when pumping is no longer required. Personally, I have never been a fan of pumping and use it sparingly. Have NO idea how the Olympic RSX folks do it cuz it is TIRING !!

For me the issues for Formula are cost and pumping. For the longboard the issue is availability !! Cannot easily find Phantoms or Kona ONEs !!! Will check out the Konas in Ottawa the weekend of 31JUL2011 and go from there - will probably stay with what i have since sails are starting to need replacement...

Update:  Since the original post, I have purchased an MS-2 8-oh with matching 490/75 mast and a Fanatic Ultra CAT, a classique longboard. This CAT can plane when even the kiters got off the water at OKA Park and it can handle the 10-oh. The Formula solution for me was too $$$, too specialized, too long a fin and too sensitive. The longboard was inexpensive, can go in 7 knots, has a short 12 inch/30 cm fin and fully retractable centreboard and can handle any abuse. This was a NO brainer for me and it gets chuckles or comments wherever i go :-)

2012 update: Since the CAT, I was nervous about the shape it was in - too many soft spots on deck and most repair actions were unsuccessful.  I was unable to find another decent inexpensive Ultra or Mega CAT in the area. And then by chance I discovered a BIC Techno Formula at the local windsurf shop for a decent price - with NO fin, but they had one - not too $$ either. Since then I have been planing with this FreeFormula board instead of with the CAT. It too seems to plane up at around 10 knots and is also smoooother - almost like a Cadillac on the water :-) May seem not too exciting, butt it get s me on the water AND practicing things like jibes/gybes !!! At this point I like it more than the older CAT. It actually seems less technical than a racy funboard like the Ultra CAT with it's mast track et al. The CAT is more FUN than the BIC Dufour for me and as such has found a home at the outlaw's chalet :-) All I need to bring up is my favourite MS-2 8-oh :-)

2015 update: The CAT was "hurt"/damaged in 2014 and as such I purchased a Mistral Equipe I. The CAT has since been repaired and so , I now have two(2) classiques. Also, the BIC Techno Formula was sold and on the same day I purchased a used JP SLW 92 PRO. In other words, I kinda have a longboard and I kinda have a Formula-like board :-)

2016 update: The CAT was sold and so was the Mistral Equipe I. From this time until 2018 I was using the Mistral Equipe 2 XR aka MEQ and the BIC SL200. Still have the JP SLW92. With foiling gaining popularity larger freerace sails are no longer available. Even the SailWorks Retro now stops at 9.5 m². People foil with Formula boards (racers), but not so much with longboards.

2018: After a very poor season, I have been looking at getting more good longboards like an Exocet 380 or perhaps a cheap Formula like a BIC Daytona. The BIC is the cheaper option... At this point in time I have decided that a board purchase also means I need to sell one. If I purchase the BIC Formula, the JP SLW92 goes. If I purchase the Exocet, the SL200 goes, but there is a BIG price difference - so, this option is costly. AND my van is shot with NO roof rack for the car. Makes it difficult to pick up from Quebec City or Toronto :-(

some interesting Formula links:

the one i used the most for longboarding WAS, butt they kept updating it, having issues and NOT answering my questions = VERY disappointing :-(

Here is a link with longboard raceboards discussed in 1991


  1. Nice article!

    It's a good thing to have longboard ambassadors because these boards bring back people to the sport. I had several requests from people that want to try it again...

    I hope you can try the Kona, you will like it. It's nicer to sail than my old Sailboard Vario because you can plane well with it too. Like modern boards, the Kona is fragile tough, so the old board will be kept for the kids.


  2. Thx sailboarder!!

    I use the BIC Dufour Wing to introduce people to the sport - usually with the small North Zeta 4.2. Just recently i purchased the inflatable Mistral Windglider. My 12 year old nephew was "windsurfing" in less than 10 minutes. Wish i had purchased one long ago!!

    joe windsurfer

  3. formula boards have a wider range than big freeride boards. Formula rocker and footstraps helps with this.

    Think about ride quality too. Longboards plane softer over chop than wides.

    I have tried the Kona, and found it to be a bit heavy and bulky. Lacks most important tuning tackle of other race boards.

    The longboard "scene" is less aggressive. More laid back and less athletic windsurfing in general. No pressure to get out when it's blowing. Soul windsurfing. Except when transporting the board...

  4. some gave me an older 12 foot windsurfer the label says "350 Yoo....." and the rest of the label can not be read. its worn off. Does anyone know what kind of board this may be?? I would appreciate the help'

  5. you are better off asking such a question on a windsurf forum...
    a quick search on Google seems to suggest the BIC Melody 350.
    It was 350 cm long, 68 cm wide and 220 liters in volume.
    YOO seems to just be misleading and probably NOT part of the brand nor model.
    350 cm translates into 350/2.5 = inches = 140 inches ~ 12 feet


  6. Hi Joe
    This comment is a bit late in the day. Many years ago I acquired a F2 Lighting, after my old HiFly it was really nice, lightish and with loads of footstraps. I had it for years and never was able to turn it very well. Most of my mates were on shortboards by then and took the mick out of me, but I used to say with the length of this board I am halfway there before I start.
    In a nice strong breeze I could get back into the last footstraps and plane with 95ish percent of the board in the air.
    Also as a matter of interest I have a Bic Techno Formula 170 which has been languishing under my terrace for some time. With a wash and brush up it looks pretty good. I'm trying to get a longish fin (earlier type with the trim box) at a reasonable price as when I acquired it, it only had a 36cm fin, which is obviously useless for a decent size sail.


    BrianH (Penthievre Presqu'ile de Quiberon France)

    1. Vous êtes loins :-(
      J'ai l'aileron PARFAIT pour vous
      TRIMM Select UltraRace 66 cm
      j'adore cette aileron et utilise la même chose avec ma JP SLW92
      viens à Montréal et je le te donne pour la moité prix :-)
      good winds

    2. Thanks for the offer Joe, I'll be sure to look you up the next time I'm in Montreal!!!
      Incidentally I am English but I moved here about 12 years ago, partly for the windsurfing/swimmig. I live on a very narrow isthmus, with one side better for wave sailing and the other for blasting (my side). I'm not nimble (95kgs) enough for the waves.

      Bon vent


      PS enjoy your blog, just found it.

    3. Too funny
      hope to meet up one day :-)
      enjoy the blog
      you can search joe windsurfer on youtube too
      (if u r interested :-)

  7. This may be a somewhat late entry into the forum but for what its worth:

    I currently live in Istanbul, and have been sailing all year round for the last 4 years. Until now I was predominantly sailing in the Aegean (during weekend getaways from my home town of Istanbul) and built a good quiver of boards (flat water and wave) the deal with the conditions that one is likely to come across in all 4 seaons.
    However, a year ago, (after my twin girls arrived) I decided to that it would be best to do my winter sailing in Istanbul and found a convenient spot (a sailing club) from which to launch. I quickly found out however, my quiver was grossly in adequate for the conditions there: off shore, and shifty/gusty due to the buildings around. The wind does become stronger and more ‘consistent’ as one sails farther from the coast, but is then confronted with the gargantuan task of sailing upwind to get back – a nightware when one considers that sub zero temperatures (Celsius) is quite common.
    So I set off on a pet project to select a board that would address to conditions at hand. I looked into the choice between a formula, light wind slalom board and long/race boards. (Note: the club where I sail is actually home to teams of Techno, RS:One and RS:X – some of whom are on the national squad).

    My choice was a hybrid/one design board: The phantom 295 – which has some raceboard DNA in it – in that you can rail the board upwind and get back to launch point efficiently in less than a quarter of the time but also has a geometry (fin included) to allow for good speed when planing even in light wind.

    I thought long and hard about a lightwind short board but as you pointed out (eg SB Ultrasonic, RRD Lightwind X-fire and various formula boards) it requires a sail that compares in size to to the span of jet fighter to actually make the most of.

    1. NEVER too late with such an interesting comment !!

  8. HI Joe, I received a 1984 Lighning and would like to use it in winter (italy) but dont have a mast foot, and its quite hard to guess the Measurement from the board, does anybody has a foto of a mastffot lightning 1984?? best would be with Measurement (tape measure on image?) thanks fro help

    1. in my post ...
      "This F2 mastfoot pin fits 1985 F2 boards with adjustable mast tracks."
      was marked as available at thehouse
      but now marked as "NOT available"

      GOOD LUCK !!


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