Saturday, November 22, 2014

Windsurfing Shoes and Knives

This post is of a slightly commercial nature. Since it can be difficult to find reviews of windsurfing equipment, I hope you find this kind of content useful. I've purchased all of the items mentioned below with my own money. Excepts the socks, which I've never tried. You can find a full disclosure at the end of the post*.


Last year I had the unpleasant experience of falling off my board and getting a nasty fish hook and a length of leader wrapped around my ankle. Luckily, the water wasn't rough. I was able to stand on one leg, hold my rig, and tediously unwrap the leader one-handed. I then sailed the hazard back to shore to dispose of it. Surprisingly, I managed the feat without tearing my skin.

This incident, along with sharp rocks, is why I suggest folks wear some kind of footwear when windsurfing on the Laguna Madre. There is a lot of stuff hidden in the mud.

Until recently I had been windsurfing in Vibram Five Fingers. These are form-fitting, glove-like shoes with a thin rubber sole, and separate "fingers" for each toe. I liked them because they are quite low to the ground and so present less of a risk for twisting your ankle like some modern water shoes. You can feel the board through the sole too.

The Five Fingers also do a good job of sticking to your feet so they don't slide as much inside the shoe. They got lots of comments for their strange cartoon-like appearance.

My first pair was a basic model with a velcro strap. Once I wore a hole in those, I purchased the KSO model (i.e. “Keep Stuff Out”). Each of these expensive shoes developed holes between the toes after about one season of windsurfing use.

Although the "board feel" was good, I didn't find them very comfortable for more than an hour or so of windsurfing. My small toes began to feel crushed by the shoes, especially if I was surfing in the straps. The shape toe area made it difficult to get into the straps on my board. Somehow it was always my poor pinky toe that wouldn't make it through the strap.

The Five Fingers could also get very uncomfortable if your toes were forced to share their pockets with sand, pebbles, and tiny shells. Even the “keep stuff out” model still ended the day with a random sampling of beach debris stuck to my feet. It was a relief to peel off the shoes at the end of the day. The KSOs were especially difficult to get on and off.

Since both pairs of Five Fingers had holes in them, I started researching other kinds of footwear for windsurfing. There weren't many thorough reviews, but I did discover some interesting products like kevlar socks.

Before my most recent trip, I purchased a pair of O'Neill Superfreak Tropical 2mm split toe boots to replace the Five Fingers. Sorry, Swiss Protection Socks!

I've only used them for two days, but so far I like them. Because only your big toe gets an individual pocket, the boots are much easier to get on than the Five Fingers. Like the Five Fingers, the boots have a velcro ankle strap to hold your foot in place. Unlike the KSO, there isn't a connecting strap behind the ankle. Because of this difference, I think my feet tend to slide more inside the boot when applying board pressure. The Vibrams seemed to really lock on to my feet.

My favorite feature of the boot is the elastic strap around the ankle opening. You can tighten it to create a snug seal. I didn't get any noticeable debris in either boot on either day, which is a lovely thing. After a day of surfing in the Five Fingers, my feet would be crusted in stuff like a holiday cheese log. Getting bits of shell ground into your feet isn't a pleasant thing.

Since I've only used the boots in light wind, I didn't try getting into board's straps. Considering the rounded design of the boots, I think they will be easier to slide in than the Vibrams.

The boots also seemed to have a grippier sole than the Vibrams, which tended to slip on the deck of my board. I won't know for sure until I have stronger winds to contend with.

Overall I think O'Neill boots are more comfortable for windsurfing, but not perfect. I did have pressure on the big toe when pushing the board forward. It became a little uncomfortable after a few hours. Next time I'll try tightening the ankle strap more to see if that reduces the pressure.

O'Neill also makes a version of this boot without the separated big toe. Those might help with the toe pressure, but maybe at the cost of less robust connection to the front of the feet. In principle, I like how the split toe gives you more to push against than just the side of the shoe. I don't know if it makes a practical difference or not.

I'm curious what these O'Neill boots will feel like in summer. Unlike the Five Fingers, they have very little ventilation, and cover more of the foot. The boot is made from a 2mm neoprene material which has some insulating and padding properties. This is good for preventing sand and rocks from bothering your feet, but it might get hot.

Neither the O'Neill nor the Vibrams feel very comfortable for walking on uneven surfaces. They're especially uncomfortable for walking over gravel and rocks. They have very thin soles. That’s nice for feeling the board and making a solid connection to it, but unlike sneakers, there isn't much of a padded barrier to rocks beating up your feet. It helps to walk with more weight on the toes, which requires some effort.

A Windsurfing Knife

After the fish hook incident, I've also begun to carry a two and a half inch Spyderco Ladybug3 H-1 serrated knife on a lanyard around my neck. I've carried it on several trips where it has been immersed in the hypersaline water of the Laguna Madre. It's unusual formulation of stainless steel shows no sign of rust, and seems to stay sharp.

The knife blade has round opening about 1 cm in diameter on it's back, just large enough to pry the blade open with my thumb. Even after spending time in the salty, muddy Laguna Madre, I can easily open the knife using one hand. This is a critical feature for a knife you might need to use while holding on your board for flotation. The blade locks open automatically.

The lock release mechanism requires two hands to close the knife safely. The release is located on the back. The natural way to press the release puts your fingers between the blade and its home in the handle. This lock arrangement is common, but will make it a little trickier to close the knife when you're on the water. In a knife that's less than 6.5 cm long when folded, there probably aren't many other options.

Hopefully I'll never get tangled in another nasty piece of fishing gear, but I'm quite happy to be prepared.

*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Buying items through these links indirectly helps sustain my Windsurfing addiction and is much appreciated! :)


jhonalex said...
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David Rodrighuez said...
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David Rodrighuez said...

I do not like much because they do not offer much grip. Is that true?