To all my ice surfing enthusiasts, I share with you my secrets to speed for our unique sport which I know we all equally share a passion unlike anything else experienced on earth!
May you also learn from what I myself have learned from experienced and generous offerings by others. I hope that you enjoy this reading and improve upon your own designs.
The one unique aspect of our ice sport is that through design experimentation we each learn valuable lessons to share with one another.
Today we see many successful and unique designs, 4 blade, 3 blade, skis, ect each with very convincing attributes. Each sailor should seek his/her own preference and master that design which is only as good as each sailor themselves.
I have been a sail maker for over 20 years, working first at Hood Sailmakers at Marblehead Massachusetts USA, through early ‘80s where I helped to develop the windsurfing division.
I started my own custom windsurfing sail maker company in 1985, JB Designs, experimenting every year in the Gorge and had a successful career between there and Marblehead and eventually the sandy sea shores of Cape Cod where I live today.
Over those years I developed specialized windsurf sails for exclusive use on ice. I attained many achievements racing the Freeskate class winning over 12 National Championships. Other achievements include Iceboat club awards for sailing my Iceboard on the Lake Winnipesaukee odyssey “The Hard Way” two times, over 100 miles (160km) of ice in a single day.
Currently I participate in GPS speed sailing and hold the World Record Iceboard Speed of 52.65 knots, but with unofficial speeds much higher.
Last season I presume I won King of the Ice worldwide GPS contest hosted by Sweden.
Today I am an Architectural / Structural designer working with computer aid design.
Here is what I have learned to date, for what will be my upcoming continuous 32 years of ice sailing activity.
Iceboard run through – Iceotope 2015
I have experienced my iceboard career from mastering the four blade skateboard truck design, beginning in 1984 with the USA Freeskate and assigned US14. It was not long before myself and others felt the need to make improvements which has led us up to today.
I have two board types I use, one for pure speed or larger lakes where there is room to travel longer distances. Other board is for slalom, jibing and for smaller lake venues where more jibing is required.
Both boards can easily attain speeds of 50 knots, but at that point the slalom board becomes topped out for speeds while the speed board is just beginning to shine.
Board lengths must be considered as lengths from axle to axle, rather than the actual platform deck itself. This is the geometry that matters, also more commonly known as “wheel base”. Truck widths shall be measured from mounted runners ‘edge to edge’.
Speed board = 145cm
Rear truck width = 46cm, Front truck width = 20cm
Slalom board = 142cm
Rear truck width = 50cm, Front truck width = 20cm
Download – Iceboard Drawing and Designs: JBD ICEBOARDS (592 downloads)
The Slalom board is slightly shorter & wider as compared to the Speed board which is slightly longer and narrower.
Both boards have the mast foot at the same exact position for all sails, 102cm from rear axle. So both boards feel the power from sail force the exact same relationship. I have never felt moving the mast will provide any advantage over the “sweet spot” I have discovered with my exclusive sail designs.
However, I can see the need for others to adjust mast foot position, for larger sails.
The question still remains to me, whether the slight change in ‘triangular geometry’ between my Speed and Slalom boards is enough to make the difference in overall speed performance.
Perhaps the difference in speed between the boards has more to do with the specialized rear truck on the Slalom board which is certainly designed to jibe more easily than the speed board and yet remain ‘wobble free’.
Both of my boards are so close in weight that I can’t see any differences in performance.
Speed = 32lbs (14.5kg)
Slalom = 30lbs (13.6kg)
I have sailed lighter boards and I do not feel they have the stability at speed when the ice gets rough, as board begins to cross bumps.
There is a real danger of a light board skidding when it crosses a large enough bump, rear edges spinout and a bad crash can result.
Where as, the heavier board stays in more contact with the ice on bumps and is a safer ride.
Iceboard – Flex:
Here is probably one of the most important aspects in iceboard deck design.
Two issues will play a role in performance, ‘shock absorption’ and ‘board curve deflection‘. Both of those issues work to maintain constant runner/blade contact to the ice without skidding.
If your board has NO flex, then every tiny bump can be felt and speed suffers for both straight line speed and jibing. Runners can skid and cause spinouts as your body weight gets delivered directly to the runners with no shock absorption.
Board curve deflection can be thought of as similar to how a ski works. When ski bends, it creates a ‘curve’ inside edge for turning. The skateboard trucks do provide most of the iceboards turning abilities, but the curved board deflection adds to this effort, allowing even very tightened truck bushing settings to easily jibe. When rear trucks are wider this is even more noticeable.
Knowing this, my Speed board is much stiffer than my Slalom board and I attribute the outstanding jibing performance of the Slalom board as result of the combination of more flexible deck and wider trucks.
Too much flex can be a bad thing, or can be designed wrong.
If a board simply bends soft into a “negative curve” shape, without a “positive spring back”, then its too soft and won’t aid in the optimal performance as mentioned.
We refer to this dynamic as “reflex response rate”. The board must be designed as a laminate structure with a positive camber, to have the ability to support the combined weight of sailor and sail rig, and still maintain a slight positive camber shape at rest. The real trick to the design is for the boards ability to deflect far, then ‘reflex’ back to normal during the course of sailing bumps and jibing with strong foot pressure. A board should always maintain a slight positive shaped camber when sailing smoothly, then flex over bumps or during the jibe.
Using carbon fiber and fiberglass combined with premium wood structure provides an incredible reflex response rate and can easily be felt as a smooth, comfortable and quiet ride.
Iceboard flex – Construction:
The secret to making a board flex is in the construction process. There have been many years spent in this particular development in the US. The “IceOTope” speed board has been with me for 30 years and is still one of my favorites, although I have had to add more carbon layers as its flex deteriorates. It might be time to retire it and build a new one.
Both of my boards are made from 10mm marine grade premium mahogany plywood, with 20mm thick X 100mm wide hardwood ash tapered full length stringer, sandwiched with carbon fiber and E glass, and glued with West System marine grade epoxy.
The layup is “precurved” in a formed jig to complete a finished curved board when fully cured.
The newer “IceOLater” slalom board is made with two additional parallel stringers and sports a very cool classic wood “Teak & Holly” deck into the marine grade plywood, because style is important too!
Other board shape features:
At this time, I do not feel the aerodynamic shape of my iceboards can be improved upon to reflect speed performance. The shape as seen from the front is already slim enough that I feel not much more can be improved. The outline shape has more to do with personal preference and style. I like a “surfy” style with my speed board sporting a ‘stepped swallow tail’ and slalom board a ‘round tail’.
There are other personal features into boards such as my speed boards ‘dropped rails’, which give excellent edge control for your feet in a jibe.
These rails also offer structural support for the thin wood deck material.
This is mostly a personal preference design for traction and whether to use windsurf foot straps, or not. Most of us are also softwater windsurf sailors, so this comes natural to want to use them.
For reasons of safety I have never used foot straps on iceboards for fear of a disastrous crash.
I have experienced several bad events and can say if I was strapped in, it would have been far worse.
I prefer to use metal cleats made from perforated, bent steel sheet, custom shaped to fit the shoes I wear, in a way where the cleat will fit the inside arch support of the shoe.
I create a “ridge dome” effect with the rear foot cleat along the board centerline to achieve this.
I have also added a heel “kick bar” which aids in preventing the rear foot heel from skipping backwards, which helps in bumpy rough ice conditions.
The front foot does not have the same pressure used, so a smaller cleat is all that is needed.
I use coarse grain beach sand, epoxy set into the deck for a overall non-skid surface. I feel its important to be able to shift your feet around without tripping over your cleats during a jibe or tack.
I have never placed non-skid traction ahead of the mast base. The main reason is because my front bushings are set very loose for jibing and placing your weight onto front loose truck will cause it to wobble easily.
Instead I have developed my skills to transition behind the mast, even in a tack.
I also feel this is a faster transition as your weight is more evenly distributed over all four runners, rather than point load the front two which can slow your turn.
Truck designs & modifications:
Most of the USA sailors use a standard skateboard truck design, then modify the widths to suit the need. There are many modern trucks worthy of experimentation, especially with the oversized mountain board types which offer premium bushing control.
The downfall of any skateboard truck design is the dreaded ‘speed wobble’, where it begins to oscillate uncontrollably.
Skill often plays a major role in controlling a skateboard truck from wobbling, but it goes with saying that iceboards need “beefy” setups to control it. I have for years used USA made ‘Independent 215’ model standard skateboard trucks, then modified the rear width only.
Iceboard Bridge construction
Its easy to build many types of rear spans or “bridges” as known in Europe, and bolt them to a standard skateboard truck. Then construct angle steel for the “blade face” or chock as its known to iceboats. The bridge can be made from anything stiff or rigid. It can NOT be made from anything flexible as this affects the alignment of runners.
Builders must construct the bridge with blade faces to exact alignment, then provide a way to unsure this can be maintained during the abuse seen on ice.
I constructed my bridge with aluminum parts and bolted connections, then tack welded the connections.
Another very good adhesive can be used such as 3M 5200, in addition to the bolts, for outstanding shock absorption to prevent loosening. I have connected the skateboard truck to the main bridge with both bolts and 3M 5200.
This is how most iceboat hardware is built.
One last note about the blade faces, I use Teflon tape adhered to the outside face, between the runner and face, to allow an easy free rotation of runner without friction.
The nut is assembled as a “double-nut” torque set adjustment to allow runner to not wobble loose, while still maintaining easy free rotation.
Truck width considerations:
My ice boards only use the wider spans for the rear truck and use a standard narrow truck at the front because of three main reasons. (readers please pay attention here)
1) Wider rear truck provides increased lateral resistance performance. This is obviously very important as it relates to our sister softwater sport and the need for a quality fin.
2) Wider rear truck prevents rollover, or tipping of the deck. This was the original reason I applied a wide truck, due to the standard truck flipping the deck over. Reason #1 was realized after applying #2.
3) For the same reason as #1, it works against forces using it at the front of your board which adversely creates what is known as “whether helm”. That’s a feeling your board wants to always “round up” into the wind, and takes more foot pressure to “bear off” away from the wind. It would be like placing a fin on the nose of your softwater board. Not good!
Sure, there my be benefits to making the front truck wider, like reason #2 for stability, but as I mentioned, with my sailing style, I never place foot pressure on the front truck to require that. I would prefer the benefit to bear-off easily and not fight against forces which is faster. (Hint)
Other truck hardware considerations:
While I have mentioned the many ways to use truck designs, its important to understand the finished deck height off the ice. LOW is faster and much more controllable. One reason is aerodynamics, but the other is the leverage against the trucks. If you build everything higher, then your board will be “tippy”.
I went to wider rear trucks at first to prevent tipping. So, if you build your board higher, then that in turn affects how wide you make the rear truck to achieve the same result. You need to find balance with width & height.
However, there are other obvious reasons to intentionally build a higher board to clear snowy conditions.
I choose to design my boards for optimal clear ice conditions.
Through Hull Kingpins:
The one pitfall of most standard skateboard trucks is with the kingpin. The stress of the wide rear truck puts enough leverage against the pin that in time it will snap. So I have developed a way to oversize the kingpin and mount it through the deck. This provides a much longer life with kingpins lasting up to 5 times longer than normal. It also makes for easy replacement when it breaks, and they still do. I replace my pin every few years to prevent it.
The day you break one kingpin and need to make a long trek home on ice, you will never be ‘left out in the cold’ again!
Bushings and new developments:
The bushings I use are 90 durometer in the rear with combinations of 80 range in the front. The rear foot pressure requires the extra stiffness because of your weight placement, while the front requires softer range because of much less weight distribution, at least the way I sail.
In recent years, I have developed a new rear truck for the Slalom board by using a modified “Norblan Speedsail” truck, originally made in France for land sailor type board.
I chopped the truck baseplate and integrated it into the board sandwich construction. It uses large oversized hard 90 durometer bushings to provide incredible control for a very maneuverable truck with minimal speed wobble.
It also uses a huge oversized 12mm kingpin through the hull.
Designs similar could be the future for iceboard truck technology.
We have seen several other home built designs like it in the past.
This is with a doubt the most important aspect of ALL ice board design.
There is much to learn if you have no experience. I wish to share my knowledge and take the time correctly to cover all aspects of material selections, rocker shapes, edge angles, sharpness and polishing benefits.
The real secret to speed lies with how well you can create and maintain your edges.
You won’t need a specialized custom runner shaping grinding machine like I have either.
But you will need some basic proven methods for using jigs, files, belt sanders and polishing oil stones.
I will feature my “machine” for your interests only , as it’s an engineered marvel with several creative experts on hand to say the least.
I will return with a full detailed review of what you need to know for basics, then explain how you can take it to the extreme level of performance.