KITEBOARDER MAG BLANKFORCE 2015
Based out of Barcelona, Spain, Blankforce is focused on making boards only with the highest quality materials available. The company sources all its materials and produces their entire board collection working with European-based companies. CEO and Head of Research and Development Daniel Muller has been creating and shaping boards from scratch using high end materials since 1999 and answers our questions about what makes his company unique and what Blankforce has to offer riders for 2015.
Blankforce launched in 2006 and produces all its boards in Europe. Why? We are board specialists and only work with high quality materials. Components like carbon, fiberglass, inserts, etc. are provided by European-based companies. For example, we use one of the best top sheets available on the market produced by Isosport, who are Austria-based. Europe is simply the best location and deliveries from our providers to factories are very fast. It takes just a couple of days to get what you need.
Another reason is that the factory is the result of a joint set up. In 2009 we set up a new manufacturing partnership with whom we grow together with every new development and project. To create a new model it is essential to develop all prototypes applying the techniques we use for serial production. There is an incredible amount of detail you have to account for, and you have to be on site and react constantly. Since we are based in Barcelona, our factories are just a few hours away.
Having the factory close to distribution makes operations much more flexible. We produce bigger quantities just before the main season and throughout the year on customer demand. This has two main advantages: Constant availability of boards and ability to react. In case a specific size is not available we are able to deliver it within three weeks. It is very different from a one or two time shot production, where you have to wait three months for the new arrival by boat.
You moved operations to Barcelona in 2013. What did this accomplish for the company?
Apart from being a great city, Barcelona is very well connected (air, rail, road) and has an extensive logistic infrastructure with competitive prices. On one hand, we now offer faster deliveries and on the other hand, our customers enjoy lower transportation costs.
We also test every prototype right away. Take the Enduro for example, we tested new prototypes every two weeks on the ocean and on the cable park. Throughout the year and within a distance of two hours, we can test the boards at very different spots from the Barcelona area with light winds to very strong conditions in Leucate (France) or flat water in Delta Ebro.
How does your R&D process work and does Blankforce follow industry product release cycles? I personally design all boards from scratch. Each board has its own attributes and it only makes sense to me to launch a new board concept if it offers a significant advancement for the industry. Lots of input and ideas come directly from our customers and team riders as they are out in the field. Sometimes our inspiration comes from other sports or motor industries. It can also happen that a board concept is on hold for a longer period of time until we find the key to move it forward. It can depend on materials and/or technique. Once we pass that stage, we develop the first prototypes and test them directly. We produce a lot of prototypes throughout the year and I lead all modifications and changes on site until we get to the final product.
Product releases depend on the type of board. The high-end carbon boards like MK5, Enduro, and Advisory follow a different lifecycle pattern. They have a longer development stage (one year at least) and are very different from each other with regard to design (channels, double concave, bevels, etc.) and performances (flex, speed, pop, etc.). Therefore, we maintain them for at least three years. We may renew them with some minor changes (design) or with improvements.
Regarding Logic freeride boards, our entry- level board, releases are much more frequent. Logic is now in its fifth year and has evolved drastically. In 2013 we completely changed the shape: 3D top cap, thinner rails and a translucent design to reveal the wood core. For 2015 we have introduced metallic colors to achieve an appealing, sporty look. By the way, developing a freeride board is much more difficult than you would imagine. You have to give the upper hand to flex to make it an easy board. But on the other hand you have to make sure to keep the board responsive and dynamic to perform all “old school tricks” (high jumps, no foot, etc.). The Logic is a board that offers the best performance in freeride. Riders just like it as it is and do not want us to change it! This means that if we would like to further improve the Logic board in terms of shape, we will have to release a completely new board.
Blankforce has five boards in its lineup with each serving a distinct purpose. The MK5 is your freestyle carbon board. What construction techniques make this board good for freestyle and were any changes made to this year’s model? In the wakestyle range, riders can choose between the Enduro (special kite parks) and the Advisory. In freeride, the Logic board offers high performances and is very dynamic. In the freestyle range, the MK3 carbon, which stands for the 3rd generation of carbon boards, is the first alternative. It is a fantastic pop machine for freestylers but we wanted to go one step further.
In fact, one of the most valuable attributes of a freestyle board – pop apart - is speed. And we wanted to improve this dramatically. We had a lot of sessions and discussions with our team rider Sebastien Cattelan (speed record man who was the first to pass the 55 knots barrier). He uses special boards to compete and all have something in common: The beveled rail edges. It is an inverse oblique cut from the bottom of the board to the topside. It cuts the water but directs the flow back down to the water surface. It creates additional pressure and elevates the board (the board stands higher upon the water) for more speed. Another advantage of the beveled rails is that it weeds out spray totally during gliding and, most importantly, during load just before take off.
On the other hand we had to balance all that speed to ensure 100% control and massive pop. Therefore we decided for a V-bottom shape for the control. It is a shape that has been confirmed by the windsurf industry for slalom and speed boards. Moreover, the tip- to-tip channels along the rails provide a constant grip. The carbon construction with 45 and 90° carbon layers provide the maximum pop and direct steering and carving to the board.
We will keep the MK3 in the range of freestyle boards because riders enjoy it but starting from now the MK5 will complete the collection for riders who are ready for a new adrenalin rush.
The Enduro was introduced in the spring of 2014. Where does this board fit in your product line? Yes, we decided to develop a 100% wakestyle board for kite parks because there is a new generation of riders who are asking for a board with a very special shape to ride with boots, to perform inverted tricks, and to slide on ramps and kickers.
The key was to accommodate stiffness in the center and a lot of flex on the tips. That’s why we came out with a hybrid glass-carbon construction: Carbon in the center and glass on the tip area. The stiff center ensures pop for inverted tricks. The softer tip area allows controlling the slides. The triple stage bottom shape offers a flat center surface to better control balance on boxes. To ensure unrivalled grip (also without fins) we designed very deep double channels along the rails. Enduro is the result of the wakeboard evolution applied to a kiteboard: A powerful engine with big suspension. It has less scoop than the wake version and thinner edges for more grip and carving. The Slick Base construction avoids scratches. The Enduro also comes with a very resistant top sheet and an additional row of inserts for mounting boots. All inserts have been reinforced (like on Advisory, MK3 and MK5) to resist up to 550kg (around 1200 lbs.) each.
Why would you recommend this board to a rider versus the Advisory, Blankforce’s high end pro wakestyle board? Enduro and Advisory are two completely different boards. While the Enduro is a special kite park (and cable park) board with triple stage flex and hybrid construction, Advisory has a double concave and a stiff 100% carbon construction which is best with boots and on open waters. We used the finest and lightest carbon layers available on the market and riders notice it right away.
Advisory did not follow the ordinary R&D process. It was more a project for myself. I come from skateboarding and the stiffer the board, the more pop you will get. At the beginning my objective with the Advisory was to produce a carbon board just for me, without compromise. To control the tremendous pop, I focused on the bottom shape: A double concave with a pronounced center edge. I prefer to ride that board with 2.0 cm fins for a loose feeling during heavy landings. It seems that I’m not the only one who loves it! The good reviews are evidence. It is difficult to explain this board in words. It is a question of feeling.
Blankforce has added new deluxe bindings to its high end carbon boards. How do these differ from your regular bindings and will they fit all boards, past and present in your product line? We developed a new HD binding with an easy all in one mounting system. The mounting plate has different options and is compatible with any board on the market. The ergonomically shaped pad is very cushy and has an anti-slip structure for a firm grip. The toe ridge and shape of the pad locks your foot.The integrated strap system holds feet in position. The strap can be adjusted easily (velcro) and is designed to work for smaller sizes too (girls and junior).
The straps are neoprene-covered for more comfort. While Logic, Drive and MK3 are available with standard pads and straps. The MK5, Enduro and Advisory are available with fins only. Therefore, riders can choose to combine with the bindings they prefer.
What are the differences between the Logic 140 freeride board and the Drive 139 Light Wind/Freeride boards? Both have somewhat similar specs. At first sight the two boards seem similar but you can ride Logic 140 in a much wider wind range including strong winds. It has a rounder outline and is 2cm thinner than the Drive 139. It was designed for taller and hefty riders who are looking for a dynamic board for freeride.
The Drive 139 is a “pocket size” light wind board that fits in any board bag and the outline is totally square. The special Trapezoid 3D Cap has been designed to offer more stiffness on the heelside while maintaining a lot of flex on the toeside for blind tricks. It is a must have and easy to ride board to enjoy lighter wind days.
How can North Americans demo or purchase a Blankforce board? We are working on different distribution channels and in the meantime we send boards on demand to people who ask for them. To make it attractive, shipping costs are free of charge and the board arrives in a couple of days within the US (mainland) and Canada. For those shops and team riders who are seriously interested, we are open to offer all our support to help them represent Blankforce within their state.
Do you have any plans to add directional boards or kites to the product line? To be honest, shapers in California have much more experience in shaping surfboards than the kiteboarding industry could ever dream of. For me it makes no sense to try to come out with a directional board and compete with them. For myself, I use a pure surfboard (with or without kite) to get the most fun out of the waves. If you ride on a wave spot, it would probably be better to get a surfboard shaped by your local shaper. We are more focused on foils instead. It may seem ambitious and far from what we do, but we have all the means, techniques and processes required to create a foil, from the know how in creating forms to skills in fluid dynamics and carbon materials we are used to working with. We have already teamed up with a former specialist in the military industry and are in a preliminary phase. We are looking forward to the first prototype and I want to move on that project as fast as possible.
Is there anything you’d like to add? We launched a new line of wakeboards (Dimension and Quantum) in May 2014. After just one season, the feedback is impressive. Our distributors and shops love the boards and are now presenting the line in their kite shops. We teamed up with some kites shops, cable parks and team riders and people can test the boards for free on cable parks in Belgium, France, Germany, Latvia, United Kingdom and Spain. We are excited and cannot wait for the 2015 season to begin.