Surf Systems 101
Over the past few years we have seen a whole bunch of “Surf Systems” hit the market. With so many options to choose from, a lot of people are left asking, “Is one better than another?” In this post we want to talk about the systems, what makes them different, and to try to cut through the marketing rabble to take a serious look at how they compare. I am going to apologize in advance; this topic gets pretty deep, and covering it is necessarily long. So sit back, grab a drink and forgive me for taking up a chunk of your day – I will do my best to make it worth your while.
Before we jump in, it is important to note that you should take some of the information with a grain of salt because we are not just comparing the systems, but comparing the systems on the boat that they are attached to, including the hull and ballast system. If you were to slap a Centurion Quicksurf system on a Malibu, you would certainly see different results.
The first thing to point out, when it comes to these systems, is that they all work well. When it comes to switching from one side of the boat to the other (when surfing), cutting down time between riders or performing wave transfers, all of the systems do a good job. Aside from minor differences in the time to transfer from one side to the other, all of the systems appear to work equally well in making the above listed changes to a surf wave, so the differences that we need to look at will not be how well they work in cleaning up the wave or changing from one side to the other. It is also important to note that, although the systems work great for cleaning up the surf wave, NONE of them will increase the size of the surf wave or cause the boat to displace more water. They are not a replacement for ballast, nor do they make ballast less necessary; in fact, the systems generally require more total ballast since you are evenly weighting the boat.
Though each surf system is somewhat unique, there are two main types or ways that they produce a clean surfable wave. Type 1: A tab style system where a deflection device (tab, plate, etc.) moves downward and leans the boat to the side you surf on along, creating a slight crab to the hull. Type 2: A brake style system where a deflection device moves to the side of the boat and causes the hull to crab down the lake more dramatically than the tab style system. (Crabbing the hull means that the boat moves down the lake with the hull at an angle that is slightly different from the path of the boat.)
Now let’s look at all of the different surf systems and the boats that they appear on. I will quickly a hit on how they work and how they allow the surf wave to be shaped up properly:
Quicksurf System – Centurion / Supreme – Tab Style
Uniquely shaped wake plates that sit on the back at the bottom of the hull toward either side that deploy downward and list the boat slightly to the side you are surfing on. This effect is compounded by the deeper V hull.
Surfgate System – Malibu / Axis – Brake Style
A set of wake plates that sit on the sides of the boat and flange outward, slowing down one side of the boat and causing the boat to crab.
Nautique Surf System – Nautique – Brake Style
A plate deploys out the back end of the boat at a 90 degree angle from the hull, slowing down one side of the boat and causing the boat to crab.
Gen2 System – Mastercraft – Modified Tab Style
Wake plates with a slight hook shape sit on the back at the bottom of the hull toward either side that deploy downward. The tabs list the boat slightly to the side you are surfing on and generate a slight crab with the hook shape.
Swell / Flow System – Supra / Moomba – Brake / Tab Hybrid
Wake plates on the back at the bottom of the hull toward either side that deploy downward up to a 90 degree angle. The tabs deploy to an angle that is sharp enough that they have the effect of a brake system, slowing one side of the boat and crabbing it down the lake. Put simply, it is a tab style system that functions like a brake style.
Taps3 – Tige – Tab Style
Trim tab plates that sit on the back at the bottom of the hull toward either side that deploy downward and list the boat slightly to the side you are surfing on.
Ok, now that we have that established, we can do some comparisons. Comparing the systems individually is a bit difficult to do without performing some serious in-depth studies, so we are probably better off taking a closer look at the tab style system vs. the brake style system.
Though there are a few assumptions we can make regarding the systems by applying some basic physics, we have some help from individuals who might know a bit more about this than we do. In August, 2014 the University of Michigan Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory performed an independent study comparing the systems in multiple areas. The test involved the effect of the surf systems on fuel efficiency, wave power, steering and drag (engine RPM increase), and their results yielded some very interesting results.
The first attribute we will talk about is the drag created and RPM increase on the motor. Considering that one system literally acts as a “brake” and the other provides a slight lift on one side it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the tab system puts less strain on the engine. Across the boats tested, the university study found that the brake style systems ran at an average of 400 RPMs (12%) higher at surf speeds.
Because of the RPM difference, the fact that the tab system is more fuel efficient wasn’t really a surprise; the level of the difference, however, was not what was expected. Testing 6 different boats, the researchers found that the boats equipped with the brake style system consumed, on average, 46% more fuel while surfing than boats equipped with a tab system. That is a BIG difference in fuel consumption, much higher than we would have anticipated. Now, I don’t have the specifics of what engines or props the boats were running, but if they were even somewhat appropriate based on the boat and elevation, these results are huge.
When testing steering and hull orientation, the study came to two conclusions that were easy to anticipate based on how they work. The brake style systems had a more dramatic impact on the steering of the boat when deployed and required more force on the wheel to maintain a straight course. On the other hand, the tab style system caused the boat to lean to one side more and still had some impact on the steering.
The final and, in the eyes of many surfers, the most important factor was the impact of the system on the wave itself. Many people would assume that because the brake style system generates more drag, it would produce a wave with more power. The study, however, showed that both systems had similar effects on the wave. In fact, the study showed that the length and power (push) of the waves generated on the boats with tab systems was greater than those with brake systems. Though it is often hard to see, the reason for this is simple; the size, power and length of a surf wave are impacted by one thing – displacement. Though both surf systems are great at cleaning up a wave and switching sides quickly, they do not cause the boat to displace more water. The deeper the boat sits in the water, the more water volume comes out the back end. There is a lot of marketing rabble out there, but it really is just that simple.
When you look at the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory study, it’s pretty easy to see which system is more effective. Other than the effect the system has on how the boat leans to one side, and a minor difference in the time to switch from side to side (which we didn’t really talk about), the tab style surf system was the clear winner in all areas. If you think through the results, they really do make sense.
So as not to be deceptive it is important to note that the University of Michigan study specifically compared the Mastercraft Gen2 System (tab style) and the Malibu Surfgate (brake style) and did not factor in systems from Centurion, Supreme, Nautique, etc; though we can probably safely assume the results would have been similar comparing any tab style system vs. a brake style system.
Since we are on this topic, and this is being written by a guy who happens to love and represent Centurion and Supreme boats, I thought it would be appropriate to talk briefly about Quicksurf. There are a few key differences between Quicksurf and other tab style systems, particularly the Gen2 system that was part of this study, which are important to point out.
The most unique thing about Quicksurf is really how simple it is. Though it has a very unique and intentional shape, it is a flat tab with no hooks, angles, etc. on it. The reason it is the only surf system that works without any “grabbing” point is because it sits on Centurion’s acclaimed Surftech V hull that is now currently in its 17th generation since 2004. The “grabbing” mechanisms on tabs cause boats with flat hulls designed for wakeboarding to pull to the side and allow the wave to be cleaned up. All that a deep V hull needs to produce a clean wave is a slight list to one side.
The benefits of having this clean plate design are numerous. Unlike other systems, even other tab style systems, Quicksurf creates absolutely no drag; in fact, it reduces drag and drops RPMs when engaged. When you combine the effects of the Ramfill ballast system (which in my humble opinion beats the benefits of any surf system on its own), you can dial in a REAL pro level surf wave in seconds, something that other boats still require 10 minutes to set up.
Quicksurf is the real deal, and if you think you may have another boat, system, design, configuration, etc. that works better, you are welcome to come take a session on my boat. Be warned, you will have a hard time going back to anything else. Grab your shorts and let’s go!