A folding travel surfboard? Kook or cool? Surfline puts it to the test
By Mark Anders
If you've been on a surf trip recently, then you've probably been there. Standing at the ticket counter, trying to convince the airline folks that there's only one board in that double coffin bag.
And then fuming when they start extracting cash from your wallet for oversized baggage fees. One hundred to $200 bucks per board--each way. I'm pissed off right now, just typing those words!
Clearly the airlines aren't about to drop their surfboard fees anytime soon, but I did have a glimmer of hope recently when I heard about the new Walden Tri-Fold Travel Board @ www.waldensurfboards.com. A folding surfboard isn't a new idea--it's been attempted in the past with marginal success. The bisect boards I've tested worked okay but always felt clunky and never provided a very high-performance ride (not something I'd feel comfortable paddling out on in head-high Mainland Mex surf). But Ventura-based shaper Steve Walden assured me he's developed a legit surfboard that can be folded into three pieces yet still rides like a conventional board with little to no unwanted flex and minimal added weight. I was skeptical, but stoked to give the Tri-Fold a test drive.
Seeing it packed neatly inside its suitcase, the 6'6" Walden looks like a few pieces of a broken board. But unpacked, it becomes immediately obvious how the thing works. A thin, high-tensile strength steel cable is threaded from the board's tail to the nose and back again, loosely holding each of the three pieces together. The edges of the board are buttressed with cedar wood and a metal cap. Simply insert a socket wrench into the small round cavity in the tail and start tightening the 18-inch long bolt connected to the cable. As the nut tightens onto the bolt, the pieces of the board join together tighter and tighter--works on the same principal as big suspension bridges. A couple minutes later, the Walden is tight and ready to surf.
Once in one piece, the Tri-Fold feels almost identical to a standard surfboard. The added hardware and dual stringer add just 1.5 to 2 pounds to the weight of the hand-shaped shortboard--so the extra weight isn't all that noticeable, especially not in the water. And Walden says the Tri-Fold is about 50 percent stronger than a conventional board thanks to its dual wooden stringers and the steel cable stringer.
We tested it in overhead beachbreak waves in North County San Diego with good results. In the water, we felt almost zero abnormal flex to the board while surfing. Only when duck diving larger waves did we feel the front third of the board flex slightly. It paddled easily and configured as a quad (our demo board has five fin boxes) the Tri-Fold was responsive and rode nearly as well as a one-piece board. The only real negative we found was that some water collects inside the cavity where the cable runs adding to the weight of the board. After a surf we could hear it sloshing around inside but we just loosened the pieces, the water poured out and it was good to go again.
The Tri-Fold option will be offered in a variety of Walden shapes from 6' shortboards to 12' longboards and will add an extra $300 to $500 bucks (depending on size) onto the cost of a traditional board. A custom suitcase-style travel bag will run you an extra $125 and can fit your board, a wetsuit, trunks and a couple leashes. Best of all, boards from 6' to 7'6" will fit inside the suitcase which falls below most airlines' standard checked baggage regulations (62 inches total combined length, width and height) which means you'll skip out on the exorbitant oversized baggage fees. The Tri-Fold will also be handy for flying on those smaller, inter-island puddle jumper flights that often can't (or won't) accommodate boards over six-feet long; and for getting your board into a taxi at the airport. One guy in the Surfline office mentioned that he thought this board would be perfect for bringing along on a business trip or a "non-surfing vacation" with your girlfriend or spouse somewhere there might also happen to be waves.
While we're still testing the board for long-term durability, our initial evaluation shows that the Walden Tri-Fold works surprisingly well. The folding tech is ingenious, and equipped in the right shape it would make a handy addition to any traveling surfer's quiver. Bottom line: The Tri-Fold rides much like a regular board, and you'll likely save the equivalent of the added cost for the board in baggage fees on your first two trips.