We Tested The JS Air 17x, Julian Wilson's Go-To Board
Here's why Julian rides stock dims in CT events...
Just a few days prior to the 2018 Surf Ranch Pro, Julian Wilson made his maiden voyage to the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California.
Lugging a bag full of specialized JS blades through the cured cedar gates, Julian spent an entire day trying to find a board that felt right.
As it turned out, his typical volumes and designs—which were made with oceanic venues in mind—didn’t suit the pool, with its desalinated water and unique wave signature (most notably the disappearing lip-line and distinct lack of a trough).
Nervous that he wouldn’t have a board suitable for competition, Jules hit up the team at JS to see if they could build him some refined shapes for the event. With deadlines too tight, the JS crew were unable to oblige his request, but they offered to send a few stock boards from their California distribution hub to see if they might do the trick.
Instantly, Jules fell in love with a stock Air 17x in HYFI construction.
Jules rides the HYFI Air 17X at 5’11” x 19 1/8” x 2 7/16” x 28.6L
That year, Julian finished second in the Surf Ranch Pro qualifying round on the back of a huge frontside slob—the best air done in Slater’s pool at the time. In the final, Julian attempted backside varials and on every single left-hander but finished 6th overall because he never rode one to completion.
In the 2019 event, Julian opted again for the stock Air 17x and finally made good on the backside varial. Sadly, he failed to back it up with a right-hand completion and finished one place better at 5th.
The moral of this story is not that Julian needs to finish his goddamn waves. It’s that, even with the ability to alter his boards in ways that layfolk like us can’t begin to fathom (foam density, flex patterns, etc.), Julian has chosen to run a stock board in a Championship Tour event two years in a row (and was one wave away from winning the thing both damn times).
To see what all the fuss was about, I decided to test my own Air 17x in HYFI construction. Being the size of an adolescent Pomeranian, I opted for JS’s smallest possible stock dims—5’6 x 18.25 x 2.15 x 22.7 L.
Tail-low is cool again, right?
My first session was at solid but lumpy Lower Trestles. The type of day where a PU board would have been preferred, as they tend to hold off the bottom and flatten surface chop better than EPS foam.
Despite these absolute tragedies, I managed to have a fun session.
A few takeaways:
The Air 17x is extremely user-friendly for a shortboard. I can see how Julian was able to make the transition so seamlessly from whatever he was riding to this.
The HYFI construction was both stiffer and more buoyant than I’d expected. From the first wave, I realized I should have gone with about one liter less foam.
The board didn’t perform particularly well on choppy or flat sections, but when I got a clean, steep wall, I could grip it and rip it with ease.
Hitting a lip hard created a significant spring into the next maneuver, which I would attribute to the construction
As its name implies, the Air 17x has an affinity for flight.
These findings considered, it was clear the board would perform best at a clean, punchy beachbreak. I knew just the place.
One day he'll actually get the rail in the water. One day.
Let’s talk about fins.
I’m not sure how or why this happens, but anyone who rides Futures knows: from time to time, you’re gonna end up with an overly-tight box.
As fate would have it, he Air 17x had some of the snuggest fin slits I’ve encountered.
Rather than maiming your hand while trying to jam in the fins or sanding down their base (which could make the fin too loose in a “normal” box), I’ve detailed a simple and surprisingly functional trick to insert your fins without harming body or board. But you’ll have to watch the full review (above) for that one.
Anyway, my first session on the Air 17x was paired with Futures’ AM1 Honeycombs. At a Ride Number of 5.8, the AM1s have a moderate flex. Their outline offers plenty of rake for carving, and a smaller back fin facilitates release. They’re a fin I trust in any performance board.
My experience at Lowers was—like the AM1s themselves—more or less neutral. At times I felt like I needed more stability, other times less rake, but mostly I was indifferent to them. Despite its negative connotation, "indifference" isn’t a bad thing when it comes to fins. It's my opinion that quality set should be nearly undetectable beneath your feet.
Pro-tip: fins that match your board are never the right fins.
Session two went down at a clean, relatively punchy beach break, where I swapped the AM1s out for John Johns.
Coming in Futures’ Techflex construction, the JJFs (Ride Number: 3.7) are a bit bigger and stiffer than the AM1 Honeycombs. This gave me the confidence to drive harder off the bottom, and because of the speed that created, find similar release out of the lip despite their rigid nature.
According to the folks at Futures, it’s quite common for surfers to prefer a more stable fin with EPS boards.
“A stiffer fin helps the epoxy settle down a bit,” says Futures’ Team Manager, Brian Robbins. “There's more drive and control, with the added benefit of the sparky epoxy moments when you need it.”
For me, this was the winning formula. I only wish I’d gotten to sample the JJFs at Lowers to validate this preference across the board.
Pro tip #2: If they can't see you, they can't technically say you're not ripping.
While my experience on the Air 17x wasn't as instantly euphoric as Jules', I can appreciate the board's ease of use, its penchant for flight, and its impeccable engineering (quality control at the JS factory is Nazi Germany-esque).
I also appreciate the fact that any of us can walk into a shop, buy the same board a pro is swinging in CT events, and be able to surf the thing without sinking either physically or into a state of despair.
And Futures fins here.