The Tracker Roundtail has been a project that George and I and Boyd Kellner have been working on since late in 2008.
There were two unrelated ideas which were combined into the Tracker Roundtail design. One was a roundtail with a bit of added length. The other was a mat with a total air volume in-between the 4GF Standard and the Fatty.
For a while now, George has been into the idea of a roundtail (or arctail) mat, featuring a longer water line down the center, without changing the length of the working rail line of the Standard and Fatty.
Personally, I was feeling the need for a mat that suited my size (200 lbs, plus a 5/4 hooded suit) in the waves I have been riding lately, which are along the Central Coast of California. The Standard works great in surf over 3 or 4 feet, but can barely hold my size when paddling or bobbing around. The Fatty has too much volume to deal with paddling through rows of whitewater, and is a tad wide in the powerful, poorly shaped waves I have access to on most days.
Last October, I made a prototype mat that was exactly in the middle between the Standard and Fatty. I immediately loved the amount of air volume I had to work with. It was super comfortable to be on, and fun the ride. The details (specifically, I-Beams heights) were way out of tune, but the general idea was good enough that I decided to dedicate the winter to sorting it all out.
On a separate path, George, Boyd and I had been fiddling around with arctail and roundtail mats since December of 2008. We had made a fair bit of progress, and George in particular was sold on the idea of an inch or two of added length, without corrupting the length of the straight rail line.
I began to realize that adding the roundtail idea to the in-betweener mats I was making made sense, so I went in that direction.
Long story short, the roundtail template and I-Beam stagger (stagger is the relationship between the tall and short I-Beams -- which influences the grip and handling of a mat much the way fin design influences a conventional surfboard) all came together a few weeks back.
This is what the final prototype feels like in the water...
Even though it's only 1.25" longer (when deflated) than a Standard or Fatty, The Tracker Roundtail has noticeably more glide when paddling and catching waves...even more than the Fatty. The added length has a lot to do with it, but I also think that the roundtail is more efficient even at paddling speeds. The Tracker is more of a handful to push through whitewater than a Standard, but easier than a Fatty, as you would expect.
The Tracker wants to "scoot" across walls, half driving and half drifting. (Bagjuan and his sleepless mat-cohorts refer to this as "slithering.") The Standard has more of a powerful feel as it trims -- almost like it has a fin -- while the Fatty has a more playful "slip and slide" sensation. The Tracker easily finds the high line (that's why I ended up calling it "The Tracker") then breaks loose into the next gear without much coaxing. The combination of the rounded tail and the proper I-Beam stagger contribute to this characteristic.
The other thing I've noticed about the Tracker Roundtail is that the inflation level can be varied widely, netting a high level of performance at either end of the spectrum...hard or soft. Every mat is like this, but the Tracker seems to embrace being both very hard or very soft. My experience has been that most mats favor a somewhat narrower range of inflation. The holy grail of mat design is to find a mat that will do everything. I think the Tracker is a big step in that direction.
In general I ride the Tracker softer than any of my other mats on a given day. Most of the time on the Central Coast, I run 5/8 fold. (A 90 degree bend being 1/2 fold, a 45 degree bend being 3/4 fold.) With my Tracker, I usually end up with with a 7/16 to 3/8 fold.
The roundtail itself seems to loosen the mat up, turning-wise, without provoking the Tracker to slide out. And the mat has a smoother sensation. When I run out onto the shoulder, then cut back into the whitewater and swing around off the bottom, there is a powerful, controlled feel to it.
I took my Tracker out the other night, with about a hour of light left. I just wanted to get wet. Locally, the water has gotten down to around 51 F, and I ended up surfing until pitch dark, just because I kept paddling back out for another wave!
As I learn more -- and get feedback from the first wave of Trackers that went out last Saturday -- I'll add to this post...
UPDATE:Our home page is here. The "buy two get one free" deal doesn't apply to sale items. But...we're selling 3 Tracker Roundtails for $450 USD, shipped free anywhere in the world. You can Paypal $450 USD into our account, which is firstname.lastname@example.org .