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Sterndrive surfability moves forward

By Brianna Liestman

Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive (FWD) created a buzz in the industry when it was first introduced in February at the Miami International Boat Show (MIBS). By combining a sterndrive engine, DuoProps and Volvo Penta’s Inboard Performance System (IPS), the company was able to create a forward-facing DuoProp drive that moves the prop more than 27 inches forward under the boat.

The popularity of wake surfing drove Volvo Penta’s decision to design the new drive system. At the time of the release, Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas, said the FWD would “help families unite like never before and get more people to enjoy the boating lifestyle.”

“FWD opens the way for boat builders to create multi-use craft that can be optimized for cruising, wake surfing, as well as swimming, waterskiing and just generally having a good time with family and friends,” said Huibers.

Regal, Cobalt, Four Winns and Bryant Boats were Volvo Penta’s launch partners for the FWD at MIBS, with all four companies bringing their new FWD models to the market this year.

Now that the engine has been on the market for a few months, Volvo Penta has been receiving positive feedback from numerous boat builders, dealers and consumers.

“They are pleased with the versatility, ease of operation, overall performance and maneuverability. We have had numerous comments about its quiet operation and the absence of smelly exhaust fumes on and behind the boat,” said Huibers. “People also like the ability to shape the wake for surfing or cruising, adding to the versatility of the boat.”

Volvo Penta is currently increasing FWD production at its Lexington, Tenn., facility and Huibers expects to place more demo boats in more dealer showrooms soon.

The Volvo Penta Forward Drive was first introduced at the Miami International Boat Show in February.

The Volvo Penta Forward Drive was first introduced at the Miami International Boat Show in February.

Catering to new and experienced wake surfers

Bryant Boats, an early adopter of the FWD and creator of the first sterndrive surf package, said Volvo Penta expressed interest in testing the FWD with the 233X wake sports boat, which comes with an extended platform or “sport porch” that keeps boaters 32 to 36 inches away from the propeller. The two companies spent over a year on research and development together.

“We really had a good partnership with [Volvo Penta] from the get-go,” said Ben Dorton, brand manager at Bryant Boats. “[Huibers and John Dorton, Bryant Boats’ CEO,] both had a similar vision with our companies, and they really have bonded and shared the same goals and objectives.”

Dorton said Volvo Penta has been helpful with the publicity of the 233X and the FWD, and that close to 15 or 20 dealers have added Bryant Boats because the company is using the FWD on a surfable sterndrive boat.

“This is, for most cases, one of the first projects I’ve seen so closely knit between boat manufacturer and engine manufacturer, and I think, overall, we’re both happier in the fact that we know what we’re working towards,” said Dorton.

John Gillette, sales manager of the Lake Norman Carefree Boat Club, read about the 233X on the Boating Industry website and decided to add the boat, with the FWD, to its fleet. The boat delivered in April and Gillette says the boat has gotten several reservations in the time it has been with the club.

“That says a lot about its appeal. Some of our members that we didn’t really identify as being wake sports enthusiasts have kind of come out of the closet. They’re really interested in wake sports and wake surfing, and they’re using the boat quite a bit more,” said Gillette. “For the less experienced boater who wants to try wake sports, it’s kind of a seamless transition. They’re using the boat and there’s functionally no significant difference between operating a traditional Volvo DuoProp and the Forward Drive.”

Gillette said new and experienced wake sports enthusiasts alike have enjoyed the FWD, and experienced users who typically use inboard boats find it works fantastic for wakeboarding and it is smoother and quieter than an inboard wake boat.

Dorton says it is key for the industry to cater to these customers who want to surf and the advantages of a sterndrive like better fuel efficiency, maneuverability and more.

“A lot of people have to buy an inboard right now because it’s the only way they can surf behind the boat, and I don’t want a customer to be subjected to buying an inboard just because they can only surf behind the inboard,” said Dorton. “I’d like to give them to option to be able to get into a sterndrive and wake surf behind it.”

As of right now, Bryant Boats has two models using the FWD: a 23-foot surf boat, the model that was first introduced to the industry, and a 21-foot boat that was released a month ago, which is not listed on the company’s website yet. Dorton said there are plans to integrate the FWD with more Bryant products in the future but that those plans rely heavily on timing.

“If we could right now, I would create a whole line of boats that are dedicated with the Volvo [Penta] Forward Drive for sterndrive wake surfing,” said Dorton.

Dorton expects the 21-foot boat to be popular with consumers from a cost-conscious standpoint.

“It gets you in the [middle of the $50,000 range] at retail level so when you’re comparing [the boat] to most of the inboards out there that are $75,000 [or more], there’s really a price difference between the two, and that’s been a huge hit for us,” said Dorton.

Camaraderie is key

Dorton believes collaborations between sterndrive brands such as the one between Volvo Penta and Bryant Boats could bring about needed growth to the sterndrive market that it needs to fully recover from the recession, especially after years of struggling to rebound while other segments have not.

“I think the sterndrive industry needs more camaraderie like what we have with Volvo currently, because … it’s really made a large impact on the sterndrive industry,” said Dorton. “In the sterndrive industry, it’s no secret that the segment is very challenging and it’s going to take innovations I believe, like this Forward Drive and our wake surfing boat, to bring life back into its segment.”

These sentiments are shared by Huibers, who said Volvo Penta sees “new technologies like FWD as drivers to help grow boating.”

“We strongly believe that we should remove barriers for new people to discover the pleasure of boating and deliver on the promise by making their boating experience painless and trouble free,” said Huibers.

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