30 November 2019
By Tom Collins
Very few legal things can give you the same exhilarating rush as surfing, which is why you’ll often find that to any surfing enthusiast, tackling those waves isn’t just something that they halfheartedly do. It’s something they plan for, anticipate, and work hard at. When it comes to having an enjoyable wave ride, choosing the right surfboard is perhaps the most important decision for any surfer to make.
Whether you’re a complete beginner who’s just getting started or an experienced amateur who’s ready to break out into the professional surfing scene, understanding the fundamentals behind the board design is invaluable if you want to surf the right board. But with so many shapes, sizes, and variations, finding a surfboard that’s best suited for you can be a confusing and overwhelming process. This comprehensive guide will help you explore your options and know which boxes to tick, so let’s dive right in.
Look For a Reputable Brand and Supplier
Any professional surfer would tell you that buying your surfboard from a reputable brand and supplier brings you one step closer towards finding a quality board that’ll see you through many waves and years to come. Bigger, trustworthy brands have the resources to employ the best engineers and work with the best, most durable materials for their designs. Besides, when you buy a branded surfboard, you can rest assured that you can rely on it to help you tackle these remarkable, beautiful waves because bigger brands thoroughly test their designs under different wave conditions.
While choosing a reputable brand is important, the right supplier or retailer is just as important. Whether you buy from a surf shop online or go to a surf store in person, make sure that your supplier has a reliable customer service team that’s equipped with professional knowledge and experience needed to help you along the buying process. Before you choose a specific brand or supplier, read up on their customer reviews to have a better understanding of the quality of customer service they offer. To preserve your peace of mind, you want a supplier who offers repairs and warranties and has your best interests at heart.
Assess Your Surfing Skills
Your level of experience is a key factor to consider when looking for your first or next surfboard. To avoid the frustration that comes from surfing the wrong board, objectively assess your surfing skills and make sure that the particular surfboard you’re considering matches your abilities.
The two main characteristics that define a surfboard are performance and stability. Board models with high stability will have lower-performance characteristics and vice versa. If you’re a beginner who’s still getting to understand how to manoeuvre a surfboard, you’ll want a board with plenty of volume and stability. New surfers typically go for a board that’s around 7-8 feet long, but you can find longboards that go up to 14 feet in length.
As for the width and thickness, the average dimensions are about 22-23 inches wide and 3 inches thick. For most beginners, longer-size boards and soft top surfboards are ideal because they’re less sensitive, more forgiving, and have a higher capacity to handle the surfer’s unsteady movements than their shorter and lighter counterparts.
If you’re an intermediate, expert who’s familiar with the waves, you might want to step down from your longboard to something smaller and more manoeuvrable like a funshape surfboard. Once you find your feet and start gaining more confidence, you can transition to a higher-performance shortboard model. The high-performance board will allow you to handle bigger waves and perform critical manoeuvres, but you should know beforehand that it’s more sensitive, unforgiving, and difficult to ride.
Identify Your Fitness Levels
Even when you reach advanced levels of surfing, your fitness level will still play a significant role in determining the kind of board you’re going to surf. Surfing, like all other board sports, requires high degrees of strength, stamina, and agility. If you’re a passionate skateboarder or has practiced any other kind of board sports before, you should have no trouble jumping right onto a shortboard or a fish board.
However, if you’re totally new to the world of board sports, you’ll want to go for a longer board such as a mini-long or a longboard. If your fitness levels are somewhere in the middle, a good compromise may be to find a slightly thicker board that this out into a nice rail like a bigger style shortboard or a fun shape. This way, you can paddle into bigger waves while maintaining good stability.
Consider Your Age
Age can also factor into the surfboard picking process. Imagine two surfers; a 25-year old and a 55-year old on the same wave and in the same conditions. Even if both have equal surfing skills, they may still have completely different surfboards. The younger surfer will most likely have more stamina than the older surfer, which means that even if both of them are strong paddlers, the older surfer will likely tire quicker than the younger ones.
In this case, the older surfer will need a little more volume on his board to keep up with the younger surfer because the extra volume will increase the board’s buoyancy, meaning that the older surfer won’t have to spend the same amount of energy he would otherwise need to conjure to paddle into the waves at the same rate as his younger counterpart.
Calculate Your Ideal Surfboard Volume
Many professional surfers might argue that the surfboard’s volume is the most important variable to consider when choosing a new board. Why is your surfboard’s volume so important? Because when you calculate how much water your board can displace, you can determine how buoyant the board is and as you probably already know, your board’s ability to float affects everything; from how fast you paddle and how the board maintains its momentum to how the board turns and ultimately, how many waves you catch.
Measured in litres, the ideal surfboard volume is unique to each individual’s weight, fitness level, and personal wave preference. Higher volume boards have higher floating characteristics and offer great weight support whether you’re paddling or catching a wave, which makes them more stable and easier to ride. For these reasons, higher volume surfboards are commonly favored by beginners and older surfers.
On the other hand, lower volume boards turn faster and with less effort, offering a more heightened surfing experience. However, they’re more sensitive and less stable than their higher volume counterparts, which is why they’re typically better for advanced and young surfers with a greater skill level.
As a general rule, beginners are advised to ride the equivalent of their entire body weight in volume while experienced surfers can ride surfboards that are equivalent to 35-40% of their body weight in volume. Instead of doing the math, you can use one of the many online volume calculators available to accurately calculate the ideal volume for your board.
Factor In Your Height and Weight
Your height and weight will definitely play an important part in determining how much volume you would need for a particular board. In fact, many volume calculators rely heavily on these details to measure the perfect surfboard volume for a surfer. When it comes to your height and weight, obviously, the bigger you are, the bigger your board will have to be. And the lighter you are, the easier it’ll be for you to paddle and turn a smaller board. When in doubt, it’s generally recommended that you go with a larger surfboard size because of the added buoyancy that the extra length and width will offer.
Consider the Size of Your Feet
Your foot size (large, medium, or small, not the exact measurements) can also be important, particularly if you’re an advanced surfer. Advanced surfers almost never surf in a straight line unless they’re deep in the barrel of a wave. Other than that, they’re either performing an impressive move, or they’re harvesting the necessary speed for one.
To generate enough speed and momentum, they surf back and forth in a series of regular curves that accelerates them down the line. This is called rail-to-rail surfing, and if you want to successfully surf on rail, you’ll have to be in complete control of the board. This can only happen if your board is proportionate to your body weight and size, and the smaller your feet are, the harder it will be for you to shift your weight properly to turn a wide board on a rail.
Choose the Right Fin Setup
There are numerous possibilities for a surfboard’s setup, such as single fins, twin fins, quad fins, and Thruster fins, etc. Choosing your board’s fin configuration comes down to personal preference and experience; you as a surfer need to know your personal surfing style and accordingly find the best setup that offers you the right balance of stability, speed, and control.
Nowadays, the Thruster setup is the most popular configuration; it can be commonly found on surfboards of different shapes and sizes. This 3-fin setup is comprised of 2 outer fins that are closer to the centre of the surfboard and a middle fin that’s closer to the tail. The outer fins are typically flat on the inside and are angled towards the centre of the board in order to increase water tracking and speed while the middle fin is symmetric on both sides for more stability. Together, the 3 fins add balance, control, manoeuvrability, all of which are elements that all surfers need to excel, regardless of their skills or experience.
Identify Your Preferred Wave Type
Last but certainly not least, you need to identify the type of waves you’ll be surfing. Every board design is engineered for specific wave conditions. There’s no single surfboard model that excels in all wave conditions equally. This is the main reason why most surfers own multiple surfboards.
Wave types and surf conditions differ from one ocean to another, and they can even change from day to day at the same beach, it’s a big part of what makes surfing such an exhilarating experience. So if you plan on surfing a lot, you might want to have a selection of boards at hand. By having a range of boards to choose from, you’ll be able to maximize your time in the water instead of sitting at home sulking because the conditions aren’t right for your board.
If like most surfers, you live somewhere where the waves are small and slow, and the surf break is softer, then a board with more volume and length like a longboard or a fish board will come in handy. But if you’re likely to be surfing steep, barreling waves, then your best bet would be to find a smaller, shorter, high-performance board that will fit nicely in the hollow pocket of the wave. These kinds of surfboards will help you smoothly glide over the face of the barreling waves and make drops on steep take offs gracefully and with ease.
If you can only afford one surfboard, look for a board that can help you catch some good waves. A 3-fin surfboard can be a good, sturdy surfboard if you have to choose just one board as it offers increased speed and control while also being more stable than a standard, single fin.
As you can see, when choosing a surfboard that will aid your progress rather than hinder your development, a lot of elements come into play. Your surfboard is what connects you to the waves, which is why learning how to choose the right one requires serious consideration on your end. So before you pick the first board you see, take the aforementioned elements into account and remember, there isn’t a single surfboard out there that’s completely perfect for all surfers in all surfing conditions. It all comes down to your surfing skills, fitness level, weight, and height, as well as the turf conditions and types of waves you surf. So, find the right board, and go hit those waves! And have fun!