Which Surfboard is right for you?
An age old question
Choosing the right stick seems akin to rocket science, but as fun and exciting as a new relationship all at the same time. Your surfboard is a long-term commitment, so we’re going to break it so you can figure out which surfboard is right for you.
When I started surfing, all I knew is that beginners are better off with a foam board for safety and ease of use, and anything below a 7′ board is considered a shortboard and best for more advanced surfers.
When I thought I was ready to get a board to call my own, I insisted on getting the biggest, longest one I could carry – so I would look cool in my photos. Man, was I was wrong in so many ways! I was an accident waiting to happen.
So, before choosing your board, get to know yourself, your playground, a lot about safety, and little board science.
#1 KNOW YOURSELF
A quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet goes well with this one. “To thine own self be true.” Surfing parallels many of life’s most valuable lessons.
It is important to know what you’re capable of in the water when choosing your board. Put your ego aside and follow these tips:
- Think about how much experience you have and your skill level when calculating the dimensions of your board.
- You want a board you can progress with, so be realistic about your fitness level.
- Get to know about volume. Surfboard volume correlates to your body weight and height. A bigger person’s short board will be larger than a smaller person’s short board.
- Personal preference over the long term of your surfing progression. Do you want to shred waves on a fast board or cruise and walk the nose on a longboard? But keep in mind that your preference comes last since you may prefer something that is inappropriate until you are far into the stages of progression.
#2 UNDERSTAND YOUR PLAYGROUND
The natural conditions of where you are surfing are crucial to choosing your board. There are many variables when it comes to types of waves and trying to keep it simple is not that simple. There are reef breaks, point breaks, beach breaks, 3-4 feet steady waves, overhead and double overhead waves. Winds can be offshore or onshore. Waters can be cold or tropical. Then there are summer swells, winter swells, wind swells, and ground swells –oh my! And for the bravest of surfers, there are waves you will need a tow-in partner as much as a board to get out alive!
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Ok not the same because the waves are not your enemy, but you need to understand your playground before choosing your board to make sure you are safe. Things to think about:
- What kind of waves are breaking? Consider size, speed, and shape of the wave.
- What volume and dimension do you need for these waves? Some waves are only suitable for a longboard, and some waves are impossible unless you’re on a shortboard.
- Which surfing apparel and other safety and care products do you need to enjoy that wave?
#3 SAFETY: UNDERSTAND AND KNOW YOUR GEAR
As Tom Ford would put it, “Dressing well is a form of good Manners.” But when you’re working with nature and the forces that fuel it – keeping your body safe and intact is more important than looking cool.
These are the surf essentials you will need and some info about how to choose them:
- Surf Wax keeps you from sliding off your board which can potentially cause some bad injuries, even if you don’t hit anything but the water, as your body naturally tries to catch balance and muscles can get overstrained doing this. There is different wax for different water temperatures. So, choose the one suited for the climate you’re surfing in.
- A surf leash will keep your board attached to you, making it easy to grab when you fall off. Your leash needs to be a few inches longer than the board you’re surfing. Too long is dangerous for the other surfers in the water. Too short is dangerous for you because it can cause the board snap back and hit you.
- Sun protection is a must since surfers are usually in the water and under the sun for more than an hour. Most sunblocks last only about 45 minutes, but Platinum Sun’s Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Stick stays on until you scrub it off. Don’t forget after-sun moisturizer since the skin is dry after being soaked in salt water.
- A good rashguard, like will prevent your belly skin from getting a rash due to to the wax on your board. Made from high quality 30 SPF material, Platinum Sun rashguards protect you from board rash and the sun all at the same time.
#4 BOARD SCIENCE
It’s important to know the main features of a surfboard. These are the nose, tail, fin setup, thickness, rocker, and bottom contours. There are several variables in the creation of a sound surfboard model. Surfers should take note of the blank, the quality of the fiberglass and resins, the knowledge of the shaper, and more! And if you’re fortunate enough to have a shaper design your surfboard, they should watch you surf because this will help them determine what you need in the water.
These are the big three details to consider when choosing your board:
DESIGN + VOLUME + DIMENSIONS.
The science behind surfboard shaping, design, and manufacturing relates to fluid dynamics (the flow of the water).
The outline (shape) of the board is also important in surfboard design. Here are a few design characteristics and effects of different shapes:
- Flat-faced waves like flatter rockers.
- Hollow, curvy waves like curvy rockers.
- A wide and flat nose makes paddling and catching waves easier.
- A narrow nose with more of a rocker can handle late drops better and fits tighter in the pocket.
- Wide tails create more lift and speed and also allows you to ride a shorter board than one with a standard tail.
- A narrower tail creates less lift which means going faster on bigger waves since it sits deeper in the water during turns.
- A rounded pin tail, round tail, or squash tail are common because they hold well in most conditions.
ROCKER is considered the most important feature of a surfboard by shapers. When viewed from the side, the rocker is the curve of the surfboard from tail to nose. The surfboard rocker is divided into nose rocker, center, and tail rocker.
“…foam is your friend…don’t be scared of it. A little bit of extra foam here and there is good for the soul… and your surfing.”
– Rob Machado
Volume is the amount of space a surfboard occupies, usually expressed in liters (i.e., 35L’s of volume). Loosely, a surfboards length x width x thickness will yield the volume of a surfboard. However, the key to the placement of that volume, the surfboard’s foil, affects the overall volume of a surfboard greatly. Volume in surfboard = litres of foam/flotation in surfboard.
NOTE: If you’re 45+ yrs old, add about 2L of volume to your board.
The volume or dimensions of surfboards are made up of Length, width, thickness. Here is some information about these key factors:
- The design typically dictates the length, and most of the time shape is based on your height.
- Width is fundamental to board design because it relates to maintaining proportion. Added width will give the board more planing surface, more float, and also make the board more stable.
- Thickness, often overlooked, is the third principal dimension. Typically, the thickest point is in the middle of the surfboard. But in some cases, the thickness is stretched through the tail and rocker. A well-distributed surfboard thickness helps maintain control despite constant weight changes on the board.
If you have anything to add, let us know in the comments below.