There’s just so many factors that go into finding the best surf board to bring out your best. Even the pros are on a constant quest to find their Excalibur, so believe us when we say it may take a bit of trial and error for you to find your magic carpet, of the fibre-glass variety.
Sure, there’s no such thing as the perfect custom surfboard to suit all conditions … but you can get close enough to it, if you know what you’re looking for!
In this article, Radness reveals 16 important things to consider for when buying a surfboard.
Please note: If you are a beginner, this article is not for you. It is written for those of you who already own a board or two, and want to improve your surfing by selecting the most suitable surfboard for your skill level, size and wave preference.
1. Like a boombox…
It’s all about the volume! Well, sort of … (more on this later.) A surfboard is a very complex combination of curves, and a board’s volume is perhaps the most objective measurement for its dimensions – a board’s length, width and thickness are merely three 2D measurements on a very 3D surfboard, and you’ll be floating on it after all. You need to make sure you have enough foam underneath your chest to easily paddle into waves, and as you glide along the wave face. But you don’t want so much volume that it feels like you’re manoeuvring a battleship.
2. How low should you go?
What volume will work for you? Take a look at the specs on your favourite board to see if the volume listed in litres, or find out your board’s volume from the shaper’s website, shop or factory. Once you know what you like, you can tinker with the volume for your next board.
3. Maths was never my forte
How much volume do you need? It’s a tricky one to calculate. Luckily Firewire Surfboards have an online Surfboard Volume Calculator that will give you a ballpark range of board volumes based on your weight, age, fitness and surfing ability. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but is a great place to start.
4. Living large?
Bigger surfers need more volume. Well, it stands to reason, right? If you’re heavier, you’ll sink more – so you need more floatation to catch waves, and when you’re on the wave you have more force to bear down on those turns. But if you’re of average surfer height, weight (under 6 foot tall, you wear medium t-shirts and size 32 or so boardies, and are 75-80kgs) and ability, you’ll want a board with roughly 30 litres of volume.
5. Rob from the rich, give to the poor
Better surfers need less volume. Pros are paddling machines, so they can get away with much less volume to catch waves. Equally, they’re much more skilled when their on the wave, eking out every bit of push from the moving water behind them, and so don’t need as much float as the average Joe.
For example, at the smaller end of the pro scale, Taj Burrow lines up at 5’9” and 72kg, and his …Lost Enterprises Mayhems boards have an average 23.5L. Mick Fanning at 5’10 and 75kg was previously surfing boards in the 24L range, but stepped up his volume to between 26.1-26.8L on his four regular DHD rides in 2012.
6. On the up? Drop it down.
As you improve, drop the volume of your surfboard. If you’ve owned at least half a dozen boards you will have a good idea of the volume and dimensions that feel right for you. But if you’ve only owned a couple of boards, you will want to gradually decrease the volume of your new purchases to take into account of your improved ability, and to kick-start those paddling arms into taking the next step in their strength and endurance. Oh, and you’ll appreciate the better manoeuvrability of your new smaller craft too.
Know Your Waves
7. Where’d you come from, where’ll you go?
Ask yourself the question, where will you mostly surf this board? Waves vary across the country, across the world, and by season. Yes, surfboards should work in all waves – but some work much better than others. So buy a board that suits the location you plan to surf it the most, whether it’s your local beach, or for a trip overseas.
8. Surfing skyscrapers?
Bigger waves require bigger boards. Booked an Indian Ocean boat trip, or a quick jaunt to Bali or Fiji? Well, you’ll need a board with more volume AND length for extra floatation and speed to help you paddle into the fast-moving biggun’s.
9. Don’t pick on the fat kid
Fatter boards are ideal for smaller waves. Blustery conditions and messy beachbreaks that you might normally surf in Summer best suit short manoeuvrable boards, but which also have lots of width and volume. You’re gunna need this girth to help you catch the mushy windswell, and to ride waves with less push behind them.
10. It’s not all about volume
We lied, it’s not all about the volume like we said earlier. Making sure you have the right board volume should be your first concern, but the nuances of the shape and design also make a big difference to how the surfboard catches waves and rides. If they didn’t, shaping wouldn’t be the mystical dark art that it is.
11. Friends in the right places
It’s important to have foam in all the right places. If you’re a more traditional-styled surfer you’ll feel more comfortable with driving off the back foot, and so you’ll be looking at more traditional shapes with a regular dispersion of volume. But if you’re more new skool, and perhaps come from a snowboard or skate background where your tendency is to also push and pivot through the front foot, look for a board with more volume and thickness up high, right where your chest would be when paddling. It’ll have the added benefit of helping you paddle into waves, with more floatation up the front of the board guiding you over the crest of the wave.
12. Speedy Gonzales
Flatter is faster. A flatter board with less rocker will have more paddling and down-the-line speed, and is best suited to messy small beachbreak waves and for waves with big walled faces like you find around Bells Beach and Victoria’s Surf Coast.
13. Rock ‘n’ roll
More rocker gives you more manoeuvrability. Boards bent more like a banana will help you in the pocket of a critical wave, fitting better into the curved wave and helping you initiate your turns up the wave face to get r-r-radical!
14. Nice tail!
Tail shape plays a huge part in performance. A more angular tail shape will give you sharper, pivoting turns, while a rounded tail will give you more drawn-out, smoother turns. A wide tail with either a square or squash tail design will give you more float under the back foot (or lift), more speed on the wave and sharp, skatier turns. A more refined round or rounded pintail is more suited to better quality big waves and critical barrels, offering more hold on the wave face and carving turns. A wide swallow tail best suits small, mushy waves and is often combined with fish boards where the swallow tail design can “bite” into the wave to compensate for the board’s straighter edges.
15. How many fins am I holding up?
One, two, three or four fins? The three-fin thruster set up is the most popular for a reason: it provides the best all round combination of speed, control and manoeuvrability in all wave conditions. But certain waves and board types suit different fin set-ups best. Single fins provide speed, stability and straight-line control, but less responsive turns. Twin and quad fin boards are faster down the line, without a middle fin creating drag, but the lack of that trailing fin makes it harder to pivot up the wave face and gives a looser, skatier ride best suited to smaller waves. You might think that a five fin box set up is best because it offers you thruster and quad options, but if the board hasn’t been designed with both options in mind it might have been just an afterthought by the shaper to cash in on a modern trend popularised by Kelly Slater. Also, having five of the larger Futures fin boxes at the back of a board can make the tail feel quite heavy and diminish its flexibility.
16. Ask and ye’ shall receive!
Confused yet? Don’t be afraid ask an expert. Yep, there’s a lot of variable that go into finding the perfect surfboard for you, so you should go and ask an expert: a renowned local shaper, or their in-store sales reps. They’ve made and sold hundreds, if not thousands, of boards and they know what works and what doesn’t. They can give you an educated opinion for what will suit you best … and maybe even sell you a board off the rack, or sign you up for a custom shape.
Where to buy
Now you’re armed & dangerous, you’re probably keen to go and test out a few of the theories outlined above. Your local board store is a good place to start, as they often have a few demo boards for you to try before you buy. If you can afford the time and money, and have direct access to speak to a shaper, maybe consider ordering a custom board, it’s a great way to learn when you are directly involved in the shaping process.
If you have recently purchased a surfboard and would like to provide any additional tips please leave a comment below!