I Love Surfboards.
A few weekends ago, Northern Beaches shaper Nick of Sculpt Surfboards did a demo day at our boardriders club. I was like a kid in a candy store and surfed the entire time between my heats. I rode a Simmons style flat-tailed twin fin, a zippy neon-pink performance quad fish and a bright blue 5’10” squash tail step-up. There were more boards that I wanted to surf than I had time to ride. This experience inspired me to share some of my insights into choosing the right surf board for your skill level and the waves you plan to surf. I have bought and sold over 100 surfboards in my life and learned quite a bit since my yellow 6’6″ Canyon Surfboard I got when I was seven to my latest 5’5″ custom Josh Hall tri-fish. One thing has stayed consistent: I really, really love wave crafts of all types and I think a little variety in your quiver exponentially increase the fun you have surfing!
I suggest you take a look at 4 things before purchasing a new surfboard:
- Your Skill Level – Are you surfing out the back? Able to duck dive? Able to consistnely catch waves on a shortboard?
- Where will you surf this board the majority of the time?
- What do you want to get out of your surfing? Are you training to compete? Want to surf a shortboard in preparation for a trip?
- How much volume you can handle? I suggest to generally go wider and more voluminous but only up to a point that you still feel comfortable duck diving the board.
I famously talked my mom into buying me that Canyon short board at Hanson’s surf shop in Encinitas in the early 90s and then proceeded to find out the hard way that a short board isn’t the best choice for learning. Luckily, my mom was pretty rad. That Christmas there was a brand new 7’0″ South Coast Egg next to the tree.
Beginner: If you are just starting out surfing, you’re going to want an egg shape or a long board depending on your height and weight. If your a kid or a woman, a 7’0″ to 8’0″ egg really is the best choice for learning. If you are taller or heavier get an 8’0″ to 9’0″ long board. Go for the soft-top: a surfboard made out of foam that won’t cut or bruise you when you fall on it. Foamies are great fun even if you are an experienced surfer for cruising mellow waves, taking off in the shorebreak or evading the lifeguards during the summer.
Transitioning to Shortboard: Sometime after you are able to consistently catch and ride green unbroken waves, you’ll want to transition to a shorter or more performance board. I remember wanting to ride a shortboard and taking many, many steps backwards and forwards in terms of progress. A smaller board was much, much harder to catch waves and tiring to paddle. I was constantly buying short boards that I thought I could ride and found out otherwise. After a while, I transitioned from an egg to a fish. A fish is a wider, thicker board that floats better and is generally flatter, which makes it easy to catch waves. The only downside to wider, more voluminous boards is that they are harder to duck dive. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time getting worked during this transition phase.
Intermediate Surfer: This is when the range of boards you can ride with success starts to widen. The day I could finally ride a shortboard finally without drowning was a great one! As an intermediate surfer, you can change between shortboards, fishes, biscuits, longboards, and funboards depending on the conditions. When you use the right board on the right day, you can greatly improve your wave knowledge and thereby make yourself a better surfer.
Advanced: Advanced surfers have the ability to ride a variety of boards in all different conditions. While many professionals have to surf performance shortboards because it is their job, most advanced surfers will still enjoy a fun or retro board on its day. Check out videos of Ozzie Wright, Craig Andersen and even Steph Gilmore ripping on fishes and weird little shapes.
Errbody Error On the Side of More Volume
To me, cubic volume is the most important dimension when selecting a surf board. Man, I really really love cubic volume. I nerd out so hard on cubic volume. It’s the only measurement that gives you a better idea of how a board will suit you is the one developed by these guys in Costa Rica, which they called “The 4th Dimension.” Read that article if you are as nerdy as me, but since “The 4th Dimension” is not yet a universal measurement, we’ll stick to learning what cubic volume measurements work for our bodies. If a board has a listed cubic volume measurement of say 29 Liters, I have a pretty good idea in my head how that board will float me.
Many companies and websites have developed sliding scales for volume based on your weight and skill level. I find most of these inaccurate for myself and other women. For example, when I enter my weight and skill level into this board calculator, it suggests I get a shortboard with 19.4 L. I think I’d sink straight to the bottom if I tried to ride board with 19.4 L. The chart below from Rusty Surfboards is a little closer to the mark… As an intermediate surfer, Rusty recommends 25.85 L for my board. Still a bit small but closer. My magic number is around 26-28L. Some might say this is way too big for me but I am lazy and I love catching heaps of waves.
My maxim, is when in doubt, get more volume!
Most of the weekend warrior, surf-when-we-get-the-chance chicks of average to above average fitness are going to have soooo much more fun on a slightly more voluminous board. You’ll catch more waves, ride them further and speed through sections.
Where Will You Surf This Board? Choosing the Right Tool for the Job
As much as proponents of boards like the Hypto-Krypto may disagree, one board does not fit all waves. The boards I ride in Manly are very different from the boards I rode in Indonesia, the board I ride in 2-3 foot conditions in a contest probably isn’t the board I’d ride in the same conditions for a free surf.
Steeper, Hollower Waves:
In places like Indonesia, the Maldives, PNG or basically anywhere where the waves break over a shallow reef and you are not encumbered by a heavy wetsuit, you will want to ride a more traditional, performance shortboard or step-up depending how big it is. I also like experimenting with quad vs. thruster set-ups and using slightly bigger fins (one size up from what you usually ride). My partner and I both loved the DHD Black Diamond in the Telos Islands because it has a little volume up the front, a round tail and a quad set-up. It was the standout favourite. We also took a 6’2” DHD Sweet Spot, which was too big for me. The bottom line is go a little thinner and longer for your Indo boards.
Day-to-Day Slog Surfing Beach Breaks:
For surfing contests and waves from 2ft to 5ft in the local beach breaks around Sydney I am riding my JS Psycho Nitro which is basically a fish combined with a shortboard. It’s got a lot of volume, a squash tail and can be a quad or thruster. I tend to use three fins in these conditions because I want a snappy pivot point for trying to do shorter turns in tighter (dumpy often) sections. I save the shortboards for really good conditions because I like catching a lot of waves.
Point Breaks & California Reefs:
If I am overseas in La Jolla or surfing waves up the coast at a point break in NSW, I ride a fish a lot. The modern fish has extra volume, a wide tail and a cruisey disposition that make these waves so much fun.
Try Everything You Can Get Your Hands On
No matter where you are on your journey as a surfer, if you have an opportunity to try a board, go for it! I’ll ride anything I can because for me that challenge and feeling of trying out a new board is thrilling. Hence, my frenzied board testing at the demo day. Another benefit of trying different boards is figuring out your personal comfort zone in terms of volume, your own “magic number.” Plus, riding different equipment is FUN and that’s what surfing is all about.
What My Quiver Looks Like Now
Day to Day Shortboard: 5’5” JS Psycho Nitro swallow tail, extra volume for catching more waves.
Single Fin: 6’9” retro pin tail single fin for small days and waves like Ferry Bower.
Step-up: 5’7” DHD Black Diamond with quad set up.
Fish: 5’4” Josh Hall Surfboards custom thruster fish designed by me!
So how do you go about choosing the right board?
Based on the ultimate measurement: fun. Of course, you should take a look at the waves you will be surfing for the most part, consider your skill level, weight, height and fitness and have a talk with a shaper or shop owner. The more honest you are with yourself about where and how you actually surf, the more fun you will have! I have too many female surfer friends who are always riding some narrow, thin 5’7” shortboard with 24 litres of volume and wondering why they struggle to catch waves in 2 foot slop. Experiment. Trade with friends. Buy something used off the classifieds. Don’t pigeonhole yourself, your surfing or your funhogging ability. The “right” surfboard is the one that creates the most stoke and helps you live each wave in the moment.