Finding the right surfboard and when to change boards
Why do you ride the surfboards you ride? What makes you buy one surfboard over the other or how do you know when to change boards to suit your style of surfing?
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The Full Guide
Why do you ride the board(s) you ride?
For what reason do you pick that surfboard over your other boards or when you buy a new one?
Let’s forget conditions, just say it’s your perfect ideal set of waves. Why do you pick that board over the others?
This could be a tough or easy question for you, but I want you to think more about those boards and why you ride them.
Nuances to board design
Before I jump into breaking down boards, there is so much nuance in surfboard designs and how they can change, how they are made, shapes, constructions, how they can add and hide foam and how the board functions to the fins.
This is a more overall look at your surfboard and more importantly, your surfing.
If you want to dive deep into understanding surfboard design, you can jump into our training program “Get The Right Surfboard”.
Ride the wave, not your board
The way I think about any surf before I paddle out is, “how do I want to ride the waves out there?”.
Every surf. Small, big, fat, shore break, overhead, closeouts, whatever it is.
This may seem common sense, if it’s small take the bigger board, if it’s bigger take the smaller board. If it’s well overhead, take a step up.
This works but also allows you to fall into a few traps and changes the way you view your board.
It makes your board choice all about, how you want to paddle into a wave and not how you want to surf the wave when you are on it.
Do you see the difference between those two choices?
How do you want to catch a wave and how do you want to surf it?
Paddle power can be a trap
Depending on the answer, you may have both or only one of them.
And which one is more important to you, that is what governs most surfers' purchase or choice of that board.
For the average surfer, or low intermediate & beginner surfers, it usually is always how you catch that wave.
Make sense, you want more waves, you want to get them easier and you want more of them.
But this is where, that surfer who wants to try new things, wants to turn their board, wants to surf with more flow, manoeuvres etc can fall into the trap.
That trap is you want a board that paddles easily, catches waves easily and can catch waves way out on the shoulder of the wave where there is less stress and competition for the wave, but then they also want the board to perform like a high-performance shortboard.
They want it to respond quickly, they want their surfing to not be flat, slow and sluggish.
These two statements can be at odds with each other.
In some board choices, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Surfboard design is all about tradeoffs
What I am referring to here is the higher volume performance shortboard. The more volume you add to this board, the more you begin to mute those high-performance features and change how that board behaves.
Surfboard design is all about tradeoffs.
You can add more volume and paddle power in many ways, increasing width, thickness, or length, but by changing those dimensions of the board, you change how it will function and increase its volume.
What is volume
Volume is just the amount of space your board takes up, but instead of cubic metres or whatever, the surfing industry somehow decided to measure it in litres.
Volume is just a measure of how buoyant your board is, and buoyancy is just the board's resistance to being sunk under the water. The more buoyant it is, the more it will want to float and the harder it will be to sink the board underwater.
How increased volume changes your board
By increasing your volume, you make the board hard to sink, and that can fundamentally change how that board functions and the size/weight of the person it will suit.
To turn your board, you have to use your rails and sink your rail to begin and hold a turn. If the board has more volume, that will have more buoyancy and want to resist being sunk more.
So if you make your board wider, you will have a wider surface area on top of the water and this can make the board more stable along with the added volume. You now have to apply more force to the rail to get it to sink, you have more water to displace and more resistance to sinking.
This goes on for most aspects of your board, from how water flows underneath your board to how the shape of the board and rails interact with water.
By adding more volume, by changing the length, width, thickness and more nuanced parts of your boards design, you will change how that board performs and usually, they will mute the performance aspect of it.
Choosing your boards
If you want a more forgiving board that’s great.
But if you are chasing a board to improve your surfing and not just catch waves, you’ve gotta ask yourself what you value more, that easy paddle in, how it rides and what surfing it allows you to do or a mixture of both.
This comes back to the original question, why do you ride that surfboard as well as what kind of surfing you want to do when you are on a wave?
If all you want is to catch a wave and pop up, with everything after that a bonus, great pick the board that gives you that the best and suits the conditions you are paddling out in.
But if you want to do those manoeuvres and you are choosing a mid-length 7 foot board that’s super wide and thick, you’ll need to balance those expectations because it won’t paddle in like a log and perform like a shortboard.
When someone goes on a rant about how great their board is at paddling in and catching waves, as well as being amazing at turning and responsive, I usually get alarm bells. Something usually doesn’t add up when we are talking about the average surfer.
Surf smarter, not harder
When you take a smaller board and opt for more performance, or more feeling or anything that diminishes your easiness to catch waves, you have to surf smarter and not harder.
If you are on the shoulder, you can paddle your heart out, but if the wave isn;t going to break and you aren’t riding a log, you pretty much have zero chance of catching that wave.
But if you are in or near the pocket, closer to the peak, and casually paddle in to catch the wave there, it will be so much easier to catch, you just have to navigate the drop and crowd.
Why I choose the boards I ride
I have a few boards I brought over to the UK when I moved here and I few I have gotten since.
- 9’0” log (self-shaped)
- 5’9” Shortboard
- 5’8” retro-inspired single fin
- 5’2” small wave board
- 7’6” Softboard
They are mostly shortboards but I ride my log when I want to practice nose riding, going fast and feeling like I am cheating, riding a wave all the way into the beach and not working for it, or I am feeling lazy when the waves are small. I don’t ride this board at all in anything above shoulder high. I’d rather just ride my shortboard and work on turns.
A shortboard is a shortboard, nothing revolutionary, does its job as described and is small. If the waves are standing up and showing me possible sections I see this as my chance to enjoy failing forwards and working through manoeuvres. I want the board to respond, and give me more feeling.
My retro-inspired single-fin shortboard is an odd board in the UK. I don’t like it - at all. It was made for point breaks, it wants to sit in the pocket and not race down the line. It will give me a slower, longer more drawn-out turn, it will stop me from pumping for speed and work with what the wave gives me. If I surf a point break, I want this board, I want to sit in the pocket and work on surfing top to bottom, and I want to practice long manoeuvres. I want to be more patient and observe the wave and respond to what it’s doing. This is not what you get on typical beach breaks in the UK. Mushy and straight-handers. This board I got with an extra bit of thickness for the crowds at the Gold Coast before I moved and have always regretted that extra litre or so of foam.
The small wave board I dislike, it’s all the design functions I dislike, wider, thicker and shorter to allow a smaller turning circle to fit into small waves. This board feels more like a lot of effort for little reward. I only take this board out when I want to work on turns in the summer and I feel like I’ve been on the longboard way too much.
I ride the foamie when I want no expectations and a laugh, or the beach is packed with tourists and this is the safe option in case someone doesn’t move out of the way.
The common theme of my boards
You’ll notice nothing is about catching waves, it’s all about what I want to do with that board and what it allows me to do.
Yes my log will allow me to catch waves easier, and yes my single fin has quite a few more litres of volume over my shortboard but I will hands down pick my shortboard over my single fin unless it’s a pointbreak, then it’s a choice of what I feel like doing.
The next step after that is, well what do I want to add to that quiver? What opens up my surfing to different things I can’t do now or how do I progress to something better suited to what I am doing?
From here it’s actually a mid-length, to where I can take more speed into weaker waves but accept that the manoeuvres will be weaker than the shortboard, the turns will be longer. And a twin fin, simply because of how different they feel and how fun they are.
What this all boils down to is, what do you want your surfing to feel like? What do you want to do?
Be conscious of the glorified wave catchers if you want to turn, lower those expectations and work with the board's limitations not against them, or have a variety of boards to suit what you want out of each surf.
Any increase in volume will mute and lessen the responsiveness of a higher-performance board, it will change how it functions.
If you surf a smaller board, remember it's all about positioning and you just need to adjust to catching waves closer to the peak and pocket.
Has this prompted you to think about your surfing and the boards you are riding?
Do those objectives match the boards you surf or is it time to try a few new boards?
Do you just enjoy catching the wave and anything after that is a win?
I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.
Next week I am going to follow this up with a beginners focused episode based on the community's questions!