The dimensions are not the only thing that impacts the performance of the board, but they are probably the most important factor to consider.
The first thing that you will notice when facing a surfboard is its overall length. The debate on long vs. short surfboards is as hot as ever, so before you even think of considering a new board, you will have to get into one of these two camps.
Or maybe you won’t have to, yet you’ll still end up preferring one over the other.
Long surfboards are the original boards. When surfing came to prominence—in the middle of the 20th century—everyone that was considered a pro surfer could be spotted dawning a longboard of some sort.
This is because surfing then wasn’t such an exhibitionist sport. People were much more concerned about speed and stability than anything else.
By choosing a longboard, they were able to paddle out to their desired surf spot a lot faster and get on top of more waves due to the excellent stability.
And that’s not all—longer boards are actually better when it comes to big wave surfing because the extra surface of the board can be the difference between the rider retaining control on impact and turning over at high speeds.
Case closed, right? Longboards reign supreme. Well, not exactly. During the 1990s, surfing had its second resurgence. Surfers attempted impossible stunts and evidently, had success, but they weren’t surfing longboards.
The fact that longboards became so popular during the 60s and 70s made a lot of riders set in their ways. It sort of closed them in on what surfing was and could become.
The sport became stagnant, and there wasn’t much room for evolution. Of course, as with anything, there was a strong alternative current that wanted to move surfing and what it represented in a different direction.
There were surfers who weren’t interested in leisure and having the warm west winds blow one’s hair back while crying through a long breaking wave.
They wanted more adrenaline and more turns—a lot more. Enter the shortboard. Short boards allowed riders to perform stunts that were and still are impossible to do on longboards.
Shortboards give the rider a lot more flexibility and control over their ride. Think of it as driving a big sedan and Formula One.
The smallest of increments in turns make a huge difference. Riders can change direction and correct their track at a drop of a dime. Longboards are just too slow to react to the changes.
The lesser resistance from the ocean opened the door to a whole new chapter on surfing, and it couldn’t have been possible without shortboards.
Once you know the differences and the offerings from the length side of things, the next thing that you should consider is the width of the board. This plays a crucial part in how your surfing experience will be.
Wide surfboards are a lot easier to surf, and there’s no doubt about it. The added extra surface makes the board float a lot easier.
This makes life easier as a whole and affects every aspect of the surf. With a wider board, a surfer is able to paddle with a lot less effort, glide for longer, and retain stability in those tight moments when the ocean is crashing down.
Wide surfboards are the choice of many surf beginners and for a good reason. The worst thing that you can do to yourself as a beginner surfer is to hinder your confidence.
When you’re still learning, you can use all the help that you can get. It’s not about pulling off an otherworldly stunt; it’s about staying on that board for as long as possible.
The fact that the wide boards offer a lot more stability and are a lot more forgiving makes them the absolute king of pop ups.
For all of the perks and advantages that wide boards bring to the table, narrow surfboards still pack a lot of punch and hold their rightful place in this discussion.
Are you a professional surfer that is looking to ride a bullet? Well, in that case, wide boards just won’t cut it for you.
Narrow boards provide the greatest response to speed ratio there is. Experienced and professional surfers absolutely love narrow boards because they can push their limits when riding them.
When you perform a successful stunt on a narrow board, it’s usually something that can be mistaken for CGI when watching a video of it.
A frequently overlooked parameter in surfboards is the surfboard thickness.
Everyone is so obsessed with the length and width that the thickness of the board is sort of an afterthought. This is a grave mistake to make because a surfboard is the sum of its parts. Everything is connected and works in conjunction, so if you discard the thickness, it will come back to bite you.
It’s a frequent sight for riders to think that there is something wrong with their technique and approach when they’ve got the wrong board for the job.
Thick surfboards are usually found under the arms of beginners. This is not a hard rule, as there are a lot of intermediates that can still get a lot out of a thick board.
But, the thicker the board, the easier it is to catch waves. Because of the added velocity, thick boards are a lot easier to paddle and a lot harder to sink.
This is ideal for raiders that are looking to build up their chops and have more of a leveled experience throughout.
The thickness of a board can be the difference between a rider not managing to board a single wave and having a successful day at the beach.
But, what about performance? Well, that’s when you’ll need to shave off an inch or two.
Thin boards are the preferred choice of advanced and veteran surfers that want to push themselves to new heights.
Not only are thinner boards a lot more maneuverable and lighter, but they can cut through the waves like a hot knife in butter.
This means that when a rider is gliding down a wave, they can make use of their rails and dig them into the surface of the water to add control and maneuverability by ways of physics.
This is paramount for performing advanced stunts such as quick bottom turns and carving.
The foil is simply the thickness distribution. As you might imagine, a surfboard does not feature the same thickness throughout all of its surface, and how this thickness is distributed makes a ton of difference.
As a beginner, you might not pay a lot of attention to this, but in time, as you refine your craft, you will learn to distinguish the foil thickness at a glance.
In order to spot the foil of a board, you have to look at it from the side. Take a look if the board has some extra foam at the nose part or if there is a bit more bulk at the middle or tail parts.
There are no set measurements as to where the nose ends and where the middle begins, so everything is in the details and the curve of the foil.
But, what does the thickness distribution mean in terms of performance? We thought you’d never ask.
The shape and thickness of the nose of the board are paramount when it comes to its overall performance. Different nose thicknesses can make all the difference on a board.
Boards that feature thick nose parts are a lot easier to paddle and catch waves with.
This is because the extra material at the nose makes it possible for the board to absorb most of the impact at the front, which makes it more stable. This can also make for greater speed when surfing small waves; just lean a bit more on your front foot, and you should gain momentum without having the nose go below sea level.
Riders that opt for small and thin nose constructions can take it easy on their muscles. Thin nose boards are a lot easier to maneuver than thick nose ones.
So, surfers that are looking for a bit more performance in terms of agility should definitely take a look at thin nose boards.
If a board is the most substantial at the middle part, that means that it’s geared towards speed. The bulked-up middle makes the ride a lot easier for heavier surfers because they can sink that middle part in and have the rails be right where they should.
Another thing that thick middle boards excel at is durability. It’s a lot harder for a board to snap in half if it has all of that support in the middle.
Thin middle boards, on the other hand, are tailor-made for riders that want to move edge to edge without much effort and in quick bursts easily.
The thinner the middle part, the more maneuverability and overall control the surfer has.
Thick tails are best for surfers that are looking for a bit more stability on their ride. This way, they can dig in with their back foot and really control the course of the surf.
Besides, it’s a lot easier to catch waves and pop up when the board features a more substantial tail. This stabilizes the board and eliminates the shakes that resonate within it.
Having a thick tail will also contribute to a lot more speed, as the tail of the board provides a lot more flotation.
Thin tail boards are great for advanced and pro surfers that are keen on having a hold on the waves.
This way, they aren’t really digging in and impacting their momentum. They are basically getting all the control that they can get and sacrificing stability.
Riders can move from rail to rail even at great speeds and still maintain their momentum. Of course, a lot of the tail performance comes down to the fin setup. So, we suggest that you take a look at our guide on fin setups to get a sense of the complete picture.
Surfboard length and surfboard width are the most prominent parameters when it comes to having a maneuverable board. However, surfboard dimensions have a lot more to do with surfboard thickness and surfboard volume than most surfers think.
And although more volume is not something that experienced surfers go for, no one wants a nose rocker or a tail rocker at slow waves. You want to be able to maintain speed even on thicker boards.
We hope that now you have a better understanding of how surfboard dimensions can affect your performance, and that by setting that knowledge against your skill level, you will be able to come to the perfect board dimensions on your next board. If you’d like to learn more about all the different parts of a surfboard, check out our piece on surfboard anatomy. Until next time.