Surfboards for intermediate surfers
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Surfboards for Intermediate Surfers: Anthony’s Quiver

Most intermediate surfers are very confused on boards and don't know which boards to get, let's dive into my quiver and why Clayton has shaped these boards for my surfing progression.

When transitioning to the intermediate stages of surfing, there are lots of changes you need to undergo. They are mainly about the waves you need to ride, the flexibility and strength you need to show, and the surfboards you need to try out to find the one best suited for your style.

Luckily, we have Clayton Nienaber at OMBE, who is an amazing board shaper and who knows that finding the right board for an intermediate surfer is a process of trial and error. To let you in on how that process works and inform you about the different types of surfboards, we’ve prepared this tutorial. Anthony will offer a breakdown of the boards in his quiver, most of which are ones Clayton himself made for him.

The Transition From Beginner to Intermediate Surfing

Before we get into Anthony's quiver, let’s remind you that there’s something imperative every surfer needs to understand. When transitioning to a new stage of surfing and switching board types, first you need to change the way you’re surfing in terms of style, technique, and in regard to both your physical and mental flexibility.

The beginner rides on fat and short boards because they’re riding soft and smooth waves. Those boards allow the surfer to generate speed as there’s not much energy pushing them in the wave itself. Furthermore, when you’re only a beginner, you won’t be able to interpret the feedback you get from your board because you’re yet inexperienced. 

You’ll just go to an online shop and pick whatever comes your way. Even if you look at the product reviews, you’ll be overlooking the fact that those reviews are based on the experiences and styles of others, which are not compatible with yours most of the time.

However, short and fat boards won't work for an intermediate surfer who needs to be more on the rail and who needs to channel the energy of the wave into their board. Those who are new to surfing tend to think that the right board will cover up their lack of technique and endow them with the speed they so long for, but those traits are in the hands of the surfers themselves. 

Therefore, first you need a change of style (and approach) rather than a new board; only then you’ll be able to tell your boardmaker what attributes you’re looking for in a board. When you settle in a new style and embrace it, your boardmaker will be able to interpret your feedback and make boards that fit your needs.

Hand Planes

Body surfing is a good way to start with the intermediate stages, and it’s quite fun. The fact that it’s fun makes it somewhat popular, too, and as a result, you can find 10-dollar hand blades on the market. 

But, as you can guess, if you want to learn anything, they’re not going to do you any good. You can see in the video how Anthony immediately throws his 10-dollar blades away, and that’s the correct way to approach them.

Nonetheless, there are all kinds of great hand blades in the market. Anthony has three of them: a soft top, a Hawaiian Bula, and a wooden one.

The soft top has more defined edges and less defined curves, and you can either ride it one hand on the side or two hands pushing it from the top. Since its edges are kind of straight, it’s not really suitable for riding waves on top. However, you can peacefully glide in on a soft-top while riding soft, phony waves.

The curvier and smaller Hawaiian Bula has a massive amount of concave on its bottom, which makes it ideal for riding short breaks. With those, you can easily dig into the side of the wave and through the bottom. The concave will allow the wave to pick you up and lift you.

The wooden one is a bit fat compared to the other, and its curves are somewhere in the middle of the above two. It’s quite fun to ride it, and it’ll do a decent job on the breaks, but the experience will never beat the Hawaiian Bula.

Soft Top Surfboards

The soft top surfboards are there in the quiver of almost every surfer who made it to the further stages, and even pros sometimes jump on it and go out for a ride just for the fun of it. 

You might have observed that traditional boards are hard on top. That’s because they are made of either polyurethane or polystyrene foam and then coated with polyester, which hardens their surface. The core of soft tops has polystyrene foam, too, but it’s coated with ethylene-vinyl acetate that has a more rubbery feel. Therefore, they are lighter, easier to paddle with, and provide less slippage.

Anthony has two Mick Fanning soft tops and one Odysea in his quiver as well. Let’s check them out.

5’10” Mick Fanning Little Marley Soft Top Surfboard (a.k.a. “The Accidental Ripper”)

Soft tops tend to be light, but Mick Fanning’s 5’10” version is not one of those. It’s quite wide and heavy. Therefore, it has a lot of volume and it catches heaps of waves.

If you want a board that’s fast in turns, it’s definitely not the one for you. Its wide tail doesn’t allow it to pivot and turn all that easily. That is especially the case if you’re using thruster fins. That’s not necessarily a bad attribute, though. When you are riding on the rail with quad fins, turning slower might benefit your flow. It’s also quite fast on a straight line, but it can always put you way out of the line in a matter of a moment.

All in all, it might not be a high-performance board that’ll improve your flow and whatnot, and it might fail you in a professional setting. But, ultimately, it won’t disappoint you when you jump on it to have some fun time in the ocean. That’s why Anthony calls it his “super fun board.”

6’6” Mick Fanning Beastie Soft Top Surfboard

This one’s called “beastie” with good reason because it’s not only super lengthy but it’s also quite wide and thick. Its width is also almost equal in its nose, tail, and midsection. So, if the Little Marley above was a little bit slow in turns, you can guess that the Beastie will be even slower and more difficult. Its slowness won’t provide an advantage while riding on the rail, either, as it’ll be too slow and it’ll want to stay flat no matter what you do.

However, there are still some occasions when the Beastie can prove useful. For example, that flatness will prevent you from deviating from your straight line, and it’s a board that’s quite difficult to fall off from. Well, as long as you can stand and not make mistakes. In other words, its flatness will keep you flat as well, and if you have bad technique, it’ll conceal it. Therefore, it’s a good board for beginners.

Then again, a board that conceals bad technique is a board that conceals good technique. So, it’s safe to say that you won’t be improving with this one, and if you’re an intermediate surfer, you’ll forget what you’ve learned. A board that flat is no fun, either.

Odysea Log Basic X Jamie O’Brien Pro

Anthony had an accident that resulted in breaking his neck. Toward the last stages of his recovery, he wanted to get back to surfing, but he wasn’t yet ready to jump on a board and ride waves like he used to. Instead, he started with paddling and picked this huge, bed-like board. As we said, soft tops are ideal for paddling because they are more comfortable, and Anthony discovered that this particular model provided enough comfort.

However, that’s not its only merit. It can catch almost every wave, and despite its length, it can accomplish turns quite well since it has a narrow tail. Moreover, it’s a great board to learn how to take turns slower on, and it works best on long and slow waves. On top of these, it’s quite fun, too.

It’s the board that reintroduced Anthony to surfing after the accident, so you can guess what sort of emotional meaning it has for him.

Mid-Length Surfboards

Speed comes across as a prerequisite of surfing for most beginners we encounter, and yes, it’s quite important, but it’s not all there’s to surfing. On the contrary, we love surfing because it’s aesthetically pleasing, and that pleasure is rarely a result of speed.

When a surfer who spends too much time trying to be fast watches a surfer like Torren Martyn, they realize that as well. Torren has a unique style that’s a blend of grace, smoothness, and slowness, and it inspires some youngsters to develop traits similar to his. 

Once that’s your style, though, you cannot go on riding huge boards such as the soft-boards above. You can’t continue with the fat and short boards you learned to surf on as a beginner either.

Once Anthony came to that realization, Clayton made him a custom board on which he can display his own grace.

Clayton’s Custom-Made, Twin-Fin, Mid-Length Board

Anthony describes his experience with this mid-length in three words: flowing, fun, and connected. And similar to the Odysea board above, it’s ideal for learning to surf slower. It’s also capable of catching many small waves nicely and early.

Moreover, its tail and bottom are shaped like V. If your style is more on the rail, then it’ll be fun and easy to turn. Your cutbacks will be more fluid, and you’ll be able to hold them for longer periods.

Since it’s a small and thin board, it helps you develop a more direct relationship with the wave, and that’s why your ride feels more connected compared to your experiences with thicker boards. When you start feeling the waves in less mediated ways, your understanding of the ocean improves, and it opens up more space for you to progress.

In short, it’s fun, beneficial, and you look good when you’re surfing on it.

Clayton’s Custom-Made 6’ Swallow Tail and 6’1” Round Tail Surfboards

These are the first two boards Clayton made for Anthony, and they are more or less identical. The difference in length between the two is only one inch, both have the same width, both are concave at the bottom, both are banana-shaped and have four fins, and both are supposed to be ridden on quads.

Despite all those similarities, though, Anthony fell in love with the swallow tail on his first ride, but the round tail started to grow on him later. This change of heart is due to the progress he made as a surfer and as someone who’s trying to understand the waves.

Now, let’s see how and why his feelings and surfing have changed since Clayton designed these boards specifically for him.

The Swallow Tail

The reason you’d be falling in love with the swallow tail is actually the reason why young surfers lack flow: putting too much emphasis on speed. When you’re on top of a wave and coming down, the swallow tail will provide you with a lot of speed. When you put it on a straight line, there will be no catching you because it’ll just fly down the line. When you’re doing turns with it, you’ll think you’re doing very cool, since you do them quite fast, too.

However, as you keep on improving, there comes a time when you ask: “Well, how the hell did I end up in the shoulder now?” Because it’s too fast going down the line, you end up in the shoulder as if the board doesn’t like being in the pocket of the wave. Because its turns are too fast, you start feeling that you aren’t turning fluidly enough but that you’re forcing those turns.

Progressing in the intermediate stages of surfing means that you develop a deeper understanding of the waves as well as your own surfing. So, it’s a period when you start realizing that the energy of the wave is in the pocket and that’s where you need to ride; rocketing toward the shoulder is hardly surfing at all. It’s also the period when you start prioritizing flow over speed and find out that swallow-tailed surfboards cannot meet your goals.

The Round Tail

The swallow tail neither lets you be in the pocket nor provides you with flow. Therefore, it’s a love that can only be short-lived when you keep improving and become more comfortable with surfing in the pocket.

When you want to stay in the pocket, a speedy board that just ejects you out of there is your biggest enemy. To stay there, you need a board that won’t just run away and that will take turns slowly so you don’t just wobble and fall over. And the round tail allows you to do just that. That’s why once you have a better understanding of what you want to do, you tend to like the round tail more. 

To initiate that understanding, Clayton designed both these boards for quads and with concaves, too. Newbies who aren’t there yet mostly ride flat and, since they can’t generate speed and do twists to accomplish turns, they stomp their back foot on the board a lot. Quads and concaves almost force you to be on the rail, which allows for a more fluid performance and an easily-controlled board.

Step Up Surfboards

Transitioning from beginner to intermediate stages requires you to ride much bigger waves, and while riding bigger waves with lots of energy and power, you can’t use a shortboard because it’s going to be all over the place. Therefore, you need to step up your board game and move onto big boards like step ups.

They have more concaves, more length, and more paddling power than your regular boards. The chest of the board is sturdier to handle the power of the wave and most of them will have tucked-in tails at the end of a narrower rail to ensure better control.

Clayton designed one of those for Anthony as well. Now, let’s see how he designed it and why in a little bit more detail.

Clayton’s Custom-Made 6’3” Step Up Surfboard

On the face of bigger, more powerful waves, the shorter surfboards will always tighten, but a well-designed long board will considerably be looser. When you make a turn on a huge wave, it has to be a long-drawn one, and a tight board won’t be able to hold during that.

When Clayton designed this step up for Anthony, he had that in mind, too. So, he furnished it with more length, single to double concave, and lots of rocker. All those features make it easier to paddle and a lot faster so that it can counter the power of the wave.

One thing to note, though, is that Clayton didn’t make this board so that Anthony can ride faster. The big waves already provide the speed you need by themselves, and a big board already means that you’ll be able to transfer that speed to your ride. However, controlling that energy is more important than having it. And that’s what Clayton’s special design allows you to do.

Anthony’s Own Custom-Made Small Wave Surfboard

Clayton being both a great boardshaper and an amazing surf coach is a blessing that we can’t stress enough. Thanks to this blessing, Anthony made his own board, too, with the guidance and under the supervision of Clayton.

Making a board is not only good because you have a board at the end of the process, but also because you’re getting acquainted with the thought that goes into it. What kind of rocker do you want? How narrow do you want the rail to be? Is a thick and wide tail more suitable for how you want to surf, or is it just the opposite? How much concave would you like? First, you have to answer all these questions, which require you to have a deeper understanding of surfing.

Then, you’re acquainted with the technical aspects of board making such as the Spine-Tek technology that gives the board elasticity so it can be more responsive (Clayton uses it in all the boards he makes). Further along the line, you need to make choices about the chest material, tail shape. You need to glass it and sand it. And you can let your kids handprint them like Anthony did so that you personalize the design in the cutest way possible.

What Anthony wanted when he made this board was, again, speed. But it didn’t take long for him to outgrow it because he soon realized he needed more flexibility in his turns, more fluidity in his performance, and more gusto overall. The thick and wide tail of his custom-made surfboard wasn’t able to provide those once he learned to slow down and started riding the pocket.

Yet, it’s still a good board to practice on small waves and learn basics such as balance and speed.

Clayton’s Own 5’10” Twin Pin Surfboard

There is a common rookie approach to boards that overrates the importance of volume. They tend to think that boards with more volume tend to catch waves more easily. The second part of this conundrum is thinking that bigger people need more volume in their boards as well.

Anthony’s experience on Clayton’s own Twin Pin surfboard refutes these statements. This board lacks in terms of volume; actually, it’s way below what Anthony thought would be admissible for himself, but when it comes to catching waves, it still works wonders. In this sense, a well-thought design is obviously more important than the dimensions of a board.

That’s not the only merit of the Twin Pin either. Thanks to its concaves, narrow and thin tail design, and rocker, it establishes a more direct and responsive relationship between the wave and the surfer. The moment you hit the pocket of the wave with it, you’re able to feel the energy surging and takeoff with a smooth glide. Due to its specifically tailored tail design, it accomplishes turns like no other in the pocket, too. At the end of the way, you leave the beach with a kind of self-contentment that you managed to “connect with the wave, become one with the wave.”

Of course, none of that would be possible if Anthony didn’t improve his surfing technique in the first place. He started moving his body much better on the board, mastered turns, and his focus shifted from speed to flow. As a result of all these improvements, he outgrew the other boards and ended up loving this Twin Pin more than anything else in his quiver. That can be the ultimate testament to why you need to evolve as a surfer first before changing (or blaming) the board.

Wrapping Up…

That was Anthony’s quiver. That was also the story of how Anthony’s surfing evolved and improved over the years and how his demands from a board changed accordingly. 

We covered almost every type of board an intermediate surfer will need in their quiver and explained what you can expect from them in detail. We hope that the next time you order one from your boardmaker, you’ll make decisions in accordance with your style.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching