7 tips for choosing the right surfboard

Man holding a Firewire Timbertek surfboard

For every surfer, the surfboard is a magical item. However when it comes to buying surfboards, a lot of us follow trends without considering whether they will help or hinder our surfing. Read on for our top tips and choose the right surfboard FOR YOU!

 

At one end of the spectrum we copy the high performance elite…

Think WCT competitors and the world’s top freesurfers. Regardless of our own ability, those of us who aspire to this type of surfing often purchase boards based on what our favourite surfer rides. Dane might be your favourite surfer, but he surfs with an incredibly back footed approach, freakish talent and a raw explosive power that most of us will unfortunately never get close to. On the other hand perhaps you’re a front-footed surfer with a calculated and controlled approach. It stands to reason that the same board that goes incredibly for Dane isn’t necessarily going to be the right surfboard for you.

At the other end we follow what’s in vogue…

For example, the resurgence of the twin fin and other ‘alternative’ craft.’ Surfers such as Rasta, Asher Pacey and Torren Martyn are spearheading the movement back towards retro designs. Whilst in many ways this is a good thing for the average surfer due to added foam, flatter rockers and wider outlines; other associated design features such as two fins, an overly wide tail block or being very short in length can hinder our surfing. People argue that if Torren and Rasta can ride their twinnies in heaving barrels at Nias, then the design clearly doesn’t hold them back. However, the reality is whilst these surfers might be seen as alternative, they are still some of the most skilled surfers on the planet. They might be able to make most boards work in most situations, but that doesn’t always mean that we can.

 

With so much variety in surfboard design these days, here’s our 7 top tips to help you find that magic board:

 

1. Pick the right VOLUME for you, not your favourite surfer

Surfboard volume is not created equal.

 

Of course, we couldn’t talk about surfboard design without addressing volume. Simply put, volume is the amount of foam in your board – how buoyant it is. Lighter surfers need less foam, heavier surfers need more foam. More advanced surfers need less foam, less advanced surfers more foam. Simple, right?

Nowadays volume is seen as a golden metric. However, when it comes to picking the right surfboard, volume should be seen as a starting point rather than the full picture. Volume is mostly important when we’re paddling. Once we’re up and riding and the board is planing, there are different forces at work rather than buoyancy. However, without catching waves we’re not going to be surfing, so volume is a useful starting point. We recommend the following:

Beginner – Never surfed before to learning to catch unbroken waves without assistance
At least 60% of your body weight in kg as litres. E.g. If you weigh 70kg, we recommend at least 42 litres

Lower Intermediate Surfers who can comfortably catch unbroken waves and make direction changes
Around 50% of body weight in kg as litres. E.g. 70kg = 35 litres

Intermediate – Surfers comfortable in a range of conditions able to generate speed and perform basic manoeuvres such as cutbacks and floaters
Around 42% of body weight in kg as litres. E.g. 70kg = 29.5 litres

Advanced – Surfers performing committed manoeuvres in critical sections of the wave and consistently surfing top to bottom
Around 37% of body weight in kg as litres. E.g. 70kg = 26 litres

Elite/Pro – The top 1% of surfers
Around 35% of body weight in kg as litres. E.g. 70kg = 24.5 litres

 

2. Choose a board with ROCKER that suits the waves you surf

Rocker is an important aspect of choosing the right surfboard.

 

Rocker is one of the most important elements of surfboard design. When the board is flat and planing, the rocker determines how fast the board will move over the surface and when we’re on a rail and turning, the rocker determines the arc we can draw. As with most aspects of surfboard design, it’s all about balance. A flat rocker will go fast but also want to continue going in a straight line when on a rail. On the other hand, a board with a lot of rocker will be able to draw tight arcs on the face, but will push water and lose speed in flatter sections of a wave.

As a general rule, match your rocker to the waves you surf. If the waves you most commonly surf are steep and powerful, opt for more curve. If they tend to be flatter or less powerful, a flatter rocker will fit the wave better.

“What if I can only have one surfboard to cover all conditions?” In that case we find the following offers a great balance: medium nose rocker, low rocker through the middle of the board and a fair amount of rocker or ‘flip’ in the tail.

The medium nose rocker provides a good mix of paddle power and manoeuvrability whilst the low rocker through the centre of the board gives us a large sweet spot for the front foot and helps us maintain speed and glide through flat sections. Curve through the tail then helps to keep the board loose and able to perform tight arcs when on rail.

 

3. Consider the PLAN SHAPE of the board

The plan shape of a surfboard as seen from above.

 

The plan shape is the outline of the board as viewed from above or below. The plan shape interacts with the rocker to dictate the surface area in contact with the water. More width through the outline creates stability and lift whilst a narrower board offers more control in bigger waves and allows the board to roll rail to rail more easily.

For the average surfer in average waves, more width through the outline will be more forgiving and offer a larger sweet spot. Width in the nose helps with paddling whilst width through the centre will provide stability and a wider tail gives a positive platform for the back foot prevents the board bogging when turning on flatter sections. The caveat is that a wide nose can cause the board to catch when turning in steep sections, too much width through the centre makes it harder to roll the board onto it’s rail and a wide tail can cause you to slide out when turning at higher speeds. Noticing a theme?… Finding the right surfboard is all about balance.

 

4. Check out alternative CONSTRUCTIONS for various advantages

Channel Islands Spine-Tek construction diagram

 

The biggest step forward in surfboard design in recent years has been the development of new constructions. For decades the majority of surfboards have been made from a polyurethane (PU) foam core with a wooden stringer, fibreglass and a polyester resin outer skin. This has been the standard for so many years because it’s relatively light and offers a very predictable flex pattern ideal for high performance surfing. Unfortunately, PU is very toxic and notoriously fragile.

As materials and construction methods improve, epoxy surfboards are becoming more popular. The epoxy constructions have a higher strength to weight ratio and a livelier flex pattern compared to traditional PU and this makes them particularly suited for average waves. Elite surfers can generate speed and whip through their turns using perfect technique but for most of us the light and lively feel of modern epoxies will offer a helping hand.

Epoxy constructions are still in their relative infancy with some manufacturers still yet to embrace it. However, here are some of the most popular at the moment:

 

5. Feel how much foam is carried out to the RAILS

A shaper sands the rails of the blank

 

The rails are the outside edges of your board. Ideally, this is where we want to be surfing the board from as much as possible. Leaning the board on rail creates drive, allows us to slice into the wave and transmit power though our turns. The rails are the one area of the board where volume really comes into play when we’re up surfing. When we’re trying to do our best impression of a big Taylor Knox carve, we have to be able to sink the rail in the water. Therefore the amount of foam in our rails can make a big difference.

It would be easy to draw the conclusion that if the above is true, thinner rails are better. As you might have guessed by now, it’s not that simple. Whilst a thinner rail allows us to cut through the water like a hot knife through butter, it also demands better technique and a more powerful wave to push against us and prevent us from bogging.

A fuller rail offers more forgiveness and allows us to turn in weaker sections of the wave without losing speed. However, in more powerful waves where you’re going faster it will be more difficult for the rail to engage and you can find yourself losing control and skipping out.

To keep things simple: opt for a fuller rail if you’re mostly surfing slower or flatter faced waves and go for a thinner rail in bigger or steeper surf. Somewhere in the middle will provide a happy medium for the majority of conditions.

 

6. Prioritise TAIL WIDTH over tail template

Kepa Acero and his 'ladies'

 

When we refer to tail template, we’re talking about the shape of the tail in the last few inches of the board. The most common examples being squash, round and swallow. Whilst the tail template does have some impact on the way a board performs, we feel tail width plays a bigger role. It’s common to hear or read statements such as “…squash or swallow tails for small waves, round tail for bigger or barrelling waves.” In reality a wide round tail is going to be better suited to small surf than a narrow swallow or squash tail. Likewise, a narrow swallow tail is going to hold much better in critical surf than a wide round tail.

Our advice is to pay more attention to the width of the tail rather than the shape of it in the last few inches. Less powerful waves require more surface area under the back foot and more powerful waves require less surface area and width. We reckon you can’t go far wrong with a squash or round tail. Swallows are great too but have a tendency to crack easily. All of the other shapes are just variations on these 3 and have more to do with aesthetics and marketing than performance in our opinion. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a good looking surfboard…)

 

7. Experiment with FIN SETUPS to find what suits your approach

Single fin, twin fin, thruster or quad?

Last but not least, we need to talk about fin set-up. You might have found the right surfboard, but if you’re running the wrong fin set-up you might not know it yet! Fins are a subject unto themselves so we will leave fin design and construction for another blog post. There are many different fin set-ups available but here we’re going to look at the 3 most popular and perhaps most performance oriented setups; twin fin, thruster and quad.

Twin fin – Ultimate planing speed can compromise control.

Twinnies are fast. As the water is deflected off the two fins, there is nothing else for it to interact with to create drag so the board planes with little resistance. However, twin fins require a lighter or more front footed approach. Those used to riding thrusters or with a heavy back foot can find twin fins hard to control as they are pushing from behind where the fins are placed. This can cause the board to feel super loose and easy to slide out.

If you’re a light footed or front footed surfer, a twin fin can be a great option as they generate speed easily when planing and require less force to turn and pivot.

Thruster – Jack of all trades, master of pretty much all of them too!

The thruster has remained unsurpassed since it’s introduction in 1980 because it provides a great blend of speed, drive and control. The thruster works best when the board is surfed on a rail as the water pressure between the fins creates drive. Front footed surfers or those who like to cruise can find thrusters slow as the rear centre fin creates drag. However, for performance surfing the thruster is king. With your back foot over the centre fin and the board on a rail, this fin setup offers the most pivot, drive and predictable release.

Quad – A blend of the twin fin and thruster.

Think of a quad as a thruster with the back fin split in 2 and moved towards the rail to reduce drag and increase hold. The closer the rear fins are to the stringer, the more the board will surf like a thruster. The closer they are to the rails, the more the board will surf like a twin fin. Many surfers swear by quads in fast hollow surf as they are faster and the extra fin near the rail provides more grip on a steeper wave face.

*Many shapers also offer a 5 fin option. Generally this is not to be surfed with all 5 fins but allows you to change between set-ups and experiment with different feelings in different conditions. This is a great option for most, especially if you can only have 1 board.

 

So there you have it. Follow these tips and you should be one step closer to finding the right surfboard for you!

The waves in the Maldives offer the ultimate blank canvas for testing and getting to know your surfboard. If you would like any help deciding which board/s to buy or bring with you on your surf coaching holiday, feel free to drop us a line for more advice.

 

Mark Boyd on the right surfboard in the Maldives

Click HERE for more info