How to choose the right surfboard
With so many shapes, sizes, variations, refinements, and customizations, it’s so important to know how to choose the right surfboard and aid progression, rather than hinder improvement. It’s also exhausting and a black hole of confusion. Not to mention expensive. We asked our surf coach Twiggy to break it down for us, and that he did!
– Guest post by surf coach Twiggy
How to choose the right surfboard is probably more complex than you imagine. For a developing surfer which almost all of us are regardless of age, to get it “as right as possible” isn’t easy. But don’t despair we are here to help you explore and tick all the boxes 😊
If you are somewhat or totally obsessed with surfing as many are, myself included, then it’s not something you just “go and do”. On a personal level, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become intrigued by so many aspects of surfing. I’m constantly revitalized just by thinking about it (the act), the ocean (our playground), and its many moods (tides, swells, currents, even bathymetry). Think about this, we refer to the ocean, seas, lakes & rivers as “bodies of water”. Then consider yourself. You inhabit a body made up of about 80% water. YOU are a body of water!
Humans generally desire, or look for “connection”. Think of how good it feels when you meet someone and really click or connect with that person. It’s pretty cool huh? It leaves the impression that we want to repeat. We desire to extend, expand, or further that connection. Well once you attune yourself to the ocean it can be very much the same. Here’s something for you to mull over, “water loves to be with other water”. I could make an argument for this even beyond gravitational pull and downhill flow. So essentially, as a surfer, you are a body of water trying to connect with another body of water. When it all falls into place, and the resistance (or fear) falls away, that’s what happens. The result is you have one of those surfs that reminds you why you love it so much and never want to stop doing it! It is also scientifically proven that surfing and the negative ions released from crashing waves make you happy, but that’s another article altogether.
Your surfboard (craft) is what connects you to the ocean on the physical level, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. I don’t know if everyone will get this (the information above), or even consider it, but you should. Learning how to choose the right surfboard will bring you closer to this unique sport that we love so much.
Catching more waves and utilizing them properly is one of the main paths to improvement.
I won’t dance around this subject. If you are not already an advanced level surfer, and your ambition is to improve. Improve not just your level, but your technique, style, knowledge of and connection to the ocean (and it should be all of these), then learning how to choose the right surfboard is always something to be considered seriously, and at length. With a checklist to be followed. If you are content with the way you surf and care little to expand on that, then that’s also fine. We are primarily surfing to have fun (or at least I hope that’s the case).
Here are some factors to consider & when necessary, discuss the hows & whys:
The age when you started surfing
This is important because: If you started surfing at a young age, let’s say before you were 15, there’s a good chance it went something like this… You probably lived near the coast, somehow started or tried surfing, and were immediately bitten by the bug., You had to accept whatever surfboard you could get your grubby little hands on, as you didn’t have much money. You often surfed a “hand me down” that was bigger/longer than you would have wanted, had you been given a choice.
LUCKY YOU! …..Seriously I mean it. Personally, I feel owning a surfboard that was way too big for me for the first 3 or so years, after riding a coolite, was the best thing to help me develop good technique & style. Back then I/we didn’t have the Internet, surf coaching, or even surf videos (yes I’m that old). Even surf movies were shown at theatres packed with frothing adolescents screaming their lungs out whenever the Hawaii section came on and Shaun Thompson was doing rail turns inside what we then considered impossibly deep tubes.
My point here is, all we had to gauge what better surfing was, was from the peers we identified as good surfers. And maybe the occasional movie experience. But it was enough because we were hopelessly addicted 😊
Also when we are younger, we have a better capacity to learn new things. The process usually happens a bit quicker. We have lots of “space” to form new neuropathways. Not to say we can’t learn when we are older of course but it is harder.
Fast forward to now and the last 10 or 15 years. If you started surfing at a later age, in the age of YouTube, surf schools for beginners and surf coaching, the advantages you have due to resources at your disposal are nothing short of amazing. If you have the desire to totally immerse yourself in this sport. To drastically improve your surfing experience, you can, and you should. In fact, I am constantly bringing up clips to improve not only my own surfing but to also help me explain a good technique to those that I coach.
Sometimes we gotta take a step back to make a leap forward.
Now let’s look at some things to consider when purchasing your new or next “precious”!
Your current level of surfing
Put simply, if you have been on the same board for a long time and feel you have stagnated progression wise, you need to ask why. For example, did you go from an 8ft “soft top” (or mal), to a 6’0 x 19 x 2 3/8? If so you jumped down too far in 1 go and should have gone to, say a 6’6 or 6’8 in the same or similar dimensions. Don’t be afraid to go back up to a slightly longer board in a similar volume. It will help you learn how to flow with the wave. Then when you come back down to a shorter surfboard again, you’ll get good or even great results with less effort. Sometimes we gotta take a step back to make a leap forward.
So, take into account the surfboard you are currently riding, the one prior to that, and where you should go from here. If you are going from longer surfboards to shorter, it’s good to come down in about 6-inch increments. Even if it’s just for short 6 months stints, each time. It will help to keep things smooth style-wise.
Height, weight, & even foot size (not exact foot size, just large, medium, or small) can also be important. Yep, foot size! The object is to surf “on rail”. The smaller your feet are, the harder it is to (on rail) turn a wide board!
The conditions you mostly surf. The biggest waves you surf, and how many boards you own/can afford.
If you can only afford 1 surfboard and you live in a place that gets mediocre surf but good waves now & then, it may be a good idea to get a board for the good days. A board that you can also ride as a Twinny or Twin Fin with trailer fin, when it’s crappy. I used to love riding my 6’4 as a Twinny in NE wind slop when I lived on the East Coast of Australia. If you can afford more than 1 surfboard, a good all-rounder and a step up surfboard would be ideal.
I strongly advise avoiding “Fish” surfboards until after good style & technique is developed. Then have at it if you like them.
The people that ARE good surfers all took a long time to become that. You are no different. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
Do you have money to buy new surfboards often or regularly?
The reason/s this may be negative are as follows:
#1 You don’t stay on a longer board for enough time to develop a good style/technique.
#2 You are in a hurry to get the next, shorter board, thinking it will automatically make you surf better because it’s easy/easier to maneuver.
#3 When you do get the next surfboard, you make such a drastic drop in length that it’s detrimental to your progression on the wave, and also entering (catching/taking off on) the wave.
Are you busy with work, and have less time to surf?
Or possibly, you are impatient with how long it is taking to improve and think your “eureka moment” is just a new surfboard away? The “busy with work” thing can’t be helped unless you change it. But it should actually be the reason you stay on a longer more stable board for a greater amount of time… more waves!
Patience is everything in this sport.
Which leads us to the “impatient” part or “busy, monkey mind” etc. The people that ARE good surfers all took a long time to become that. You are no different. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Surfing such a difficult sport to master or even progress far in. But it is incredibly rewarding when you do, so take a few breaths and accept that. Joy and fulfillment lie ahead for those that can calm their crazy thoughts.
Wave energy, paddling & how volume distribution is more important than actual volume.
Paddling technique is everything! If you don’t have it, get it. Work on it! Catching more waves and utilizing them properly is one of the main paths to improvement.
Volume vs volume distribution
Just because Pottz says “volume is your friend” at just about every WSL comp, that doesn’t mean you should rush out and get a 40 Litre 5’10!
The shorter the surfboard, the later your entry into the wave will be, giving you less time. More volume only changes this equation slightly. Whereas a bit more length will help you tap into the energy that is rising up the wave, as it slows down in shallower water to break. The earlier you can get into the wave, the more time you have. The more time you have, the easier it will be calm that lunatic mind that loves to raise its voice once we enter the ocean. I guarantee you I could get a wave way easier on my 31 Litre 6’6 than most people on their (for example) 38 liter 5’10. 😉
The next key factor is…
BEWARE THE FROTHING SURF SHOP WORKER!
Now I say this with due respect to said workers. A lot of them have extensive knowledge of surfboards & equipment. Many of them may have more than me (or your surf coach). But what most of them don’t have is knowledge of how YOU truly surf, and as humans, many of us are guilty of telling half-truths in the face of strangers for whatever reasons.
If you are being coached by a good surfer or professional coach and you aren’t 100% sure what will be the best surfboard for you to buy next, it’s a decision you should let them have a lot of say in. For your own benefit.
If you are not in the above category, then choose a friend who is a good surfer with good style & technique. Err on the side of caution, asking a friend who is (a) brutally honest and (b) not motivated in any way other than to see your surfing improve.
If you still don’t have an opening from the above 2 paragraphs then I suggest you reach out to a professional coach that can help you. Or just make an informed decision yourself that excludes any extreme changes unless you truly consider yourself ready for them, or your surfing needs them. Personally, I would happily help anyone that reached out to me on this subject whether I had coached them or not – here’s my email.
I hope this helps, remember this is just friendly advice, as long as you are having fun in the ocean and learning as you go that’s all that matters.
In closing, I’d like to give some credit to (my) surf coach Clayton Nienaber (Gold Coast) , who in the past few years has not only shown me how to be a much better coach (by showing me easily the best method/s to do so), but who’s advice continues to bring my surfing to new levels even as I approach 50 ! Thank you so much my friend, huge respect.
Clayton & I work together on coaching & wellness (boat) trips in the Mentawai Islands, plus I (Twiggy Van Ryan) am also available for coaching in Bali when I am not “working” in the Mentawais :)