Deciding to buy a new surfboard is both exciting and a bit overwhelming. I’ve ridden a lot of boards – most of them completely wrong for me – but some of them so well-suited that I could actually feel a shift in my surfing when I rode them. I’ve made the mistake of going too small and struggling to catch waves, going too big and not being able to turn or duck dive or picking boards that didn’t suit my style of surfing.
On a recent trip I borrowed a surfboard from a friend that was 4 inches shorter than my own board. It was wider and thicker, with more volume in the nose and a quad set up as opposed to my thruster. And I loved it. I decided I needed a new board and started doing some research. A friend recommended I go and visit the boys at Misfit Shapes to discuss the best options for me. They gave me some amazing tips and worked to create a board that would suit my ability, style and needs.
Not all surfboards are created equal and not all boards will suit all surfing abilities and styles. So here are my tips on what you need to look for when buying a surfboard.
Be honest about your surfing ability
Different surfboards suit different levels. What you needed as a beginner surfer will be very different from what you need as you progress and start to find your own preferences. If you are just starting out, you want something with length and lots of volume to help you learn to paddle and catch waves. If you are progressing, you want to start sizing down so you can better duck dive and start turning. If you are more advanced, you might want different boards for the different waves you ride.
Think about the kind of waves you like to ride – peeling point breaks; 2-3ft beach breaks; barreling reef breaks – this will likely dictate the type of surfboard you buy. And be honest about your ability so you don’t end up with a board Steph Gilmore uses to compete. It looks great under your arm until you actually try and ride the thing! As you progress, the types of boards you ride will progress along with you.
Size matters for your board, and the waves you ride.
The length, width and thickness of the board are integral factors in how well it will work for you. This is based not just on your own height and weight, but also on your ability and the type of waves you are wanting to surf. Talk to your friends and borrow their boards. Try different sized surfboards on different sized waves.
And think about what size waves you will surfing. Is this a fun board for smaller, mushier days? Or is it for charging 3-5ft waves? Don’t just think about the size of your surfboard, keep in mind the size of waves you will likely be riding it in.
Volume is key
Repeat after me: foam is your friend.
A lot of people, myself included, have a tendency to get caught up in how long a surfboard is. And while this is an important factor – the key to finding the right board for you is how much volume the board has. Having the right volume for your body type can be the difference between struggling to catch waves and being a wave-catching machine.
Knowing what volume work for you based on preference, weight, experience, age, fitness, skill, style, etc – will ensure you find the right balance for you. Always figure out how much volume a surfboard has before buying to ensure it suits your needs.
Check out Misfit Shapes volume chart to find your own ideal surfboard volume.
The surfboard I got and why
I decided to go for a custom board because I had something very specific in mind for the shape and artwork. If you are confident you can find your shape by buying a surfboard off the rack or want to try different surfboards by going second hand before committing to a more expensive custom board or maybe you aren’t picky about the artwork, than there is no need to go custom.
After having a chat with Chris at Misfits about my ability and wave preference and style, we decided on going with a board that had 30L of volume as our starting point. From there we decided on dimensions, tail and nose shape and rails based on how I planned to use the board – going with 5’8” x 20” x 2 3/8”; a more rounded nose and soft rails to allow more forgiveness in my take offs and turns. He convinced me to go 5-fin set up so I could alternate quad and thruster set ups.
My previous surfboard was 6’2” x 19” x 2 3/8” and much more of a high-performance design. I found I sometimes struggled to paddle into waves and also couldn’t keep my speed going down the line and often fell on steep take offs. Part of that is my own ability, but it also had to do with the design of the board.
Before you rush out and buy your next board, remember that choosing a board is an investment, not only financially, but also in how much fun you are going to have in the water. The magic board is not a myth, you just have to put in the research and testing to find it. And don’t be scared to ask questions – whether you’re getting a custom shaped board, buying one off a rack or even getting one second-hand.
And one more tip – buy something that makes you excited to get into the water. If having a bright pink single fin longboard is going to make you froth – GET IT! If a little fish covered in stripes gets you going – GET IT! Buy a board that makes you happy and works for your style and you will always be smiling when you paddle out.