Skip to content

How to Choose the Right Surfboard for your Surfing

HERE’S HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SURFBOARD: BUT, FIRST A LOVE STORY.

I love surfboards.  I horde surfboards.  I buy and sell boards constantly.  I have bought and sold over 100 surfboards in my life and learned quite a bit since my first board, a neon yellow 6’6″ Canyon Surfboard that I selected from the used rack at Hanson’s Surf Shop in Encinitas when I was 7.  I’ve ridden pintailed thrusters, fat keeled fin fishes, longboards, Simmons-inspired shapes, Tomo’s, and foils. But throughout my surfing journey, one thing has stayed consistent: I really, really love surf-ridding crafts of all shapes and sizes!

Women paddling out on different surfboards.  Choosing the right surfboard means different things for different people.

YOUR SURFBOARD QUIVER BASED ON LEVEL

Surfing isn’t the kind of sport you pick up in a week, over a summer, or in even in a year.  It takes time to move through the various skill levels and you need a board to suit your body and ability now, not down the track when you totally start ripping.  I famously talked my mom into buying me that Canyon short board in the early 90s and then proceeded to find out the hard way that a short board isn’t the best choice for learning.  Luckily, my mom was pretty rad.  That Christmas there was a brand new 7’0″ South Coast Egg next to the tree.

By the way, the Sea Hearts Surf Club’s goal is to #MakeSurfingFunAgain.  We need to be realistic about our skill level and our fitness when selecting board and thinking about setting our surfing goals.  But most of all, we need to make sure the day-to-day grind of learning to surf is fun.

BEGINNER:

If you are just starting out surfing, you’re going to want an egg shape or a long board depending on your height and weight.  At the very beginning, start soft: a surfboard made out of soft foam that won’t cut or bruise you when you fall on it. Chose a soft board like this with the length based on your weight and agility. Foamies are great fun even if you are an experienced surfer for cruising mellow waves, taking off in the shorebreak or evading the lifeguards during the summer.  

Once you can safely manage your soft board in the white wash and occasionally paddle it out the back, you’re ready for a hard surfboard. If you’er a child or a smaller woman, a 7’0″ to 8’0″ egg really is the best choice for learning. A good example is Salt Gypsy’s Mid Tide.  If you are taller or heavier get an 8’0″ to 9’0″ long board like a Salt Gypsy Dusty longboard.

LOW-INTERMEDIATE TO INTERMEDIATE:

Stick with your beginner’s egg or try a large buoyant fish or fun shape.  A 6’6” Hypto Crypto with a massive cubic volume of 45.5 liters comes to mind (I’ll talk my favorite dimension below). Use length and volume to your advantage, especially in steeper surf (think: Lombok, Maldives, anywhere in Indonesia).  The Modern Falcon and 7S Double Down would be another good choice

TRANSITIONING TO SHORTBOARD:

 Sometime after you are able to consistently catch and ride green unbroken waves, you may want to transition to a shorter or more performance board.  Or you may be totally content with cruising on your egg, fish, or longboard.

I was crazy about trying to ride a proper shortboard and it took me so long and so many different board to get to that point.  I found that a smaller board was much, much harder to catch waves and so tiring to paddle. I was constantly buying shortboards that I thought I could ride and found out otherwise.

After a while, I transitioned from an egg to a fish.  A fish is a wider, thicker board that floats better and is generally flatter, which makes it easy to catch waves. Something like the Modern Highline would be a good choice. The only downside to wider, more voluminous boards is that they are harder to duck dive.  As a result, I spent a lot of time getting worked during this transition phase.

From the fish, I went down to a thicker, wider shortboard always erring on the side of extra volume.

ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE:

This is when the range of boards you can ride with success starts to widen.  The day I could finally ride a shortboard without drowning was a great one but didn’t last.  Everyday brought different conditions and I found that my little shortboard was only rideable on certain days and at certain beaches! But as an intermediate surfer, I could finally change between shortboards, fishes, biscuits, longboards, and funboards based on the conditions.  I found that when I used the right board on the right day, I could greatly improve my wave knowledge and thereby make myself a better surfer.

ADVANCED: 

Advanced surfers have the ability to ride a variety of boards in all different conditions.  While many professionals have to surf performance shortboards because it is their job, most advanced surfers will still enjoy a fun or retro board on its day.  Case in point, videos Ozzie Wright, Craig Andersen (on a 5’4”!!!). and Steph Gilmore all ripping on alternative craft.

The bottom line is surfing is not one size fits all!

UNDERSTANDING SURFBOARD VOLUME

Okay, let’s nerd out and talk volume.

To me, cubic volume is the most important dimension when choosing the right surfboard. It’s the easiest measurement t have an idea of how a board will suit you at a glance.  After a while, you get to know your magic number.  If a board has a listed cubic volume measurement of 29 Liters, I have a pretty good idea in my head how that board will float me in the water.

Many companies and websites have developed sliding scales for volume based on your weight and skill level. I find most of these inaccurate for myself and other women. For example, when I enter my weight and skill level into this board calculator, it suggests I get a shortboard with 19.4 L.  I think I’d sink straight to the bottom if I tried to ride board with 19.4 L.  This calculator from Rusty Surfboards is a little closer to the mark.  As an intermediate surfer, Rusty recommends 25.85 L for my board.  Still a bit small but closer.  My magic number is around 27-29L.  Some might say this is way too big for me but I’m here for the fun and I love catching heaps of waves.

My maxim, especially for women surfers, is when in doubt, get more volume!

Most of the weekend warrior, surf-when-we-get-the-chance chicks of average to above average fitness will have soooo much more fun on a slightly more voluminous board.  You’ll catch more waves, speed through flat sections, and save your paddle energy for the actual surfing part.

BRING THE RIGHT TOOL: WHERE WILL YOU RIDE THIS BOARD?

Have you heard the old saying: “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight?” Well, showing up with the wrong board for the waves is pretty much the same.  Factors like location, swell size, wind, and even crowd come into play when I select a board.

STEEPER, HOLLOWER WAVES (THINK INDONESIA, MALDIVES, PNG AND ALSO HEAVY BEACHBREAKS):

In places where the waves break over a shallow reef or are fast and barreling over sand, you will want to ride a more performance oriented shape with more rocker and less volume.  I like experimenting with fin set ups and fin size. The  bottom line is go a little thinner and longer for your Indo boards.

    Try:

DAY-TO-DAY SLOG SURFING BEACH BREAKS (THINK: NORTHERN BEACHES, EL PORTO, PACIFIC BEACH):

For surfing contests and waves from 2ft to 5ft in the local beach breaks around Sydney I am riding my JS Psycho Nitro which is basically a fish combined with a shortboard.  It’s got a lot of volume, a squash tail and can be a quad or thruster.  I tend to use three fins in these conditions because I want a snappy pivot point for trying to do shorter turns in tighter (dumpy often) sections.  I save the shortboards for really good conditions because I like catching a lot of waves.

For example:

Non-Barreling Point Breaks/Reefs (Think: Some waves in Lombok, San Diego Reefs, Rincon, Lennox Head): 

If I am overseas in La Jolla or surfing waves up the coast at a point break in NSW, I ride a fish a lot.  The modern fish has extra volume, a wide tail and a cruisey disposition that make these waves so much fun.

Like the:

TRY NEW THINGS, BE OPEN MINDED

No matter where you are on your journey as a surfer, if you have an opportunity to try a board, go for it! Ride everything you can! I love the challenge of figuring out a new board.   Different boards will help you address issues with your pop-ups, surf stance, top-turns, and general surfing. Another benefit of trying different boards is figuring out your personal comfort zone in terms of volume, your own “magic number.”  Plus, riding different equipment is FUN and that’s what surfing is all about.

On a shortboard in Lombok

SURFBOARDS I BROUGHT TO LOMBOK, INDONESIA

Lombok is an interesting place to be a surfer.  It is not as gnarly as many place in Indonesia, but can still be crowded and punchy at times.  You definitely want a range of boards, especially a couple of a bit of volume.  Read about surfing in Lombok and what we learned on our last Lombok Surf Retreat here.

  • 6’0” AJW Potato Launcher – a massive board for my height and weight but so fun on bigger days because you can catch waves early and still throw big turns.
  • 5’4” Josh Hall Custom Fish – a super fun board for smaller days and mushy waves.
  • 6’9” Pintail Single Fin – fun to ride in big and small surf. Also great for days when I have noodle arms.

SURFBOARDS I BROUGHT TO Southern Oaxaca, Mexico

Last year, I spent a week surfing in Southern Oaxaca, Mexico. I surfed all day for 6 days straight until my arms were jelly and my skin was, well, white, because I wore head-to-toe rashguards. The waves in Southern Oaxaca, are all right points. I didn’t go left once. Many people told me to pack a fish so I brought my trusty 5’8″ Sea Graves Fish and a custom 5’7″ swallow tail Gary McNeil. Turns out I rode the Gary McNeil in all conditions from 2ft to 6ft. When I go back, I want to bring a step up short board for the bigger days. However, I still think I chose the right board to pack. When one board can do it all, why not?

SURFBOARDS ARE A TOOL FOR FUN

So how do you chose the right surfboard?

Take a look at the waves you want to surf, consider your skill level, weight, height and fitness and have a talk with a shaper or shop owner.  The more honest you are with yourself about where and how you actually surf, the more fun you will have! I have too many female surfer friends who are always riding a narrow, thin 5’7” shortboard with 24 litres of volume and wondering why they struggle to catch waves in 2 foot slop.  Choosing the right surfboard is an experiment.  Trade with friends.  Buy something used off the classifieds.  Don’t pigeonhole yourself, your surfing or your funhogging ability. The “right” surfboard is the one that creates the most stoke and helps you live each wave in the moment.

1 thought on “How to Choose the Right Surfboard for your Surfing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *