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How to pick a surfboard that’s right for me?

As you progress from beginner to intermediate, you start to realize the importance of your surfing equipment, and how much it affects your performance and your overall fun in the waves. In this article, we will review 4 very common surfboard types: longboards, funboards, fishes and shortboards.

There is no “perfect board”.

While reading about different surfboards below, you will realize that designs are all about compromise. When you add volume to your surfboard, you gain glide and stability, but you lose maneuverability. When you add rocker, you gain control and performance, but you lose speed. There is no way around it. So instead of asking yourself, “what is the perfect surfboard for me?”, you’d better ask yourself, “what is my objective?”, “what surf conditions will I normally surf in?” and “what is my surfing level?”  

Having taught surfing to beginners & intermediates for more than 10 years at Barefoot Surf Travel, we know how hard it can be for novice surfers to evaluate their surfing skills. Asking an honest opinion to an experienced friend or surf coach about your surfing level and what it means in your choice of surfboards will compliment this article.


The Longboard

These 8-12-foot sticks are the best option if you want to be able to surf year-round. Because of their size, great floatation and glide, they make tiny 1-2 feet days much more fun.

Surf Level:
Beginner – Advanced

Ideal Conditions:
Very small waves (1-2 feet). Some experienced surfers also enjoy riding them in bigger conditions.

Strengths:

The big size of these boards provide plenty of planning surface and floatation. This, plus a low to medium rocker, helps you glide on the surface of the water. Longboards can provide clean, smooth rides even in average to poor surf conditions. These boards help you paddle with loads of speed, making easy for you to catch more waves. Their length, width and thickness provide loads of stability, which is great to learn basic techniques.

Weaknesses:

Bigger boards are tricky to pass the break with, especially on big days, as you can’t duck dive. You will need to learn the turtle roll technique. Also, because of their length and low rocker, it is easier to nose dive at the takeoff. The bigger the board, the harder it is to move it around. Longboards lack in manoeuvrability, but remember that they are not designed for drastic turns. You need to draw longer, slower lines on the wave.

Longboard Surfer
Longboard Surfer


The Funboard

Choosing a surfboard shape is all about compromise, and the perfect example is the funboard. You can consider the funboard as an “in-between”, half-way between the longboard and the fish. They should be the “next step” for a beginner surfer who has spent enough time practising on a longboard, but who is not ready to jump on a fish or a shortboard. These surfboards are about 6.5 – 8.5 feet long, with a wide, round shape.

Ideal Conditions:
Small to Medium surf for beginner-intermediate levels.

Strengths:

Combines the fast, easy paddling of a longboard with a taste of the manoeuvrability of a shorter board. They work in many types of conditions, from poor to good, tiny to head high. Great board to start practising your turns, as you get more control and quicker response than a longboard.

Weaknesses:

It’s a compromise… They are not as fast as longboards, and not as maneuverable as shortboards or fishes. In other words, the foam you took off trading a longboard for a funboard makes it harder to paddle into waves, and harder to keep your balance as you lose stability. This is the price to pay for increased control and manoeuvrability.


The Fish

You can recognize this design with its big, wide nose, and a wide shape that gradually gets narrower towards its swallow tail. Most fishes are ridden with twin fin or quad fin set ups. These boards have more volume and less rocker than typical shortboards, making them a great option for weak or mushy waves.

Ideal Conditions:
Small to Medium surf. Mushy, weak waves on which you still want to have fun on.

Strengths:

Their wide shape, big nose and low rocker provide plenty of floatation and speed. This helps you ride weaker waves and pass through sections you wouldn’t normally be making on a shortboard. Because they are much shorter than funboards, they provide much more manoeuvrability. This is great when you start trying to do turns and basic maneuvers like cutbacks. The swallow tail helps you make tight pivots.

Weaknesses:

These boards are much smaller than longboards and funboards, making it harder to catch waves. Don’t mistake this surfboard for a “performance” surfboard, even if they are short in length. Their wide shape makes it hard to bring your surfboard from edge to edge, limiting manoeuvrability. Their low rocker and big nose make steep drop ins more difficult.

Strengths:

Their short length, narrow width and strong rocker provide very high manoeuvrability. Shortboards are ideal for advanced maneuvers like airs, snaps, cutbacks, etc. Their strong rocker (the curve, or “banana” shape of the surfboard from nose to tail), make it much easier to “hit” critical parts of the wave, as the surfboard’s shape “fits” the shape of a breaking wave. Because they are so small and light, they are very easy to turn with, providing the quick pivots needed for many advanced maneuvers.

Weaknesses:

A strong rocker makes paddling much harder, as your board will drag more water when moving forward. Not only will it be harder to catch waves, you will quickly lose your speed as soon as you aren’t surfing on your rails because once again, the rocker will drag water underwater. You constantly need to be turning (on your rails), and to be near the power source of the wave, which takes a lot of experience. Because they need to be light for maximum performance, they are shaped with thin glass, making them more fragile and easy to ding.

Shortboard Agus Lembongan Laceration
Shortboard Agus Lembongan Laceration

Hybrids and other surfboards

A lot of surfboard designs can’t be specifically classified as a “longboard”, “funboard”, “fish”, or “shortboard”. For example, surfers refer to “hybrids” for surfboards that combine the width and tail of a fish, but a design that has similarities to shortboards. This is one of the beautiful aspects of surfboard designs: there is always room for experimentation. Shapers add and remove width, length, rocker, change the fin set up, the tail or nose shapes, and surfers end up with a different response and feel on the waves.

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