How to Choose a Surfboard

I think Thomas Campbell describes it best in the introduction of his surf movie Sprout as he describes its purpose,

“…to show how many different ways we have to access our ocean existence using whatever shape or size equipment it might take to have a more connected ride.”

Thomas Campbell, Sprout, 2004

What Surfboard Should I Ride?

What surfboard you should ride totally depends on what is going to match your surfing style with the waves available to you. I’d say the waves typically have the upper hand in the equation.

You should pick a board that’s going to allow you to get the most enjoyment out of the current conditions.

However, you do have some flexibility with board choice still.

You don’t NEED to ride a 10’ longboard and only a 10’ longboard when it’s small and peeling.

Once you understand how types of boards are going to perform in certain waves, you’ll have little excuse to write off a given session as a “bad surf.”

Best Surfboards for Beginners

If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not going to be surfing shoulder to head-high perfect waves – at least you probably shouldn’t be unless you’re a bit of a masochist.

The shortboard certainly looks cool, but if you’re just starting out, put it down.

Beginner surfers will have an easier time sticking to mid-sized to longer surfboards with lots of volume – paddle power and float.

Stick to smaller, rolling waves until you get comfortable with the mechanics of paddling, catching a wave, and popping up, as well as just balancing on the board in different circumstances.

Once a beginner surfer can comfortable cover the basics, the spectrum of wave types and board choices open up.

Best Surfboards for Small Waves

Smaller, weaker waves will be most fun using a board with more volume and a flatter rocker.

This combination will allow you to get into waves easily, glide and drive through slow, mushy sections, and build speed naturally.

Some good choices here include a variety of longboards, mini-longboards, funboards, and fish.

When the waves are smaller, but have some more vertical or pitchy sections to work, a groveler or small-sized hybrid will be your friend.

You’ll still have the volume and planing surface to get through the slow stuff, but you’ll have a bit more maneuverability to work some sections that a bigger, fatter board wouldn’t allow.

Best Surfboards for Medium Waves

Medium sized waves offer a good deal of versatility. You can really get away with surfing almost anything when the waves are good.

As a general rule of thumb, waves that push or roll with a big open face would be fun on something with less rocker and a little more volume. But if you can stay in the pocket on waves like this, a shortboard can be fun too.

Medium sized waves that are steep and fast require something with a bit more rocker and maneuverability.

Best Surfboards for Big Waves

Big waves require the right equipment to get the most out of them.

It sort of comes full circle to small waves with some more volume, length, and rail line helping your board retain control and hold down big wave faces.

When your go-to board can’t make the steeper, faster drops or when your go-to starts to feel squirrely and loose under your feet in bigger surf, it’s probably time to grab your step-up, semi-gun, or even a gun if conditions (and your experience level) demand it.

Fin Setups for Different Wave Conditions

Different waves allow for experimentation with fins as well. The possibilities – and experiences – really start pushing infinity when you think about it!

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