Generally speaking, there are some recommendations to follow for sizing a surfboard regardless of your experience level.
That said, depending on your skill level, paddle strength, and ability to read waves, you can really surf whatever you want. Experimentation, remember?
Here’s the simple answer to how to size a surfboard:
- Adding more volume is a good idea for those learning to surf and beginner surfers. You’ll have more fun and progress more quickly.
- Adding more volume is probably going to be more fun for intermediate and experienced surfers. You’ll catch more waves and get more chances to experiment.
A little more foam won’t hurt ‘ya.
What do Surfboard Dimensions Mean?
You’ve probably noticed the little numbers – usually near the stringers on the bottom – on your surfboard before.
These numbers denote the surfboard dimensions and are generally written as: Length X Width x Thickness and Volume. With each measurement denoting:
- Length: From nose to tail.
- Width: At the Widest point of the board.
- Thickness: At the thickest part of the board.
- Volume: Overall volume of the board in liters.
While surfboard shapes, lengths, widths, and thicknesses are going to affect how a board performs, it’s volume that the beginner surfer should pay most attention to.
How Do You Size a Surfboard?
If you’re new to surfing, sizing a surfboard is a bit different than something like skis or snowboards.
Surfboard “sizing” comes down to rider weight, experience level, and waves being ridden.
With some experience, the door is really wide open to what you’ll enjoy riding, but for beginners, surfboard volume is a good indicator of what’s going to work for them.
To put it simply: the more volume a surfboard has, the more buoyant it will be.
Boards with more buoyancy, or float, are going to paddle faster, get into slow waves easier, and be more stable once you’re up and riding.
If you’re just starting out, look for a board that’s a bit longer, wider, and thicker – a.k.a a board with more volume.
It’s important to remember that surfboard volume does not exist in a vacuum. Volume, just like every other aspect of surfboard design, works together to create the unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of a given board.
Just like anything in surfing, experimenting with surfboards of different volumes is good. You’ll find a board with more or less volume than what you’re used to is going to give your the ability to do different things – and ultimately improve your surfing.
A surfboard’s volume – typically expressed in liters – describes the overall size of the surfboard in 3 dimensions. It’s calculated by multiplying length by width by thickness.
Adding more volume adds more float.
The volume of your surfboard is important when it comes to your size and your experience level.
If you’re on a board that has too little volume, catching waves is going to feel more difficult and you’ll need to drop in much deeper. You may also find it difficult to generate speed.
Too much volume and the board may feel difficult for your to maneuver or control.
Another thing to consider when thinking about surfboard volume is the waves you’ll be surfing.
Weaker, smaller waves require a bit more volume in the surfboard. Hollow, fast waves can accommodate surfboards with less volume.
The length of the surfboard affects overall stability and paddling. Longer boards have more surface area and are easier to paddle.
Longer boards will also have more hold at speed and give you more of a trim feel.
A shorter board, in comparison, will feel a little less stable, but have a lot more maneuverability.
A surfboard’s width is measured at the widest point to the board. Like length, a wider board will have more surface area – making it easier to paddle and more stable.
Where the wide point is located on the surfboard will affect how the board turns. A wide point located towards the front of the board will create longer turns and have greater paddle power – making for a fast, smooth board.
Wide points towards the tail of the board will be more maneuverable.
Wider boards are great for gliding, carving, and drawing out big sweeping turns. Narrow board will give you the ability to pivot and change directions more quickly.
Surfboard Thickness & Foil
The thickness of a surfboard is measured at its thickest point. The foil of a surfboard refers to the distribution of the thickness from nose to tail.
A thicker board is going to have more volume – typically making it easy to paddle and more stable.
Thick boards are easier to maintain speed when you leave the pocket or are dealing with weaker waves. Thinner boards excel in the pocket and the steeper, faster parts of the wave.
How Do You Know if You’re Surfing the Wrong Board?
Choosing the right board comes down to your surfing abilities, your body, and the types of waves you are surfing.
Here are some key indicators that you’re surfing the wrong board:
- The board sinks significantly as you paddle or sit on the board making it so you can’t catch waves.
- When you do catch waves, the board bogs down and you loose all your speed.
- Paddling feels too slow.
- Waves roll past you.
If any of those things are happening, you should look for a board with some more volume. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a longer board, but sometimes adding some length and width will help you out.
You might be surfing a board that’s too big for you if:
- You’re having trouble maneuvering the board how you want to.
- You keep nose diving on steep, fast waves.
These situations may warrant a smaller, lower volume board or a board with some more rocker.
Surfboard Volume Calculators
If you want to get really specific, you can find surfboard volume calculators all over the place.
Most of the big surfboard brands and online shops have one. Here are some to check out:
- Boardcave Volume Calculator: enter your weight, height, age, fitness level, surf frequency, and skill level.
- Superbrand Volume Calculator: enter your weight, skill level, wave type, and fitness level.
- Firewire Volume Calculator: enter your weight and skill level.
You can get really deep into the weeds with this stuff if you want.
Or you can follow some general rules of thumb, surf a bunch, experiment, and see what you like.
Volume certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though, and you’ll want to consider the best board for the conditions and type of surfing you’re looking to do.