You’re catching tons of waves and popping up with ease on your hybrid surfboard or longboard. You feel like you’re ready to go shorter and to take your surfing to the next level. Now what?
Years ago, the primary indicator that a surfer would look for in a board was the length. Generally, there was a stigma that a shorter surfboard meant you were a better surfer. Surfboards have evolved substantially and a board that is 5’4” can now hold more volume (i.e. the amount the board floats) than a board that is 6’2”. This is because in recent years, shapers have learned where to hide volume in surfboards without impacting performance.
So how do you choose a board?
First you need to determine what type of waves you will primarily be surfing. The 3 most dominant types of shortboards are the high performance board, the daily driver, and the groveler. Each of these boards have a specific type of wave that they are made for.
This is what you’ll see John John charge pipeline on. Generally, these boards will have a rounded pin tail and a lot of rocker (how much the board curves like a banana) . This allows the board to perform well in fast, powerful surf. The pin tail holds well in the wave and the large amount of rocker let’s the board fit on the steep face. Generally, these boards really start to perform when you enter the 6 foot plus wave size.
On the other hand, this board will not perform well in small, weak, or mushy waves. The large amount of rocker and rounded pin will cause you to lose a lot of speed and it will make it more difficult to carry your momentum through turns.
As the name suggests, this is probably the most versatile type of shortboard. You’ll usually see them with a squash or swallow tail, although there are some really adventurous tail shapes out there (see the Slater Designs Sci-Fi 2.0). These boards are the middle ground between the high performance shortboard and the groveler. The rocker is a little toned down, but still present and the board can be slightly wider to allow for more volume at shorter length and improved padelability. This board will perform great in most day-to-day waves, excelling in anything around the 3 to 7 foot range.
While these boards are great in most conditions, they also have their limitations. When surfing really hollow waves, you may find that the tail slides out because it is too wide or that you dig in the nose because there is not enough rocker. When the wave is too small or mushy, you may not be able to generate speed or be able to carry the momentum through turns.
These boards are made for small waves. They shine the brightest on the small days, preferring waves in the 1 to 4 ft. range. Many people will also opt for something like a fish shape, but the idea is similar. You have a short, wide, and flat board that fits well on the face of a small and mushy wave. These boards are super loose and playful and the shape will help you generate speed when the waves themselves don’t have a lot of push.
When the waves get bigger, you will likely find that the shape does not offer enough stability or hold when digging into a turn. If the wave is steep you will most likely slide sideways down the face of the wave rather than being able to draw a line.
So now you have the basics of board shapes, pros and cons. But how big should you go? Most shapers will have a volume chart for each board design. Find your volume in the bellow chart based on weight/skill level and then choose the corresponding board size.
As you progress in your surf journey, there are more things to consider like the fin setup and concave, but that’s a topic for another time…
Ps: If you want to learn more, Noel Salas has an incredible YouTube channel filled with some of the most in depth board reviews and instructional videos out there. Highly recommend checking it out.