CHOOSING THE RIGHT SURFBOARD
So you’ve have had your first experience of riding waves and standing up on a surfboard and you want to take things to the next level, getting your own surfboard to continue surfing at home or to take on another surf trip.
Off you go to your nearest surf shop, or perhaps you’re looking online: You’re full of enthusiasm with the thought of treating yourself to a lovely new board.
But you are confronted with an overwhelming sight: 400 different types of surfboards, in all different shapes and sizes! Picking the right board might not be quite such an easy task after all and the pressure to make the right choice and avoid an expensive mistake can be stressful !
We see far too many people go and buy a ‘standard‘ short board, thinking ‘all good surfers are riding them, so it must be the right surfboard for me too’. The reason why many people end up buying a shortboard (too early) is that the experts make surfing on a short board look so easy; definitely a lot easier than getting through the lineup with a bigger and heavier board. In reality, many of those guys and gals who look so cool carrying a teeny-weeny shortboard around, aren’t actually catching any waves!
“What’s the right surfboard for me?”
One of the most important aspects when buying a new surfboard is to be totally honest with yourself about your fitness level and surfing ability. Getting on shortboard too early is not going to make your progress quicker at surfing, quite the contrary; you will find it a lot harder to catch the waves with a board that doesn’t have the correct volume to float you properly.
“If you can’t catch the wave, you ain’t going to improve your riding”
Catching lots of waves is the key to making good progress.
Below we have highlighted some of the more common surfboard shapes and talk you through each of their individual characteristics.
The tow in board started to appear in video’s with Laird Hamilton riding monster waves in Hawaii; their general use is uncommon.
Characteristics: Small, with foot-straps to stay in contact with the board in heavy chop.
Lenght: 4’8 to 6’2′
Fins: 3 or 4 fin setup
Good for: Expert surfers, who want to get towed into very big waves.
At Swell: We do not have tow in boards at Swell. Jet ski’s and motorised watercraft are not allowed near Cabarete bay or Playa Encuentro
Originally the fish was used in the 60’s and 70’s but the design made a come-back in recent years.
Characteristics: Short (usually ridden 6 or so inches less than a standard shortboard), also wide and reasonably thick, so relatively good amount of volume. Has a ‘swallow tail’
Length: 5’2 to 6’4′
Fins: 2 big ‘keel’ fins or 4 fins
Good for: Surfers who want an alternative way of riding waves. The fish is renowned for use in smaller, mushier waves, but can also be great in larger waves. They tend to have more volume than a regular shortboard, so it makes paddling easier and getting into the wave easier too.
At Swell: We have a couple of fish boards at Swell in our rental pool, they work well in the mellow summer waves & as an alternative to a longboard.
The standard shortboard evolved from the fish surfboards in the 80’s when Simon Anderson invented the 3 fin thruster set up
Characteristics: Versatile board that works in a variety of waves. Quick to maneuver and generates speed very fast
Length: 5’8 to 6’8′
Fins: 3 fin or 4 fin (quad) set up
Good for: Advanced surfers who want to perform speedy, sharp bottom turns and ‘off the lip’ manuevers + many more tricks.
At Swell: We have a couple of standard shortboards in the rental pool between 6’4′ and 6’8′ for advanced surfers. Works best in winter time when the waves are bigger and have more power.
‘In-between board’ for people that want the maneuverability of a shortboard, but the wave catching ability of a bigger board. Good all-round board or a board to narrow the gap between a bigger board and a shortboard
Characteristics: Scaled up version of the standard shortboard, wider and with more volume to make paddling/wave catching easier.
Lenght: 6’6′ to 7’2
Good for: People who want to make the transition to a shorter board; intermediates.
At Swell: We have some hybrid surfboards in our rental pool.
MINI GUN (OR STEP UP)
Bigger boards for bigger waves.
Characteristics: Longer than a shortboard, narrower and normally a round or pin tail for speed.
Length: 6’6 to 8’0
Good for:Surfers who want to get barrelled in fast and big waves. Mostly used in Australia, Hawaii and Indonesia
At Swell: We have one 6’6′ step up, but it rarely gets used.
Popular design from the 60’s and 70’s; looks like a mini-mal but is more performance-orientated.
Characteristics: Narrower in the nose than a mini-mal and usually also has less volume
Length: 7’6 to 8’2′
Fins: 1 or 3
Good for: Surfers who want a more retro-surfing experience
At Swell: We have one egg in our rental pool.
Smaller version of the longboard, little less volume
Characteristics: A bit less ‘glide’ than a longboard, but more maneuverability
Length: 7’6 to 8’2′
Good for: Cruisey-style of surfing for slow & small waves
At Swell: We have a large range of mini-mals at Swell, from NSP and Torq Surfboards, and they fit the surfing conditions of Playa Encuentro perfectly.
The original 60’s longboard is still very popular. For learning, these boards have more volume and are covered in a soft EVA deck, for safety and added volume.
Characteristics: Great wave catching ability, long glides, work best in waves that are not too steep
Length: 9’0 to 9;6
Good for: Surfers who are after a long, cruisey-glide; this is a board that catches a lot of waves
At Swell: We have several long boards in our rental pool, from high performance boards to beginner soft-tops in the 9’0 range.
BIG WAVE GUN (aka. RHINO CHASER)
Scaled up version of the mini gun
Characteristics: Very long & narrow
Length: 9’0 to 11’6
Good for: Surfers who want to catch the biggest waves without the help of a jet ski, then this is the board you need. It is strictly speaking a long board but should not to be mistaken for the kind of longboard most people would want: Just because it’s long does not make it a good board for learning to surf, or for those cruisey-rides in small surf.
At Swell: No need for a big wave gun at Swell, the waves in the Dominican Republic never get the size that a board like this is needed
Conclusion: There is no one-size-fits-all for surfboards.
To make sure that you buy the right surfboard: talk to a couple of different surf shop owners or local surfboard shapers, and be honest about your goals and current skill set. Renting a board (or borrowing from a friend) is also a good way of finding out if the board is right for you.
To get a guide on what is the right amount of volume for your next surfboard, check this surfboard volume calculator at FireWire.
At Swell we have a large variety of surfboards, so Swell clients can change boards during their stay and experience the different feel of each surfboard.
More information on our surfboards can be found here.
And here’s a visual to help you compare the different surfboard types.
If you have any questions about this article, send us an email with your thoughts, and feel free to share it on your favorite social media site.