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Buying a Surfboard - Surfboard Selection Guide

Posted: Thursday Apr 9, 2009     By: Steven Oboyle     Category: Surfing How To

Steve O breaks down how to go about purchasing your next or first Surfboard.

[[page title=Introduction]]

Delaware local legends Jack Powell (left) and Stevie D. (Right). Photo: Martina O'boyle

We all wish we could call up surfboard shaper, Simon Anderson and say, "Mr. Anderson. I need 3 thrusters. A 5'10", 6' and a Step-up board...let's go with a 6'3". Pull in the tail a little bit on that one. And can we go to a deeper double concave on the 5'10" and 6'. I need 2 quads. Lets do a 5'6" @ 2 1/4" thick-19.75' width and a 5'9" @ 2 3/8 thick-19" width." With no major sponsors to help pay for your order, a receipt with shipping is going to run you $4100. This is not a "reality purchase" for 98% of surfers.

When purchasing a surfboard, there are lot of details that you should consider. To begin, if you are going to drop six or seven hundred bucks on a surfboard that could break with one wrong wave, you are gambling with your own hard earned money. Not to mention the fact that there is no guarantee that you will even like how the board works for you. I have listed below some basic questions that you should think about before going to buy a board.

    - What shop should I go to and who in that shop do I want to help me find a board?

    - What size board and dimensions will suit my needs and do I have the dimensions of my last few boards with me?

    - Why do I need a new board? Do you I need a board for logging, high performance, learning, different fin set ups, or a small tweak in dimensions?

    - How much money can I afford to spend on a board?

    - Where and what type of conditions am I going to surf this board?

This board to the right is my "Big Day" board. To be honest, I have only surfed it locally (Mid-Atlantic) a few times. Itís a Spyder 6'10" Pin Tail. I don't know the dimensions and don't care. I grab it when the current is ripping and the surf has consequences. I don't care for the dimensions because it doesn't turn well. It paddles fast and it will get me in quick. It's shaped for the North Shore of Oahu, not Delaware. It stays under the half pipe out back and makes me nervous looking at it. When I put it in the back of my truck, I know I am getting a big wave that day.

[[page title=Used Over New]]

The first thing that you should have noticed in my first sentence of this article is that I said "purchasing a surfboard" and the lack of the word NEW! When I was 18, I bought a brand new shiny car. Ten years later, I bought a used shiny car. This is an analogy that brings about a couple of important points for buying used boards:

- You can purchase 2 or 3 used boards for the price of one new one.

- If one board breaks, you have a back up.

- If you are like myself and you buy 3 boards per/year, the used rack can produce you 6-8 boards per year (Thus, making you a larger quiver quickly and figuring what works best for you faster).

- When you travel, you KNOW boards can get lost, broken and stolen. Travel with a used board and rest assure you will not care quite as much about loosing, breaking or just leaving it behind at the trips end!

I bought the board in the above picture for 3 reasons. 1. It's carbon and it can handle a good beating. 2. The dimension are specific to what I know works for me. 3. It was an in stock board and I was able to get an awesome deal because the surf shop owner explained to me that it's been in the store for a long time. It's a Rusty-Kerr (Aviso) 6'1" x 18.4" width x 2.15" thick. A nacho for good-hollow surf!

With all of this said, the more boards you surf the more dimensions you will collect. The more dimensions you collect, the closer you will get to understanding what boards work for you.

Q:How long has it took Kelly Slater and Al Merrick to create the Deep Six Model?
A: How old is Kelly and how long has Al been shaping? There is your answer.

[[page title=Buying New]]

Surfboard reviews that are in the back of magazines month after month aren't exactly what's on the rack at your local shop. In fact, your local surf shop doesn't base their inventory off of a surfboard review. They go and find shapers that their neighboring shops don't carry and stock boards that work in the local conditions, for the local surfers. If you walk into your local shop and ask for a red board, that's what you will get. And with all due respect, the red board will not be the best for you! Here are somethings you need to do so you can find what boards works best for you. If you are an absolute "New Car Guy" then here is your next list for buying a brand new board.

- Remember, YOU are spending your money. The ball is your hands! You should be treated like a king or queen anywhere you are shopping for a surfboard.

- Have the dimensions of your last board (or 2) that has worked well (or not so well) for you. This will quickly narrow down your selection.

Tell a shop employee what kinds of waves you are going to surf. Be honest and tell them your level of surfing. Be specific because they may have more boards around the corner or in storage.

- If you have a video of you surfing, show it. The surf shop will have the internet, or even an an iphone or verizon dare will do the trick! I surfed with Mark (shop employee) from K-coast days before I needed a new board and he said, "I know what board you are looking for. Come stop by, I'll set you up!" Easy enough and he made my selection very easy. The board works perfect!

- Understand why boards have different tails, fin set-ups, noses, widths & thickness, and various rockers. Ask questions. If they can not answer them, they should find someone in the shop who can. If they can't find someone to help you, go to the NEXT SHOP! (I would not buy a car from someone who does not know something about what I am looking for!)

- After you have a conversation about surfing with someone who surfs, spend some time looking at different boards with a shop employee. Ask them to place three boards on the table. This will help you narrow the selection and make your final decision.

- A new board is a risk. Find a company or shaper that works for you and stick with them. Find one who shapes boards for your type of waves.

Eventually, this may lead you to calling a shaper and having them shape boards specifically for you. You can do this at the start, but it's usually not worth the time, hassle and expense unless you know exactly what works for you (about 2% of us).

[[page title=First Time Purchase]]

Last but not least, what if your are new to surfing? Where do you start? Let me say this. If you shop for clothes at pacsun, hollister, or abercrombie and you surf for their team then go buy a brand new board with sick art work on it, get some 175 dollar fins, slap a fancy traction pad on the back and head on down to the most crowded street on the first big day in November! For the people that think this is not a good idea, your within good reason. What I recommend in three words is paddling, simple, soft!

If you want to have success with surfing you have to paddle fast and catch waves. Riding a short board will not help you achieve this and this should be all new surfers "primary goal". Get a thick board that has some length. You don't have to buy a longboard, but I would recommend it to start off. When I surf with some friends on a small summer day, why is it that everyone steals my soft longboards and takes off down the beach with them? It is because they can catch more waves. A fun shape could also do the job.

If you are new to surfing you don't want to be fixing dings, upgrading fin systems, asking questions and spending time buying a board that you understand nothing about. Keep it simple. Walk in a shop, ask them what are three good boards for some who can not surf, and buy the biggest one. Trust me, size does matter!

I bought this board under my feet for 3 reasons. 1. It floats excellent for those slow or mushy days! 2. It's a quad. This will give me a little extra speed on waves that a thruster might sink out on me. 3. When I surf a place that has clowns all over the place, I need something durable and that allows me to out paddle the goons. It's a Surf-tech Stretch Quad. 6'4" x 2 & 7/8" thick x 21.65" wide with a flat rocker!

A lot of the local shops sell soft models for high performance, fish and retro shapes, long boards, fun shapes and I have even ridden SUP's that are soft - they work awesome. In fact, I would rather have a soft tech model in the small summer time surf because of the fact that I can bang the board up. You can leave it in the car, drop it on the concrete and even let a kook use it with out any worries.

I can not tell you how much fun a surfer can have on a soft surf board. There are at least 20 companies offering models specifically for short board rippers, old fat guys, teen girls and even SUP's. You can let your guard down on these soft tech models and even knee paddle longer models with ease for training. You can pull into shore break and not get injured. They are more buoyant which mean more float and faster paddling! They are simple and never need fixing! I always leave one in my car in the summer for the little surf that can sneak up on me. If your learning how to pull into some tubes, there is less consequence to you and your board. And last but not least, they are less expensive and will outlast your traditional surfboard! Paddle faster and catch more waves. Keep it simple and spend more time in the water.

[[page title=What is a Quiver]]

I caught up with Delaware local, Colin Herlihy a couple days ago. Colin has been calling the North Shore of Oahu his home during the winter months for the last few years. With that said, he is a direct correspondent for what is going on in the middle of the Worlds surf emporium and what's up with the quiver these days?

Q: Who are you? What are you riding? How is life treating you in paradise?
A: I am Colin Herlihy. I am 6'0 170 lb. Thank you Hurley, Channel Islands, Toobs Bodyboards, Chaunceys Surf Shop for making life out here possible. Life is good. Thanks for calling me up!

Q: I have seen you ride every type of board possible. What is your "GO TO" working quiver for the East Coast right now?
A: My East Coast Quiver for knee to head high is Channel Island's "The Pod!" (5'8,19 3/4, 2 3/8 swallow tail). When it's head to 1 ft. overhead I grab "The Proton!" (6'1, 18 3/8, 2 3/8 small squash tail). When the rare days of 1 ft overhead to as big as it can get in Delaware arrives, I wax up the "Black Beauty!" (6'3, 18 3/4, 2 1/2 round pintail).

Q: What is up with the hype surrounding Alaia Surfboards
A: I think there is a bright future for Alaia boards for many reasons. First, it's great to see young and old have an interest in the history of surfing. It gives you a great appreciation for the watermen of those times to ride something like that. Do you know how good of shape the Hawaiians and Polynesians were in to be able to tackle the big surf of the pacific on an Alaia board? It's great to see the youths interest in the Alaia's It gives them a newfound appreciation of their thruster and the materials we have at our finger tips. In order to step into the future, you need to take a step back into the past. I think the Alaia's will also make people want to shape their own boards and maybe start a renaissance of the backyard shaper. New wood will be experimented with due to accessibility.

Q: What is your go to board on the North Shore this year?
A: I am a big fan of single fins. I really like the way they work in waves similar to sunset beach, as well as the groins of the east cost. I like the way they feel on a big drop, as well as their unique hold on a bottom turn. Its hard to describe so the best way to understand it is try one! They are also great for small waves as well. They are a great pick if your looking for something loose to surf in the pocket, when its too weak to surf your short board, and you don't want to take out your longboard!