Find your Magic Board | What you need to knowMartijn Ronday
Yes, magic surfboards are real! Some of us have been searching for a magic board for days, months, years, maybe even for decades. If you’ve been looking for decades; I sure hope you’ve found your magic board. If you’ve been looking for days, you have too much money to spend on buying a surfboard… Today there are more variations of surfboard designs than ever before. The surfboard industry is constantly changing and making modern (and even futuristic) advances in surfboard design, using new technology, materials, shapes and design features, making the search for a magic surfboard even harder. However, the search for a magic surfboard is definitely worth the effort.
Find your Magic Board
A magic board will make you fall in love with surfing all over again and will take your level of surfing to a whole new level! So what makes a board magical and how can you find yours? What makes a magic board is the right combination of surfboard design elements to create (or harness) speed, power and control. These design elements should specifically suit the kind of waves you surf, your surfing ability and how you want to be surfing.
With this article we’re not promising you’ll find your magic board, but by explaining what you should be looking for in a surfboard design, we hope to have you on your way!
We’ll be looking into the design elements, types of waves, your surfing ability, and give you all the tips you need finding that magic board.
Surfboard design elements
So here comes the technical part. If you’re thinking: Oh.. NO, not the boring technical stuff, don’t panic! We’ll just talk about the most essential design elements of a surfboard. It’s not to bore you out, but to help you understand the basics of surfboard design and to help you on your way to find your magic board!
If you’re reading this article, we won’t have to tell you what a surfboard is, so we’ll skip that part. A surfboard design contains the following elements:
- Bottom Contours
The outline of the surfboard, which determines the length and width, measured at 12” from the nose, centre and 12” from the tail of the board (these measuring points are used for every design element).
Thickness flow or distribution of volume along the centre of a surfboard from nose to tail. A thin and narrow board makes a board that is harder to paddle on, is a little more difficult to get into waves, is more responsive, is quicker and faster through turns and doesn’t maintain speed very well. A thinner board is also more likely to sink into the wave face and pearl or bog, making you lose speed, or worse: send you flying over the handlebars. A wider, thicker and longer board makes a board that is easier to paddle on, is easier to catch waves with, will skip over flat sections and will maintain board speed. Too much thickness makes a board too floaty and less sensitive, making it harder to lean on the edges and to do turns. So either way, too much or too little thickness will hinder your performance.
The curvature of the bottom of the surfboard from nose to tail. A board with less rocker (less curve) makes a board that is easier to paddle on, is easier to catch waves with, is slower through turns but maintains speed very well. A board with lots of rocker (more curve) makes a board that is harder to paddle on, is a little more difficult to get into waves, is quicker and faster through turns and doesn’t maintain speed very well. This makes a board with more rocker better suited for fast and hollow waves. A board with less rocker is better suited for slow and mushy waves.
The nose to tail and rail to rail configuration of the bottom of a surfboard. The most common bottom contours are single and double concave or a combination of these. A single concave channels water from the front of the board, all the way through the fins and out the back. This makes the board fast and drivy, but may feel a little sticky when initiating turns. This bottom contour makes the board better suited for larger and cleaner surf. A single to double concave bottom contour makes for a speedy and loose board. The single concave up front is used for creating speed and drive off the front, while the double concave in the back of the board loosens up the board.
Transition area between the bottom and deck of a surfboard. Rail profiles vary in configuration and can be round, boxy, square, etc. and will be thicker near the centre of the board and narrower towards the nose and tail. The softer rails in the front half of the board makes the board loose and forgiving The hard edge of the rails in the bottom third of the board will ‘bite’ into the wave face, resulting in more control.
The shape of the bottom end (tail) of the board. Tail variations are squash, thumb, swallow, pin, round pin, stealth, diamond, square, bat, etc. The squash, thumb, round, diamond and swallow tails have the most surface area and tend to carry and hold speed better than tails with less surface area. The swallow tail is a bit looser than the squash due to the reduction in surface area from the “v-shape” cutout. Read more in our special about surfboard tails that’s coming out soon.
Thumb tails combine the positive characteristics of a squash and a round pin tail. The softer – rounded corner and the reduction in surface area make a looser tail that maintains most of the punchy characteristics of a squash. Round pins are very loose and transition from rail to rail with the least effort of all the tails on offer.
What becomes clear when you’re done reading the design elements above, is that a magic board is a combination of the characteristics of these elements. The basic formula is: more curves = a slower more manoeuvrable board versus straighter lines = a faster board but less manoeuvrable board.
Types of waves
If you’re riding mushy, flat, wind blown waves for 90% of the time, maybe it’s time to take up a different sport. If you’re still headstrong on surfing, try looking for a board with: a slightly wider outline with a little more foam overall, a wider (and thicker) tail outline, a lowered nose rocker (because the waves are flat you won’t need a lot of nose rocker, to avoid going over the handlebars) and thicker rails. The amount of tail rocker depends on your preference. No tail rocker makes the board faster, but less manoeuvrable. More tail rocker slows the board down, but will make the board more manoeuvrable. So if you like speed and still want to do turns, go for the flat nose rocker. If you are a light footed surfer, look for more tail rocker.
If you’re riding punchy hollow overhead waves for 90% of the time, you lucky bastard, try looking for a board with: a slightly narrower outline and narrower tail, more rocker (in the tail and the nose) and thinner rails. A round pin tail is best suited for bigger and better waves. Punchy hollow waves have all the speed necessary. So you’ll be looking for a board that harnesses speed instead of a board that creates speed.
So what kind of surfer are you? Are you a light footed surfer who uses feet and ankles with minimal hips and upper body to initiate turns? Or are you a heavy footed surfer who uses feet, hips, arms and the upper body to initiate turns? A light footed surfer will have better results with a crowned deck. A heavy footed surfer will like the feel of a flatter deck more. These days the volume of a surfboard has become a major part of surfboard design. Finding your ideal volume can be a bit tricky by luckily there are some tools that can help you with that.
Volume Calculator 1 provides volume and also board options from Firewire.
Volume Calculator 2 give a glide factor ratio which you can compare with some athletes and different surf levels.
Know what you’re riding. By understanding the difference between these design elements, you can figure out what the effects are on your surfboard. If a board doesn’t feel right for you, figure out why. Then look for a different design on your next board. Once you know what board you have under your feet, you can figure out what board you want. A touch more foam here, a little more rocker there, a different tail, etc.
Try a variety of different boards in different conditions. Unfortunately most of us don’t get the chance to try a lot of different boards in lots of different conditions. Dane Reynolds and Julian Wilson did though for Stab Magazine. If you haven’t seen the clip: check it out!
But don’t despair, good alternatives are to borrow boards from friends, or use test boards at your local surf store. You can also buy second hand boards, and resell them if they’re not what you are looking for.
Play with different type of fins. John Carper (from JC surfboards) said: “a fin is like a small surfboard, attached to a big surfboard”. My interpretation is that you have to match the characteristics of the fin with the characteristics of the surfboard. This results in the optimum performance. Keep an eye out for our fin special.
Talk to your local shaper. A local surfboard shaper has a good understanding of surfboard design and knows what works in local conditions. They interpret different design elements and make a board that suits your ability and the waves you surf.
Good luck and keep searching, there are some magical boards out there for you!
If you want to learn more about surfboard design, here are some good websites to have a look at: