A Matter of Choice

By Aaron Schall

For many of us, it is a day of great anticipation and excitement. A time for new beginnings, a time of hope and renewal, a time of limitless possibilities. The beginning of a new relationship, a clean slate, and a new chapter. New surfboards can be inviting and invigorating tools to take our surfing to new heights. This is what we envision as we set out to replace what may have once been our “magic” board, our magic board that has finally grown tired and given in to the stresses of riding waves over months or even years. But buying a new surfboard is not easy. The wrong board would be a costly mistake, one we are not eager to make. From outline to length, from width to volume, from glass-ons to removable fin systems, the choices can be dizzying and intimidating. As a consumer, we must be prepared and knowledgeable enough to embrace these choices and come armed with the right questions aimed at the right people.

Perhaps the biggest of choices that many of us face when embarking on our search for the next magic board is the most basic: Where do we begin and whom do we ask the questions? The shaper or the shop? No matter where you decide to take your search, the most important ingredient for an informed decision is communication. In the shaping room, this communication is face-to-face and direct, surfer to builder. In the shop, this communication turns visual, tactile, and comparative, as we are able to hold boards under our arm, feel the rails, and eye the rocker.

A well-stocked shop can put up to 800 boards at your fingertips, and can have you surfing that day on the board of your choice. Of course, this can be a bit overwhelming, even for the most seasoned surfer, which is why Pat Ecker of Channel Islands Surfboards recommends you “stay away from the technical questions and put some boards under your arms and ask the sales person what one board is going to do as opposed to another.” In this fashion, a once intimidating selection is narrowed down to a quick top 10, and from there, as personal preference and ability are weighed yet again, and a natural selection is made.

On the other side of the equation you will find dedicated craftsmen, working away in the fluorescent lights of the shaping bay, eager to ask these questions and answer your own. Shapers like Joe Virgilio and partner George Gall of Plus One Surfboards in San Diego stress the value of face-to-face communication between surfer and shaper and emphasize the importance of honest answers. “The volume of your board is the single most important part of design that will ultimately create a love affair or a hate affair with your new board. If you tell your shaper that you weigh 165 pounds, and the reality is that you have not weighed that since high school, then don’t be upset when you are buried up to your neck the first time you paddle out.”

Let it be said, volume can make or break a board. For the average surfer who surfs once or twice a week, a board with a little extra volume is often ideal. Mike Estrada of Estrada Surfboards in Costa Mesa also centers much of his dialogue with clients around volume. He states, “Volume through width and thickness, instead of length, will help with flotation and catching waves. Rather than going longer, say 6'2" to 6'4", we can achieve better results thickening it up and increasing planing surface.”

Another advantage of seeking your new board directly from your local shaper is communication of another kind. When ordering a new board be sure to bring along the board you are replacing and let it speak to them. To the trained eye, a board from your recent past speaks volumes to the way you surf.

Our goals are uniform. Buying a new board is a means to an end, a personal choice, influenced by factors as important as where we surf on a regular basis and the waves present most often. From factors as crucial as our size and our skill level, to factors as real as price and budget, our choices are muddied. But what we want is the same. We want performance. We want enjoyment. We want to ride waves on a board that speaks to our individual. Through research, knowledge, and, above all, communication, our choices can become clear.