Pick The Right Board

Jesse Merle-Jones wants you to surf better

| posted on July 23, 2014
Photo: Glaser

Jesse Merle-Jones, who took his own advice and finally found himself on the right board at the right time. Photo: Glaser

I’ve been riding the wrong boards most of my life. As a pro surfer, that may sound weird, but it’s true. I rode a standard thruster and I was bored with surfing. I was narrow-minded and against change and figured that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But then something changed. A friend of mine let me borrow a board that shattered everything. It was epoxy, it was small, it was thick. And I felt as if I’d traded in my Corolla for a Ferrari. The never-ending search for a magic stick has given me a second wind, and I hope to inspire that in you. Below, I’ve outlined some of the most common mistakes and things to keep in mind when you go to order your next board. —Jesse Merle-Jones

Don’t ride what the pros ride. A lot of surfers make this mistake and it’s easy to see why. “These pros rip, so I’m gonna ride what they ride.” Do yourself a favor: if you’re riding a model that the best surfers use, add volume accordingly. What works for Kelly and SeaBass at Tavarua might not work as well for you at, say, Huntington Beach. Riding the same board that the pros ride—ultra thin, narrow, and with a 4oz glass job—might look great on the beach, but it’s not going to do you any favors in the water.

Odds are, your board is too small. The most common mistake I see people making is riding boards that are too small for them. From paddling slower to missing waves and struggling to gain speed and fluidity, finding a board that floats you is crucial. My goal is to go fast with very little effort. To transition between turns with one fluid motion. The key to this kind of surfing is tied to finding your personal magic volume and dimensions. Volume is something that a lot of shapers are talking about these days, and I don’t think a lot of people really understand completely what that entails. According to North Shore master shaper Jon Pyzel, essentially, it comes down to how well your board floats you. Finding the right volume in your board is essential to finding the right board. When you realize what that magic number is you can move between different models fluidly, and then go from riding a fish to a high-performance shortboard without sinking. You’ll still need to work out the normal dimensions on your board, like height, width, and thickness, but having your volume number dialed in makes all of this a lot easier.

(Ed note: check out this link to find the volume that’s right for you.)

Build a relationship with a shaper. This is pretty important. And like any relationship, you have to work at it for it to work for you. Find a local shaper and start talking to him. Tell him how you surf (be honest now) how much you weigh (again, be honest) and what you’re looking to get out of the board. You won’t always get a magic board right away, but creating a relationship with a shaper and having him respond to your feedback is a really important step in getting good boards. Look at John John and Pyzel’s relationship as a perfect example. They’ve been working together forever and the results pretty much speak for themselves.

Try something different. Remember that last paragraph about working with a local shaper? Yeah, it’s important, but it’s equally important to throw a curveball into your surfing every once in a while. It’ll force you to rethink a few things about how you approach a wave and how you want your board to respond. If you’ve been riding a standard thruster from the same shaper for a while, don’t be afraid to mix it up with a Dumpster Diver or a fish, especially in the summer or when the waves are subpar.

Test your new board in the best conditions possible. When you get a new board, I really recommend finding fair to good waves the first time you ride it. Most of this is based on the idea of first impressions. You want to give your new board an opportunity to shine. Don’t take it out for the first time when the conditions are really crappy. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth and bad tastes are hard to shake off. If you’re riding a board when the waves are good, you’re allowing the board to succeed or fail on an even playing field, and you’re less likely to shelve what could have been a magic board because you only rode it in gutless conditions.

The magic board is not a myth. When you get one, hold on to it. Despite all of the advances we’ve made with CAD machines, replicating a magic board is nearly impossible. A magic board will change your entire outlook on surfing. The confidence alone will elevate your game. It’ll make dull sessions fun and it’ll make fun sessions unforgettable. When you get a gem, take good care of it. Or as Tour guys say, “put that thing on ice.”

  • whamo

    My compliments to the author. He gives out good advice. Here’s some even better advice. If you don’t surf, don’t start. It is addictive. The other day I had surgery for skin cancer after 35 years in the water. My chrome dome looks like Hannibal Lecter took a big bite. I got 20 stitches and a huge scar. My morphine just ran out, and it hurts like hell. Was it worth it? Yes, by all means. Every day spent surfing, in retrospect, is priceless.

    • jon

      hey man, i feel you, skin cancer is no joke. taking care of your skin has to be a priority for sure. check this out, i sell this stuff called nerium, works wonders.

    • Viola Rose

      I’m reading this because I want to start though lol

  • kash

    some sounded advice right there!!!

  • Brosef

    I, for one, would like to encourage everyone to buy surfboards that are way too small for them. The less volume, the better. The more rocker, the better. Order boards in the exact dimensions that the pros ride in Indo. It must be the boards they ride, right? That way, I can paddle out & get all the waves I want, while I laugh at everyone else struggling to get into waves & make sections that they could otherwise make if they rode boards appropriate to their ability & the surf conditions…

  • dave

    the magic board is the baked potato

  • Nathan Petty

    Excellent article. Recently just picked up a new board, quad fin, 5’9″ a bit thicker than a ‘standard’ shortboard and I’ve really been loving how it responds and how it floats me. It’s true, a different board which translates to a new feeling on a wave, can breathe new life into your surfing.

  • ghost

    Very well written (rare in this industry). Congrats, and looking forward to reading more of your articles, Jesse.

  • Pat Kelly

    This is a great article. When I first started surfing, I made all the common mistakes. I got a board that was not suited to my height, weight, waves I was riding, or skill level. I then got in touch with an awesome local shaper and got a board custom shaped for me, and that board has totally transformed the way I surf. I progressed the amount in 1 year that I would have in 3 with my other board.

    Again, great article, thanks for sharing!

  • jonnie austen

    werd jmj. i’ve been able to dial my volume and dims pretty accurately and i work closely with a couple north shore shapers so that they always know what i need and i always know what they’ll deliver whenever i order custom freshies.

    i also like to mix it up and grab shop boards every now and then just to add some variety to the quiver. its gotten so i can walk into a shop now and grab a board right off the rack and know “at a glance” that its “the one”. it usually works out to be a “keeper” too. lol 😛


  • Deon Fouche

    Really wish someone told me this back in the late 90’s. I rode potato crisp thin boards that didn’t float me, all in the vain attempt to surf like Slater…though I suspect most of us were.

    In fact, had so many shitty turkeys for boards, 6.2″ waver thin with some nose serious rocker 🙁

  • zack

    Nothing on carbon boards?

  • Phil

    Spot on with this advise. I teamed up with a local shaper (Nick Miles from Sculpt Surfboards in Sydney) and it changed everything. Knew exactly what problems I was experiencing and could recommend me the perfect set-up. And this was the icing on the cake: X-Core Reactor. It’s basically a dual carbon fibre stringer that flexes the board perfectly.
    I’m a programmer so we teamed up to make our own surfboard volume calculator. Would be great to get some more feedback from people. We’ve gotten some pretty good comments and every bit helps for the fine tuning!

  • Formula Energy

    Great article , spot on . Riding different boards and learning what works for you , little bit of experimenting can go a long way to building an epic quiver .

  • Jer

    Yeah, My entire family was working with a local shaper, mostly it was my High School team little brother going though boards like a mad man that refined the work, and made boards he ripped on in the local swells. My bro was getting full sized, so I decided to template his last ripper, but bump it out a bit, as I can’t surf like him and weight more then he…did. Any case, the thing was awesome, and I should have made a plaster mold of it or something, because I have liked other boards, but can’t find that magic…maybe I am just getting older.

  • Hotwire

    Here here, I have been trying to encourage some board manufacturers to broaden their range in performance board lines. I don’t think it’s appreciated, but the numbers they recommend, often don’t add up.
    Calculations are better based on body weight over planing surface as the volume will follow , the correct weight to area ratio is important. If the board doesn’t hydroplane it can’t catch a wave. That’s the simple fact. The wave does the same speed for a small surfer as for a heavy one, so the planing surface must be proportional.