Testbench: Surfboards

Testbench: Surfboards
August 27, 2007 Kaja Cencelj

New materials are making surfboards faster — and easier for beginners

Contrary to popular opinion, surfers don’t like endless summers. Autumn is much better. While June to August means long periods of small waves, September is when the north Atlantic comes to life and a conveyor belt of storm systems begins to push big swells towards our coasts. If we’re lucky we might even see the remnants of a distant hurricane reach our shores.

It’s also a great time of year to buy a board. Not only are conditions at their peak, but prices often come down as the summer hordes drift back inland. And this year there’s the added bonus of a new wave of technology.

Shapers (board manufacturers) have caught the innovation bug again and there have been some significant breakthroughs both with materials and methods of construction. As a result the range of products on offer has never been so varied.

So if you’re planning to join the party, what kind of stick (board) should you invest in? If you are an outright beginner it is probably a good idea to start on a softboard, also known as a foamie. As their nickname suggests, these are made of foam and are incredibly buoyant, enabling the beginner to catch waves easily. The downside is that you will outgrow it quickly.

Pop-out boards (so called because they are factory produced) are the next step up. These are also made of foam but have a fibreglass covering and are great for learners, not least because they are always in demand and therefore have a good resale value once you have outgrown them. However, both these boards have a cool factor of about zero.

The next stage is to look at custom-made boards. These are fibreglass boards that have been hand made and are used by experienced beginners through to professional surfers. In Britain there are four main types. The thruster or shortboard, which is used by professional surfers and is ideal for fast manoeuvres, the longboard and the minimal, which are more stable, and the fish, which is good for smaller waves.

For beginners a longboard is best. These range in length from 7ft 2in to 9ft (shortboards are generally 5ft 8in to 6ft 10in) and are easier to paddle (and therefore catch a wave). In general your board should be at least 6in taller than you. Thickness is an important consideration since this also determines how easy it is to paddle. Your choice should be dictated by your own size: thicker

boards for larger surfers, thinner for smaller ones. Finally, beginners should also make sure they buy the right width of board. This again depends on your size. As a rule of thumb you should be able to hold the board comfortably under your arm with one edge in your armpit and your hand gripping the other.

For more experienced surfers it pays to shop around to find the most up-to-date board. New materials such as epoxy resin, which is used to coat the board, giving it added strength without compromising the weight, mean that there is more choice than ever.

It is important to try out different types of board, either by borrowing or renting before buying: all the manufacturers featured here have test centres (Surftech even has a demo tour starting on September 22 – check www.surfcom.co.uk for details). It sounds like a lot of hassle but it’s worth the effort. Get the buying process right, and it will make surfing a challenge without being an out-and-out frustration. Who knows, flirting with the waves every now and again could turn into a lifelong love affair.

Here to get you started on your search is the pick of the boards tested by Carve magazine over the course of the past year.


Firewire Alternator

£499 www.firewiresurfboards.com

Cutting edge performance and technology

This is probably the most exciting surfboard on the market (although the Firewire range encompasses less demanding shapes). The Alternator makes use of new technologies and design to create a strong and responsive platform. This is achieved by using an extra strong foam core, balsa rails and a coating of epoxy resin, which mean that when you push down on the board it pushes back, giving you extra speed and whip through the turn.


Jim Banks Glide Fish

£495 www.downthelinesurf.co.uk

The retro movement – which looks back to the 1960s and 1970s – has been a positive influence on British surfing, providing all kinds of wider, fatter boards well suited to the off-again, on-again surfer. More expert riders like them, too, because the extra float means you can surf slow, mushy waves and still have fun. The Glide Fish is a case in point. At 6ft 6in it’s big enough to provide lots of buoyancy and suits a mellower, more graceful style, with longer, slower turns. It’s a different way of surfing but a worthy one.


JP 6ft 3in performance square tail £370 www.jpsurfboards.co.uk

High performance computer-shaped flying machine

John Purton is one of Britain’s leading shapers and supplies many of our top surfers with tailor-made boards. He produces off-the-peg models, too, and this is one of his best – a classic square-tailed thruster of the type that has dominated pro surfing for 20 years. The square tail makes for quicker, sharper turns. Purton now shapes his board by computer, and a simple click of the mouse will provide you with the design tweaks you need.


Resin8 6ft 10in cruiser £399 www.resin8.com.au

An easy ride for the weekend surfer

Another member of the new-technology brigade, the Resin8 range combines the old art of hand shaping with the new epoxy technology. The top British rider Joss Ash swears by them, but this cruiser (or longboard) shape will work for the occasional surfer too. It’s essentially a scaled-up model of what the pros ride, which means you need less grunt to get it going, and are less likely to fall off. We were impressed with the board’s finish, but what we liked most was its toughness: it’s virtually indestructible.


Surftech 9ft 1in Timmy Patterson £799 www.surftech.com

A lightweight, durable and fun longboard

Surftech is one of the pioneers of new board technology which uses lighter-than-normal polystyrene to create the board’s core and derives most of its strength from an epoxy resin coating. This works well with longboards, because it reduces weight without compromising strength and makes them more manoeuvrable in smaller waves. We wouldn’t recommend anyone but experts using this board when the waves are more than 3ft, but for less fit surfers in quieter seas it will work a treat.


Tiki Surf Betty £265 www.tikisurf.co.uk

A great value minimal for beginners to intermediates

Surfing is a nondiscriminatory sport – all the shapes featured come from ranges that cater for both sexes, as well as all kinds of body shape and level of experience. That said, there is a growing demand for women-specific designs, and this is a good example – a wide, stable and low-cost platform. You won’t be able to carve about on it like the pros, but you will be able to catch waves, which at this level is the best you can hope for.


Stick Another name for your surfboard. If you own several, then you have a quiver

Rails The side edges of the surfboard, designed to hold onto the wave during turning and release water through the tail to improve speed

Feet and inches Surfboards are still measured in this way

Rashee Stretch top to protect surfer’s exposed skin

Stringer A central wooden insert that travels the length of the board from nose to tail to give strength and flex

Concaves Subtle channels carved into the board’s bottom to provide speed and lift

Research supplied by Carve magazine Reviews by Steve England Prices include Vat and delivery

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