Ignorance May Be Bliss, But Not When It Comes to Buying a Surfboard (Part I)

Posted: May 28,2013 Written by  Matador Surfboard Blog
Remember going to buy your first new surfboard?  Or really, the feeling of going to get any new surfboard, whether it is your first or not?  It is a fantastic feeling--knowing that you are getting a new board and hopefully the board that you really want.  There are few things in life that can rival it.  But back to the idea of buying your first board or maybe even your first couple of boards.  There are some different feelings involved in that event as well; yes, it is exhilarating knowing that you are getting a new board, but if your experience was anything like mine, it was also filled with ignorance about what you were getting.  

I will never forget purchasing my first new surfboard.  I was 19 years old (I did not start surfing till I went to college in Florida) and I bought the board while home in NJ for the summer.  To this day I could not tell you the dimensions of the board.  I remember the brand and the color (a dazzling orange that all my buddies in Florida made fun of), and I remember it looked really cool!  I mean, it looked like a great board.  So what the heck does that mean?  Well, it means that I liked the way the board looked on the rack so I bought it.  I was completely ignorant of what type of board I needed, the shape, dimensions, etc.  I basically looked at the board, thought it looked awesome and bought it.  I have since learned about these things and also learned that what makes the board work goes beyond the typical three dimensions that all boards list. 

matador and boneyard surf blog

Take my BoneYard Fly model (pictured above).  I ordered this board as my everyday board, hoping that it would work in everything from waist high to overhead waves.  But as a bigger guy, I needed some extra volume in the board while still keeping it nice and loose.  The Fly was the perfect model for me and the shape provided me all the elements that I was hoping for.  If you look at the usual three dimension--height, width and thickness--the board appears suited for my larger frame.  The board is 6'5" x 20.5" x 2 3/4".  But the beauty of this board goes beyond those numbers.  Let's talk about one of these elements, rails.

One element that people do not consider enough is the rails.  In order to get a little more volume, the Fly carries the thickness through most of the board, especially up front.  So instead of only having the width listed on the board existing in the middle, it carries a lot of this to the nose and the tail. The result is more volume to help me get into the wave sooner--and remember, if you can't catch a wave, you can't surf the wave.  If you want a more performance-oriented board, then look for something that thins as you move to the nose and the tail.  But remember, this type of rail cuts down on the volume of the board which makes it more difficult to paddle and less stable as you take-off and head down the line.  These are two factors that anyone starting out needs to seriously consider. 

Buying a SurfboardThe other aspect of the rail to consider is the shape.  Is it a hard rail (often called a down rail) or a soft one (round)? Or does it flow from a softer to harder rail?  On the Fly, the rail is fairly soft in the middle but hardens as you move towards the tail.  On the board I was discussing last week, my biscuit shape, the rails remain soft throughout the board, only hardening to some degree in the tail.  Now there are lots of nice diagrams you can find that discuss all the different variations on this (50/50 rails, 60/40 rails, rolled rails, etc)--the diagram to the right gives some indication of the different rails.  But if you want to get a real sense of the shape, just grab the board and feel the rails. It will be fairly obvious what type of rails the board has from the first touch.  Is it nice and rounded with no edges?  Or do you feel the rail turn into a hard edge?  And remember to feel the rails throughout the board, not just in the middle.  What the hard edge does is provide the board with more maneuverability and hold in bigger, steeper waves.  It will give you a rail that is easy to sink into the water.  This type of rail is more performance-oriented, something we all may want but may not help our surfing.  The soft rail is forgiving, perfect for those starting out or your small wave board.  What I mean by forgiving is you are less likely to catch a rail when surfing and it provides a more stable ride that will also float over the flat spots of a wave.  Of course this can vary, with a medium rail that is often "tucked under."  This provides the best of both worlds--a rail that provides maneuverability and hold, but also is more forgiving and stable.  The Fly is a good example of this rail and so I am able to ride it in head high+ waves but still flow nicely in the smaller stuff.  


So when buying a board you need to consider what the rail will do for you and your surfing.  You also have to be aware of what YOU need in a board.  Not every surfer needs the same type of board. Ultimately, this means being honest about your ability and using that objective assessment to buy the best fitting board for you.  The right board can make all the difference in how much fun you have in the water.  Buying a board because it looks good on the rack or because it will look good as you walk down the beach is a mistake I see far too often.  Buy the board that will help you catch more waves and improve your surfing.  This means paying attention to the big three numbers (height, width, thickness) but also grab those rails and make sure they fit your style and ability as well.  And remember, surf for fun!


-Eric, "The Professor"

Check out Eric's Blog directly: http://matadorsurfboards.blogspot.com