Does size matter?
It’s an age-old question, which harks back to the beginning of surfing. And yet it has somehow remained the same: what size board should you ride?
Here are some of the variables that influence an answer:
- What kind of wave will be ridden?
- What are the rider’s physical dimensions?
- What’s the rider’s ability?
- What’s the rider’s goal?
Now, as you can imagine, one can go into infinite rabbit-holes regarding each subject. Then one can complicate it even further by combining them. Hell, one can even question the concept of size: are we talking about length or volume? Or both? Or how length, width and thickness converge into a specific volume and shape?
So many questions… And you came here for answers, right?
If so, then I will focus the last item, which is the most important and often the least discussed. What is more, I will do so having in mind beginner and intermediate surfers, which is what most of our students are.
So, what size board should you be ridding?
The answer is surprisingly simple: whichever allows you to catch the most waves and have the most fun doing so.
The primary goal of surfing is to have fun. Without it you will not want to surf, and therefore will not progress. And the one thing without which you cannot have fun while surfing is waves. If you cannot catch them, you cannot surf, and if you cannot surf, you cannot have fun while surfing. Easy, right?
Not so much:
If we are talking beginners, then mostly yes, provided the board also enables them to stand up with stability on the white-water or a small unbroken wave.
If we are talking about intermediate surfers, things get trickier. Mostly because ego gets in the way. For some reason or another, people have been thought to believe that the smaller the board you surf, the better surfer you are. Surfboard size then becomes a badge of honor. If you surf a 7-foot board you are better than those who ride 8-foot boards, but worse than those who surf 6-foot boards, and so on and so forth. So whenever someone suggests you need a bigger board, you think he or she is calling you a kook (i.e. a bad surfer). This is not the case. Maybe your instructor is just trying to tell you that, if you ride a bigger board, you will become a better surfer.
I will give you an example:
Not so long ago, a student of ours insisted on ridding a 6’3 fish. Whenever someone told her she needed a bigger board, she just said she did not feel comfortable with it. It was too big and she felt like she could not control it, which endangered everyone else around her. Her problem was not an ego problem, but she was stuck nonetheless. More often than not she would only catch 4 waves in 2h, fall on two of them, use her knee to stand up on another and drop the remaining wave going forward. She was used to being good at sports, but was somehow unable to progress. As a result, she got more and more frustrated each session.
She went home for Christmas. When she came back, she decided to try a much bigger 6’10. In 2 weeks she has progressed more than in the previous 5 months. I am not joking. She now catches 20 plus waves each session, rarely uses her knees to stand up and is beginning to trim the face of the wave with more and more control. Sometimes she does small cutbacks and everything. Now Imagine she had started doing this 6 months ago and that she had still progressed at the rate she is progressing now… How much better would she be? More importantly: how much happier would she have been? Cause now she leaves the beach smiling every time, already thinking about tomorrow or even later today, when she will catch 20 more waves.
Now imagine you only get 2 to 4 weeks of surfing per year, and that every time you come back you need to find your feet again. How do you want to play it? Do you want to catch 3 waves per session, feel a bit defeated and then, once you do catch a wave you loved — helped by a push from the instructor —, see it on camera just to realize you have only 3 more days to correct you 15 mistakes, and this only amounts to 10 or 15 waves? Would it not be easier if you caught 20 waves per session? How much more fun would it be? And how much more would you progress?
I do understand that there is a limit to this theory. Some turns can only be done on certain boards. But, if you are reading this post, you are probably not at that level. If you were, you could be doing something like this, even on a big board:
or even this, showing how much Softboards can be fun and used by everyone ;) :
So, next time you go surfing, remember that size does matter, just as long as it equals fun!