How To Choose A Longboard

Zack Johnson: Robert August What I Ride
Zack Johnson: Robert August What I Ride

Wow, this is a wide range of surfers reading this article! Beginner and never-evers, all the way geographic transplants, diehard longboarders and aging shortboarders. Over the past several seasons, the surfing world has been focused on shortboards and hybrids, now it’s time to dig into the tech and questions asked and answered every day at REAL with regards to longboards.

Video Instructional:

Question #1 : How do you want to surf and where will you be surfing this board? Do you see yourself as a cross stepper / noserider? Or do you want to surf more off the tail and use the length of the board to generate high speeds for fast turns and carves? Is you local wave soft and slow breaking or a pitchy beach break with a more hollow face?

When looking at longboards, there are two basic types – “Noseriders” and “High Performance” longboards.

Enily Vater: Takayama In The Pink
Enily Vater: Takayama In The Pink

Noseriders tend to have more volume (more foam), a flatter rocker, wider noses and rounded rails all the way to the tail. Most noseriders also have a single fin, although some are equipped to switch this to a 2+1 set up which consists of small “side bite” fins on the rails and a larger fin in the center box. This style of board is great for several things – trimming, gliding, noseriding and also longboarding at a break that suits this style of board. The larger size, flatter rocker and glide oriented design suits a flatter faced wave that is slower and softer breaking. Think of places like San Onofre, California or Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY. Even when those waves are head high, they are still very forgiving, slow breaking with a very soft lip.

The design focus of a noserider longboard is to keep the board in the pocket of the wave and to allow the surfer to surf small crumbly waves (often dribblers) while still feeling the “glide” of the board across the top of the water. “Glide” is the ability of the board to displace water at speed and not be so dependent on planning above the water like narrower high performance longboards or shortboards. More volume and often a flat or slightly convex (bellied) bottom make this type of board work well both gliding and planning. These boards also encourage “cross stepping” to the nose and are great “dance platforms” for walking to and from the nose during each ride.

Cody Craig Robert August Martinson Stepdeck
Cody Craig Robert August Martinson Stepdeck

Want to be humbled? Go on an all out mission to learn proficient and stylish noseriding this summer. You’re about to receive the 1ft surf beat down of your life in waves you normally wouldn’t have even paddled out in. Once you start pulling noserides – and with the right board it’s not that far away – it’s an addictive feeling that has you “flying” at the top of the wave with nothing underneath you. I actually didn’t learn how to noseride until I was 40 years old and to have the ability to learn something new in junk surf was actually really fun and rewarding. Some of the wipeouts are just incredible! But when you pull off a good one, it’s so much fun and such an adrenaline rush…definitely something to keep your learning curve fresh and exciting!

Good examples of noseriders are all sizes of the Robert August Retros, Robert August Classics, Robert August Martinson Stepdecks, the larger Robert August What I Rides (9’6 and larger) and Takayama Model Ts. Takayama In the Pinks are some of the most popular noseriders in the world, but they fall into a Hybrid Category that we will talk about later.

Enjoying Endless Summer Weekend in Cape Hatteras, NC.
Enjoying Endless Summer Weekend in Cape Hatteras, NC.

High Performance Longboards (HPLBs) typically have flat or concave bottoms and a narrower outline with a 2+1, Quad or 4+1 fin set up. High Performance longboards are designed to generate speed and travel faster than the wave. They are perfect for surfing your longboard “like a shortboard”, meaning off the tail, working the wave up and down the face to generate speed. They are easier to surf in pitchy, hollow faced waves due to the fact that they normally have narrower noses and more rocker, allowing them to fit into the curve of the wave better. This also makes them a better “first board” choice for surfers learning to surf in this type of wave.

Trip Forman Surfing: Stretch HPLB
Trip Forman Surfing: Stretch HPLB

The design focus of high performance longboards is max speed and maneuverability, so in a lot of ways, very similar to the design focus of shortboards. Skilled surfers can noseride them, but they don’t offer the added stability and lift up there so it has to be a skilled rider with very nimble (and light) footwork. These boards are designed for max performance while planning, so if the waves are super small and gutless, they don’t feel as good in the trimming or glide mode (not turning to generate speed). However, if you are purchasing a single board for max range with regards to wave size, these boards have the widest range of use of any board on the market, as you can surf them effectively from shin high up to several times overhead – if your coconuts are big enough for that.

Trip Forman: Ricky Carroll 9-0 HPLB
Trip Forman: Ricky Caroll HPLB

Great examples of HPLBs are the Stretch HPLB, Ricky Carroll HPLB, Maurice Cole HPLB and the Takayama Noa Kai Oi.

Just like with every other surfboard category, dividing lines are disappearing and board designs are now pulling characteristics from different designs to produce “Hybrid Designs”. The Takayama In the Pinks are a perfect example of this. Noserider shape and volume, with a crisp, defined rail release in the tail and a 2+1 fin set up. This allows the board to get up and really go when you need it to. The smaller Robert August What I Rides (9’0 and smaller) also have a clean, defined rail release on the tail to help these boards attain higher speeds in medium to larger surf. These two boards are the most popular noserider and all around longboard in the world. Goes to show what happens when you take the best of both worlds and mash it up into one board!

Question #2 : Why do some of these boards have rounded rails while other have sharp edges? What’s up with all the different tail shapes?

Noseriders typically have rounded rails the entire length of the board, meaning there is no crisp edge to release the water cleanly on the back third of the board like on HPLBs or shortboards. This slows the board down and keeps it close in the pocket while the surfer is on the nose. You will often see larger square tails on noseriders, especially ones being ridden in smaller, less powerful surf. The larger the tail, the more lift it creates for generating speed, but also the larger platform it creates for the lip of the wave landing ON IT – which counter balances you up on the nose.

HPLBs have a crisp edge on the tail of the board, which creates a clean release of the water off the tail – allowing the board and surfer to generate speeds much higher than the speed of the wave. On the HPLBs you will see a variety of tail shapes and areas in order to max out the performance in a specific wave range/type or to provide the max range for all uses. Regardless of the tail shape (squash, round, round pin, swallow) the larger the tail, the better the board will work in small to average surf. If you are using the board for larger, more powerful surf, or even using it as a double duty gun for BIG surf, you want to look at reducing the tail area so that the board doesn’t become too lifty underfoot and start bouncing at speed.

Zack Johnson: Takayama In The Pink
Zack Johnson: Takayama In The Pink

Question #3: Why are there different fin set-ups?
Noseriders have single fins, which are typically a little slower (a good thing for keeping the board in the pocket of the wave) and offer a deeper depth to stay in the water when you are up on the nose and lifting the tail. The single fins also have a sleeker feel when you are trimming and gliding in sub par surf. The tell tale signs of a noserider is rounded rails to the tail with a nice single fin.

HPLBs typically have 2+1, Quad, or 4+1 fin set-ups. None of these are better than the other, what you are looking for is the best match for the design of the board, your surfing style and the waves you are looking to surf the board on. All of these fin configurations are designed to help generate more speed and increase maneuverability when compared to single fins.

Question #4: What’s the right size for me??
This is an easy one! In general, lightweights should look at the 8’6 range. Midweights 9’0 and Heavy weights 9’6. Super heavyweights? Either beef out your 9’6 with a bit more width and thickness, or go longer up to 10’. All of these measurements are not “exact”. If you are a lightweight and find an awesome 8’4 – 8’7”, go for it! Once you go above 10’, most surfers will have a hard time controlling the extra length, although the skilled surfer will revel in the extra glide!

Question #5: Construction
There are several constructions to choose from when shopping for a longboard. PU/Poly is the tried and true construction that has been around the longest. PU/Poly has a nice feel both in small wave “glide” mode and also at max speed when bouncing and chatter become a concern. PU/Poly is also the most fragile and the heaviest. If you have a problem with “spacial awareness” (meaning you just don’t know what a 9 foot turning radius circle is), you will probably spend more time repairing this type of board than actually surfing it once you get done walking it into every corner of your garage. The added weight can also be a drag for lighter built surfers who have to carry their boards long distances to the beach.

Epoxy sandwich constructions offer a lighter weight / higher durability board that offer great performance with very little maintenance and a very long life. This construction is a great choice for no nonsense, all fun, all the time recreation, or sharing your board with a family or group of friends, where you might not always know how the board is being treated. True afficionados will say you HAVE TO GO PU/Poly in order to have a “real” board, but it’s better to be honest with yourself and how you treat your gear. If you are careful with keeping something in good shape then you can consider a PU/Poly board. If you are a train wreck and tend to consume gear rather than polish it, then epoxy sandwich might be the best way to go, especially on your first board.

REAL is fully stocked with a wide selection of longboards from Robert August, Takayama, Ricky Carroll, Stretch, McTavish and more. REAL ships longboards worldwide daily.

Questions? Comments? You can post below or call us toll free at 866-REAL-548, or International 252-987-6000.

Previous article Kiteboarding History Lesson: Wipika FreeAir 7.1 and Custom Pulley Bar