We recently told you that getting a custom was not only one of surfing’s unique pleasures, but also the best way to get the surfboard you really want, no… deserve. And that was kinda true.
But if ordering custom really was the solution to all board buying questions, your local shred emporium wouldn’t have zillions of sumptuous looking numbers in the rack, winking at you.
Furthermore, don’t be fooled into thinking the split between those who order custom and those who go off the rack is purely down to levels of shred accomplishment, either.
Plenty of hard carvin core lords prefer to go off the rack, or just do so out of practicality.
There are various reasons you might want to, too.
If you want a board from CI/…Lost/JS/DHD/Hayden/Firewire/Slater Designs/Machado etc etc you’re probably going off the rack, sweetheart.
Yep, those modern epoxy/EPS carbon wrap tings that look like your fave Tour pro’s shortboard, they probably comin from a factory in Asia.
Many of em from the same factory, in fact. So that means you’re buying off the rack.
Maybe you’ve broken a surfboard on a trip (we knew it: you’re too rad!), and need a quick replacement to make the most of the swell before you leave.
Perhaps you’re on a trip to Hawaii, California or Down Under and want to take a board home from an exotic celebrity foamsmith.
You’re there for a good time, not a long time, right?
Maybe you just like to sample or at least see the goods before you agree to buy em.
Nobody, as far as we know, has ever refused to collect/pay their custom, despite how much the finished article might deviate from the one the customer hoped and dreamed of.
Maybe you just had some bad experiences with the custom process itself. Maybe waiting for a high functioning addict/reluctant genius ain’t your idea of a good time. Maybe your local realistically only gets a few dozen legit B+ or better days per year, and you’ve already missed several of them going straight to his wretched voicemail.
Maybe life’s just too short to be continually pestering a factory for a board, no matter how good, that’s missed more deadlines than HS2.
Whatever the reasons, here are a few surfboard buying tips to help you develop meaningful relationship with a board that doesn’t have your name on the stringer.
(Hate new stuff? Buy second hand then)
Ballpark Not Ballbag
Sure, you’ll want to have an idea of the nature of the raft-shaped hole in your soul that needs filling. But don’t go in all over-specific.
Part of the thing about buying off the rack is you’re giving yourself the chance to fall in love with a beautiful stranger in a moment of heady serendipity. To be suddenly, hopelessly won over by looks, lines, feels, curves… personality!
If you’re really honed in on every dim to within 16″, then you might as well just be ordering a custom.
The joy of the stock browsing experience is to be able to pick up several and just kinda know when you know.
Play the field, Lolita.
on the other hand, if you do have pretty standard dims (say 5’10” x 18 3/4″ x 2 5/8″… the other beauty of browsing stockies is the chance to compare different boards of the same dims and just go, ‘oh… oh… oh yes.’
‘You like Toffee Crisp, you like Wispa, you like Fry’s Turkish Delight. Just pick one so we can fuck off and get on with the rest of our lives.’
Ask For Help
It can all be a bit overwhelming.
Choice, that is. Some people say the optimum number is 3-5 of anything, above that, it all gets a bit tyrannical.
I had a mate who used to take 45 mins agonising over which choc bar went with his can and crisps.
‘Come on idiot’ we’d urge, dilated pupils having their mellow harshed by the fierce illumination of the 24 hour petty station while he underwent choice paralysis. ‘You like Toffee Crisp, you like Wispa, you like Fry’s Turkish Delight. In fact, you like pretty much every chocolate bar* in the standardised UK off-license, newsagent, petrol station offering. Just pick one so we can fuck off and get on with the rest of our lives.’
Given the breathtaking array of craft today’s well stocked stores carry (my local Quik Boardriders has got more Bradleys than Leo Fioravanti’s garage), it can be easy to not be able to see the trees from the forest.
Don’t be afraid to ask for direction in this regard. A legit core shop rat worth his or her salt will know exactly what’s what and who’s who in the board rack.
Whiling away endless slow retail hours, any shop grom that knows their onions will have gone through the stockies a trillion times, to the point that the boss is worried that they’re wearing out the glass on the rails. They can help narrow down your search and pick out nuances that you might easily miss.
*except Topic, obvs. Yuck!
Not how loud the surfboard is, but how much of it there is. Your approach to art of shred, the very way in which you commune with Huey, your position in both the lineup and on the wave itself will be determined by how much volume a board has as much as any other characteristic.
Volume underwent a radical transition around ten years ago, from the vague, ambiguous qualitative to the quantitative.
What used to be either ‘paper thin’ or ‘a boat’ now has a litre value assigned to it, which makes it like, totally helpful, practical, easy to understand.
But watch out: this is surfing we’re talking about. Useful, easy to understand, pragmatic are tantamount to heresy, which is why they should be treated with a soupçon of suspicion.
Now we’re talking. Within the correct dimensions, rocker (nose to tail curve) is perhaps the most important performance design element in any surfboard, and the hardest to work out.
Flat gives speed, curve makes turning easier… but factor in the planshape, and the way the volume is foiled through the board and you get a million variations and thus plenty of that time-honoured surfboard mysticism.
Hench rippers can power through turns on flatter rockers, while more slender shredders that go top to bottom, love curve.
Only time and experience will dial you in perfectly on this factor, and the only real way of getting familiar is picking up and holding hundreds of surfboards under your arm, and wiggling them up and down a bit.
You Can’t Beat The Feeling
Which is all part of the off the rack browsing experience.
Take many many surfboards out of the rack and put em under your arm. You can’t get too close physically to this hunk of foam and fibreglass, within the confines of shop etiquette and and the decency laws of the land.
Surfers are tactile, emotional beings, half the job is done if it feels good under the arm.
Now, if you can get to the state of consciousness where you can translate under arm feel to on wave performance, the kind of thing most shapers can do as second nature, well you’ve scaled the lofty heights, you’ve migrated the soul to board whisperer guru status.
But, while you work toward that life goal, you can still be getting pleasure receptors pinging off their dials simultaneously from fingertips, palm, inside forearm, inside bicep and a bit of the arm pit and the top few ribs.
Some things are best done in a hurry, or at least with haste, like tacking a sailboat, making omelette (but not scrambled) and the Heimlich Manoeuvre.
Other things, like buying a new surfboard, are best done with a measured, unhurried air of study, after having scattered a broad, investigative net.
Go to all the shops, check out all the boards. Go back. Repeat.
Never, ever, buy a board in a sudden rush when the waves are firing, when hungry or hungover.
Always after the wind has come up, probably after lunch. 15h15, then.