It's graduation day! You’ve had a lot of fun on your foamie, but now you’re ready to step up your Great Lakes surfing game! You’re ready for a board with a little more speed and maneuverability. There are countless things to consider when choosing your first hardboard. Luckily, we have created this quick guide for you to make it simple when choosing what will be your next board to join your freshwater quiver.
First you have to ask yourself… What do I want to accomplish with my surfing?
This is very important! Do you want to do more maneuvers? Surf long, glassy, flowy waves? Or big, powerful pitchy waves? Or maybe somewhere in between! Once you determine what kind of waves you want to ride and what maneuvers you want to achieve with your surfing, it will help you determine the kind of hard board you should purchase first. The cool thing about this first step is that this answer can always change, and when it changes, it means that you will be ready for your next board and the different styles of surfing you want to explore.
For example my first hard board was a 8'0 Whitsurf Pelican board which was the perfect entry board into sharper turns and having a bit more speed under my feet as I went down the line. As I began to grow more comfortable with speed and turning, I was ready to transition to my second board which is a 5'8 Kona Zen fish model. This board allowed me to perform a surfing style somewhat between shortboard and longboarding maneuvers. Presently I surf a 9'1 longboard shaped by Kookapinto because I’ve learned that I like performing more cross stepping maneuvers on my surfboard. Therefore this guide will help you determine how to choose your first board, but keep in mind that it may not be the only board you choose to purchase in your lifetime of surfing.
What type of board for what type of surfing?
So you’ve answered the first question and you have a rough idea of the kind of surfing you want to do. Below we have divided the categories into each type of board that will most likely suit the wave you want to surf and how you want to surf it.
Shortboards range from 5 to 7 feet in length approximately. They were created in the late 1960s and early 70s as surfers were beginning to search for bigger, punchier, pitchier waves. These boards essentially allow surfers to place themselves in the ‘pocket’ of the wave easier (the more hollow section of a wave). Shortboards give surfers the most maneuverability and control to perform vertical and more radical tricks on many different types of waves. The biggest downside is that these are the hardest boards to learn how to surf due to their low volume and thin rails (which we will discuss later on). This may not be the first hardboard you purchase due to the steep learning curve required, but if you’re aiming to become a radical shredder on a wave, this might be a board you might want to explore as you progress later on.
Surf the Greats Surfboard Choice: Aftanas Analog
From Canadian local shaper based in Tofino, British Columbia, Stefan Aftanas has created a shortboard that has less volume (32-33Ls), but enough that is necessary to surf the Great Lakes. This board is available in 5’11 and 6’0 and is perfect for the advanced surfer that is ready to handle a lot of speed underneath their feet. This board is recommended for waist to overhead high waves.
Mid-lengths range from 6.6’ - 8’ feet in length. They are the perfect size board for surfers who want to either have a crossover between longboarding and shortboarding, or who want to progress to shortboarding while increasing wave count and experience. Mid-lengths can also be considered ‘fun boards’ since they are designed to have stability on the face of a wave, but the ability to carve as well. That's truly what makes them so fun! This is most likely the first hardboard you may choose to purchase since these boards traditionally have more volume and width, making it easier to float the surfer and practice the pop up on a faster board. Lastly, mid-lengths can be the perfect discovery board for a surfer to find their stride if they want to decide between shortboarding and longboarding. At Surf the Greats, we would recommend that if you like more progressive, sharper turns and lots of speed then maybe think about going down the shortboard path. If you like the loose feel of your ride, flowy movements and cross stepping, then longboarding may be your next board choice! But if you like surfing the in-between, then a mid-length is the right board for you.
Surf the Greats Surfboard Choice: Kona Bella Great White North Series
Our most popular surfboard that sells out time and time again is the classic Kona Bella Great White North Series. Shaped by Kona in Jersey and designed specifically for the Great Lakes, this board is available in 7’0, 7’2, 7’6, and 7’8. The Bella can be surfed as a single fin or 2 + 1 setup making this board the ultimate mid-length to have in your quiver. The different fin setups can be adjusted to give the surfer more control and stability while surfing a slower wave, or more speed and flexibility while surfing a steeper wave. The choice is yours with this board and there are endless possibilities of waves to surf in the Great Lakes or in the ocean!
Longboards were the first kind of surfboards to even exist, since the first waves surfed were believed to have been ridden by body surfers. The early history of surfing itself was created by ancient polynesians and Hawaiians as a way to enjoy the ocean spiritually and religiously. Longboards range from approximately 8-10’ feet in length. They allow a surfer to turn on the face of the wave, but not as sharp or as fast as a shortboard. Surfing a longboard should essentially feel like a dance. It’s a very free-flowy movement, with lots of cross steps, noserides, and many other creative movements. Many surfers like Kassia Meador and Joel Tudor have pushed the boundaries of expressive movements on a longboard, and I highly recommend watching some of their videos to further explain just how fun longboarding can be. Longboards, because of their width and volume, are also an easier board to transition to when purchasing your first hardboard because these boards, like mid-lengths, have quite a bit of stability, a flatter rocker, and lots of length to pop up on.
Surf the Greats Surfboard Choice: BING Levitator Type II Board
Our staff at Surf the Greats chose this board as the first kind of hardboard longboard you can purchase due to its double stringer, and timeless shape that excels in all sorts of conditions. You can take this board with you to the powerful days on the Great Lakes or to the ocean when you want longer rides. This board is available in both 9’4 and 9’6. With more volume at the nose of the board, the surfer can catch more speed at the tail of the board when paddling into a wave. Additionally, the thin rails allow for the rider to complete tight turns and hit critical sections making this board high performance in many conditions.
As we previously discussed how mid-lengths are the crossover between longboarding and shortboarding, fish shaped boards are the crossover between mid-lengths and shortboards. They are perfect for surfers who want the flowy feel of a mid-length, without compromising the ability to be able to turn in critical sections of a wave. When the surf is slower and the waves aren’t as powerful, a fish will allow a surfer to catch more waves. These boards are generally the same length as a short board but also thicker and wider for more volume.
Surf the Greats Surfboard Choice: Wax Surf Co. 5’7, 5’9, 6’0 Quad Fish
Our staff at Surf the Greats chose this board as the first kind of hardboard fish you can purchase due to Tyler’s expertise in creating fish boards specifically for the Great Lakes. These boards have the proper amount of volume and width needed to surf a variety of conditions for most days on the Great Lakes whether it's a sluggish wave or a powerful day. They can be ridden as a twin, but the quad set up allows for more speed and control on the wave no matter what kind of surf the lakes are providing.
What about Volume?
Volume essentially equals floatation. The more volume a surfboard has, the more the board floats. As a very general start, we suggest that lighter surfers should ride a lower volume board, and heavier surfers should ride a higher volume board. Shortboards and low volume are a surfer's worst enemy for progression. Too often we see first time stoked surfers buy a board that is too short and/or too low in volume in comparison to their surfing capabilities. Time and dedication will allow you to progress as a surfer — which means that we suggest buying a board that will give you a higher wave count. The more waves you catch, the better you will become. Progression will only happen if you choose a board with more volume to help float you better. This specifically is also a pro-tip for the Great Lakes since we do not have salt water to help our buoyancy. The fact that we also wear 6/5mm wetsuits in the winter doesn’t help.
Here is a rough range of volume (in litres) per type of board we discussed earlier:
Shortboards: 22L – 35L
Fishes: 25L – 45L
Longboards: 60L – 100L
Therefore, when you’re purchasing your first hardboard, ask for a board that has a decent amount of volume in comparison to your surfing experience. More volume will never hurt beginner and intermediate surfers. Most likely it will be less volume than your first foamie board, but you shouldn’t see a 50L difference between them – that's probably too much! Our expert team can assist you with finding the right volume for your board according to your weight and skill level.
A single fin is one fin placed in the center fin box at the back of the board. These fin set ups are designed for longboards and mid-lengths due to their loose feel, flexibility and maneuverability. Single fins come in a variety of different sizes providing either more or less stability, depending on what the surfer is looking to accomplish with their longboarding. This probably won’t be the fin set up you start with for your first hard board since the feel might be too loose.
Designed primarily for waist to head high waves, the twin fin set up is probably the loosest feel for fin set ups you’ll find after a single fin set up. It’s highly responsive, and lacks stability since there is no center fin. Twin fins provide speed on flat sections of a wave. Again, this probably won’t be your first fin set up for your first hardboard, but it’s a fun set up to explore further down the road once you’ve gained more experience.
2 + 1
A 2 + 1 set up means three fins consisting of two small side fins and a 6” to 9” inch longboard centre fin. This allows for a looser, more longboarding feel, but leaving rail to rail stability for the rider with the two smaller fins placed at the tail end of the board.
Thrusters offer beginner surfers the right amount of balance and consistency between speed, control, and balance. A thruster set up means 3 fins that are all equal in size. The two side fins generate lift on the wave, while the center fin provides stabilization. Most shortboard and professional surfers also choose a thruster set up to perform radical and high intensity maneuvers on a wave.
A quad fin set up means four fins. Usually two bigger fins sit higher and wider at the tail end of the board, and two smaller fins sit at the rear end of the tail (quad rear fins). This allows the rider to generate extra speed on a smaller and/or slower wave. Our staff at Surf the Greats recommends this set up for those slower days on the Great Lakes when the waves don’t pack as much punch, and the surfer is looking to find extra speed.
General rule of thumb is to purchase a leash that is the same length if not a little bit longer than the length of your surfboard. For example if the surfboard is 9ft long, we’d recommend a 9ft leash. If the board is 5’6ft, we’d recommend a 6ft leash. This is because when you fall, your board will often extend the leash and it could bounce back towards you. Having a leash that is at least the length of the board will prevent you from being hit by the board. Our favourite leashes at Surf the Greats are the FCS All Round Essential Leash. Their lightness in material does not compromise in strength since this leash can handle all conditions.
It may take some time to purchase your first hardboard. We suggest taking the time to do your research to explore the different types of surfboards that exist, and what you want to accomplish with your surfing. Once you’ve narrowed down a rough idea of what you want to achieve, then you can choose your first hardboard more easily. At Surf the Greats, all of the surfboards that we carry we picked specifically for our Great Lake conditions. We highly suggest that if you need assistance with choosing your first hardboard, stop by the storefront and any of our staff will be more than happy to help you find your perfect hardboard for your Great Lakes surfing journey!
Words by Maddi Leblanc. Cover Photo by Teigan Labour.
Maddi Leblanc is a Niagara born, Toronto-based stand up paddling athlete for Team Canada, SUP instructor, and lake surfer. Maddi is also the Surf School DIrector at Surf the Greats. She has been paddle boarding for nine years, competing in SUP for six years, and surfing the Great Lakes for six years. She recently just completed her Masters at Brock University in Recreation & Leisure Studies. Find her on Instagram.