How to choose the right surfboard

Choosing the right surfboard is one of the most, if not the most important purchasing decision you’ll make when it comes to an enjoyable wave ride.

Whether you’re a complete beginner learning to surf, beginner intermediate or ready to break out in the pro scene. Understanding the fundamentals behind board design, sizing, shape is important. The engineering that goes behind board design is invaluable information. You’ll never truly know what a board suited for you really feels like.

Types of surfboards

Choosing the right board comes down to your surfing skill, surf conditions, types of waves, and believe it or not, your fitness level.

It all comes into play when buying a board, not to mention paraphernalia like choosing the right surfboard fins, leg ropes, and traction pads.

We’re going to take a look at the various board designs, sizes, and models in this article. So as a surfer, you know what to look out for when buying your first, or next board.

If you’re an advanced rider and not a beginner, you can jump down the list a little further using our index:

Surfboard Brands, and Variety

If you have ever walked into a surf shop, or browsed online, you’ll know that there is more than a couple to choose from. It seems like a new brand is coming out weekly with their claims they’re calling “breakthrough” designs.

Different surfing brands

The history of surfing has come a long way over the past 240 years, back when they used carved timber trees. Surfboard models are still designed by a surfboard shaper, but a select few companies have taken that leap of faith in technology.

Software like Autodesk can simulate water flow, buoyancy, gravity, braking force, and rigidity. As well as various other simulations allowing designers to determine how a board will perform. Adding gravity allows designers to add a human-like weight to the board. This allows simulating wave, and surfing conditions providing accurate reporting.

Autodesk isn’t the only company pushing accurate computer simulations either, companies like Siemens have made PLM software for making firewire surfboards.


This technology has been used for years on projects developed by world-leading governments. The Defense force uses computer simulations to determine outcomes for real-world situations. It’s now being used to shape the future of the surfing industry.

This advancement in design makes your job as a consumer buying a board, a stressful, and frustrating experience, easier. there are tens of thousands of different types of surfboards to choose from. Your local surf shop to put it simply doesn’t have that many in stock.

How To Choose The Right SurfboardImage Credit: Ghost Racks

Look at the facts, a retailer needs to sell products to stay in business, they cannot sell a product they don’t stock, and cannot get. They’re going to sell you something they have in stock, whether it’s appropriate for you or not, and worst of all. Not to mention sold something not appropriate that has a higher profit margin.

Going in with the knowledge learned from this article of exactly what you’re looking for will give you a huge edge.

1. Calculating your ideal volume

Calculating the ideal volume is something that is unique to the individual rider. It’s popular opinion that the volume is one of the most important variables in choosing the right board.

This has its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage would be that your height and age move very slowly. A disadvantage would be your weight, fitness, and ability is highly variable.

how to calculate surfboard volume

If you take a look at your favourite pro surfers and their quiver of boards, you’ll notice that they’re very similar in volume with minor differences.

What is surfboard volume?

Volume is the calculation of area in litres contained in a surfboard. Calculated by its total length, thickness, width, and foil using length x width x height = volume. This can be made easier using computer simulations at the shaping stage.

Before considering the other board factors like surfboard size, shape or fin configuration. You first need to know your desired volume.

Often found on the manufacturer's spec sheet, website or displayed clearly on the board in a shop. The volume of a surfboard model is typically shown as 6’0” x 18 ¾” x 2 5/16” - 27 ltrs.

Low volume surfboards

Choosing a low volume surfboard means you’re picking a lower volume than the suggested volume for your weight and height.

You’ll find a lower volume board offers a more sensitive experience, not for the amateur surfer. Suggested for the more experienced riders with a greater skill level.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

This is like putting tonnes of weight into a boat, it will sit lower in the water creating less buoyancy, leading to greater drag and offering less speed. The same applies here, you put a heavier larger rider on a smaller, lighter board you’ll have more drag. This results in less speed and you'll need to work harder to generate greater speeds.

However, the positive trade-off here is like a sports car. Offering less weight and smaller design gives for greater control and maneuverability when it’s needed.

There is a small fine-line here though, there is a huge difference between a low volume, and under volume board. Like overweighting anything, it’ll eventually sink. This creates a near on impossible to paddle as well as getting the nose out of the water.

The low volume option can be more fun in small to medium sized waves though, providing the surf is clear.

High Volume Surfboards

The measurement of your personal suggested volume is less than the volume of the surfboard.

These are easier to surf, used for teaching and learning on, a high volume surfboard is far easier to ride, balance and control. Whether you’re out for a paddle, or catching waves. A high volume surfboard offers great weight support.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Suggested as the “safe” option when choosing your board, they’re easy to learn on regardless of your skill level.

The reason you might not be looking for a high-volume board though is the trade-off. Top end performance, decreasing maneuverability, and control, for stability, ease-of-use. This is not ideal for advanced riders riding in competitions and for the show.

The importance of accurate volume calculations

Due to the complexity of surfing, it’s important to understand where this calculation comes into play. This gives you a chance to think about what it is you’re looking to archive.

Performance Characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • Paddle Power
  • Stability
  • Pivot
  • Control
  • Performance
  • Speed
  • Drive
  • Glide
  • Buoyancy
  • Balance

Volume can determine all the above factors, ultimately impacting your experience.

What is my ideal surfboard volume?

With everything above in mind, it’s time to make the calculation. We can now come up with your personal volume recommendation.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Step 1: Your surfing ability and level

Advanced + You’re a borderline pro, a strong, fit rider capable of making critical manoeuvres with total control, power, and speed. Averaging an 80 - 90% completion rate and catch 9 out of 10 waves you paddle for.

Advance surfers are able to complete complex manoeuvres with confidence, control, and consistency. Whilst completing 70-80% of attempted manoeuvres, and catching 8 out of 10 attempted waves.

Intermediate / Advanced riders are able to link moves whilst having confidence and understanding of each condition. Able to complete above average at 60-70% completion of each manoeuvre. catching 7/10 attempted waves.

Intermediate riders are progressive surfers capable of trimming the wave face. Developing their movements whilst completing half of the attempted moves. Catching roughly half or slightly more than half of your attempted waves.

Beginner surfers are your first timers, learning to stand, focusing on their wave count.

Example: Advance surfer

Step 2: Buyers guide volume table

Weight (Kg) Advance + Advance Inter. / Adv Intermediate Beginner
35 & Under 15.05 15.75 16.80 21.00 25.90
40 16.40 17.20 18.80 23.60 29.20
45 18.00 18.90 20.70 26.10 32.40
50 19.00 20.50 22.50 28.50 35.50
55 19.80 21.45 23.65 30.25 37.95
60 21.00 22.80 25.20 32.40 40.80
65 22.75 24.70 27.30 35.10 44.20
70 24.50 26.60 29.40 37.80 47.60
75 26.25 28.50 31.50 40.50 51.00
80 28.00 30.40 33.60 43.20 54.40
85 29.75 32.30 35.70 45.90 57.80
90 31.50 34.20 37.80 48.60 61.20
95 33.25 36.10 39.90 51.30 64.60
100 35.00 38.00 42.00 54.00 68.00
105 36.75 39.90 44.10 56.70 71.40
110 38.50 41.80 46.20 59.40 74.80

Example: 80kg + Advance = 30.40 ltrs

Step 3: Multiplication

A standard mathematical equation used to calculate your volume. Multiply your above answer by the below factor based on your age.

Age Factor
0 - 30 Add 0% (0.00)
31 - 50 Add 8% (1.08)
51 - 60 Add 20% (1.20)
61+ Add 30% (1.30)

Example: Age 33. 30.40 x 1.08 (8%) = 32.83 ltrs

Step 4: Multiply by your fitness factor

Fitness is an important consideration in surfing. Use the below table to multiply your above result by the factor used below. It’s important to not lie to yourself here, and be honest and reasonable.

Fitness Factor
Excellent - Surfing 4 times per week or other training 4 times per week Add 0% (0.00)
Good - Surfing 3 times per week or other training 3 times per week Add 5% (1.05)
Average - Surfing 2 times per week or other training 2 times per week Add 10% (1.10)
Poor - Surfing 1 times per week or other training 1 times per week Add 20% (1.20)

Example: Fitness is Average - 32.83 x 1.10 (10%) = 36.11

2. What is the right surfboard height?

The right surfboard height is a calculation of experience, weight, surf conditions, as well as your fitness level.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Although this is based on the volume which gives your overall board height. Alternative less in-depth options definitely need to be mentioned.

Surfboard sizes

Note: The below is a guide, for accurate selection, use the volume method in Step 1.

The tables below use how many surfing days per week to roughly estimate your experience. Offering a weight range to determine a rough estimate of which board size you should buy.

Surfing less than 2 days per week:

Surfer Weight (lbs) Surfer Weight (kg) Surfboard Length Surfboard Width Surfboard Thickness
100-140 45.4-63.5 6′2″-6′4″ 18¾″-19¼″ 2¼″-23⁄8″
140-160 63.5-72.6 6′4″-6′8″ 19″-20″ 23⁄8″-2½″
160-180 72.6-81.6 6′6″-6′10″ 19½″-20½″ 2½″-25⁄8″
180-200 81.6-90.7 6′10″-7′4″ 20″-21½″ 2¾″-3″
200 + 90.7 + 7′4″ + 21½″-22½″ 3″-3¼″

Surfing more than 2 days per week:

Surfer Weight (lbs) Surfer Weight (kg) Surfboard Length Surfboard Width Surfboard Thickness
100-140 45.4-63.5 6′0″-6′4″ 18½″-19″ 2¼″-23⁄8″
140-160 63.5-72.6 6′2″-6′6″ 18¾″-19¼″ 23⁄8″-2½″
160-180 72.6-81.6 6′4″-6′8″ 19″-19¾″ 2½″-25⁄8″
180-200 81.6-90.7 6′8″-7′2″ 19½″-20½″ 25⁄8″-27⁄8″
200 + 90.7 + 7′2″ + 20″-21½″ 3″-3¼″

Once again, for a more accurate reading on which surfboard to buy, use the volume calculations. For a base guide, or if you’re buying a board for as a present, the above tables are a pretty good indicator.

3. What waves are you going to be catching?

Not one wave is the same as another. That’s what makes surfing such a great experience and thrill, it divides the pros from the amateurs. It is a constant battle of learning each wave and location.

You can drive around the corner to a different beach 5km from your normal beach and struggle to catch a wave. That’s why it’s important to consider the types of wave conditions when purchasing a board.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Using a tool like swellnet reports and forecasts will help you determine your local conditions.

It’s one of the design elements that a shaper will take into consideration when engineering their boards. You cannot find a single board model that will suit every wave. Know where you’re going to surf, base your selection from there.

For example: A wider tail area will perform significantly better in weaker, small waves. Whereas a narrow tailed board will perform far better in powerful swells.

Thankfully, the range of available surfboard models makes this part of the selection process easy. Most surf shops nowadays make this data accessible and prominently displayed. Brick and mortar store typically sell a selection that’s appropriate for surrounding conditions.

Fish / Grovel - 1/2ft to ft

The fish, or grovel surfboards are designed for smaller waves. Designed to sit slightly higher above the water than most other board types. This reduces the overall drag, allowing for greater acceleration in small mushy conditions.

Offering more speed than any other surfboard types as well as offering easy paddling, and stability.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Fish / Grovel’s are ideal for riders who’re:

  • Advance +
  • Advance
  • Intermediate / Advance
  • Intermediate
  • Beginner

Small wave performance boards - 1ft to 5ft

As the name suggests, these are suited for getting the most out of small waves. Offering performance characteristics such as speed and maneuverability.

A small jump up from your fish, the small wave performance boards are ideal in weaker waves, offering a tonne of speed.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Small wave performance boards are ideal for riders who’re:

  • Advance +
  • Advance
  • Intermediate / Advance
  • Intermediate

All round performance - 2ft to 6ft

Engineered to broaden the gap between a small wave performance board and a high-performance board. The all-rounder is good in most surf conditions, ideal for Intermediate and up. Riders will generate even more drive and offer excellent control in critical situations.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

All round performance boards are ideal for riders who’re:

  • Advance +
  • Advance
  • Intermediate / Advance

High-Performance - 4ft to 8ft

Moving out of from a beginner to intermediate riders is the high-performance surfboard. Designed and refined as perfect elite-performance surfing.

Designed to offer advanced riders full, uncapped control over their boards. Used around the world in the pro scene, these boards will offer second to none performance in the right surf conditions.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

High-performance boards are ideal for riders who’re:

  • Advance +
  • Advance

Step Up Performance - 4ft to 8ft+

Step aside amateurs, these boards are not for the faint-hearted. Designed for big waves and powerful swells the step up performance boards are suited to pros, or those looking for a bit of a thrill.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Step Up Performance boards are ideal for riders who’re:

  • Advance +

4. Matching your abilities to the perfect board

It’s important to not only take your own advice on this. Don’t overcompensate, don’t self-proclaimed being the next Kellie Slater if you’re not at that level. Take friends and families advice to what they might think your ability level is.

Nothing is worse than buying a board for an advanced + rider and struggling to ride it. You'll end up needing to sell it and buy a board more suited to an intermediate rider.

The performance of a surfboard comes down to various factors, and your ability handles a lot of those.

Performance is the surfboards ability to handle, perform critical manoeuvres, maintain speed, and offer smooth transitions. All this though is only considered if your level of surfing is at the point the board is designed for.

The high-end performance boards are much harder to control, harder to stand, and offer a loose feel. Whilst a beginner board will be far easier to control, offer a fluid feel, and guidance.

5. Selecting the right fin configuration

Something overlooked by many others, the fin configuration comes down to personal experience. There are tonnes of other variables which will dictate your selection as well.

We go right into depth in our article explaining the difference fin setups. This is definitely a more “advanced” option due to the importance of understanding.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

You as the rider need to know your personal surfing style. From stability, control and speed preferences to choose the right setup.

However, you don’t need a science degree to know which setup to choose. The standard setups are:

By far, the most popular is the Thurster setup, this is a 3 fin setup with 2 outer boxes and a center.

Whether a beginner or experienced rider we strongly suggest buying a board with a 5 fin box. This is the 2 outers each side, with a center fin. The advantage of the 5 boxes is the flexibility and customisation.

5 fin systems allow you to run a single fin with the other 4 left empty. A twin fin setup with the 2 most outer boxes filled with the 3 inner boxes left empty. A thruster setup with the two outer boxes and the centre filled and the two inner boxes left empty. Or a quad with the 3 outers filled and the center-left blank.


We will wind things up with our suggestions on what to buy, and some examples for you to take a look at.

When it comes to choosing the right surfboard. The perfect board that highlights your experience, abilities, fitness level and wave conditions. It’s important to take everything into consideration.

The tips we recommend you take to get the data you need for calculations:

  • Take your weight accurately on an accurate scale.
  • Accurately have your height measured.
  • Take feedback from friends, and family on what they think your skill level is.
  • Don’t take brand preference when determining the right board.
  • Determine your surfing destination and take local advice on conditions.

Once you have those, you can now go ahead and work out your board selection.

We recommend using a 5 fin box setup as mentioned above, this allows for the following configurations:

  • Single Fin ( central )
  • Dual Fins ( Closest to the rail )
  • Thruster Fins ( Closest to the rain + Central )
  • Quad Fins ( 2 outer boxes on either side )

This gives you the ability to mix and experiment with different setups. Without limiting yourself to one, or the other.

How To Choose The Right Surfboard

Our final suggestion would be to buy from a reputable brand, and supplier. Larger, mainstream brands have the financial backing to hire quality engineers for their designs. This allows them to test and run computer-simulations for varying wave conditions. Bigger brands also test various build materials, layers, and build at a more cost-effective price bracket.

Whilst choosing a reputable brand is important, the right supplier, online surf store or retailer is just as important. Having that professional knowledge, experience, and customer service is convenient. Ensuring they have your best interests at heart, offer repairs, and warranties will give you an invaluable piece of mind.

Calculation examples:

Using the tables and explanations above to determine the outcomes below.

Note: Performance board volume should be within 5% of your exact volume. Fish / grovel board should be your total + 5% then within 5% of that.

Example 1:

Height: 192cm
Weight: 84kg
Age: 24
Fitness: (Poor - Average - Good - Excellent)
Surfing level: (Beginner - Intermediate - Intermediate / Advanced - Advanced - Advanced +)
Wave Height: 3ft
Ideal Volume:

  • Performance Boards: 32.21 - 35.61 ltrs ( recommended )
  • Fish / Grovel Boards: 33.83 - 37.39 ltrs

Board Type, Length & Volume:

  • Performance Boards: 6’3” x 19 ¾” x 2 ⅝” - 33.30 ltr volume ( recommended )
  • Fish / Grovel Boards: 6’1” x 20” x 2 ⅝” - 35.10 ltr volume

Example 2:

Height: 170cm
Weight: 64kg
Age: 18
Fitness: (Poor - Average - Good - Excellent)
Surfing level: (Beginner - Intermediate - Intermediate / Advanced - Advanced - Advanced +)
Wave Height: 2ft
Ideal Volume:

  • Fun board / Softboard: 52.90 - 58.47 ltrs

Board Type, Length & Volume:

  • Fun board / Softboard: 7’6” x 21 ¾” x 2 ⅞” - 54.40 ltr volume

Example 3:

Height: 198cm
Weight: 95kg
Age: 35
Fitness: (Poor - Average - Good - Excellent)
Surfing level: (Beginner - Intermediate - Intermediate / Advanced - Advanced - Advanced +)
Wave Height: 6ft
Ideal Volume:

  • Performance Boards: 34.11 - 37.70 ltrs

Board Type, Length & Volume:

  • Performance Boards: 6’5” x 20 ¼” x 2 ¾” - 36.08 ltr volume