How to Choose the Best Longboard Surfboard

Surfing 101

Longboard style
Matt Porteous / Getty Images

At their most basic level, longboards are generally considered any surfboard over 8 feet long and 20 inches wide that has a rounded nose. How can you choose the best longboard surfboard for your needs? First, learn a little more about longboards.

Modern longboards come in sizes anywhere from 8 to 12 feet long (some are even longer). Your most common longboard is around 9 to 10 feet. Surfers choose longboards for their ease of paddling and catching waves as well as their speed down the line (especially on tiny, gutless waves).

While the stereotype of the longboarder in the 1990s was an older surfer hogging all the outside set waves, today’s longboarder is as varied as the surfing population itself, mostly because longboards are a blast to ride. They are great for beginners because they have so much more deck space for greater ease in standing and riding.

Surfboard Design Materials

Your most common boards are still made of good old-fashioned polyurethane (PU) foam coated in fiberglass. Down the center, a balsa wood stringer will add strength and flex. PU longboards will get banged up and take on water, but the funny thing about longboards (as opposed to shortboards) is that they continue to rip even when they’re heavy and ugly.

Balsa wood boards are also popular among purists as these boards are a nod to the classic school and era of longboard surfers who spearheaded surfing’s early incarnation. Also, balsa has some unique properties in terms of its flex and weight that higher level surfers prefer.

Balsa wood boards are better for the environment and good balsa is very light and hard to snap.

Epoxy surfboards are both strong and light. One issue with epoxy is its weight. Longboards need a little weight and flex in order to liven up their performance. Epoxy is often stiff and very light. But if you want a cheaper (usually mass-produced) board that will last, epoxy is a good choice.

Length

Longboards vary greatly in length, so it really comes down to what you want from your board. Shorter boards are more maneuverable. The longer a board gets, the more space you need to make a turn. If you're looking for a board for more progressive surfing (cutbacks and floaters ), then a shorter performance board is your gig (ranging from 8-10 feet). If you are looking to draw a more traditional line with an emphasis on nose riding and cross-stepping, go longer.

Thickness and Width

Most longboards are more than 2.5 inches thick with a thinner tail and nose area. Flotation is a tricky beast in that the thicker and more “floaty” the board, the easier it is to catch and make waves. However, a board that is too thick and “floaty” will not turn well or respond to the curve of the wave properly. The key here is moderation. If you are thinner, stay on the lower end of the thickness (2.5 inches), but the bigger you are, the closer you should get to that 3+ range.

That goes the same for width. A skinny board will be great for hold in juicy waves and will go well in steeper waves where there isn’t as much need for responsive turning in tight spaces. Wider boards are great for mushy waves with lots of flat space turning.

A longboard can go anywhere from 22 to 25 inches at its wide point and will vary in the nose and tail depending on its purpose. Noseriders will have a wider nose while boards designed for more radical ​surfing will be wider in the tail.

Rocker

Longboards with more rocker (bottom curve) are great for nose riding as the curvature will slow the board and also allow the board to remain on top of the water with an extra weight on the nose or tail. With less rocker, the board is much faster, but there is much less play in shifting your weight and making turns. Some boards have a nose concave which essentially makes the nose pick up speed (with a flatter surface curve in the water) as the rider steps closer to the nose.

The Real Deal

There are other variations in longboard design, but the construction material, length, width, and rocker will get you right where you need to be.

Tail designs don’t affect the ride of longer boards as much as they do shorter boards. Also, weight is a crucial component, but that’s something you should feel for yourself. Pick the board up and give it a feel. Can you carry it? That’s important. A good longboard needs a little weight to give it real direction and purpose down the line. If you are thinking about getting a board from a surf shop, see if they will let you try out a few rentals first to see what you like.