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How to Choose the Right Surfboard for Kitesurfing


To The Point:

     You can buy any old, waterlogged surfboard for $20-50 and it will work fine.  However if you want to make it easier on yourself and spend a lot more, read the detailed explanation.


The Detailed Explanation:

     When we discuss kiteboards, we can choose between a twin-tip wake-style kiteboard, a directional surf-style kiteboard, or directional kiteboard.  Some manufacturers have also designed hybrids between the two, sometimes referred to as mutant kiteboards.  It seems that these days, most kiters have a twin-tip and a surfboard in their quiver, allowing the best of both worlds:  Freestyle and surf.     When choosing the appropriate surfboard, there are many factors to cover; so many, that it can be a bit overwhelming.  Let’s simplify by listing four factors:  riding style, size, shape, and construction.

Riding Style

     First, let's discuss the style rider we are.  We can divide this into speed or skate style.  For those who ride waves or swell at top speed, want to throw fans of water, and jump with their surfboard, something smaller, lighter, and durable is preferable.  Generally speaking, a surfboard with less tip-to-tail rocker and less toe angle in the fins, will drive a faster, straighter line in big waves.  Like tow-in surfboards, straps will be necessary to keep the board on your feet for riding fast and especially for jumping.

     Now, for those with a surfing background, those who prefer to ride a wave a bit slower, and to stay in the pocket, a skate-style surf board may be the right choice.  These riders may be looking for a board that is primarily designed for surfing.  This board will be a bit bigger, and can be ridden with or without straps.  Weight is not of much concern, if staying on the water is your goal.  You can find kite specific surfboards at most retail shops, or choose to purchase a surfboard from any surf shop.  With the introduction of stick on straps and pads (see photo 1), you can make a kitesurf board out of any surf specific board.  The choices in boards may be endless, so take the time to demo, and play around with the shape that suites your style.

Rider Size

     Second, lets talk about the size of the surfboard.  When discussing surfboard size, the weight of the rider may come into play.  Obviously, the heavier the individual, the more volume a board may require.  But more importantly, the shorter board (5’5” to 5’ 11”) will be best for speed riders, whereas a longer board (5’11” to 6’5”) better for skate-style riders who want to use the energy of the wave to surf.  The bigger board will facilitate the lighter wind riders, whereas the shorter board will benefit high wind conditions.


Fin Setup

     Thirdly, the shape of a surfboard will create different riding characteristics.  We know how many shapes are available out there, so lets discuss the fin configuration for now.  Most surfboards have a 2 fin, 3 fin, or 4 fin set-up.  These can be referred to as a ‘retro/fish’, ‘thruster’, or ‘quad fin’ boards (See photos below).
     The 2 fin, or retro style board is one that can be used in both applications, kitesurfing or regular surfing.  This is due to the extra width and volume.  With two fins on the outside tail, you will notice a very maneuverable and skatey feel.  These boards will also go upwind very well, and be beneficial in light wind areas.
     The 3 fin, or thruster board is probably the most popular style of board due to its ability to work with most people and conditions.  Surfers have gone with a 3 fin configuration for years due to its middle ground for speed and maneuverability.
     For true speed in a surfboard, the 4 fin, or quad surfboard is better, because it removes the drag that a center fin creates in a thruster style surfboard.  These increasingly popular boards are generally short, and designed for those who want to blast down a big wave to avoid getting pounded.



Board Construction

     Last, but not least, are the number of ways a surfboard may be constructed.  Most surfboards, back in the day, were traditionally made of Clark Foam, but since the unavailability of this foam, manufacturers have been forced to seek out different materials.  The most common surfboards found today are the polyurethane(PU) surfboards, epoxy surfboards, and pop-out surfboards.  The PU surfboards are the ones you find at most surf shops.  They are very cost effective, and come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  The foam blank is either machine shaped or hand made.  The shaped foam is then covered with fiberglass cloth and coated with polyester resin.  Most PU boards are very lively on the water, but not as durable under the feet (unless covered in more glass under the feet).  If your local surf shaper is able to design a kite specific surf board for you, suggest more glass under the heel areas to prevent denting the board.
     The epoxy surfboards are shaped and built the same as PU surfboards, but use different foam and resin.  The materials used in epoxy surfboards are EPS foam and epoxy resin.  These materials allow the surfboard to be extremely strong and lightweight, ideal for speed riders.  Most kitesurfers prefer the PU surfboards due to the liveliness of the feel under their feet, but are now accepting the epoxy boards due to the lack of weight, and overall durability.  Because of the newer technologies involved, the epoxy surfboards are more expensive, but are also becoming more available.  Check out Surftech’s or Resin 8's line of surfboards to educate yourself more about epoxy surfboards.
     The last to be mentioned are the pop-out boards, those that are mass produced in an overseas factory.  These surfboards are sandwich boards, built in molds of two separate halves.  After the two molds are popped out, they are joined and filled with an expanding foam.  This technique of manufacturing mass quantities at a time leads to a less expensive, very durable, but also very heavy surfboard.  For a beginner who is going to put a pounding on their surfboard, and one with little surf experience, pop-out boards may be the board of choice.

    Now that we have covered the basics of surfboard styles, sizes, shapes, and construction, it’s time to try and ride a variety of boards to find the one or two that meet your kitesurfing needs.  Even if you live far away from the ocean, give a surfboard a try in flat water, both strapped-in and strapless.  Learn transitions with a surfboard, whether they be toe side, or jibe transitions.  It’s all about being on the water, whether it be big surf, choppy swell, or even flat water.  Kiteboarding has come full circle, back to the directional boards of yesteryear!



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