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Selecting a Surfboard for the Oregon Coast - Surfing the Oregon Coast with Tom McNamara
Oregon Coast Notes - Surf Report


Tom McNamara Surfs The Oregon CoastSurf happens. The Oregon coast is constantly exposed to ocean waves. Some days it will barely reach your knees; other days it's big enough to do damage and change the shape of the beach.

With this column, I'll bring you information about surfing in Oregon. If you're a surfer considering a visit here, you'll find useful information on what to expect and how to equip your trip. For non-surfers and beginners, I'll give you the basics of waves, surfboards, surfing etiquette, things to avoid, and so on. For those of you who have no intention of getting in the water, pay attention and I'll help you stay dry.

It's spring, finally, and people will be visiting the coast more frequently. If you're new to the area, check out the Beach Safety article from last October. While the weather may seem more gentle, the Ocean is not always in synch. We all want to spend more time in the water, but let's be smart about it.

Selecting a Surfboard

We hear it often: "I'm just starting to surf and I've been renting equipment. Now I'm ready to buy, but I'm not sure what type of board will be best for me".

We can apply a few rules of thumb in finding the answer, but the range of choices is still wide...just as wide as the range of people "types" asking the question. Generally, a person learning to surf will progress more quickly on a board that has plenty of flotation for their weight. Flotation is provided by volume (remember physics 101: Displacement of water creates buoyancy). Volume is a function of board dimensions, so there are three ways to achieve more volume: Longer, wider or thicker. In most cases, the new surfer will start well on a Longboard. It paddles very well, and surfing is 90% paddling, so the advantage is obvious. But good Longboards are pretty expensive, and good used ones are hard to find. Also, kids usually don't want to ride a Longboard because that's what "old guys" ride (who, me?).

About used surfboards: You will likely consider a used board for your first purchase. Unfortunately, you are far from alone in your quest. It seems like most people are looking for a used beginner board, and I will tell you they are hard to find, so they are not cheap. Be very careful here. Used boards can have severe damage, which is not obvious to the untrained eye. The delaminated deck is the deal killer here. The deck fiberglass has loosened its grip on the foam core, so the deck feels soft, sounds different when tapped with your finger, and may actually bulge up away from the core. Repair, if even possible, is expensive. Loose fins, plugs and fin boxes are the next thing to look for. Those can often be repaired, but will be expensive. If the board you are looking at has either of these conditions, and you're not into fiberglass work or paying someone to do it, then DO NOT BUY! If you can't find a good used beginner board, consider a new one and be assured that it will have a high resale value if you care for it well.

Since the variables in surfboard design are almost infinite, there are no clear dividing lines among the outcomes. But we can generally break it down into some broad classifications.


ShortboardThe pros ride them. Good, strong surfers ride them. It's the lightest, most maneuverable, smallest selection, and the everyday choice for good surfers in good waves. They are usually around 6 to 6 ½ ft. long, 19 inches wide and 2 ½ inches thick. (As a shaper, I find these dimensions ridiculously oversimplified, but you get the idea.) Correctly sized, the shortboard will have barely enough volume to float the rider. If you try to learn on a shortboard, chances are you will get frustrated and quit, or move to a larger board. NOT FOR BEGINNERS!



FishGenerally, these are pretty small boards, often under 6 ft. long, but wider and thicker than a shortboard. The tail is wider, and usually a swallow shape. The nose is broader and sometimes rounded. They are a good choice for small waves, where more volume is needed. For small people, a fish can provide the added volume that allows a beginner to catch waves on a short board. To further confuse the issue, many boards of much greater length (up to 8 ft.) have been loosely called "fish" because they are wide and have a swallow tail. These boards, whatever you call them, make good beginner boards, especially for younger, more fit people seeking an alternative to the longboard.


HybridorFun-BoardThis is the swiss army knife. It's an attempt to combine the properties of long and short boards, the result being one that is more versatile than either, but less able to perform as each was intended. For some, this is the next stop after learning on a longboard, and I've seen many people find their comfort zone on this type of board. For a recreational surfer of average ability, this can be a great choice, especially if you're only going to have one board. For young beginners, it provides more volume, yet still looks somewhat high performance, with it's pointed nose. Lengths range 7 to 8 feet, width around 20 inches, and about 2 ¾ inches thick.


LongboardWhen I was a beginner (we were all beginners first!) we didn't have all these choices. All surfboards were what we now call Longboards. They were over 9 ft. long and heavy. My first one weighed 38 pounds. Today's modern Longboards are much lighter and easier to maneuver, faster and more fun. Outlines and dimensions haven't changed much in 50 years, but the rockers, bottom contours and rail shapes are much different, borrowing from advances in shorboard design. I've included mini longboards here (such as those under 8 ft. long) because they share many design features. And minis are often good beginner boards, especially for younger, smaller people. All of these boards have rounded noses, flatter rockers, and widths around 20-23 inches. Correctly sized to the rider, they paddle extremely well, and will catch even the smallest waves, which is where beginners should be. Catching waves is your goal, and the only way to learn to surf. Once you're on a board that will catch waves, everything else will fall into place. You'll develop paddling strength because you'll have to paddle back out after each ride.


These are for riding big, demanding surf. You're not ready. Don't let a surf shop employee, eager to ring the register, talk you into one of these, no matter what a "great deal" it is. You will not learn to surf on one. Even good surfers don't ride these very often.

Ahhh, spring! When the weather is most difficult to predict. If you're traveling to Oregon for a surf in spring, be prepared for anything. It's kind of still winter, but summer is a tempting concept. We want the swells of winter, with the nicer weather of summer. Good Luck! Prevailing winds are still inshore, but varying from winter south to summer north. As the north wind gets going, the water temperature will surely drop. Last week we saw it dip below 50. Now the wind is south and it's back up around 55. Your choice of wetsuit becomes important, so watch for an article soon on choosing that most important piece of equipment.

Tom McNamara

Tom McNamara has been surfing since 1965. Tom is a well respected Oregon surfer and surfboard maker. Tom, with his partner Greg Niles, co-owns Ocean Pulse Surf and Skate in Newport Oregon. To get in touch with Tom, Greg or any of their knowledgeable staff call them at 541-265-7745 or visit them at www.oceanpulsesurf.com. For the real deal stop by their store located at 428 SW Coast Hwy Newport, Oregon.