How To Evaluate Soft Top Surfboard Quality

March 28, 2021

How To Evaluate Soft Top Surfboard Quality

Intro:

Picking out a board is hard, especially if you're a beginner and not sure exactly what to look for. For one, there are more soft top brands than ever. Additionally, there is a lot of misinformation out there - marketing material disguised as review content.

This makes the situation for the board buyer much harder than it needs to be. So when it comes to evaluating quality and comparing brands, here is a framework and few common sense rules to keep in mind.

The 3 Tiers:

Having seen everything that is out there, I'd say there are roughly 3 distinct tiers when it comes to quality:

 Tier
Example Brand
Qualities
Price Range 
Economy
Wavestorm
Rubbery fins
$175-200
Premium
Rockit Surf
Carved rails, universal fin box
$225-295
Performance
MF
Fiberglass construction, FCS/Futures fins
$300-400


Economy

Who it's for

These boards are great for first time learners. If you're not sure how your kid may like surfing, or maybe you're buying an extra board to lend out, this category makes perfect sense. Even foam boards aren't indestructible, so if you expect that the board will take a beating, consider a lower investment.

Defining features

Outline: These boards typically have thick, boxy rails and a simple, wide and flat outline. These properties are great for stability - they help the beginner surfer float and keep the board flat on the water, but they definitely compromise on maneuverability. To be honest, a beginner won't notice that a board is difficult to turn, but, this is the main complaint for surfers who progress quickly from pure beginner to intermediate. 

Fins: Typically soft plastic fins that feel like rubber, that screw into the bottom of the board. These help keep the overall price of the board low, but also are a major limiting factor for maneuverability. Anyone who has taken out a wavestorm in bigger surf knows the feeling of getting speed wobbles as the soft rubber fins flex and cave under pressure. You don't have to worry about this for a first time surfer, as they won't notice, or mind. But if you're buying for an intermediate or advanced surfer, this is a major reason to consider a different category.

Brands in this category

  • Wavestorm
  • Stormblade
  • Liquid Shredder
  • Blootide

Premium

Who it's for

This is really our bread and butter here at Santa Barbara Soft Tops. These boards balance reasonable pricing with thoughtful designs that we feel good about recommending and are happy to stand behind.

For any kids who we expect may take up quickly to surfing (i.e., some past experience, or athletic background) we usually recommend something in this category so that they don't outgrow their board too quickly.

For most adult learners with some past experience surfing, these boards can help the surfer transition from beginner to intermediate. They're fun to surf, and can hold up to the expectations of intermediate and advanced surfers as well.

Defining Features

Universal fin boxes and hard plastic fins: This fin system was first seen in Catch surf boards, but is now seen in most boards from this category. The universal fin boxes look like traditional FCS/Future fin boxes and can support either if you have them for a higher performance feel. They typically come with higher quality hard plastic fins included, that are much stiffer than the soft rubbery fins on a Wavestorm. The result is a board that can turn well, handle bigger surf, is customizable. 

Thoughtfully Designed rails, rocker, and outline: Though this may be harder to identify, and a bit ambiguous, the trained eye will notice that these boards don't have the thick boxy rails that a Wavestorm has, or the flat, rockerless bottom. Boards in this category typically have carved rails and adjusted thickness so that the board doesn't fight you when you initiate a bottom turn. The benefit to tail and nose rocker will be most noticeable to those taking their foam board into hollower surf such as beach breaks. Where you'd have to make large adjust dropping in on a Wavestom to avoid pearling on a steeper wave, these boards are made with an eye towards performance.

Brands in this category

  • Rockit Surf
  • INT slick bottom

 

High Performance:

Who it's for

Adults who want to shred some tiny waves on a family beach day, soft top surfboard lovers who are looking to get more out of their boards, and kids/teenage shredders who want a back up plan for smaller than expected surf.

Defining Features

Hybrid fiberglass construction: These boards often have layers of fiberglass beneath the foam on top and/or bottom providing the best of both worlds - the stiffness and performance of a fiberglass surfboard and the flotation and safety of a soft top surfboard.

FCS/Futures fin boxes or fins: Support for top of the line FCS or futures fins is great for those who have their own favorite pair of fins already, throw those into a soft top to get the same feel of a riding your shortboard with the added benefit of easy wave catching. Some models come with FCS/Futures fins which are more performant than those in the previous categories, though this may involve added cost.

Sustainable construction: Recycled foam reduces the environmental impact of this industry, some brands like INT even hand-make their boards in California to align with environmental and labor standards that consumers today expect. This often means a higher cost product, but it's something we can all feel good about.

Brands in this category

  • Mick Fanning (MF)
  • INT hyrbid line

 


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