Understand why volume is so important and what it means for your surfing.
What is a surfboard’s volume?
Just like the volume of a box, the volume of a surfboard depends on 3 elements: Length, Width & Thickness. The difference is that calculating the exact volume of a surfboard is much more complicated than knowing the volume of a box. A surfboard has a different width and thickness from nose to tail. It has curves, concaves, convexes, etc. You can’t simply do the traditional Length X Width X Height calculation.
Volume is calculated in Cubic Litres
Today, it’s much easier for surfboard shapers to provide data on their surfboards volumes, as most are designed using computer software. In the past, you had to sink the surfboard in a bath to see how much water the surfboard had displaced. Surfboard volumes are still measured in cubic litres. If you look closely on your surfboard, you might see a number under your surfboard, usually close to the stringer. If you can’t find your volume on your surfboard, you can try looking online, searching for your surfboard’s brand and specific model.
Examples of surfboard litres by surfboard types (can vary):
- Shortboards: 22L – 35L
- Fishes: 25L – 45L
- Funboards: 40-60L
- Longboards: 60L – 100L
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Volume VS Dimensions
Understanding volume is the best way for you to evaluate how big your surfboards really are. At Barefoot Surf Travel, we very commonly hear novice surfers focusing on the length of a surfboard when estimating what surfboard could be right for them: “I’ve been riding a 7’2, but I think I’m ready to try a 6’8…” While length is important and does affect the volume, it’s only one of the many factors that affect the surfboard’s buoyancy.
“So, this means that I must check the surfboard’s length, width and thickness?”
Not exactly. A surfboard might look big, have a lot of width, thickness and length, but still not have much volume. For example, a 6’1 shortboard can have less volume than a 5’2 board designed for small waves. By simply looking at length, width and thickness, you can’t really know if a surfboard is right for you. In fact, two boards can have the exact same dimensions but have different volumes (see example below)
As you can see on this example above, these two surfboards have the same length, the same width and the same thickness, but have very different volumes. The reason for this is that the board’s width and thickness are only measured at the widest and thickest point of the surfboards. As you look towards the nose and the tail, surfboards have different widths and thicknesses.
Volume = Floatation
Why is your surfboard’s volume so important? Because it determines how buoyant the board is. How much you float on your surfboard changes everything: how fast you paddle, how the board turns, how many waves you catch, how the board keeps its speed in weaker waves, etc.
Add volume = You float more. Floating more means you will paddle faster, catch waves faster with less effort, and surf faster down the line.
Too much Volume = You float too much. Once you have enough experience to start doing turns and manoeuvers, you realize that bigger boards are harder to move around. Advanced surfers will find it harder to go from edge to edge on a board that floats too much for their skill level. It makes it difficult to dig a rail in the water when carving.
Not enough volume = Doesn’t float enough. Less foam means slower paddling and surfing. This makes it harder to catch waves. To ride small surfboards, you need the experience to catch waves later, at a steeper stage. Less experienced surfers will lose speed as soon as they surf outside the “sweet spot” (steep area on the waves face that provides more power). Riding a board that doesn’t have enough volume for your weight and skill level will make you look like you surf worse than you do.
Surfboard Volume according to your Weight
The first factor that is commonly thought of when finding the proper volume for a surfer is the surfer’s weight. Because volume directly affects your floatation, you need the right volume to provide proper buoyancy in the water.
- Heavier Surfer: More Volume
- Lighter Surfer: Less Volume
You can’t only focus on the surfer’s weight when looking for the proper volume. Factors like the skill level and typical conditions surfed in need to be considered.
Surfboard Volume according to your Surfing Level
Extra volume almost never hurts beginner & intermediate surfers. Without generalizing, it is safe to say that there are a lot more beginner-intermediate surfers that ride boards that do not have enough volume for their experience level, than surfers that ride boards with too much volume. For the first few years of your surfing progression, extra volume practically only has benefits: you catch more waves, paddle faster, surf faster, enjoy more stability and make it through sections to surf waves for longer amounts of time.
Learning on a bigger board forces you to have proper technique when you want to turn your surfboard. Because it is bigger, you really need to think about how you use your upper body and how you transfer your weight around. These are basics that will be useful for the rest of your surfing progression, even when you start riding shortboards.
Small, low volume surfboards are progression’s worst enemy. Smaller surfboards can fool beginner and intermediate surfers, making them feel like they are “easier to turn on”. Small surfboards are easier to trim on. Because they are so small, you can indeed easily switch from rail to rail with your surfboard just by shifting weight to your toes and heels.
There is a world of difference between trimming (going from rail to rail) and carving (doing stylish and often accentuated turns on the face of the wave). It can take 2 minutes to learn how to trim, but it could take more than a few years to learn how to carve with decent technique. To carve, you need speed, experience, timing, proper positioning on the wave, proper upper body movement, etc. These are all things beginners and intermediates need to practise on a bigger surfboard that helps them generate speed with control. Riding a surfboard that doesn’t have enough volume for you can slow your progression down probably more than any other factor.
Surfboard Volume according to Surfing Conditions:
Small and weak waves: More Volume. Generally, you want to ride bigger surfboards when the waves are small and weak. The extra foam will give you more speed, compensating for the lack of power and speed-generating potential of the waves.
Good, powerful and steep waves: Less Volume. When the surfing conditions are good and clean with decent size, experienced surfers often surf smaller surfboards. Less volume translates into tight turns, increased manoeuvrability and it helps to perform advanced tricks like vertical snaps, airs, etc.
Very big waves: More Volume. When waves get big, experienced surfers often use a “step-up board” or a “gun”. These boards usually have more volume and length than their typical shortboard. The extra volume will help them paddle into bigger waves. The bigger the waves are, the faster they move forward, so at a certain point, surfers need that extra paddle power. The extra volume also increases stability and hold, because small shortboards can feel a bit too loose on big waves.
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How to know what Volume I need?
As we have seen in this article, to find the appropriate volume for your specific needs, you should analyze 3 important factors:
- Your surfing level
- Your weight
- The typical surf conditions you surf in
It is often hard for beginners and intermediates to get a realistic idea of their surfing skills, hence why it is ideal to have a surf coach that has seen you surfing before to help you find a surfboard. Surf coaches, friends, surf shop employees, or anyone giving you advice on “the proper surfboard for you” should know or ask questions about your weight, the average conditions you plan to surf in, and your skill level. If not, look somewhere else!
Extra tool, for Shortboards Only
One of the best tools to help you find a proper Shortboard volume is the Volume Calculator.
Take note; this is just another tool to find an approximation of the volume you need. If you surf in thick wetsuits, crowded surf spots or weak waves, you might want to add a bit of volume. If you surf good, warm water waves and get consistent conditions, you could go for a smaller board.
Volume is probably the most important element to consider when choosing a surfboard. It’s the factor that can most affect the number of waves you catch, and how much fun you have in the water. But it isn’t everything. Understanding how the rocker and the surfboard’s dimensions affect your surfing will also help you find better surfboards for your surf level, and have a positive impact on your progression.