Surfing is hard. From those early struggles of managing to make it past the break zone and into the lineup, to dropping in on those first waves that ended in tremendous wipeouts, learning to surf can be an incredibly difficult and infuriating undertaking. Top that with improper equipment and you’ve mixed-up a recipe for a surfboard gathering dust in the garage. Here we offer a few equipment picks that will help make surfing in South Florida a little bit easier.
Chris Birch Surfboards
Surfing in South Florida is a lot different then some of the photogenic magazine spreads from the Pacific and Indo. Swells are fickle, waves are often erratic, and the constant tinkering with beach renourishment has done a number on the local breaks. While this might make for a hungrier surf culture down here, boards made elsewhere often don’t cut the mustard in our mushy surf. This is why a board made by a Florida surfer, for Florida surfers is a must in everyone’s quiver. One of my favorite sticks is from board shaper Chris Birch.
The Accelerator | 6’4″
Hailing from Indialantic, where the surf is a bit more consistent than its South Florida counterparts, Birch knows Florida swells. Surfing since 1970, and shaping since 1978, Birch paid his dues working for Natural Art and R&D Surf before he hung out his shingle in 2003. Surfboards by Chris Birch run the gamut from performance thrusters to classic noseriders, and all things in-between.
The Accelerator Quad Fin
For South Florida surf, the key is adaptability. Outside of having a quiver of 10 boards, one for each type of swell (which many of us own), an all around wave riding machine is your best bet. Birch’s jack-of-all-trades is the Accelerator. Available in a range of sizes, from the mid fives to mid six-foot range, the Accelerator is a cross between a fish and performance board. Equipped with a quad fin setup, the board features a wider girth for more float and a slight performance rocker that allows for one of the most versatile boards around. From knee-high mush to overhead bombers, you can catch them all on this board.
Makai Project Handplanes
Ask just about any surfer how they got started; nine times out of ten, the answer is bodysurfing. When it comes to wave riding, bodysurfing is the great equalizer; if you can float, you can ride. It’s where most, if not all, surfers figured out how to properly select a wave, and how to catch it. It’s also a blast to do.
Taking the simple joy of bodysurfing and adding an extra level of fun is Makai Project, a small board outfit based in Jupiter that specializes in handmade skateboard decks and handplanes. With two lines of handplanes, Fat Minnow and Flying Fish, there is a ride for just about any swell.
Flying Fish Handplane
What’s a handplane you may ask? At their core, handplanes are small boards that the rider straps to their hand using them as a guide when bodysurfing. The board—a small 10 inches for the Flying Fish, 12 inches for the Fat Minnow—gives just enough lift for the rider when gliding down the wave, allowing them to streamline their body line, lifting their chest and upper torso out of the water. The boards help reduce drag while giving the rider just enough control to really let them cruise through the surf—small knee high waves are turned into mini pipe sessions, with riders catching micro barrels on shore break.
Fat Minnow Handplane
Made out of various wood species laminated together with epoxy then finished in an industrial grade polyurethane, the boards border on art. Durable and compact, these handplanes are perfect for leaving in the car with a set of swim fins for those impromptu lunch break sessions. Keep it original and pair it with one of Makai Project’s rad, one-of-a-kind skateboards.
JQ Longboard | 9’6″
For some rocking a shorty, the thought of replacing that stick for a dinghy-sized longboard is laughable. Believe me, I was there. But as father time slowly ticks away, the aggression on the water wanes, you lose a bit off the top, and waves wind up passing you by (or you find yourself in closeout central). Meanwhile, longboarders are catching waves from 40 yards out past the break, whistling by while riding waves for days. It’s aggravating—that was supposed to be my wave. But for those kicking it old school on those 10-foot noseriders, surfing takes on a more zen-like quality—there are no pop shove-its and 360 airs, rather feeling the force of the wave and going with it.
Longboards are where it all began—to some, it’s all they know. And in smaller surf, it’s the only way to go. While it kind of fell by the way side during the short board revolution, the art of the longboard is certainly on the rebound. And while the overall shape and concept of the longboard has not changed all that much, modern upgrades to the rocker, rail shape, and fin setup have been incorporated to gives those old logs some added performance. One of Florida’s true master shapers and longboard aficionado, Ricky Carroll, has been leading this charge for decades.
Based out of Rockledge, Florida (Brevard County), R&D Surf has been claiming waves since 1992, while Carroll himself began shaping and glassing boards in 1973, when he was just 13 years old. His portfolio includes all board shapes and sizes, but one of his most outstanding shapes is the Justin Quintal longboard. Named for arguably the best longboarder on the scene (at just 25, the cat has some serious retro cache as he walks the deck and rides the nose—he’s also won the Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational four times, the last in August 2015). Clocking in from the mid eight-foot range to the upper nines, the JQ model is the quintessential noserider with a traditional shape and heavier build. Pair it with Rainbow Fin Company’s Justin Quintal Straight Back fin (pictured above) and you’ve got a ride designed for living on the edge.
The bond between Ricky Carroll and Justin Quintal seems to be so great that the two have begun a new project: Black Rose Manufacturing. The new board line features boards designed to Quintal’s specs, and shaped and built by Carroll. Black Rose just started to land boards on the market (its on a made-to-order basis right now), so be sure to keep an eye out for the latest in heavy log water dancing.
Black Rose Mfg.’s Dark Horse longboard
Photo by Jensen Hande
Sometimes there is just no surf. Don’t let the lack of swell and foul weather put a damper on your session; rather, take it indoors with an Indo Board. Branded as the “original balance board,” the Indo Board (Indo takes its name from indoors) is a rather simple concept: the user stands atop an egg-shaped board while trying to balance on a plastic roller. While simple in concept, in practice, well, it takes practice.
Hunter Joslin first planted the balance trainer seed way back in the 1970s while working for Jupiter-based company Resin Craft, selling skateboards and skimboards up and down the east coast. The idea was sparked when he threw a skimboard on a wooden cylinder and gave it a whirl. Indo Board didn’t take its current shape until 1998, when Joslin swapped out the skimboard for a plywood board affixed with two stop blocks, and a plastic roller.
While offering a way for surfers to work on balance techniques on land, the Indo Board is also a great workout tool for the home gym, as well as an optimum accessory for the yogi looking for just a bit extra. When a user utilizes the board properly, it not only improves balance, but also targets core strength and improves posture—there is no slouching when finding balance.
Now based in Indian Harbour Beach, Indo Board has branched out since its 1998 inception, offering an array of options for balance seekers. The Original ($159.95 for the base model; pictured above) is still available, and comes complete with the classic 6.5-inch roller. The Pro version (starting at $214.95 for board and cushion) opts for an elongated, narrower board (42×15 inches versus 30 x18 inches) and a larger roller (8.5-inch diameter), making for a tougher go of finding ones balance.
For the rider that has some experience surfing and is looking for more of a challenge, the Rocker version (starting at $165 with roller) gives just that. Instead of affixing wooden stoppers on either end of the board, there is a slight rocker to the board, making for a much tougher go of getting in the groove. Riders can also swap out the roller for an inflatable cushion ($30), which offers 360 degrees of instability. The Yoga Board ($390—comes with three inflatable cushions) offers a platform akin to a standup paddleboard, which forces users to concentrate on their breath and core for balance.
Click here to head back to A South Florida Guide to Surfing.