How to Choose a River Surfboard
-Written by Mike Harvey
From the minute Zack shaped his first surfboard in his garage in 2008 Badfish has been about creating boards that make river surfing possible. A decade plus later we have a lineup of river surfing specific boards that we think can meet the needs of almost any river surfer. However with all those options comes a bit of confusion about which board will best meet your needs. We answer questions almost every day with some variation of “which board for me?” in the subject line. I actually really enjoy that part of the job and then hearing back from stoked people who had a great session on their board and felt like it opened up a new world to them. As much as I am happy to keep answering those emails this post is intended to try to clarify some of the strengths and weakness of each surfboard and offer some guidance about which board might be right for you. That said if you don’t get the answer here feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you with advice.
A couple of general points to consider about our surf lineup. In river surfing often times the right board comes down to a question of where you are going to surf the most and how you want to surf, more than a question of rider weight. Yes rider weight is a consideration in board choice for river surfing, but not the only consideration which is why we don’t provide rider weight limits on our website.
The first question you have to answer for yourself when considering a river surfing board is inflatable vs. epoxy (or “hard” board)…
Pros of Inflatable Surfboards
In general the advantages of inflatable boards are durability, the user friendly nature of the board and convenience. Inflatable boards are very difficult to damage in a river. I will stop short of calling them indestructible because I don’t want someone to take that as a challenge, but inflatable boards are very tough. Inflatable boards have softer, rounded, rails so when you are first learning to river surf, inflatables are more forgiving and you are less likely to be rudely tripped up by mis-weighting a rail or standing “Frankenstein Style” with straight legs. Inflatable boards are super easy to travel with, everything fits inside a backpack that comes with the board and you can easily fit other gear in with the board for a trip on a plane or in a vehicle without a roof rack. For those of us whose river surfing season ends in the fall and we start riding our bikes or getting ready for ski season an inflatable saves precious garage space. You can store them deflated all winter.
Cons of Inflatable Surfboards
The downside of inflatables comes down to performance. Short inflatable boards, when inflated to 17 PSI are very stiff, you won’t be bouncing around out there, but when you turn a surfboard on a wave the rail bites in the wave face and provides power and speed. All inflatable boards have rounded rails which reduces their effectiveness in this way. On smaller, foamier waves rail bite doesn’t matter a whole lot. However on higher volume or higher performance wave an inflatable will not feel as snappy in and out of turns. The thinner the board the more the rail will bite so for example a ISK8 at 2.75” thick and pumped to about 20psi will feel better underfoot when initiating a turn compared to a 5” thick IRS.
Pros of Epoxy Boards
Performance is the reason why you would want a traditionally constructed, epoxy surfboard. With an epoxy surfboard you can vary the rail thickness and shape to ensure the back 12”-20” will bite into the wave and give you power into and speed out of your turn. An epoxy board is stiff and all the energy you are putting into your turns are being translated into the board for maximum shred output!
Cons of Epoxy Boards
Durability is the major drawback of an epoxy surfboard in a river environment. We make our epoxy boards with the same layup Zack had developed for our team riders over the years…that is to say light. A lighter board is simply more fun to ride, but the lighter weight comes from less material, which ultimately means these boards can be dinged if you are not careful when you are in the river. That said it is actually quite easy to fix an epoxy surfboard with readily available materials and there are thousands of instructional resources on YouTube so you don’t have to be intimidated about the process of ding repair if you want a higher performance board.
Which Model is Right for You?
The Inflatable River Surfer was our first (and the first in the industry) river surfing specific SUP when we released it in 2015. While we are on version 2.0 now of the IRS it remains a very popular board because it is hands down the easiest board to learn on. We call the IRS the “Gateway Board” because once you get on the wave with the IRS we know you’ll be back for more. The IRS makes getting from the eddy to the wave much easier than any other board. The width, rocker profile and shape combine to make the IRS to go to first river surfboard. While originally intended to be surfed with a paddle the IRS is probably more often ridden without a paddle. If you have never river surfed before stop reading here. This is the board for you. If you are a more experienced surfer who is new to the river, this is still probably the board for you because you can learn on this board and you’ll always keep it in your quiver to loan out to friends or introduce new people to river surfing.
The inflatable SK8 was dropped late summer of 2017. It was the first, and at the time, only inflatable river surfboard on the market. The idea was to take what Zack had learned creating the SK8 and put it into an inflatable package. The ISK8 is only 5’9 and 2.75” thick and is surprisingly high performance. With 3 removable fins you can change up the ride by adding shorter fins or eliminating fins all together. The ISK8 is a favorite inflatable surfboard among kids riding less powerful waves or bigger riders on more dynamic waves. If you want a more aggressive, shortboard feel in an inflatable package then the ISK8 is the right board for you. If you weigh less than 145lbs the ISK8 is going to work well on a variety of river waves. If you weigh up to 200lbs the ISK8 can be a great board on a steeper, faster wave. For example I am about 188lbs (sounds better than 190) and I love the ISK8 on tighter, faster waves.
The Wavo is the newest offering in our surf lineup. The Wavo is based on the concept in ocean surfing of an “egg” (Wavo-Juevo…get it?). An egg is a short longboard. Friendly and easier to paddle and catch waves on than a shortboard, but more turny and fun on the wave. The Wavo has become an instant hit. At 6’2” and 3.75” thick it sits nicely between the IRS and ISK8 and has a unique shape that gives it a different ride than any other board in the lineup. Early reviews on the Wavo people find it to have enough volume to float bigger riders in small waves, but fun and responsive on the turn. Smaller team riders or those with Ninja skills like Miles or Hannah are using with a paddle as a SUP. For me I was amazed when we were testing this board that I could pop to my feet on a tiny wave and for most people the Wavo will be surfed without a paddle.
River Surfer 140
The 140 stands for 140 liters for the volume of this board. The River Surfer is the first board Zack designed when we started the company and is the foundation the entire Badfish brand is built on. The River Surfer remains the highest performance river surfing Stand Up paddleboard available. The 140 is based on the original length and width of the first boards Zack built (6’11”x31”) but this board has been through more iterations than any board in our lineup. The 2018 version is based on the board that Zack made for himself to ride and as the rest of us slowly tried it we realized this board was Z’s magnum opus. The River Surfer has a “winged” in tail that makes it turn like a much narrower board, without sacrificing the volume you need for river surfing. If you are a larger river SUP surfer or are surfing flatter waves this is the choice for you.
River Surfer 104
The 104 is a smaller version of the 140. 6’4 x 28” wide. The 104 is very popular with our smaller riders or people that want a higher performance, whippy SUP surfer and don’t mind the extra challenge getting out of the eddy.
The SK8 series are river surfing specific shortboards. They are meant to be surfed without a paddle and are the result of literally over 100 different shortboards shaped over the years by Zack. The concept was a board that ripped, but had significantly more volume than traditional surfboards to open up shortboard surfing in spots that have never been ridebale on an ocean style shape. The 5’0 SK8 has 48 liters of volume. Most surfboards around the same size are under 30 liters in volume. That added volume acts in place of the lift and speed you get from the push of an ocean wave to help the board plane out on smaller, less powerful, river waves. All of that is to say choosing the right SK8 has more to do with where you will mostly surf than your weight. For me at around 190lbs I ride the 5’0 on tighter, faster waves like Bend, RRP in Denver or Boise.
High Volume 5’0 SK8
The HV 5’0 is a truly unique shape. I often compare it to fat skis. When fat skis first came out they may have looked weird to those of us who grew up on skiing skinny, straight boards, but once you got them out on a powder day…life changing. The HV has added volume for float, but a drop rail around the tail so that you can initiate a hard turn. For many of our team riders this board becomes an instant favorite as soon as they try it, regardless of their weight. Zack describes the extra energy he gets out of turn by saying that having all the volume to push against creates more speed out of the turn. This is the board he rides almost exclusively.
I think of the 5’6 like a shortboard with a longboard’s soul. The 5’6 is 62 liters and is a great choice for bigger riders or people riding flatter waves. The 5’6 is a great choice on a lot of river waves where the additional glide makes it easier to get to and stay on the wave.
To summarize…picking the right river surfing board ultimately comes down as much to how and where you want to surf as it does your size. Consider your local conditions at least as much and you’ll end up with a board you are much happier with. Don’t be shy about reaching out to us and see you on the river!