Most surfers who reach an intermediate skill level will decide to purchase a high-performance shortboard. Choosing the right board can be daunting, especially when you are parting with around $1000 for the privilege – and you can’t take it back if it doesn’t feel right.
Surfboards usually don’t feel perfect the first time you ride them. Some boards you grow to love while some end up collecting dust, or get sold for a loss. There are many variables that can influence how well a surfboard rides. Fins are a big one. Many modern shortboards feature five fin plug options, giving us the freedom to experiment with different configurations. However, very few boards are excellent both as a quad and a thruster. Even if you get the configuration right you have to choose the optimal fin size and navigate the increasingly expensive world of fin systems to get your shortboard tuned for your specific weight, height and stance.
So, it’s clear that buying a shortboard is no easy task. This guide is designed to help you understand some of the available options and to give you some food for thought. It’s also really fun looking at surfboards. I’m sure we all dream about having garages full of boards like Mick Fanning (see video below), but the reality is that most of us need to choose wisely.
How to choose your high-performance shortboard
Some considerations when selecting a new surfboard include:
Price – what can you afford? Bear in mind that a performance shortboard is going to be more likely to break or get damaged than a fun board.
Build quality – are you going for traditional PU or opting for Epoxy or even Carbon Fibre materials.
Volume – be realistic! Are you really going to enjoy a wafer-thin board? Do you have the fitness to paddle into good waves on a 27-litre board?
Brand – how important is a big name surf brand to you? Are you happy choosing a local shaper and getting a custom board? How about a cheap, factory board manufactured in China?
Availability in your location – will you purchase online? What are the delivery fees and risks of damage in transit? What does your local surf shop stock? Can they order in a specific model?
Fin system – do you already have FCS fins, or FCS2? Would you consider a switch to Futures? It’s worthwhile sticking to the fin system you already own.
Your own skill level – you’re probably not Kelly Slater or Filipe Toledo (if you are, hey Kelly and Filipe – we’d like to interview you!). Professional surfers literally surf for a living. They spend hours each day paddling and riding waves. Most of us squeeze sessions in when we can. Matching a Julian Wilson signature model with a weekend warrior is a surefire path to disappointment.
The last point is important. Many people buy a performance shortboard before they have developed the requisite skills. As a result, you see surfers in awkward stances, unable to manage the speed, struggling to paddle, not making the drop. It’s ugly. A much better idea is to get enough volume and increase skills until you feel frustrated with your current board.
However, when you’re ready to upgrade then it’s time to review our list of 8 of the best high-performance shortboards.
1. Slater Designs Sci-Fi
It’s strange to think that the Sci-Fi is now a vintage model in the Slater Designs line-up of boards. We wrote a review when it was new and found it a fickle but exciting board to ride. It is a true performance shortboard in the sense that it loves good waves and delivers an electric surfing experience.
Choose the Sci-Fi if you want excitement, performance and versatility.
2. JS Monsta 2020 Squash Tail HYFI
The JS Monsta 2020 is pretty much the opposite of a board like the Sci-fi. The conventional shape makes it a great all-rounder for everyone from weekend warriors to professional surfers. It may look a little traditional but a decade’s worth of R&D has been invested in refining every detail to produce a board that is predictable and forgiving, yet super high performance.
Used by Parko, Ace Buchan, Mikey, Ryan, Dusty, Julian and Owen you can rest assured that this board suits all styles of surfing and can comfortable handle almost anything you throw at it.
Choose the Monsta if you’re after predictability and performance.
3. Black and White
A classic board that has a low entry rocker, stays flat under the midsection with some kick out the back. Designed to be ridden thinner and longer than usual and suitable for most conditions. Dane Reynolds uses it on point breaks around Santa Barbara.
Choose the Black & White if you’re looking to draw clean lines on good waves.
4. Thing V2
Stretch surfboards were ahead of their time when it came to innovative fin configuration options and experimenting with new technologies. We reviewed the old F4 more than a decade ago. The Thing was designed to take characteristics from the Fletcher 4-fin and bring everyday surfers an all-round workhorse of a board that will perform well regardless of the conditions. The Thing is versatile, offering a 5-fin setup, continuous rocker and full-ish nose for paddle power. You really don’t need any other board.
Choose the Thing if you’re looking for the perfect one board quiver.
4. DX1 Phase 3
The DX1 quickly established itself as a go-to board for several professional surfers including Joel Parkinson and Jack Freestone. It was selected as the #1 board by Julian Wilson in Stab’s “Stab in the Dark” testing and has gained a global following ever since.
This board has a medium to low rail which means fast transitions and a more bite-y feel. The rocker is low and leads to a flat midsection, designed to generate plenty of speed. This is a proven all-rounder that will perform in lumpy onshore wedges and perfect Bali barrels.
Choose the DX1 if you’re after tight turns and plenty of speed.
The Alley is a beast of a performance shortboard. Designed to be ridden as short and low volume as you can handle, the board will thrive in great conditions. If your everyday surf is average just get a model with a few more liters underfoot and you’ll enjoy the responsiveness and tight turning circle.
The Rusty Blackboard is a sleek creature that handles late drops and critical turns. Suitable for good waves, it has a dependable foil and outline with added volume to support paddling. The board is constructed using EPOLY technology, which combines a traditional PU black with Epoxy glassing – perhaps the best of both worlds.
Choose the Blackbird if you’re a charger who plans to get barrelled.
7. Sabo Taj
A self-proclaimed quiver-killer, the Sabo Taj is an impressive creation, brought to us by Taj Burrow and Matt Biolos. The board is a refined rocket, fuller and flatter in the nose than you might expect in a performance shortboard, yet tapered to a rounded tail that provides fluidity and seamless rail transitions. The raised tail rocker will provide plenty of options for those wanting to get airborne while the rest of us will simply enjoy the speed and drive of the single to double concave.
Choose this board for all-round fun and performance in virtually any condition. A truly versatile option.
8. Mad Cat 2020
Clay Marzo rides the Swallow tail version of the Mad Cat, which includes the thruster and quad options. Whichever you go for, you’ll find that this performance shortboard won’t let you down, whether you’re surfing teeny slop or heaving Western Australian slabs.
The SUPERtech construction features a carbon strip along the length of the board for extra strength. It’s an enticing board that promises paddle power, speed and cat-like reflexes.