The best surfboards in 2021: options for every surfer
If you’re looking to buy a new surfboard then this article will help you explore options for every level of surfer. We feature the major surfboard categories and showcase some of the best brands and models.
In 2021 there are thousands of boards to choose from. You can select a board off the rack from your local surf shop, buy direct from a manufacturer or order from an online retailer. Alternatively, you can visit a local shaper and get a surfboard custom-designed and shaped for you.
This article provides a wish list based on experience, research and reviews from around the world.
Let us know if you think other models should be featured.
Table of Contents
The best high-performance shortboard: The Ghost by Pyzel
If you’re looking for a high-performance shortboard designed for excellent waves then you should consider the Ghost by Pyzel. Made famous by John John Florence, who used it in a range of conditions en route to winning his second world title, the Ghost balances versatility with extremely high-performance characteristics. The rounded pin-tail and extra volume up front combine to offer excellent paddle power and serious agility, without compromise.
Be sure to select the right volume for your skill level and fitness. If you’re looking for an everyday version of this design be sure to check out The Phantom model by Pyzel.
A solid performer in a range of conditions and a versatile one board quiver, the 3DV features reliable performance characteristics that will be enjoyed by average to good surfers. The 3DV has medium rails, a single to double concave, and features a thruster setup with a squash tail. If you’re looking for quad flexibility or something a little more edgy then this may not be the board for you. However, if you’re looking for solid all-round performance then the DHD 3DV will definitely fit the bill.
One report from a 3DV tester was that this board may look boring but it does what it claims to do, which is enable rail-to-rail surfing in a range of conditions.
The best step-up/big wave board: Simon Anderson DSC
Simon Anderson changed surfing history when he paddled out at perfect Bells with three fins instead of two.
While Andreson’s DSC and DSC Vee bigger wave surfboards are not exactly revolutionary, they do exude classic style and are perfect additions to any big wave charger’s quiver. When paddling into solid waves you want reliability and performance – nothing too fancy or experimental unless you’re actively seeking to explore unconventional places on the face of a wave. For most of us, we want a gun / step-up that is fast, predictable and well-crafted.
The DSC features a moderate rocker, a slight single to double concave and low, soft rails. The DSCV variant is the same but has vee in the back half of the board. Testament to the boards efficacy, the DSC was invented in 1994 and has been subtly refined ever since.
“Designed to have speed and life, but balanced with control. In bigger surf DSC sets up the wave from the first bottom turn holding a pure line with no stutter or drift, a critically important element in timing your next move higher on the wave face, or setting up the next section for a possible barrel. Usually surfed an inch or two longer and similar width and thickness as your normal all-round short board. DSCV was developed to make a bigger board in a gun shape more user friendly. The vee makes it easier to go rail to rail and carve a shorter arc on a longer rail line.”
The best fish: The Lightning Bolt Craig Hollingsworth Fish
If you’re looking for a board that will enable you to have fun when the waves get sloppy then you’ll need to add a fish to your quiver. There has been a quiet fish revolution over the past couple of decades. New technologies have revived old designs and fun, experimental shapes can be found in almost every manufacturer’s range.
We browsed shapes by many brands, ranging from the unbelievably good-looking Rusty 419 Fish to Rob Machado’s high-tech Seaside Fish, made by Firewire. However, when considering surfboards of desire that combine retro fun with modern tech then we couldn’t look past Lightning Bolt’s Craig Hollingsworth Fish. Who wouldn’t want one of these on a rack in their home?
The model we like is the 5’10” fish with yellow airbrush.
Explore the history of Lightning Bolt in this 17-minute documentary.
1 – 3 foot / small waves
Discover videos and reviews of Craig Hollingsworth Fish – coming soon
The Lost Rocket was a game changer. Suddenly there was an option for surfers who didn’t want to emulate professionals by riding wafer-thin 5’11” thrusters. A bit more volume upfront gave us paddle power, yet some clever tucks and pinches meant that the board could turn. Even pro surfers took notice and started to ride hybrids when the waves weren’t perfect.
Like many hybrid boards, the Rocket Redux has a flat rocker and extended tail curve. This makes it easy to paddle and bouyant enough to get you across fat sections, yet responsive enough to smack those oncoming lips as if you were riding a high-performance shortboard. The rocket is energetic and precise. Some surfers might prefer the feel of a conventional shortboard but many will delight in the grip offered by that wide diamond tail and the flexibility to try out a quad configuration when the waves get more critical.
Available in Lost Surfboard’s carbon wrap technology, you can’t go wrong with a Rocket in your quiver.
Intermediate to Advanced surfers
2 – 6 foot, versatile across all conditions
Discover videos and reviews of Rocket Redux – coming soon
We all need something fat and freaky on our surfboard rack. If you’re not quite ready to buy a longboard then you should invest in a stubby little monster for small wave fun. You may even be surprised when you find yourself taking the groveller out in good surf – usually they are no slouch. The best thing about having a nugget-style board is that you’ll surf more often – and when you do surf in mush you’ll actually have fun. Taking a performance shortboard out in sloppy onshore conditions is often a mental health risk.
We chose to feature the Firewire Twice Baked because it is ridiculously wide, ridden unbelievably short, and yet it offers some real performance potential, even in terrible surf. The width means you can paddle into anything and if you place your foot way back on the tail you’re able to smack the lip better than any of the regular shortboarders or fish-riders in sub-par conditions. In fact, you’ll be the only person surfing with finesse when the waves get bad. Having been a big fan of the Potatonator and others in the Firewire Potato family, the Twice Baked is a perfect evolution for those wanting both performance and fun.
The board boasts surprisingly high-performance characteristics. Medium rails, single to double concave, and Timbertek construction, which is lightweight and durable.
One of our reviewers commented: “This board makes small waves great again.” 🤔
Beginner to Advanced
1 – 4 ft – ride it as a quad in bigger surf
Discover videos and reviews of Twice Baked – coming soon.
The best mid-length / mini-mal: The Scorpion by Donald Takayama
Mid-length boards are not everyone’s cup of tea. Longboard purists scorn them and shortboarders resent how fast mid-length boardriders paddle. However, there is a place in the lineup for mini-mals, especially such beautiful creations as the Scorpion by legendary shaper, Donald Takayama.
A real dark horse, the Scorpion handles both small surf and big, clean waves. This is no beginner board, although beginners can use it. This is a high-performance creation that enables superhuman paddling and the drawing of sleek lines on the face of good waves. Get barrelled, do a turn and paddle back out before anyone registers what just happened.
The ultimate mini-noserider! Surf the board from the nose or turn on a dime. Probably one of the fastest mid-length boards out there, now with controlled maneouverability. Donald first came up with this design in the mid 60’s. It has been slightly re-worked and now is basically a smaller version of the Erik Sommer Model. Coming in lengths from 6’8” to 8’, this board will absolutely fly when ridden on the nose. With a true “pin” tail and a 2 + 1 fin setup, this board will perform the tightest of turns when pushed to it’s limits. An excellent alternative for someone looking for a shorter ‘longboard’.
Beginner to Advanced
1 – 6 ft
Discover videos and reviews of the Scorpion – coming soon
Firewire have a history of creating some exceptionally popular longboard shapes. The Wingnut and TJ Pro are two of the most popular models. FIrewire’s Timbertek construction lends itself well to bigger boards because they’re lighter than PU – and durable enough to take a beating. The Gem model is a collaboration between master shaper Dan Mann and 3X World Longboard Champion Taylor Jensen.
It is your all-round longboard that features both high-performance characteristics and the ability to hit cruise control for less than perfect conditions.
Earlier this year Taylor asked Dan to consider a ‘one board in the trunk’ option for long boarders who want both trim and turns; he was essentially asking Dan for a design that would land somewhere between his TJPro and his TJEveryday.
Dan’s response was an intriguing intersection of shortboard style concaves with a longboard style outline and the same fin placements that Taylor likes in all his boards.
He and Taylor decided to call this model The Gem because of how valuable it is – a one board quiver for 9 foot plus board riders that can trim on the nose as easily as it can carve on rail.
The diamond tail isn’t a coincidence. It’s a Gem.
Intermediate to Advanced
0 – 7 ft / solid overhead waves
Discover videos and reviews of The Gem – coming soon
A decade ago people would’ve laughed at soft top boards being featured in a list such as this. But companies like Catch Surf have thoroughly rewritten the books on what is possible with a soft board. Adapting features from pro surfer signature boards, they’ve created soft tops that are not only feasible alternatives to your normal surfboard but that actually ride incredibly well.
The 54 Special boasts a thruster setup with a single concave entry and vee through the tail. What differentiates it from the soft top boards you’ll find in your local toy shop is construction and materials. The board features a dual composite core and three maple stringers with a HDPE bottom and fully removable fins.
Feedback from a reviewer was: I purchased this board so that I could surf between the flags (in the swimming area) but ended up using it even when the points began to work. It is fast and fluid and fits on the back seat of my car.
The 54 Special has a deep entry concave and vee out the tail; creating a nicely rockered rail with a flat center line. This provides excellent speed down the line, but super-responsive turning once the rail is engaged. The 54 Special is a step forward in design and performance that pushes the boundaries of what is possible on a soft surfboard. Big things do come in small packages.
From Catch Surf
Beginner to Advanced
1 – 4 ft
Discover videos and reviews of 54 Special X Jamie O’Brien Pro – coming soon