When it comes to surfboards, these days the options are as varied as the flavor of potato chips. Seriously. There are shortboards, longboards, step-ups, big wave boards, fun shapes, twin fins, quads, some with more rocker, some with none, some for traveling, others just for fun.

Take it from someone who learned the hard way. Choosing a board because your favorite surfer just got tubed in Fiji on one or because you like the way it looks will not only create a steep learning curve but also severely debilitate your wave count. In other words, think it through. You can thank me later.

“There are definitely a few factors to consider before making a purchase,” says Todd Kleban, owner of Banks Surf Supply in Nags Head. “Ask yourself a few questions: Have you taken a surf lesson before? And if so, what boards have you ridden?”

From a personal standpoint, the hardest pill to swallow, “Being realistic,” Kleban quips. “Are you catching waves?” Height and weight are also important factors in the board equation.

In a perfect world, a surfer wants a board for every condition and every destination, a quiver as we call it. However, starting off it’s best to keep it simple in order to grasp the basics.

Choosing a board 101 via Todd Kleban:

If you are a beginner: “Because of the shape of our waves, which often have a quick pitch, I would recommend something in the 8 foot range, something with more of fun shape.” This type of board usually falls in line somewhere between a short board and a longboard, offering control and maneuverability while giving the rider the ability to travel through sections of white water.

If you are intermediate: This is where it can get tricky. Kleban’s words of wisdom? “Don’t transition down too quickly.” Once you start catching waves, are able to successfully do a bottom turn and go down the line, i.e., get to your feet, perform a turn in the trough of the wave and travel the length of the wave, don’t go out and purchase the most high performance board you can find. “Choose something with volume but that still allows for good paddle ability,” Kleban says. “A fish-style board would be a good choice.” With loads of buoyancy and width, this board will perform in small waves and allow for maximum fun.

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If you are experienced: The sky really is the limit here. “If you are capable of riding good waves,” Kleban says, “and getting barreled, a true performance board is what you’re looking for.” Usually these boards will be thinner and offer a lot of rocker or curvature, allowing the surfer to perform maneuvers in the most critical parts of the wave.

If you want to try something different: A longboard, usually somewhere in the 8 to 12 foot range, is a board that will work in most waves, for pretty much any level of surfer. The design, with maximum deck space and a rounded nose, gives the rider a chance to catch even the smallest of waves.

Still searching? Perhaps a stand-up paddle board, skimboard or body board will do the trick. Whether you’re prone or somersaulting through the air, the most important thing is to get out there and have a good time.

Take it from local photographer and long-time surfer and contest winner Meredith Crockett, “My advice is to decide where you surf the most, what the wave condition typically is and choose a board that is going to maximize your wave catching and allow you to get as radical as your own ability.”

Surf shop staff from Corolla to Ocracoke will be able to help you with finding the perfect board for your size and abilities. Most locations also offer surf lessons, including group and private lessons.

This story originally ran in June 2016.

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