I had done the research for weeks. I watched the videos. I read the specs. I looked at alternatives.
I went into the surf shop three different times to pick it up and put it under my arm.
And then I finally pulled the trigger.
A few friends criticized my choice of paying a hefty sum to buy a board off the rack. However, I couldn’t be happier. I love this board.
There’s something to be said for going to a shop and picking up a few boards and putting them under your arm. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, you just know when a board feels right. You don’t even have to ride it necessarily. It’s something intuitive that I have a hard time putting into words. Conversely, you can tell when a board looks or feels wrong. There’s a board hanging up in a Mexican restaurant here in San Diego and it actually hurts my eyes. Every time I look at it I almost feel physically uncomfortable. Something about it just looks so…off. However to an inexperienced surfer, it probably looks just fine.
The board I purchased, a JS Blak Box II, is made for small conditions – waves under shoulder high (although JS says it will still perform well in larger/good waves, I think you have to be extremely skilled to really harness it in larger surf). It’s a tri fin setup. The dims: 5’6” x 19” x 2 3/16.
I had outgrown my old small wave board…a very thick 5’5” quad fin with a pulled in swallowtail. It was a great board but I was slowly getting frustrated with the boxy full rails. It’s fun in mushy surf, but it was a bit difficult to manage in steeper waves like beachbreaks. I’m also not a huge fan of quads. I wanted something sleek…a classic thruster with the ability to turn more top to bottom. I didn’t want a down the line fish type board at all.
I walked into Surf Ride, picked up the board one more time, then announced to the salesperson that I wanted to buy it. I always feel so odd doing this. I’ve bought 3 shortboards from this shop and every time I feel so self conscious walking up to the guy and saying I want to buy a board. I have no idea why because they’re perfectly nice to me there. But I’ll save the psychoanalysis for another post.
Anyway, they were very helpful – they cleaned off the price stickers and all the fingerprints from shoppers, and offered to put on the tail pad I had picked out (I hate putting them on, I’m too OCD and it takes me an hour. If someone else does it I don’t care). The board didn’t come with fins though, good god. Remember when surfboards came with everything AND they threw in a leash? Those days are over. The only freebie I got was a starter set of wax…but only half bars. Is the surf industry really in such dire straits? I purchased the cheaper composite Futures vectors. I had to do a whole other set of research on my phone while at the shop…fins are turning into a complex science and you kind of have to know what you’re buying as they don’t really write any information on the packaging. The vector curve in the fins is supposed to generate speed, which is what I want in small surf.
The moment of truth came when I took the board for its inaugural surf. It was about thigh high and weak but I didn’t care. I needed to try the board out. Besides, these kinds of waves are what I bought the board for.
The board paddled great, and to my pleasant surprise it coasted into the tiny peelers effortlessly. I was hooked.
As of this writing I’ve taken it out in junky surf and good surf. The board definitely excels in smaller junk surf – in bigger waves (head high+) I feel a little undergunned and the board feels a little squirrely (although I would like to play with some different fins to see if this changes). However I already feel the magic. The board is springy and lively in the way that only fresh foam can be. I’ve already done some of the best turns I’ve ever done on a shoartboard. I couldn’t be happier. I could feel the difference from my first turn; it felt like someone had taken my other shortboard and chopped three inches off the tail. Once I got it dialed, however, I found that it’s extremely responsive, especially in the small stuff.
Best of all, I’m stoked on surfing again. I had kind of plateaued – I’d been riding the same shortboard for three years (my beloved JS Konfusion) and I think it has finally gotten a little long in the tooth…it’s still a great board but it’s not as lively anymore. It’s an unfortunate aspect of surfing….boards just don’t last. They get banged up and lose their spring as they age. Unrepaired dings gather water and weigh the board down. The difference is very apparent when you hop on a new stick. Switching to a new board has me excited to get out in any and all conditions. I really needed this – I feel like a grom again.
Update 1: Since writing this article I’ve dialed in the board a bit more. I’ve figured out that the JS website is exactly right – this board is awesome up to about 4′ waves. After that you’ll want something a bit more refined. I’ve done some of my best surfing ever on this board: it’s fast, lively, and turns on a dime. I finally took the board out into some perfect peelers – about chest to shoulder high and lining up well off the jetty. The board lit up. My friend even complimented my surfing several times and said I looked really good on the board and that it looked light and springy. I definitely recommend this shape if you’re looking for something to ride when it’s small. And let’s face it…it’s under head high about 75% of the time here in California. You can check out Surf Ride’s website to see if they have any in stock – and they ship free! And yes, I’m giving them a shout out as they have the best stock of shortboards I’ve seen here in Southern California.
Even if you don’t buy a board off the rack, if you need a little spice in your surfing life I highly encourage you to get a new board. There’s probably some shape you’ve been waiting to try out, whether it’s from the shop or the shaper down the road.
And now that I have my small wave board, I want to round out my quiver with a step up. To be continued…