You often hear kiters on the beach talking about surfboards as a solution to getting out on the water in light winds. They can be, but if you are a new kiter and just buy the first surfboard that you see you may be disappointed in its lightwind performance.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Conventional wisdom is that you want a big surfboard for lightwinds. That’s not true. What you want is a board with a flat rocker. In other words a board that when you lay it on a table the bottom is flat and the nose doesn’t curve way up. A board with a lot of rocker [ie. a lot of curve] has to push a lot of water out of the way to move forward. That requires loads of power from your kite which you don’t have in lightwind situations. So a big board with lots of rocker can be worse in light winds than a smaller board that’s flat on the bottom.
My best lightwind board is a skimboard that’s only 130 x 50cm, but it’s very flat. My next best lightwind board is a 5’4″ x 19″ surfboard. That’s a small surfboard and the size alone doesn’t scream lightwind machine, but it has a flat rocker so it performs quite well.
My biggest surfboard is 6’2″ x 18.75″ which is much bigger than my 5’4″ board, but it performs poorly in lightwinds because it has a lot of rocker. You’ll find that most big surfboards have a lot of rocker because you want a big board for big waves which have a lot of power and they can be very steep so the rocker is beneficial as a flat board would be too fast and it would pearl [ie. bury the nose].
Now some kiteboarding companies are making larger lightwind specific surfboards that are big and flat, but that’s the exception not the rule when it comes to large surfboards. So if in doubt verify the rocker yourself by laying the board on a flat surface and don’t be afraid of a smaller board that’s specifically designed for light winds.
Beware of Straps
If you are a new kiter buying a surfboard for lightwind conditions you may think that straps are essential to keep the board with you. They can be helpful as you learn to ride a directional, but be aware that ideal foot placement for riding waves is not ideal foot placement for cruising around in light winds. When winds are light you want to flatten out the board so it can plane more easily. That means moving both feet towards the nose a bit. How much depends on a lot of factors, but if you are struggling to stay upwind on your strapped surfboard consider that the straps may need to be moved or you may need to place your feet in front of the straps.
Consider a Skim
Skimboards are a bit more challenging to ride than a surfboard, but they perform better in light winds. They are also cheaper and tougher to damage. So you might find that a skimboard handles your lightwind needs and surfboard with some rocker is a good wave board. Between the two you’ll have all your bases covered.
Some lightwind surfboard options: