Cristian Portelli helps choose the board that best suits your surfing level and explains the main qualities to look for
In Europe we’re just a few months away from welcoming winter and most of the continent is preparing for the arrival of cold weather, but in Lanzarote the arrival of this season is synonymous with good weather and the epic waves that make the island the best place on the continent to surf, thanks to its magnificent weather conditions and the arrival of the trade winds.
For many, surfing a wave off Famara beach at sunset or watching the sunrise from La Santa’s “izquierda” swell on a surfboard is a dream come true. To help those who want to take their first steps in this sport and to learn how to choose the best board to use at any time, we talked to Cristian Portelli, a surfer who currently competes in national and international events.
Cristian clarifies that “choosing the shape, size and material of the right surfboard will depend on the rider’s level, body build and the size of the wave.“
For our first day of surfing Cristian shows us a board that’s 8 feet (2.5 metres) long, 25 cm wide and 3 cm thick. This is a board with a lot of buoyancy to help you keep your balance when you’re on it and made of cork to prevent hard hits.
After the first few sessions and after you’ve gained enough confidence, the next board is a 7.2-foot board of the same material and width as the first one, but smaller in size. This means that less paddling effort is required, although some stability is lost.
Finally, before moving on to a fibre board, it’s time for the 7.0- or 6.6-foot cork boards. This board has a slightly different shape, changing from a rounded tip to a narrower one, which makes it easier to make the first turns.
Once you have learned to master the 6.6-foot cork board, it is time to switch to fibre boards. In this phase of the learning process, you return to using 7.2-foot boards, but as mentioned above, boards made of fibre. From this point on, the size of the board is gradually reduced, a process that will progressively increase your speed and movement capacity. Once you’ve passed this point, you’ve completed your beginner phase.
Famara Beach and La Garita (Arrieta) are the two places most chosen by surf schools to teach both older and younger riders during that initial period of familiarization. In addition to the sessions in the sea, exercises are also taught on the beach to explain the technique and to share some tips before immersing yourself in that experience with the waves.
At this level you will already have a 5.6-foot fibreboard, chosen by surfers for days when there are medium sized waves. This will have good buoyancy and a swallow tail, which helps the board not to slide so much and to grip better on the wave wall. Portelli points out that this is the most used board model in Lanzarote all year round.
Here riders move on to 5.4-foot fibreboards filled with epoxy, a material that provides buoyancy, stability and rigidity. This board model is used for small waves because it is light and allows you to make turns with less effort. It is not suitable for riding big waves because it isn’t strong enough and means you’d lose control of the movement. This board is the one used by Cristian Portelli for most of the competitions he enters.
At this level we’re looking for boards to surf waves of 2 to 3 meters high, the so-called “Step Up” boards that measure 6.0 feet long. Here we’re talking about a board that’s slightly narrower and thicker than the previous models. It’s very stable, grips the wall of the wave very well and doesn’t require much effort to paddle. In addition, it’s made with more layers of fibre which gives it greater endurance and prevents it from breaking when falling off a wave in the middle of a series. In fact, the tail is rounded, precisely to better withstand the size of the waves.
The main thing to highlight about this type of board is that it’s a slightly heavier model and designed that way to prevent the wind moving it too easily. This type of board is the ideal choice for spots like “El Quemao” or La Santa’s “derecha” swell when the waves reach an optimal size.
For the bravest riders, who dare to surf waves bigger than 3 metres, a special board that combines strength, speed and grip is needed. Cristian shows us an 8-foot board with more volume than the other models. It’s made with as many layers of fibre as possible to withstand the force of the waves during long underwater rides.
This type of board isn’t designed for fast turns, but rather for finding the tube or escaping from the wave. The beak shape at the tip and tail gives a better grip and makes paddling easier. Portelli tells us that in Lanzarote this board is used to surf La Santa’s “derecha” and the “Bajas de Famara“.