The Importance of Board Choice for Surfers in Chronic Pain

Patients in pain often report a particular movement or activity as aggravating. It is important to remain as active as possible when dealing with an injury, however athletes must also listen to their body. As a general rule of thumb, if something hurts, then try to back off of that activity or movement to allow the body to heal. However, determining the painful movement and working to avoid it while still maintaining a high, yet pain free, level of activity is a critical aspect in overcoming chronic pain.

Surfboard design is a constant give-and-take between speed and control. In general, boards with more volume have more speed but are less responsive. There are additional aspects of board design such as the template, tail shape, rocker, and bottom contour designs that will all factor into how the board performs with regards to speed vs. control (see pictures above for some examples). To keep it simple, as a general rule of thumb, picking boards with more volume can be a boon for any surfer dealing with chronic pain.

The lack of inherent speed on a shortboard means that the surfer will need to generate speed on a wave through the fins by constantly turning the board. This active style of surfing results in a high level of kinetic forces moving through the body as the rider must constantly move the board up and down the face of the wave, compressing and rotating their bodies as they transition the board from rail to rail with each turn to generate speed. This increases the risk of aggravating a painful movement and will result in a decrease in performance if you are not able to move fluidly due to pain.

By contrast, boards that lean further towards speed require less aggressive movement from the surfer. And speed is everything! This requires the rider to instead pick a line—or angle—that they wish to place the board that will allow them to generate the desired speed from the wave. Performing more vertical, top-to-bottom turns that involve the compression and rotation of the body and spine is inherently harder on this style of board because of the lack of control. What results is a smoother “high line” style of surfing with a generally more upright stance that focuses on finesse rather than explosive power. This means there will not be as much force going through the joints and muscles of the body, and less instances to potentially aggravate an injury. Riding a longboard, upping your current board volume, or getting on a board specifically shaped for speed can be a great way to remain in the water, sustain a high level of performance, and stay pain-free while simultaneously maintaining the path to recovery.