Skimboards are specifically and technically designed for a certain form of skimming, therefore there isn't really a one-size-fits-all board. One might be great for some styles of skimboarding but it may not be optimal for another.
Sure you could just grab any ol' board and hit the water and it will probably move, but it's abilities will be limited and therefore so will yours, so if you are serious about skimming, you should also be serious about the performance of your board.
The first thing you must determine before you run out and buy a board is what type of skimming you will be doing - and where. Obviously this will depend greatly on where you live, but if you plan to travel to other skim spots, you may want to consider a couple different skimboards.
There are essentially two skimboarding styles:
At the moment, wave skimming is by far the most popular, especially in the media, but flatland is quickly catching up.
Neither is better than the other, it's just your preference. Wave riding is similar to surfing, while flatland is more like skateboarding.
Once you determine what style of skimboarding you will do, you will know what type of skimboard you will need. As there are two styles of skimboarding, there are also two styles of skimboards.
Foamie: Foam skimboards are the most technical and expensive skimboards. These boards are made specifically for wave skimming. Many different shapes and styles have been tried throughout the years and now they have been narrowed down to just a few shapes that are optimal for this type of skimming. You won't see a lot of variation in shape, but there are still a lot of other variable factors.
Even though they are called "foamies" because of their foam core, they are also made from a variety of materials including fiberglass or carbon fiber and resin.
The materials that are used to make these boards affect the weight, speed and flexibility of the board. Of course every skimmer, no matter what level, has their own personal preference, but there are recommendations to consider based upon your ability.
See the Foamie section for more information.
Woody: Woodies are made out of, yup, you guessed it smarty pants - wood. Wooden skimboards are designed for flatland or inland skimboarding. They are excellent for sandy beaches and sliding on rails. They are considerably heavier and thinner than foamies - definitely not good for waves. Just as woodies don't perform well in waves, foamies are not durable enough for flatland and rails.
Wooden skimboards also come in a wide variety of shapes, weight, length and rocker. This is because flatland skimming is very diverse.
The style of board that is best for you will depend on how you want to skim. Do you want to glide far and fast? If so then you will want a longer, thinner (both in thickness and width) board with very little rocker and side rails that curve down. A board like this shouldn't be "poppy" (see below) because that will slow you down, but it will cut fast through the water.
Or do you want to mostly do tricks and hit up rails? Then you would want a shorter, thicker and wider board with lots of rocker. Rocker is what make a board "pop" (see description below), which is what you want for tricks.
See the Woody section for more information.
When choosing a skimboard, whether woody or foamie, there are a few main characteristics you will need to consider - and no, it has nothing to do with who rides what; just because your favorite skimmer rides one brand/style, doesn't mean that will be the right board for you...c'mon, let's keep it real people.
Like everything else, the importance of the following factors will depend on the type of skimboarding you will do and your skim level (remember - be honest with yourself!):
Determining the right size for you can be a toughie. But it doesn't have to be a complicated math problem: Q: If I have 10 ice cubes and you have 11 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof? A: Purple, because aliens don't wear hats (ok busted... yes I stole this from somewhere on the internet, but it makes me giggle every time; I just couldn't resist the temptation).
First things first.
Longer boards are faster. Shorter boards are slower. Wider boards are also faster. Narrow boards are slower.
With me so far? Wanna know why? Well I'm gonna tell you anyway. The more surface area the board covers, the more water it has contact with, the more push it gets. Simple right?
So does this mean that you should go out and get the biggest board possible - (insert annoying buzzer sound here) Wrong! In fact it is quite the opposite.
While speed is a desired quality, it is maneuverability that is (usually) highly coveted. Bigger boards are more difficult to move while smaller boards are quick to react. Bigger boards can get you out to bigger, farther waves; smaller boards will get you to the smaller, closer shore breaks.
Next, examine how fast you run. Obviously if you run faster, you can get away with a smaller board. On the other end, the slower you run, the faster (aka, bigger) your board needs to be. Again, be honest with yourself. Nobody cares, but your riding performance will suffer if you pretend to be something you're not - or at least not yet. Some people even prefer to run slower so they expend less energy and they can ride longer. Your call.
Ok, so now you have an idea of bigger vs. smaller skimboards, let's look at your height and weight (don't worry, no one's judging). Most board companies have a weight/height range recommendation for their board sizes and for the most part they are very reasonable. But their sizing is very broad to cover a wide range of skimming conditions and styles.
So you might find yourself in a couple size ranges. Then what? Well, take into consideration everything we have just gone over and keep reading the rest of the skimboard characteristics (yup, keep reading, I know it's a lot, but it'll do you good and maybe save you money in the long run - "skim" it if you must).
Once you have all the information and you have an idea of what/where/how you'll be skimming, you should be able to determine which size category is most appropriate for you (sorry...I just can't make that decision for you!).
Bottom line is, go with the smallest board that fits with your height and weight range, that you can easily handle and will get you out to the waves you want to hit with enough speed or do the tricks you want with minimal effort.
Got it? Good. Moving on...
2. Speed vs. Maneuverability:
Speed is usually a desired feature in skimboards, but not so much that maneuverability is compromised.
Wave skimmers need speed to get to the desired wave or they will miss it completely. Flatland skimmers want speed to ride far and fast with lots of power for tricks and getting over rails. Speed is more important with wave skimming so hence foamie boards are the fastest.
Usually longer, wider boards are the fastest but they are very difficult to move quickly so the rider would mainly stick to nice smooth, soul-surfer style carves (and maybe that's what you're after). Short, narrow boards are slower but they are very responsive making them ideal for executing sharp, quick tricks. Neither one is better than the other, just make sure to make your selection based on your preferred skim style.
If you are just learning to skim, I suggest sticking to a bigger board to start with. It will get you out to more waves (aka, more rides for you) and provides more stability (aka, less bailing). If you are more advanced and capable of getting out to the desired waves easily, then maybe it's time to start thinking about a smaller board.
Now let's throw a wrench in everything we've covered above. With regards to wave skimming, there is one other consideration. Bigger, faster, more powerful waves will give you LOTS of speed (yippee!). Smaller, weak waves, well... won't.
So here is where the above advice differs a little. If you want to go faster in small, weak waves - go for a slightly bigger board or you'll never even get to it. Naturally if your in a spot where you can hit a big powerful wave, go for a slightly smaller board that maneuvers better, cause you already got the speed.
Aka "pop". There is quite a lot of variety in rocker and, again, it really depends on what you want to do and where you want to skim, but in the end it comes down to personal preference.
Most wooden boards curve up equally at each end so that both the nose and the tail kick up like a skateboard. This also creates a very "poppy" (bouncy) board making it ideal for tricks.
Foam boards tend to curve up a lot at the nose and just very slightly at the tail. This allows the rider to cut easily through the water with good control. The degree of this curve varies. The greater the rocker, the slower the board is but it will react better. Less rocker means a faster board, but responsiveness is sacrificed.
Skimboards must be light enough to practically float (skim) on the water, but heavy enough that they don't fly away in the wind. Lighter boards are better for waves so they glide far and fast without sinking, while heavier boards are preferred for flatland as they are more durable and easier to control.
Slightly flexible skimboards are less prone to snapping like stiff boards, but they are slower, whereas stiffer skimboards can cut super fast through the water, but can be rather sensitive to snapping. Again, this is mainly a personal preference based on your riding level and style.
Think ya gots tha skillz to make your own stick? Alrighty then... here's some step-by-step instructions and various ways to make either a wooden or a foamie skimboard to get ya goin'.
After reading all this, I highly suggest checking out forums, get out skimming with other skimmers, ask lots of questions and try all sorts of different skimboards before you make a decision.
Find out what YOU like and don't like. Nothing worse than droppin' few bills on a new stick only to find out after riding it that you don't like it.
Once you've considered all the factors above (and I know I keep saying this) it really comes down to personal preference and riding style, so I suggest you find out what that is (if you don't already know) before making a decision.
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