Choosing the right surfboard with Dutchie Surf Designs

A perfect wave offloads somewhere in the Southern Cape, South Africa. What surfboard would you choose to ride on this gem? Photo: Gero Lilleike
A perfect wave offloads somewhere in the Southern Cape, South Africa. What surfboard would you choose to ride on this gem? Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

So, it’s the end of the month and you’re standing in your local surf shop drooling over the slick new surfboards before your eyes and the time has finally come to put your hard earned cash on the counter for a new surfboard, but what do you do? Finding the right surfboard is like finding the right women, it’s flat-out darn difficult but thankfully not impossible. It’s out there, somewhere. There are so many options to consider but what type of surfboard will be best suited to you and your surfing ability? Ultimately, the decision lies with you and you’ll have to consider many factors before making your final decision. To get the ball rolling, you should take the time to think about what type of surfer you want to be, what waves you will be riding and how you want to ride them. That way, you will most likely choose the right surfboard that will satisfy your surfing needs. It’s also useful to remember that there are no hard and fast rules when choosing a surfboard and this is because everyone approaches surfing in their own unique way and everyone will have their own personal preferences. The key however, is to choose a surfboard that will help you achieve your surfing goals while also providing the most enjoyment and satisfaction while you frolic in the surf .

For the sake of finding some answers, I managed to pick the brain of master Cape Town surfboard shaper, Dutchie, of Dutchie Surf Designs to find out more about choosing the right surfboard. Dutchie has been shaping surfboards for over 14 years with an excess of 15 000 surfboards behind his name. With a background in graphic design and an enthusiastic passion for surfing, Dutchie has become highly respected in the surfing industry for his quality workmanship and professional approach to surfboard shaping and his surfboards are being ridden in just about every ocean across the world. Dutchie is a man with a wealth of surfing knowledge and I was eager to step into his office and learn more about these things us humans ride so “gently on the surface of the sea”.

Dutchie hard at work in his den. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Dutchie hard at work in his den. Photo: Gero Lilleike

“Surfing these days is all about volume and your height, weight and surfing level is super important. Surfing also requires timing, balance and rhythm, and like golf, surfing is very organic in that it’s impossible to duplicate a golf shot and no waves are ever the same. The first thing a customer needs to understand is that there are different kinds of surfboards for different kinds of surf and they must decide how much volume they are comfortable with and then look at what type of surfboard is suitable for the waves they will be surfing” explains Dutchie.

Some things to think about before you break the bank

Experience – Are you new to surfing or are you an intermediate or advanced surfer looking for a more challenging ride? Your level of experience will influence your choice in surfboards.

Fitness – The board you choose to ride should be suited to your level of fitness. After all, there’s no point trying to surf a high performance shortboard if you can’t paddle it into waves let alone stand on it.

Body Weight – The dimensions of your surfboard must be suitable for your height and weight.

Waves – The type of board you choose to ride must be suitable for the waves you intend to surf.

Surfboard Dimensions – Optimum surfboard dimensions will give you maximum enjoyment in the surf.

Budget – How much are you willing to spend on a surfboard?


Surfboards for Beginner Surfers

Never surfed before? Well, you’re in for a big surprise as Dutchie puts surfing fitness in perspective perfectly, “The ocean, this unknown element, covers most of the earth’s surface and somehow we feel connected to it. Whenever you see people connect with the ocean, like fisherman and surfers, they don’t let go” explains Dutchie. “There’s a very strong bond to a very powerful energy source that we don’t really know anything about. The first thing you must know about surfing in general is that you are dealing with the ocean. Surfing is quite possibly the most physically demanding sport in the world because it requires so many different elements like flexibility, muscle strength, power and resilience and when you paddling out, you actually paddling against the force of the ocean, so it’s a really physically demanding sport. ”

If you are a complete newbie to surfing, you might want to keep your money warm in your pocket before buying a new surfboard that you may only ride once in a blue moon. Many beginners buy a brand new surfboard only to realise that surfing is not as easy as they initially thought and as a result that surfboard eventually finds its way to the bottom of the junk pile in the garage. If you have surfed a couple of times, you may want to weigh up your commitment to surfing before splashing out on a new surfboard. It might be in your best interest to ‘test ride’ different kinds of surfboards to get a feel for what you enjoy riding, so you may want to visit your local surfboard rental shop to do this before buying your very own surfboard.

What type of surfboard do you want you want to ride? Photo: Dutchie Surf Designs
What type of surfboard do you want you want to ride? Photo: Dutchie Surf Designs

For beginner surfers however, the best surfboards to learn on are longboards and funboards, preferably made of foam, which helps prevent injury while trying to perfect the basics of surfing. As a general rule of thumb, if you are learning to surf, start with a surfboard that has lots of volume for flotation and stability and as your confidence increases you can choose to ride something with less volume and then eventually as your skill level and confidence soars, you can shave more volume off and attempt riding shortboards which typically have less volume, but require more skill and ability to ride them properly .

Surfboards, such as your longboards and funboards, are best suited for learning because of their forgiving length, width and thickness which makes standing and surfing on a wave that much easier for just about any type of surfer. The theory is simple. The longer, thicker and wider the board, the easier it will be to paddle into waves and the easier it will be to actually stand. Longboards however can be unforgiving in terms of handling the board in the surf and are less performance orientated than a shortboard.

“Hybrid Funboards and your Mini Malibu and bigger Fish designs are very much beginner orientated and these boards are designed specifically for flotation, stability and finding your feet and are popular choices for first-time surfboard buyers” explains Dutchie.

If you simply have to buy a surfboard but are unsure about whether surfing is for you, then you may want to consider buying a cheaper second-hand surfboard until you decide whether surfing is something you want to actively pursue. A good second-hand surfboard can go a long way in teaching you the basics of surfing and it won’t be the end of the world if you ding it a couple of times while you learn to surf. However, if you are buying a second-hand surfboard, make sure that it’s in reasonable condition, meaning that it shouldn’t be severely damaged and shouldn’t be full of dings that will take on water and destroy the board over time. If second-hand is not your thing, then by all means, go big and arm yourself with a new surfboard. In the wise words of Dutchie, “There is no such thing as a cheap, good surfboard and no good surfboards are cheap”.

Gero Lilleike digs his rail into a Cape beachie. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Gero Lilleike digs his rail into a Cape beachie. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Surfboards for Intermediate Surfers

Once you have spent sufficient time in the water coming to grips with the basics of surfing and your confidence and ability has improved, you may want to explore new surfboard territory to replace your trusty piece of drift wood that made you love surfing in the first place. As an intermediate surfer, you have probably started learning the basics of wave riding by linking maneuvers together on a wave and you will in all probability be ready to try shorter boards with less volume, but with the advantage of more maneuverability and speed.

Apart from high performance shortboards, the intermediate surfer has various surfboard shapes to experiment with, whether it be the longboard, shortboard, funboard, hybrid, fish or retro, the world is your oyster. However, your final decision should ultimately be based on your surfing ability and the type of waves you are surfing.

Not surprisingly, Dutchie offers sound advice on how to harness your ability and fine tune your wave riding skills, “You need to learn the ocean. The number one problem for people who struggle to progress in surfing is positioning. Every wave has a point A and a point B, where it peaks and where it fades or closes out, and once you position yourself in the right place and catch the wave, the line you ride between those points, and how you approach that wave, that is surfing. Your surfing ability is therefore really important and as you get better, you squeeze that volume out and refine your surfing.”


Surfboards for Advanced Surfers

I’ll go all in and say that an advanced surfer can ride a wave on just about anything, even a plank. Advanced surfers are another breed entirely and if you are lucky enough to be one, you will most likely be throwing yourself into the biggest, most powerful waves on the planet at the drop of a hat, with a fat smile on your face. Dutchie elaborates, “The beginning of advanced surfing is when you starting to control your environment in the ocean. In other words, you start surfing much bigger and more powerful waves. You are handling that, not just surviving, but actually playing in those waves. It’s like when you paddle out and there’s a 8-foot Speedies G-Land freight train coming at you and there’s a guy standing so far back, in the most dangerous position you have ever seen, and you don’t understand why the guy has a big smile on his face while everyone else is running for hills. That’s when you start to master the ocean.”

The high-performance surfboards that advanced surfers ride on a regular basis are designed with a specific purpose and wave in mind and the high level of surfing these guys engage in on any given day is something us amateurs will never comprehend. But one thing remains consistent throughout, no matter what type of surfer you are, it all comes down to what you enjoy, the wave you are surfing and how you going to surf that wave.

An unknown surfer rains buckets at the  long-gone Lookout Superbank in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. Photo: Gero Lilleike
An unknown surfer rains buckets at the long-gone Lookout Superbank in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Surfboards for Big Wave Surfers

Talk about pulling out the big guns! Always remember, if you want to run with the big dogs, don’t piss like a puppy! In big surf, your choice of equipment becomes critical and apart from your surfing ability, it’s the only thing that stands between you and the towering beast that’s about to break on your head. For this very reason, big-wave surfers need to be meticulous about what surfboard they choose to take into big surf.

Every big wave spot in the world will require a specific type of surfboard suited to the wave. Big wave surfboards are commonly known as ‘Big Wave Guns’ or ‘Paddle-in Guns’ and generally range from anywhere between 7 and 11-feet in length, depending on the wave you are surfing. Big Wave Guns are typically long and narrow with healthy volume and exhibit a pointed nose and tail. These typical ‘Big Wave Gun’ characteristics are attributed to the fact that big waves move considerably faster than smaller waves and the time a surfer has to make the drop onto the face of a big wave is significantly reduced and Big Wave Guns therefore allow the surfer to negotiate the critical drop-in section of the wave while generating enough speed to outrun a large breaking wave. Big Wave Guns are not necessarily designed for maneuverability but are more suitable for holding your line and hanging on for dear life. Although, the smaller Guns can be used for doing turns on the face of a big wave, but only if the wave will allow it.

In the words of Laird Hamilton, if you are “surfing in waves too big to paddle into”, then you may want to consider riding a tow-in board which are generally in the six to seven-foot range and are a bit heavier than your average shortboard which helps with stability while flying down the face of a hefty wave. Tow-in boards are usually fitted with foot straps which help the surfer maintain control of speed and chop on the face of the wave. If you plan on tackling big waves, make sure that you are using the right equipment for the wave and conditions and be sure to speak to local surfers and surfboard shapers to get the inside scoop on the best equipment to use, your life may depend on it.

The process of buying a new surfboard may seem daunting considering the vast array of options available on the market, but don’t let that deter you from your mission to find your perfect board. With a guy like Dutchie around you can be sure that you’ll get the best results. Strive to find the surfboard that is best suited to your ability, height, weight and the waves you will be riding. If in doubt, make contact with a reputable surfboard shaper, like Dutchie, and discuss the various options available to you. True to form, here is some parting advice from the legend that is Dutchie on how to choose the right surfboard, “Go to credible people and do your research because the guy who is selling that surfboard to you in the surf shop, he doesn’t have a fucking clue about a surfboard, the shaper does, he’s the doctor, the other guy is the pharmacist and you can get misdiagnosed with the pharmacist.” Most importantly, whatever you do , keep paddling and persevere with your surfing, the ocean has many gifts to give, you just need to make sure that you are there to receive them.

It was was all barrels and fun at the old trusty Lookout Superbank in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
It was all barrels and fun at the old trusty Lookout Superbank in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

The Steve Erwin Interview – The Wave Hunter

The Kalk Bay Express by Steve Erwin
The Kalk Bay Express by Steve Erwin

Meet Steve Erwin! Now I know what you thinking. Steve Erwin, the crocodile hunter? No, Steve Erwin, the surfer, the legend. As the fires of industry burned on in Johannesburg, a young soul stirred. Having tasted the fruit the ocean bears, the waves beckoned him closer, and closer. Steve discovered surfing, and this jewel of a find has not only made Steve who he is today but has also led to the creation of some pretty cool surf art and shirt designs. Steve’s a talented man and I wanted to find out more about what he does and how he spreads his paint.

[GL] So Steve, tell us a bit about yourself? What’s your deal?

[SE] I’m an entrepreneur living in Cape Town and have been working as a freelance graphic and interior designer. For the past two years I have also been working on my own clothing label called Stencilworx. I was born and bred in Johannesburg but decided that the big land-locked city was not on my vibe. Having discovered surfing while living in Joburg, I decided that Cape Town was where I wanted to live and I have been in Cape Town for four years already.

[GL] That’s a brave move Steve. Please tell us more about Stencilworx?

[SE] As a promising illustrator and designer, I created graphics to print onto shirts but soon discovered that screen printing was not a viable option for me. After experimenting with different printing techniques, I discovered that hand-cut stencils solved a lot of printing problems. This developed into what is now known as the Stencilworx brand, which utilises stencils as the main focus for printing.

Some Stencilworx Examples
Some Stencilworx Examples


[GL] What makes Stencilworx unique?

[SE] The stencils are hand-cut and the clothing is hand-printed, offering limited runs and a customer-specific product. Each product has a personalised touch and no two items are ever the same and every item is unique.

[GL] What other techniques do you use and what other art do you create?

[SE] I experiment with pencil and ink drawings combined with water colour and computer rendering to produce my artwork. I also experiment with various other illustrations and paintings but I pretty much draw, paint and print whatever inspires me at a particular time.

Demonic Surfer
Demonic Surfer


[GL]
On the subject of inspiration, where do you draw your inspiration from to create your art?

[SE] Much of my inspiration comes from surfing and surf culture, but also from life, experiences, books and watching too much WWE (laughs).

[GL] Interesting, but how did you get into surfing?

[SE] I was driving home from university one day and came across a pawn shop in Troyeville, Johannesburg, that was selling a surfboard for R30. It was an ancient 6’6 Andrew Carter, not much of a surfboard, more like a plank, but I couldn’t resist buying it. I learnt to surf in Kasouga in the Eastern Cape and as many of my friends caught onto surfing, surf trips became a ritual at every opportunity that presented itself. Seven-years later, I live in Cape Town and I’m a surf instructor at the Surf Shack in Muizenberg, so surfing has been part of my life ever since.

Surf Shack Surfer's Vest by Steve Erwin
Surf Shack Surfer’s Vest by Steve Erwin


[GL] That’ a great story Steve, I can relate, because I learnt to surf with you and we went on many surf trips together. But tell us, where have you surfed and what is your favorite wave in South Africa?

[SE] My surfing adventures have taken me to Durban, the South Coast, the Wild Coast (Transkei), Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, the Southern Cape, the Cape Peninsula and the West Coast. Of all these places, as a goofy footer with a appetite for crayfish and sleeping in a tent, I would have to say that Elands Bay is the place that holds fond memories for me. However, I enjoy surfing in Muizenberg too and I love it for its own reasons.

[GL] Nice. What surfboards are you riding at the moment?

[SE] I am currently riding a 6’4 thruster but also ride a 7’6 mini-mal from time to time. I also have a 6’6 thruster that I use regularly as well as a old-school Mike Larmont single fin that I use for special occasions.

Mirrors
Mirrors


[GL] And now for the most important question of all, I’ve left the best for last, do you have a girlfriend?

[SE] (Laughs) No, I am currently single but I am willing to entertain any ladies who are intrigued by this interview.

[GL] Well I hope that works out for you Steve and wish you all the best in everything you do, I look forward to surfing with you again…(laughs).

[SE] Thanks for your interest in my endeavors and hope to see you in the water soon, ciao.

If you are interested in Stencilworx, visit www.stencilworx.co.za and if you want to place a very special order, e-mail Steve on info@stencilworx.co.za. Ladies, this hunk of a man is up for grabs so if you want to speak to Steve directly and book a date with him, you can contact him on +27 084 762 7803 (laughs). As an alternative, you can also find Stencilworx on Facebook.

Steve Erwin, the Wave Hunter