It's summer in North America, and although the warm season is the ideal time to get soft, who says softboards can't produce yearlong fun? Don't be glum Oz, this guide's for both hemispheres. We're all inclusive!
Stab's Definitive Guide To Softboards
Pama Davies slides through the best offerings in the biz. It's a foam party!
In many parts of the world, but most particularly on Australia’s east coast and America’s west coast, it is crucial to own a quiver that includes a softboard. We’re talking bodyboards that are shaped like surfboards. The Catch Surf explosion chased Jamie O’Brien’s softboard performances at Pipe and Backdoor, and all of a sudden our brave new surf world, with its inclusiveness and emphasis on fun, had come to normalise the riding of bright pink non-fibreglass crafts – often finless. There’s now plenty of surfers in the world who exclusively ride softboards. And that is quite a thing, and definitely not a bad one. Stab recently plucked Bondi’s Pama Davies, a very talented gent who’s well trained in crowd-dodging at a city beach (the kind of scenario you’ll most likely be steering your softboard through), and conducted a breezy test to determine the best setting for, and output of, our chosen five boards. Here’s to informed choices!
No one takes themselves seriously on a foamie. If you do, well, we don't want to hang out with you.
The Chop Stick, by Softlite 7’0”
Yeah, it’s a log, but oh, mumma, this thing really moves. You’ll squeeze an incomprehensible amount of fun outta this board at a long, miniature pointbreak. Stab really likes the red deck / white slick combo, but we were gifted something less subtle for our foam party, as you’ll see here. The double moulded stringer system holds a good line, so you can get away with no fins quite well.
Says Pama: “If we’re talking manoeuvrability, this was my favourite of the two longboards. It was easy to paddle and it was fun – I definitely don’t have anything negative to say about the board. Most surprising was the fact that it turns so well. I found it quite easy to turn and manoeuvre for such a long board. It holds its line well – even when there was no fins in it, I could still get it on rail and go, and I think that’s because it has such good curves. When the fins were in it, I wanted to walk up and down it. I don’t really like doing spins on those boards, even when there’s no fins in them, I just like to try and do nice turns, ‘cause the challenge of more controlled surfing on a loose board is more fun for me.”
Speed, power, flow!
Paddle Power: 5/5
It is a beautiful slippery slope upon which we stand. Honey, who's coming down with us?
“This was the second best shortboard, from a “good surfing” perspective."
The Fish Finger, by Mullet 5’2”
Mullet do it well. One thing that a lot of softboard companies have nailed is a well-defined brand identity, and it’s usually focused on not taking themselves too seriously. Mullet certainly fits this category – the company name should alert you to that. Their web portal is a wonderful mess of imagery, but on the product page you’ll find the Fish Finger, the only wide swallow in the range, which, in Stab’s opinion, looks best in the white deck and black slick.
Says Pama: “This was the second best shortboard, from a “good surfing” perspective. I have my own Mullet which I think is a better shape than this one – this shape felt a bit dead on the water. Maybe that’s just in comparison to the Catch Surf though. The Mullet was definitely fun. What we tested it in, which was a little right rip bowl, was kinda the perfect conditions for it. It was quite flowy, you could go up and down on it. You can’t do anything too radical, but it serves its purpose as a good foamie, you catch a lot of waves and do basic, up and down surfing. It felt like one of the original foamies, like where you’d just goof around, go up and down. Whereas there’s some out there now that feel a little more serious.”
A kick in the lip may be the world's best thing for you.
Paddle Power: 3/5
Hey kid, do you like to spin?
Here’s one for those who want a whole lotta foam and don’t feel the need to slice the lip. Simply known as 88, this excellent company (which only sells by request) arose from the needs of a Byron Bay crew wanting some hunks of well-shaped foam to slide on without buying into all the unsavouriness of surf commerce. The branding is subtle, the shapes wink into surfing’s rearview mirror, and you can ride easy knowing that your board was conceived by a crew who may just be the world’s greatest lovers of sliding. The 7’0” was very generous in volume, and absolutely has a place in your garage.
Says Pama: “Kinda the opposite to the Softlite, the 88 just wanted to go straight because the rails are so fat. It was sick for paddling, sick for doing stupid shit on, and it would be great to learn on. It didn’t really have that holding-rail-turn vibe to it, but I guess it’s not made for that. It sat above the water and skimmed, because there’s so much foam in it. With no fins in it, you could definitely have fun sliding around. It’s super thick and it was great for going fast. One wave I got, I was going switch and it just took off! It was moving so quick I nearly fell off. You’d wanna ride this one on a really small day, ideally a small pointbreak, like one-foot Crescent Head.”
Here are four manoeuvres that'll impress literally every girl on the beach.
Paddle Power: 5/5
Foam climbs are cosmic. Welcome to the space age.
“Surprisingly, considering how it looks, it could kinda surf!"
The Mystery Box, by Softech 5’2”
The least aesthetically pleasing of the bunch (but it sure performs enthusiastically!), the Mystery Box comes with full deck grip, quad-fin options, sawn-off nose and accented fish tail. At 34L, there’s plenty of buoyancy, and as the only board in the bunch with a hard deck, doesn’t flex underfoot like the early-generation softboards. Oz Wright digs this as a go-to softboard because it can perform well if you have the bodyweight to push it (Oz is quite tall).
Says Pama: “Surprisingly, considering how it looks, it could kinda surf! It’s pretty thick, and it’s like a door, but it could turn and everything and you could have a surprising amount of fun with it. The whole idea was to test how fun each of these boards were, so I was doing whatever came naturally – and because it was so buoyant and had so much area to move, what felt natural were little feet movements and things you’d normally do on a longboard. I liked that it came with the front foot pad, waxing all the foamies was pretty shocking. I only tried that board with a stiff quad fin setup – so it could be a totally different vibe with no fins. I’d pull this board out to ride waves that were long, flat and fast. It’s thick, so you can’t really go up and down, you just point it and go fast down the line. It’s good for juicing speed out of small waves without having to ride a longboard.”
Life's a breeze when you're swimming downstream.
Paddle Power: 4/5
The Stump, J.O.B. Pro, by Catch Surf 5’0”
When it comes to having a stranglehold on a category, Catch Surf have their hyper-coloured fingers pressed deep into the soft shortboard jugular. Thanks, in large part, to Jamie O’Brien’s performances at waves like Pipe, Backdoor, Off The Wall, Waimea, Jaws, The Wedge, and wherever else, Catch Surf snatched the scene’s attention with gusto – all they had to do was keep their brand vibe consistent (essentially everything you loved/hated about 80s surf culture), keep churning out high-performance softboards, and they had the lion’s share of surfing’s less serious corner. Jamie’s signature Stump model, which is a micro version of the Odysea Log, sports three stringers and, when it comes to emulating a high-performance shortboard, was the pick of the bunch. Best taken as a quad for added drive.
Says Pama: “This almost felt like a proper surfboard. It’s super loose, but you can kinda surf it normally. It just felt so similar to a normal board, without actually being one, and I think that’s what makes it so good. You can do everything, but still get that fun factor you ride a foamie for. It’s got three stringers in it, which might have something to do with the quality. The materials feel good too, and rather than the more boxy rail on the Mullet, which is that original foamie vibe and creates a bit of a dead spot in the board, the Catch Surf has a normal shape to the rail, so it has solid strength and flex throughout the whole board. You’d buy this one if you want to surf high performance and ride it like a shortboard, except surf between the flags and run it into the shorebreak. As far as everyday readability, this is the pick of the bunch, for sure. If you’re in small waves, it has way more life to it than if you’re riding a normal shortboard. It’s way more fun. You can still throw it around and surf it like a shortboard – you could even ride this over your shortboard if you really wanted to mix it up.”
Literally every girl.
Paddle Power: 3/5
Riding foamies is about one thing: getting radical.
“This almost felt like a proper surfboard. It’s super loose, but you can kinda surf it normally."
Five Soft Board Cheat Codes For Summer, Winter, Whenever.
01. If you can manage it, avoid using a leash at all costs. Summer is the time when your anatomy must be at its most street legal. The sheer workout of holding onto your foam underwater so as not to lose it, or swimming to the beach to collect when you do lose it, is free sculpting. Of course, if there’s a deathly current ripping through the bank you’re surfing, or you’re not entirely confident in your skill level, then perhaps opt for the ankle attachment.
02. Gripping up? Given the aerated nature of the foam you’ll find on the deck of (most) soft boards, grip will likely struggle to stay glued to the lack of ample flat surface area. In short, it’ll be peeling up first session. And, pads ain’t cheap in 2016. The trick? And please, do this sparingly, and with a grain of salt – rub the desired area down lightly with some sand paper. Preferably not of the wildest course grade. This should create a slightly more glue-friendly environment for the grip. Use caution here, and don’t expect compensation from Stab if it goes wrong. I can barely afford to upgrade my Gucci slides to this season’s.
03. Don’t settle on fins. They really, really matter here, perhaps more than the ones you put in your regular shortboard. And, that’s because there’s way more variety. The first thing you must ask: What do you wanna get out of your foamie? Do you want to drift like Derek Hynd, but still hold an edge? A mini-twin option should do the trick. Pushing your kid into a reform? Default soft fins will suffice. Or, you wanna blitz the end section and get a little higher, a little faster? Attach some proper shortboard rudders! This is make or break when it comes to a soft board, and you could do worse than to test numerous options on the first day of use. You’ll thank yourself later.
04. Uh, probs wear a tee. And you thought waxed fibreglass could shred a gut. Ever wondered why you so rarely see a shirtless bodyboarder? It’s mostly because the foam used for bodyboards and softboards isn’t overly conducive to the human skin condition. This is, perhaps, the only downfall of a softboard in summer. Unless you’re a year-round-shirtless kinda person or don’t feel normal things like mild to aggressive burning, then do yourself a favour and don a light cotton. Or, don’t.
05. Use bodyboard wax. Softboards, as mentioned, are (for the most part) bodyboards shaped like surfboards. This means that things designed to enhance the bodyboard experience will probably also improve your softboard experience: Most notably, bodyboard wax. If you’ve ever rubbed surfboard wax into the deck of a softboard, you’ll know that the two don’t exactly get on. But bodyboard wax, with its different consistency, grips the deck well and good, ripe for staying attached as you jam it through a tourist’s back. I kid! Play safe, friends.