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Photo: Glaser

Jesse Merle-Jones, who took his own advice and finally found himself on the right board at the right time. Photo: Glaser

I’ve been riding the wrong boards most of my life. As a pro surfer, that may sound weird, but it’s true. I rode a standard thruster and I was bored with surfing. I was narrow-minded and against change and figured that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But then something changed. A friend of mine let me borrow a board that shattered everything. It was epoxy, it was small, it was thick. And I felt as if I’d traded in my Corolla for a Ferrari. The never-ending search for a magic stick has given me a second wind, and I hope to inspire that in you. Below, I’ve outlined some of the most common mistakes and things to keep in mind when you go to order your next board. —Jesse Merle-Jones

Don’t ride what the pros ride. A lot of surfers make this mistake and it’s easy to see why. “These pros rip, so I’m gonna ride what they ride.” Do yourself a favor: if you’re riding a model that the best surfers use, add volume accordingly. What works for Kelly and SeaBass at Tavarua might not work as well for you at, say, Huntington Beach. Riding the same board that the pros ride—ultra thin, narrow, and with a 4oz glass job—might look great on the beach, but it’s not going to do you any favors in the water.

Odds are, your board is too small. The most common mistake I see people making is riding boards that are too small for them. From paddling slower to missing waves and struggling to gain speed and fluidity, finding a board that floats you is crucial. My goal is to go fast with very little effort. To transition between turns with one fluid motion. The key to this kind of surfing is tied to finding your personal magic volume and dimensions. Volume is something that a lot of shapers are talking about these days, and I don’t think a lot of people really understand completely what that entails. According to North Shore master shaper Jon Pyzel, essentially, it comes down to how well your board floats you. Finding the right volume in your board is essential to finding the right board. When you realize what that magic number is you can move between different models fluidly, and then go from riding a fish to a high-performance shortboard without sinking. You’ll still need to work out the normal dimensions on your board, like height, width, and thickness, but having your volume number dialed in makes all of this a lot easier.

Build a relationship with a shaper. This is pretty important. And like any relationship, you have to work at it for it to work for you. Find a local shaper and start talking to him. Tell him how you surf (be honest now) how much you weigh (again, be honest) and what you’re looking to get out of the board. You won’t always get a magic board right away, but creating a relationship with a shaper and having him respond to your feedback is a really important step in getting good boards. Look at John John and Pyzel’s relationship as a perfect example. They’ve been working together forever and the results pretty much speak for themselves.

Try something different. Remember that last paragraph about working with a local shaper? Yeah, it’s important, but it’s equally important to throw a curveball into your surfing every once in a while. It’ll force you to rethink a few things about how you approach a wave and how you want your board to respond. If you’ve been riding a standard thruster from the same shaper for a while, don’t be afraid to mix it up with a Dumpster Diver or a fish, especially in the summer or when the waves are subpar.

Test your new board in the best conditions possible. When you get a new board, I really recommend finding fair to good waves the first time you ride it. Most of this is based on the idea of first impressions. You want to give your new board an opportunity to shine. Don’t take it out for the first time when the conditions are really crappy. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth and bad tastes are hard to shake off. If you’re riding a board when the waves are good, you’re allowing the board to succeed or fail on an even playing field, and you’re less likely to shelve what could have been a magic board because you only rode it in gutless conditions.

The magic board is not a myth. When you get one, hold on to it. Despite all of the advances we’ve made with CAD machines, replicating a magic board is nearly impossible. A magic board will change your entire outlook on surfing. The confidence alone will elevate your game. It’ll make dull sessions fun and it’ll make fun sessions unforgettable. When you get a gem, take good care of it. Or as Tour guys say, “put that thing on ice.”