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How to Pick a Skimboard

By Kay Tang

Invented by Laguna Beach lifeguards in the 1920s, skimboarding involves riding a flat board along the watery film of the shoreline, according to Matt Warshaw’s book “The Encyclopedia of Surfing.” There are two types of skimboarding styles: wave and flatland. In contrast to the wave style, the flatland, or inland, style is performed on any body of water that isn’t coastal, ranging from rivers to puddles. Picking a skimboard depends on a few variables, such as your weight, style, location and skill level.

Foam or Wood

Most skimboard cores are made of wood or foam, but some are manufactured with other materials, such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. Although more expensive than wood, foam boards -- or "foamies" -- are specifically designed for wave-style skimming. Thicker than wood boards, the foamies' lightness and flexibility works well on uneven surfaces and are less vulnerable to snapping or breaking. They're primarily used on the West Coast to ride the waves. Wood boards are thinner, but they're also heavier, stiffer and tend to sink faster. These boards are ideal for skimming on inland terrain, rails and the flatter beaches along the East Coast.

How Large and How Heavy

When you pick a board, the size and weight depends on your skimboarding style, your weight and how fast you run. You should generally use the smallest board that enables you to reach your target waves. In terms of shape, a long or wide board is faster than a short or narrow one. The more surface area you have under your feet, the higher your force production and the more speed you pick up. However, smaller boards are easier to maneuver and better for executing tricks. Your body weight factors into your decision as to what size board to use. If you weigh only 80 pounds, you can use a small board. On the other end of the spectrum, if you weigh 170 pounds or more, you should opt for a large board. If the board carries too much weight, it'll tend to sink, causing you to stall in the middle of a skim. Your running speed also factors into the type of board to use. While slow runners require bigger boards, faster runners only need small boards to effectively skim the waves.

Beginners Think Big

If you're just learning how to skim, a larger and wider board provides stability and a long ride as if you're surfing a wave. You don't have to race down the shoreline to catch the board. An advanced rider may opt for a smaller and narrower board, which allows for sharp turns, jumps -- time in the air -- and other difficult tricks. Once you get into the habit of catching your target waves and can control the board, you can switch to a smaller board.

Rockers and Tail Shapes

The rocker is the degree of curve of the head of the skimboard. The more curve, the easier it is to travel from sand to water. Envision the slightly upturned nose of a sled and the ease with which it cuts through packed snow. However, a steeper curvature slows the board down. While skimboarders typically use 2-inch rockers on the East Coast, West Coast riders tend to opt for 3 inches to navigate steeper beaches. The shape of the tail end of the board can range from pin-shaped to square tails. Whereas pintails offer more stability in water, square tails and W-shaped tails -- a swallow shape -- provide you with more maneuverability and a bigger spray.

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