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Surfboard Bags

If you’re thinking about getting a new surfboard bag, how should you start your search for the perfect bag? There are a variety of different bags on the market, at a wide range of price points, and it can be tough sorting through all the marketing materials about the “best surfboard bags” or the “top surfboard bags of 2016.” The way to make sure you come out with the best surfboard cover is to make sure you understand all the different choices, consider why you want a surf bag and how you will use it, and find that type of bag within your price range.

Why Do I Need a Surfboard Bag?

There are a lot of different reasons you should have surfboard bags for all your surfboards - shortboards, thrusters, funshapes, fish, longboards - they all will benefit from having a bag.

Daily Surfboard Use

The first and most common reason to use a surfboard bag is to protect your surfboard during “daily use”. And by daily use I mean in your more local travels with your board, getting it to and from the water for your regular suf sessions, from dawn patrol to evening glass off, and then home again. Hopefully you’ve got your surfboard in a surf rack at home to keep it stored, displayed, and out of harm’s way. Starting with when you take your surfboard off your rack, there are a lot of ways your board can get dinged and damaged. First, I’m always way too impatient getting my surfboard out of my rack and my house and inevitably knock it against the wall, usually as I’m taking it around a corner or down the stairs. The dings my surfboard has gotten in my own house are avoidable had I loaded it into a surfboard bag before moving it.

Next, having your thruster in a bag helps with transporting your board to the water. Many people load their surfboards into their car racks to drive to the surf, and it’s advisable to travel with your surfboard in a bag while on your car’s roof. Think about all the dirt and debris you see kicked up on the roadways - that’s the stuff that is contacting your surfboard and potentially damaging it or dirtying it. Your surfboard will also be spared sun exposure while on your roof rack, and if it’s hot out your wax won’t be impacted if your board is in a bag.

Other people ride their boards to the beach on their surf bike racks, and while those racks have padding and are designed for surfboards, there is plenty of risk of scratching or dinging your surfboard in a surf bike rack. A bag would only help on that bike ride to the beach. For people that can walk to surf (lucky), having your surfboard in a bag typically means you’ve got a strap to carry your board, which is especially helpful for bigger boards like longboards. The bag also gives you somewhere to store your board on the sand if you’ll be hanging out at the beach while you’re not surfing, to keep your surfboard out of the sun and elements. Once you’ve finished your session, pop your surfboard back into the bag so it’s protected on your trip home and back to where it started, on a surf storage rack at home.

Surfboard Storage

How about when your surfboard is sitting around at home? That’s another great time to have your surfboard in a surf bag. There’s a lot of different places you might store your surfboard when you’re not using it, and we’ve seen pictures of surf racks just about everywhere, from indoor, climate controlled areas, to outdoor places exposed to the elements. Indoors, you might store your shortboard surfboard or longboard in your garage, shed, basement, mud room, family room, living room, or bedroom. Outdoors, you might store your surfboard on your deck, balcony, or outdoor surf rack.

In either indoor or outdoor storage, your surfboard will benefit from a surfboard bag. In storage spaces like garages and basements, although indoors, they are not typically the cleanest places, and your board will accumulate dirt and dust, especially in its wax, that it would not accumulate if stored in a surf bag. Also, basements can be damp, and I often find that my surfboard won’t dry properly or cleanly if it’s not in a bag. For in-home surf storage, sure your family room or bedroom is probably clean and won’t affect your board negatively, but in connection with your daily surf use, why not store your surfboard in a bag so it’s ready to go whenever the swell comes up? Save yourself the extra step of putting it in a bag before you travel with it.

If you’re storing your surfboards outdoors on an outdoor rack, even more reason to keep them in a surf cover. Outside, your boards will be exposed to the elements - sun, heat, cold, dust, pollen, dirt, rain, and more. A bag’s layer of protection will keep your surfboard in much better shape defending against exposure and will significantly improve the life of your surfboard.

Surf Travel and Surf Trips

This may be the top reason why surfers get bags - for long-distance surf travel. Whether you’re hopping on a plane to get to the North Shore of Hawaii for the winter ripping Velzyland and Log Cabins or hitting Puerto Rico to catch a big swell at Tres Palmas, you’ll obviously need to load up your surfboard into a surf travel bag. These bags are designed to keep your surfboard intact and undamaged while you get to your destination and back. Many different things could damage your surfboard on a surf trip, from you loading your boards into your car and riding to the airport, to the airport handlers who are notorious for mistreating surfboards, to bumpy rides over unpaved roads at your surf destination. Having a surfboard bag that provides top-notch protection for your surfboard, and that can fit some of your other gear - extra fins, fin key, leashes, rash guards and tops, suntan lotion, and wax - will make your next surf trip a better one.

A surfboard bag also is a must when you’re taking a long-distance road trip with your surfboards strapped to your car’s roof racks. Some of these points I mentioned already - your surfboard is exposed to all kinds of dirt and potential damage on the roadways, along with sun exposure, when riding on your roof. Wrap your surfboard in a bag to protect it the next time you drive from San Diego to Baja and back.

What are the Different Types of Surfboard Bags?

I classify bags as falling into one of four different types of surfboards bags, although the lines aren’t always clear on where one bag or the other falls: (1) surfboard socks, (2) surfboard day bags, (3) surfboard travel bags, and (4) surfboard slings or carriers.

Surf Socks

Surfboard socks or sock bags provide a thin layer of typically knitted material that covers your entire surfboard, and closes with a drawstring on one end. Because they’re thin, knitted material, they don’t provide much substantive protection to your surfboard from dings or damage, so you won’t be covering your surfboard in a sock on your next long-distance trip. But surfboard socks are great for indoor storage to keep your surfboard clean and covered, and for transporting your boards on short trips in your car or on your roof rack, maybe. Some people leave their surf sock on the beach while they surf then put their surfboard back into the sock immediately when they’re out of the water, so it doesn’t get sandy and dirty while wet (or after rinsing the surfboard off).

Some socks have reinforced nose areas for slightly more protection in that potential impact and damage area. Surf socks typically close with a drawstring, not a zipper, so they’re more flexible in general in their profile vs. a bag. The knitted material is intended to be somewhat stretchy, although it’s not going to stretch infinitely to cover your board. Finally, knit surf socks often come in designs and colors, so have more style than bags, which are often gray, black, or white.

Surf Day Bags

Surfboard day bags provide more surfboard protection than surfboard socks, but less than heavy duty surf travel bags. Day bags got their name from their best use - to cover your surfboard for the day. This includes getting your surfboard to the water and back, whether it’s by bike, car or walking. Because they offer protection between a board sock and a travel bag, they should be priced between those two bags.

Day surf bags are typically made of plastic, foam, or tarpee upper (or a combination of all), so they are generally water repellant or waterproof exteriors. Many also offer their shells as heat reflective, so that your surfboard can stay cool and your wax intact despite sitting in a bag in a locked, hot car or out in the sun on the beach. This is obviously important to protect your surfboard’s finish from sun-induced aging. Some surf day bags also have reinforced padding and protection at the nose and tail. Day bags open and close via zipper, which zipper may only go a quarter of the length of the bag or so, while other day bags could zip so that the sides open so you can lay the two sides of the bag open completely. Most day bags are built to fit 1 surfboard.

Surf Travel Bags

Because surfboard travel bags are used when your surfboard is most susceptible to damage - long distance travel - they come with a range of protective feature and will vary in price. Often you’ll travel with multiple surfboards, so surfboard travel bags are made to fit different amounts of boards, typically 1-3 boards. Heavy duty surfboard travel bags might be referred to as coffins due to their size and features. While day bags are made of plastic or tarpee, you want your travel bag to be made of something much tougher, that won’t be cut or ripped from minor mishandling or abrasions (luggage handlers). Thick woven material is typical and so is some color or design, since the travel bags aren’t designed to optimize sun reflection like a day bag might be.

I’ll point out some of the different features to look for in a surf travel bag and it’s up to you to understand what you need for your travel, and what could be overkill. First, a big plus for a surf travel case is a wheeled surf bag, especially for a multi-board surf bag or a longboard surfboard bag. The bags get heavy fast and bulky when packed with boards and gear, and if you have to lug it from your home, to car, to airport, down the terminal, and all over your destination, wheels will save some of your strength for your surf sessions. If you don’t get wheels you want a really strong reinforced shoulder strap, ideally that connects at 4 points for optimal stability, and that also can clip off when you’re not using it, or to clip off so it’s not hanging out once you’ve handed over your bag to the airport handlers (and said your prayers). Most straps will be padded, but more padding can be better. An exterior pocket is great to stash your travel rack or tie down straps once you land at your destination.

A zipper that goes the whole way around your bag is often a huge feature so your bag opens to fully load and unload all your surfboards, and to strategically insert protective nose and tail pieces or pack your clothes around your nose, for example. A strong metal zipper always beats a cheap plastic one because you don’t want to reach your surf destination only to have your zipper break and your only option is to rip your bag open.

Travel bags should have some extra padding at the nose and tail areas that are most vulnerable to damage. Sometimes it’s padding built into the bag, other bags actually come with tail and nose inserts or pieces that set up in your bag around your surfboards. You can also find those types of pieces (along with rail protectors) separate from the bag. Again, packing your clothes in your bag is always a good surfboard padding solution. Another protection feature in multi-board surf travel bags are included separators to place between your surfboard so they don’t smash together or transfer wax from the top to the bottom of another surfboard when stacked together in your surf travel case. Also on the interior of the bag, it’s nice to have interior pockets to store your stuff, like suntan lotion, fins, wax, fin keys, leashes, and more. Some amount of pockets is usually standard.

Surfboard Slings and Carriers

This may be the least utilized category of surfboard “bags” and I put that in quotes because these options don’t typically cover your entire surfboard. Instead, their main purpose is to help you carry a bulky surfboard to the water and back. Surf carriers are often a strap system that wraps around your surfboard that you carry with a shoulder strap. Carriers may have a bit more to them, wrapping your surfboard partially and including pockets and a few more storage features. Neither is intended to protect your surfboard from damage or sun exposure, only to make it easy to get your surfboard to the water. Varieties are intended for shortboards vs. fish vs. longboard surf carriers.

What’s the Right Size Surfboard Bag? Surfboard Bag Dimensions

I wish I had all the answers on what bags are best for your surfboard, but I don’t; surfboard bag sizing is a combination of art and science. Sizing your surfboard for a bag will depend on 3 main dimensions of the bag, the same dimensions that are marked on the bottom of every surfboard: (1) length, (2) width, and (3) thickness, aka number of surfboards.

Often surfboard bag listings come in 1 of 3 different types: shortboard bags, fish and funshape bags, and longboard bags. Shortboard and fish bags may come in similar lengths, but the fish bags will be wider, so if you know you have a wider board, you should target fish and funshape bag listings. Longboard bag listings should be wider (but how wide?) and of course, longer.

An important note in surfboard bag dimensions is that many surfboard manufacturers don’t provide all the information about bag dimensions. That’s why I said finding the right surfboard bag is part art, part science. This can be particularly problematic for surfboard socks; they’re supposed to stretch to some width and thickness, but they can’t stretch forever. Socks and day bags are typically for 1 surfboard, so hopefully they’re the easiest to figure out. And surfboard travel bags will usually be holding different sized surfboards, so remember to get the bag that fits your largest-dimensioned surfboard.

Surfboard Bag Length

This is the most obvious surfboard bag dimension that you need to choose a surfboard bag. How big is your surfboard? You’ll need a surfboard bag at least that big. Most surfboard bag listings for size are for the interior of the bag, meaning a bag advertized as 7’2” will fit a surfboard 7’2” long. That said, bag listings vary and if you want to ensure a fit it doesn’t hurt to order up a few inches. The length question is pretty standard and should be the easiest question to answer on surfboard bag dimensions.

Surfboard Bag Width

As explained, if you’ve got a wider, shorter board, you should search for fish and funshape bag listings. Still, if you consider your shortboard a thruster, or think you have a “standard” width longboard, you’ll be wise to find out about bags’ widths to match to your surfboard. My 6’1” (dumpster diver-esque shape) only just fits into the bag width that I have, and I hardly even considered that question. The toughest part about bag width is that...most bag listings don’t disclose bag width. It usually goes back to the fish/shortboard bag distinction, meaning go fish bag if you’ve got a wider board. For longboards, it’s mostly a guessing game, and many manufacturers don’t make bag width available at all. Bumor.

Surfboard Bag Thickness

This is the least important of the bag dimensions because in most cases the answer is that a bag fits 1, 2, or 3 surfboards, so really thickness is about “board capacity.” But, 3 thin thrusters could fit in a travel bag while 3 thick fish might not fit in that same bag. So it’s worth thinking about, although again this information is not readily available from bag manufacturers. One alternative is to get a 3 surfboard bag for 2 thick surfboards, which should be fine (or a 2 board bag for 1 board). That of course is going to be more expensive bag per board, though. One other trick is that a thicker bag may have some give to accommodate a wider board. So if you’re cutting it close with a 34” wide board, but the bag is thicker, there should be some play in the thickness to stretch to width to accommodate the width of your surfboard.

Ride on,