Deciding between a custom-made surfboard built just for you and feeling one up at your local surf shop before buying can be tough choice. The debate over custom vs. off the rack isn’t new, but still something that both experienced and beginning surfers often struggle with. Each option has its pro’s and con’s that should be weighed carefully before plunking down a wad of cash. I’ll offer up a few benefits and drawbacks that I see with both custom and off the rack boards before giving my final opinion.

Custom Surfboards


  • By talking with a shaper about your skill level, surfing style, and the waves you normally surf, you will be getting a board that is specifically designed to allow you to get the most out of each session.
  • Local shapers have local knowledge. That means they know the breaks in the area and what shapes work best in those conditions.
  • Getting a custom board will open your eyes to the many intricacies of surfboard shaping, expanding your knowledge of basic surfboard construction and design principles. This can pay off huge when it comes time to order your next board.
  • Developing an on-going relationship with a local shaper means you’ll be getting better boards each time your shaper makes you a new one – sometimes at a discount!
  • In many cases, custom surfboards are cheaper than off the rack ones.
  • You’ll be supporting your local economy.


  • A custom board can take weeks, even months to make it from the shaping bay to your hands.
  • You don’t have the ability to compare different shapes in-person before buying (in most cases).
  • A shaper might not have much experience with a particular shape that could be just what you need.
  • It can take time – and a few boards – before you and your shaper are able to dial in the perfect shape and dimensions for your style.

Off the Rack Surfboards


  • Instant gratification. Find the board you like, buy it, and surf it the same day.
  • You can compare dozens of board shapes and styles before deciding which one might work best for you.
  • Holding a board, feeling the rails, the volume distribution, etc. can really help in figuring out which board to go with.
  • Surf shop staff are usually very helpful and have a ton of knowledge when it comes to the surfboards they have in stock.
  • Most physical and online surf shops will be stocked with surfboards made by the best shapers in the industry, which means you are getting a proven design.

surf shop


  • Buying a board off the rack is normally more expensive than ordering a custom board.
  • You might not be able to find the exact dimensions for your body type, skill level, or surfing style.
  • Some surf shop employees work off commission, so they’ll push you into buying a board that might not be the best for you.
  • Having a multitude of surfboards to choose from can be overwhelming.
  • Boards built by high-profile shapers are often geared toward professional surfers and world-class waves, not the average surfer in mushy slop.

My Take

For beginning surfers who maybe aren’t exactly sure what type of surfboard to get, browsing a surf shop and comparing several different models and styles is probably a good idea. After you’ve had a chance to try out a few different designs and board dimensions, you can approaching a local shaper with at least some knowledge as to what you like and what you don’t. As your surfing improves, building a relationship with a local shaper will help you get a board made specifically for your style and the waves you surf, which normally equates to a better time in the water. Use off the rack boards to figure out what you like, then go with a custom surfboard to get the most out of your surfing experience.


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