Introduction to Strapless & Directional Surfboard Riding

Introduction to Strapless & Directional Surfboard Riding

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My kitesurfing preference to go out on a Kitesurfing on a freestyle strapless board over anything else, even when sometimes another board type or style of riding is more aligned to the conditions I bought my first surfboard for kiting about 10 years ago, and quickly realised the board wasn’t a good purchase, as although the construction was good & it looked great it was the wrong shape & length, so sold that and looked around for something more appropriate Since then I have bought and sold another two boards and I have a current collection of 3 strapless surfboards (as the saying goes… “Q. what’s the right number to have? A. +1 of what you currently own” ☺)  The following points are things I’ve experienced or learnt over this period and some come down to personal preference, common sense or what is a general rule.

Board size & shape

There is a wide selection of directional boards on offer, with some of the larger companies offering as many as 10+ different models each available in a number of lengths, so the choice can be bewildering Board size dimensions tend to be imperial measurements (foot & inches) though if they quote the volume & weight they will revert back to metric Litres and kg respectively. Board length – boards vary from as short as 4ft6” up to 6ft2” The shorter boards will typically have less volume as they will also likely to be less wide too. Though ideal length depends on the Shape, width & thickness too, as the “No Nose” shape, where the front of the board is straight or slightly rounded rather than the traditional pointy short surfboard shape will be shorter than traditional surfboard shape, as the nose as effectively been cut off   A selection of no-nose freestyle boards Volume – Lower volume are designed for lighter riders or using with more power, they will be less “bouncy” and handle chop better, but will not support the rider through lulls or transitions as well, so less suited to lighter wind conditions Width – Wider boards will require less power to get going, as they will generally have more volume but may be more difficult to control in chop  Thickness – generally the thicker the board the more volume it has, the distribution of this volume will impact the way the board rides and supports the rider on the water Scoop & Rocker – This is the amount of curve the board has at the front & back, a bigger scoop will make it easier to get over breaking waves and less chance the nose catching going down a wave, a bigger rocker at the back makes the board more turn able and looser, but impacts acceleration and speed, so flatter boards will accelerate quicker, be faster, and require less power, though they may be more difficult to control and be less “surfy” Board shape – The board shape dictates the type of riding style the board is designed to excel at, and so there is a compromise on what the board will do best, though you can still use a freestyle board for wave riding and traditional surfboard for flat water fun Straight Angular boards – tend to accelerate quicker and be better for flat water freestyle Traditional Surfboard – this will typically be designed as a wave orientated board, mostly likely designed to be best in Cross off or side shore winds in “proper waves” All these combined dictate what it is best suited for and there are lots of discussions on what is the best, and a lot might come down to personal preference and the style of the rider Weight – As you can appreciate a lighter board will accelerate quicker, jump easier and be more agile, though the trade-off is likely to be increased cost and fragility, as well as being more difficult to fix, should you damage it Note: Surfboards, especially lighter ones will also be more likely to fly off down the beach in stronger winds, so be careful to position it correctly on the beach and weight down accordingly!!! In the last 6 years, the freestyle orientated boards started to appear, where they don’t have a pointy nose, I prefer to ride these style of boards as they tend to be aligned for quick acceleration, good top speed, can handle chop, and most important they are lot more stable when you need to switch feet. I initially struggled with a traditional surfboard shape & when I switched to a No Nose freestyle board I really improved and found it easier to ride one of these styles of board, despite it being shorter, thinner & having less volume, as it sat flatter on the water when still or going slow. Actual surfboards - People contemplating getting into riding a surfboard may be tempted to use an actual Surfboard rather than a specific kiteboard surfboard. There are a number of considerations with this and although it’s possible to do so, it may not be the easiest or most cost effective introduction. The main disadvantages include the construction, as they are not as strong as kiteboards and are not designed for going out over waves & chop at speed, especially if they are shorter, as they will be designed for lighter riders, so are more likely to break if not re-enforced on the deck, other considerations are that surfboards are primarily designed for carving so will likely have a more rocker than a kiteboard specific board, they will not come with foot strap holes, and another concern is that some custom surfboards have ridiculously pointed noses, which could be extremely dangerous if they hit anyone at 20mph If you have a reasonably suitable surfboard it may be worth giving it a try, before you commit to a kitesurf specific board, though be prepared for the above 

Skim boards

Although skim boards are not surfboards, I thought I would include them in this article. Do not be tempted to use a cheap kid’s plywood skim board, as they lack the size, rigidity, strength and stability of a proper kite shim board Like a lot of people, I have a Kiteboard skim board in my quiver of boards as they are fun to ride, quite cheap to buy (from £75 second hand to £300+ new), take up little space, virtually bomb proof and can save a session when the wind drops. Typically, you can get out on a Skim board in winds much lighter than you can a TT board, especially if the water is shallow & flat, this is due to the increased flat planning area of the board, and if the wind picks up, you can quickly switch boards rather than changing kite size They are more difficult to control than a surfboard and once you start to get overpowered you will know it is time to change boards  Most skim boards allow you to ride bi-directional as, if they have fins they tend to be like the ones on a TT board, which makes riding easier whilst you get the hang of them, and allows you to quickly change direction like you would on a TT board Riding without fins allows you to ride in a sliver of water, but makes it very loose and will be a handful in chop and attempting to carve it They are great practice for Gybing & Tacking, I find it is easier to tack a skim board due to its ability to spin around, where gybing is more a challenge as they have a tendency to accelerate when you go downwind in the gybe, but it’s all good practice I have generally added this to my kite bag when I have gone aboard to kite, as falling in when it’s hot & sunny is a lot more enjoyable than in the middle of the British winter Their popularity has declined due to kite foiling being even better in lighter winds. There are also some good cross-over skim boards like the Shinn Shinnster which is a skim board with surf characteristics


There are also some hybrid kite surfboards on the market that allow you to attach a Hydrofoil to them.

This tends to be a compromise, as the board itself is likely to be a bit big & heavy and not have enough scoop for hydrofoiling, as well as considerations on footstrap positions being slightly different.

Biggest advantage would be if you are travelling and concerned about weight where you can only take one board & you wanted to foil & surf

In regards to Hydrofoiling, learning to gybe, tack & get started on a directionals are good cross-over skills to have though the board control is a bit different, but the kite skills are similar 


The availability of kites that easily depower has increased the usability and popularity of directional riding. Most of the kite companies now offer a wave specific kite in there line up, they will be built with the ability to drift (allowing them to sit in the wind, as you kite downwind towards the kite) better than other models, with good relaunch, quick turning and depower, they tend to be 3 strut & 4 lines. Single strut kites are good too, as they are light & manoeuvrable, though be careful in waves or stronger wind conditions Though like most things it is possible to use other styles of kites for directional boards, but old skool C-type kites will be a lot harder than a modern wave or freeride de-power kite. Some other kite styles are likely to be less easy to ride as well on a directional, typically ones geared for racing, and boosting big air. Depending on the kite model, you may be able to adjust the bridal and settings of the kite to make it easier to ride a directional


Most boards will come with a Thruster (3 fin) or Quad (4 fin) set up, some have 5 fin slots to allow the rider to switch between the set ups, there are pros and cons of both systems, the thruster set tends to be most popular for kitesurf boards All my boards have been Thruster set up, though when I last rode a Quad, I did notice how it dug in and was great for going up wind, but on the flip side it felt like I was dragging a plastic bag  There are Three main types of Fin attachment types, most kite companies use one of these FCS – This is the oldest and most common in the surfing community and widely available in the after sales replacement market, the fin has two square lugs which are secured with a grub screw tightened with an allen key   FCS 2 – This is an enhancement to FCS system where a tab has been added to the front of the fin, so it clips in & does not need to be secured with a grub screw (you can buy a kit to put into a FCS2 fin box to allow FCS fins to be used) Future Fins – This has a flat base and hinges in to the finbox and is secured with one grub screw at the front.


Footstraps can be a good and bad, in the early stages of riding a direction having one footstrap at the front can get you used to the board, act as a board handle and give you confidence getting over waves & chops.

Then they can be used like the great Robby Naish for wave riding & jumping

Though as you progress they may become a hindrance, as learning to tack & gybe they can slow down the switch of feet and get in the way, additionally riding strapless allows you to adjust your feet position for the conditions and opens up a whole host of tricks to attempt

Harness There are wave specific harness available, which tend to be less restrictive than the dedicated freestyle styles Though the biggest improvement is to use a rope slider rather than a hook will make like a lot easier when you ride toeside, additionally you greatly remove the risk of dinging your board with the harness hook when you are water starting or falling off, or carrying the board


Might be stating the obvious, but construction is more fragile than TT boards, so invest in a board bag or board sock for transporting the board, watch out for your harness and bar ends when water starting, and carrying the board, and place it down with care

Most dings and cracks and breakages are reparable, some quite easy with the numerous kits available, just be careful not to apply polyester to epoxy boards. If you are worried about the cosmetic appearance, re-sale value or your own DIY capabilities or suitable space at home, then a professional repair is probably advisable

This crack appeared after riding my Naish Skater, I believe it’s a pressure crack as the board has creased under continued pressure from riding portside (wind blowing from the left) over waves & chop, as it aligns with my front foot position, I’m getting this professionally repaired

For professional repairs, there are quite a few board builders & repairers available who will fix your board if you post it to them, though I only know of two options locally in the North west area;

Jon @ Moo Customs – Crosby 

Dave @ Jetson Surfboards – Northwich/Delamere

Riding It is a fairly common train of thought that you can get out on a surfboard in lighter winds, I feel this is a bit of a misunderstanding. It’s probably more accurate that riding a directional surfboard by comparison can be more rewarding in lighter winds than a TT and once you get used to riding a Directional, you will probably find that you can ride it with a smaller kite size as the volume assists with keeping the board on the plane Things to consider with riding a directional surfboard is the depth of the water, getting started from the beach it is best to be in at least knee depth water to avoid the bigger fins from grounding, and once you start to learn how to gybe you need a bigger space to complete the change of direction. For gybing you may find it easier to switch feet either before or after the turn. I am Regular footed (preferred stance left foot forward) so riding this way I tend to gybe first then switch feet, then going the other way riding right foot forward I switch feet first & then gybe. It is worth experimenting with the switch before or after gybing to see which one seems most natural to you. There are lots of instruction videos on how to get going, gybe, tack, jump, and tricks so worth checking them out for your wish list  Conditions Ok the Wirral is hardly Hawaii, but there are some great conditions for wave jumping & riding around this coast line, though initial stages you will find it easier in flatter conditions and start wave hunting as your confidence & skills improve. If you are riding at Derby Pool, and any beach for that matter, you may have to be a bit more adventurous to seek out the waves that appear at different times of the tide or direction of wind, rather than hugging the shoreline Commitment The fastest way to improve at directional surfboard riding is to commit to it, and that means leaving the TT board at home or in the car, and commit to riding the directional, as only getting it out when the wind is light or when you are a bit tired of jumping your TT will slow down the improvement I admit the first few sessions may be less enjoyable, as you are falling in more and ending up downwind whilst your mates are tweaking woo scores, and showing off to the beach bystanders Also its generally a lot more tiring physically and mentally on a surfboard than a TT, as every bit of chop is a challenge to get over, your knees are working a lot more and acting as shock absorbers and you are then planning on turning round, which requires some thought on whether to tack or gybe and picking off a wave or flat section to complete it.