If you’re new to wakesurfing and only have access to a regular surfboard for ocean waves, you may be wondering if you can use that board to surf the wake behind a boat.
The short answer is yes, you can definitely wakesurf on a regular surfboard. However, a surfboard will typically be much slower and less responsive compared to dedicated wakesurf board due to size, shape and buoyancy, material, and fin style.
How well you can ride an ocean surfboard behind a boat compared to a pure wakesurf board greatly depends on the length, width, and thickness of the surfboard, the size of the wake, the weighting and crew inside the boat, the boat speed, and the weight of the rider.
Many newbie wakesurfers start learning with an old regular ocean shortboard since wakesurf boards are quite pricey. Ocean boards, however, are designed for paddling and for pushing into much larger waves, so staying on the boat wake on a shortboard is harder.
Differences between a surfboard and a wakesurf board
Ocean surf shortboards tend to be around 6 to 6’2″ in length, 18.5 to 19″ wide, and 2.25 to 2.5″ thick. Wakeboards are rarely longer than 5’6 and generally wider and thinner. Ocean boards are a lot more buoyant.
Riding an ocean board behind a boat provides a very slow feel, like being stuck to the water. A good wake surfboard will ride much faster – you may even find yourself almost running into the back of the boat when switching from an ocean board.
Some ocean surfboards, however, are closer in shape and dimensions to a wakesurf board – e.g. Firewire Baked Potato ocean board compared to the Doomswell El Jefe wake surf – and can provide a good experience when ridden behind a boat.
Conversely, longer wakesurf boards are often slower and more challenging to ride in the pocket.
Some riders prefer wakesurfing on a regular surfboard vs a wakesurf board as they like the “surf” feel resulting from the greater buoyancy. Wave-style shape, however, may not be as well-suited for riding boat wakes – e.g. the nose may sink more.
Ocean surfboards (and longer wake surfs) can be a good choice for learning. Regular surfboards provide much slower and more mellow turns compared to wakesurf boards, which is great for beginner wakesurfers.
Staying on the boat wave with a surfboard, however, is harder and required energetic pumping. The thicker rails and larger fins of a surfboard, e.g. on a 6’0 twin-fin fish, are designed for larger waves and are not as efficient in generating speed from a small boat wake.
Getting a good wake for an ocean surfboard
For beginnner wakesurfing, a speed of around 9 mph is often optimal and tends to create the biggest wake (depending on the boat). The wakesurfer rides very close to the boat (1-2 feet). This tends to make shorter wakesurf boards a better option than longish ocean surfboards.
When wakesurfing with a surfboard, however, a smaller but longer and “beefier” wave generally will have more push than a shorter and taller wave. Thus, increasing speed and adding more weight in the front of the boat may provide a better experience riding on an ocean board.
A boat without extra ballast may be able to produce a sufficient wake for lighter riders on a wakesurf board to surf without the rope. For a heavier rider on a 5’6 – 5’10 ocean surfboard, however, adding a lot weight in the boat and on the surf side is necessary to get a surfable wake – you’ll typically need more than just a 400lb ballast and a couple people in the back.
Surfboards vs surf-style wakesurfs
Are wakesurf boards always a better choice than a regular surfboard? As mentioned, ocean boards are typically bigger and more buoyant, making them slower and less snappy in very small wakes.
Some wakesurf boards, however, have surfboard-style construction with a similar foam core and epoxy glassing. These wake boards are considered higher performance than the slower-riding compression-molded (wakeboard style) wakesurf boards better-suited for beginners.
Like ocean surfboards, surf-style wakesurf boards are thicker and more buoyant compared to other wakesurf types, allowing for more float and speed.
So why do these wakesurf boards perform better behind a boat than their ocean surfboard cousins? Surf-style wakesurf boards have shapes that are optimized for riding boat wakes vs ocean waves.
For example, they typically have less rocker (lengthwise curvature) than a regular surfboard which makes them faster on the wake with a smoother feel. Ocean surfboards, in contrast, generally have too much rocker for wakesurfing.
Surf-style wakesurfs are also generally smaller in size compared to ocean shortboards, making them more maneuverable and reactive in a boat wake. Keep in mind, however, that the desired wakesurf board size depends on the size and push of the boat wake and on the rider’s weight and level.
Surf-style wakesurfs also have rails designed for smaller waves compared to ocean surfboards. The size and shape of the rail affects the way a board turns and how forgiving it is for a given size/type of wave. This is why some ocean boards can feel just fine behind a boat.
Finally, surf-style wake boards have smaller fins better-suited for small boat wakes compared to ocean surfboards. They also provide more options that the wakesurfer can adjust for getting more speed from their pumping based on the type of wake.
In summary, an ocean surfboard can be a valid option for wakesurfing ropeless behind a boat. Most of the time, however, you’ll get a slower and less responsive experience compared to a wakesurf board – which can be great for learning.
Depending on the shape, some surfboards may have too much float and rocker to generate enough speed to keep up with the boat wake without heavy pumping. One way to improve the ride is to create a better wake by playing with boat weighting and speed.
Some wakesurfers like the surf feel of an ocean surfboard for riding behind a boat. A good option for these riders is to look for a surf-style wakesurf board. These boards have similar construction and characteristics as ocean surfboards e.g. thickness, float, light weight, responsiveness.
Surf-style wakesurf are better-suited for wake riding than ocean surfboards. Like the latter, however, they are more fragile and generally don’t git in board racks for stowing due to their thickness.