People come in all shapes and sizes, and millions of people surf each year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that there are surfers with wildly different body types. And yes, there are even plus sized surfers as well. I’ve personally had the pleasure of surfing in various locations around the world and I have seen plus sized surfers shred the waves as skillfully as leaner surfers.
Since there are no weight restrictions or weight limits for surfing, do not place any arbitrary limitations on yourself either. As long as you are athletic enough to paddle and stand up on a surfboard, the only other limitation is how big the board is. Overweight surfers will need to get a bigger board. As long as these criteria are met, then there’s no reason why overweight people can’t surf.
Surfing is for everyone, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I have to give special mention to surfers like Shawn Briley, Jimbo Pellegrine, and James Mitchell for proving the critics wrong by shredding waves at over 300+ pounds. The next time you want to surf on vacation or just for fun, don’t listen to that voice in your head telling you that you’re too heavy.
In this article, we will discuss the challenges that larger surfers may experience while surfing and how they can overcome it.
Finding the right surfboard for larger surfers
Either by common sense or through experience, you should know that the average surfboard most likely cannot support your weight.
In fact, even a modest weight of 200 lbs (91 kg) is too heavy for “standard” surfboards which are designed for young twenty-somethings or teenagers. So you don’t even need to be fat in order to get a bigger board, just above average in size.
Most surfers are quite lean so they don’t have to worry about getting a special board. People who are 200 lbs or heavier will need to learn about how they can get the right size surfboard that can support their weight.
So you’re plus sized and need to get a surfboard. In that case, you need to know about surfboard volume. In this context, volume is referring to the volume of water your surfboard will displace and therefore the buoyancy it can provide you.
What should your surfboard volume be? That is a good question with no exact answer. There are more factors beyond how much you weigh, such as the length and shape of the board, your skill level, and how rough the waves are.
With that said, please click here for a volume to weight calculator so that you have a reference point when selecting a board. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution and assume you need a bigger board.
As you can see from the calculator, you can get a good idea of the surfboard volume you need based on the ratio between the volume of the board in liters and your weight in kilograms. For instance, if you are a 100 kg surfer riding a 50 L board, then the ratio is 50%, whereas for a 50 kg surfer the ratio is 100%.
From these percentages, you can then quickly find which “level” you are at. A ratio below 35% is considered unusable, and on the other end of the spectrum beginners should probably have a ratio of 100-150% of their body weight. That said, if you are a plus sized individual, finding a 150% board would be difficult and expensive.
The size of the surfboard is a combination of its length, width, and thickness, all of which influence its volume.
However, bigger surfboards aren’t only for bigger surfers. Anyone can use a bigger surfboard for the stability and paddle power they provide.
For example, some surfers exclusively use longboards which are 9-10 feet in length with a volume of 60-100 L. This is a big improvement over a traditional surfboard and might be an option for overweight surfers.
There are also mid-length surfboards that are 7-8 ft long with varying widths and thicknesses. They are popular due to their versatility; they are easier to handle than a longboard while still being very stable. Many younger surfers start out with surfboards close to 7 ft in length.
Another important factor to consider is what your surfboard is made from. The exterior of most surfboards are constructed from polyester, epoxy, and foam. The middle is usually made of foam which keeps the weight low and increases buoyancy.
There’s a common saying among surfers: foam is your friend. This is because the more foam that is in your surfboard, the more buoyant it will be which makes paddling, catching waves, and surfing easier overall.
In fact, in recent years companies have started to manufacture surfboards with a foam exterior as well. These surfboards are very beginner-friendly because the softer material causes less damage if you get smacked by it, plus it feels soft to the touch.
Is it harder to surf if you’re overweight?
We’re not going to sugarcoat this. Yes, it’s harder to surf when you’re overweight. There’s the issue of stamina and mobility. A larger person will tire more easily when paddling and may struggle to pop up on their surfboard. Thankfully, there’s plenty of time to rest between sets.
A major concern is whether the overweight individual has enough upper body strength to push themselves up. You don’t necessarily need to be able to do a push-up, but you need to be able to go from laying down on your belly to standing on your feet on an unstable board.
Speaking of, how about balance – is it harder to balance on a surfboard if you’re overweight? This is a bit trickier to answer. It depends, because as overconfident skateboarders and snowboarders have learned, snowboarding is a whole different beast.
Technique plays a major role, and people (overweight or not) who have experience with other board sports will need to start learning from scratch because there is not much carry-over.
Thus, even skinny people have problems with balance, and any experience from other sports might actually be a detriment because they will default to ingrained habits that won’t work for surfing.
Thankfully, surfboard fins can help you take some of that control back by giving you more stability.
So, for larger folks, unless the fat distribution on your body is completely out of whack, it probably shouldn’t affect balance that much. At the very least, it’s something that can be overcome by improving your technique.
Can overweight surfers do any tricks?
Tricks are advanced moves that experienced surfers sometimes do when riding waves. They are often done for the cool factor, not necessarily to improve their surfing ability.
Certain tricks, like airs, require the surfer to generate sufficient speed and propel themselves (and their surfboard) into the air, successfully land, and continue riding. As you might imagine, it’s harder to do airs when you’re overweight.
However, there are some tricks like turns and cutbacks that can be done by surfers both large and small. In fact, one can even make the argument that these tricks can be done with more power if the surfer has more weight on them.
Thus, overweight surfers can still do some tricks, though some are more easily done by a leaner individual.
Overweight surfers and wave size
When it comes to wave size, larger surfers can use it to their advantage because there is more energy in the wave to push you along. While riding a larger wave, it helps to have a heavier frame to be more stable on the board.
For smaller waves, lighter surfers have the advantage because they do not require as much energy from the waves to push them along. Lighter surfers can ride the wave without feeling like they are bogging it down.
That said, do not underestimate the force of nature. Even smaller waves can easily still lift a heavier surfer and toss them around like nothing, so do not get complacent nor feel like you can’t ride most of the waves.
Are there any heavier pro surfers?
Absolutely. In case you don’t believe our claim that heavier people can still shred the waves, we’ll let these videos do the talking:
Tips for heavier surfers to get started
Ride a bigger surfboard
To be fair, this tip is actually applicable to almost every surfer, not just the big ones. You may have been brainwashed by marketing to believe that you should be using a surfboard that the pros use (i.e. smaller, more streamlined, with less volume). But, these boards are designed for the best in the world.
This results in many surfers buying boards that can barely support their weight (and sometimes don’t), and it’s really difficult for them to surf with if they aren’t skilled enough.
Don’t fall for that trick. Instead, buy a bigger surfboard with more float than you need. This gives you the leeway to paddle and catch waves without any pressure of sinking. Surfing is supposed to be fun, and getting a bigger surfboard if you’re not as experienced always equals more stability, and therefore fun.
It’s hard at first for everyone, but especially for a larger surfer
Surfing can be really frustrating when you’re just starting out. Being a heavier surfer is like learning how to surf on hard mode. However, as the videos of the pro surfers we showed in the section above shows, it can definitely be done.
For smaller waves (the kind that you start out with), it can be harder to catch waves and maintain your speed if they cannot support your larger frame. It will seem like lighter surfers will easily catch smaller waves and make faster progress initially.
However, as the waves get bigger, a larger surfer will actually get the last laugh as having extra weight (and a larger board) can provide more stability.
It’s possible, even on a professional level, so you can do it too
If you are still doubting yourself and on the fence about whether you should even take up surfing as a larger person, think about it like this: nobody told a bumblebee it can’t fly.
Compared to other bees, bumblebees are big fellas. They seem to have done the impossible: used their tiny wings (in proportion to their large bodies) to take flight. This baffled even scientists, who in the past used to think bumblebees were an anomaly that defies physics.
Do you think there is even a single bumblebee who, because of low self-esteem and the lies other bumblebees told it, decided it couldn’t fly and lived its life without ever flying? No, of course not, because bumblebees don’t care what people think and fly anyways.
Be like a bumblebee. Don’t think about it and just do it. Plus, it’s already been proven possible by trailblazers like Jimbo Pellegrine, so no more excuses. Take action instead.
Being fat doesn’t preclude you from surfing; in fact, it may even be a natural advantage on bigger waves. The difficulty is overcoming the initial hurdles of getting the right (bigger) board plus building up the upper body strength and endurance to paddle and pop up on the board despite being heavier.
You may think that you can’t surf because you tried in the past and failed, or due to things you told yourself or what others have said about you, however that is why getting a bigger board is crucial. Set yourself up for success by getting a board that can support your weight, and suddenly you’ll realize that you can surf once you have the technique down.
Even if you aren’t aiming to be one of the surfing greats, it’s still a fun activity to do and a good way to burn calories. If you end up becoming an avid surfer, you will likely become less of a heavier surfer over time due to the great exercise you’re getting. Being fat is actually a great excuse to go surfing if you really think about it.
Photo Credit: Kanoa Greene, from YouTube