How to Choose a Bodysurfing Handboard

How to Choose a Bodysurfing Handboard

3rd Oct 2023

The above physics and graphics of a human hydrofoil or a body surfer.

What is the correct size bodysurfing handboard that will best suit the individual?

I have had many questioning this theory; there isn't the right size handboard?

Well, my answer, in short, this is incorrect, why you may ask?

Bodyboarders and Surfers Know What's Best

Surfers choose a surfboard length, width and volume based on their height and weight. Fundamentally it's no different for a bodyboarder who knows precisely what length, width, rails, thickness and materials to provide the best performance.

As a result, It's No Different for a Bodysurfer!

With 30 years of handboard manufacturing and bodysurfing experience, I checked out this calculation, to investigate the best size handboards surface area of a handboard m2 = (s) and best shapes for handboarding.

The right size handboard to suit a body surfer's body area m2 = (A) height and weight should be just over the size of your hand or up to maximum two-and-a-half times the length of your hand and up to two-and-a-half times the width of your hand.

For example, my height is 170cm, and weight of 70kgs, plus bodysurfing friends who are 180cm and between 80 - 90kgs, ride bodysurfing handboards twice the length and width of their hand, this size provides excellent lifting force = (FL) Lift/Drag ratio, speed and control in the right surf and wave conditions, with only their handboard and from the lower part of their legs and bodysurfing fins gliding/planing across the wave.

The Human Hydrofoil by Peter Davis

The Best Shape Bodysurfing Handboards

With the vast amount of hand surfers or handplanes shapes now available, it is very important to understand what is the best handboard shapes.

In my view, elliptical/oval shapes (surfboard shapes) or rounded rectangle shapes (snowboard or skateboard shapes) are by far the best shapes to consider. 

Because these shape handboards maximise the best surface area for the fastest body lift up and out of the water, resulting in less drag.

Handplanes with cut out shapes in the tail, namely; crescent tails and fishtails, just to name a few, straight away these bodysurfing handplanes lose this amount of surface area and volume due to these tail shapes. 

Also, these shaped board tails will direct a greater density of fluid to splay outwards and spray water towards your face.

Resulting in less visual foresight, impairing vision to control direction, causing less lift and will reduced speed, therefore these boards overall would first need to calculate this lose in surface area to retain the same volume.

Proven Hand and Strap Position

Also, it is noteworthy to understand what is the best hand position on a handboard for the best performance and control.

From all our research since the late 1980s, shaping and testing bodysurfing handboards hand position, what is the best hand strap position?

Besides, the research articles related Hydrodynamics of a Boat Planing Hull and the Centre of Pressure from these Planing Surfaces.

What I discovered from testing handplanes with hand position in the middle of the board started to tend to lose greater control.

Also, with boards with the hand place further to the front tended to noise drive.

As a result, from not only the hydrodynamics and physic articles plus our bodysurfing test, without any doubt, the best hand position is off centre further to the rear of the board.

To better understand this, please review the below illustrations that best illustrate these theories.

Hydrodynamics of a Boat Planing Hull and The Centre of Pressure from these Planing Surfaces

Hydrodynamic Pod Handboard Planing Surface and Hand Position

Convex Deck and Concave Bottom Handboard

Before buying the right size handboard, it is essential to have a convex deck and concave bottom for the following reasons.

  • A Convex deck provides Comfort in the palm of your hand. Unlike a flat surface adds strain to the hand and arm muscles.
  • Concave equals Optimum Lift, Speed, and greater Control in the surf. Most of all no spray in the face.

Cedar Walnut POD® Handboards Flow Velocity 100% Custom Built for Bodysurfing

Concave bottom and Keel Fin surface area, in association with a mixture of air and water provides instant Lifting Force, Speed and Control.

POD Handboards Flow Velocity Air and Water Mixture

Neutral Buoyancy Body Surfing Boards

Next Important Consideration is a Neutral Buoyant Body Surfing Handboard. 

They are natural to swim with offering paddle freedom and comfort with effortless swimming strokes when cutting through the water without the extra load on your shoulder.

Handboards that are over buoyant make it challenging to even cut into the surface of the water while swimming, it also adds extra load to your hand, wrist, arm, shoulder and further twisting your body to one side.

Smaller the handboard provide less lift, bigger the handboard volume and surface area the greater the lift, resulting in less drag and more speed, this is very important knowing what is feasible and functional in every-way when swimming in the ocean.

Therefore, you need to carefully consider if the bodysurfing handboard size suits your height and weight first and foremost to achieve the best performance.

The smaller volume and surface area, you won't get the lift and speed required to have the best bodysurfing performance, to large will make it difficult to swim and catch waves with ease.

Which lead me to the next question, how does anyone bodysurf with a handboard larger than three times his or her hand length and width, with a thickness over 40mm to 60mm?

These boards sizes are closer to a swim kickboard or training board, and some are as big as a skimboard or a kid's small bodyboard, particularly bodysurfing boards manufactured with the same bodyboard materials that are all over buoyant and not fit for purpose.

Even if you are a beginner body surfer, consider how you would naturally swim freestyle and try an cut through the water paddling with an apparatus of this size, especially when they are so massive and over buoyant?

The simple answer, it's not practical swimming whatsoever. You will find it very difficult and quickly lose interest, even if your experienced swimmer you will find its arduousness.

Alternatively, you could use these oversize buoyant boards the same way one would use a swim kickboard or training board by kicking your legs.

However, this would only suit very small surf conditions and remember you're limited by only using your legs to swim back to the breaking waves.

Never alone the public liability concerns from sprain wrist, damaging a shoulder blade or muscles, being hit in the face or even getting knocked out.

Without Prejudice, this is irresponsible manufacturing when you consider the damage this could cause anyone using oversized boards or anyone close by in the surf.

No wonder they need to sell a bodyboard leash with even more drag, to prevent any carnage.

It's not only irresponsible manufacturing, but it's also not innovative, nor functional, neither practical merchandise for the bodysurfer.

Before You Buy a Bodysurfing Handboard

Take the time and research the vast array of bodysurfing brands and individual shapers available before you decide which handboard to purchase.

Make sure to find the appropriate size handboard that suits you, your height and weight, so you can swim naturally with ease to the break, secondly catch waves and most of all improve your bodysurfing performance wave after wave.

Remember, the surface area, volume, convex deck and concave bottom and a neutral buoyant handboard, is your number one priority to provide you with the optimum Comfort, Lift, Speed and Control when bodysurfing.

Another worthwhile read, “Swim Fins: How to Choose Bodysurfing Fins”.