By a really mediocre surfer. But hey, that’s okay, there’s a lot of folks starting off with standup, so a duffer’s viewpoint could be helpful to them. The boards I compared are the boards I’ve got: A Laird, a Ku Nalu, a Jimmy Lewis 11.0 X 30 and a Jimmy Lewis 11″7″ X 26. I went to Puamana beach park near Lahina, dragging along four boards, Diane with her Nikon and Sam the Gay Dog.
I hauled all four boards out and set them on the sand in order of degree of tippiness, a highly scientific approach. Incidentally, the bootie on one foot isn’t some attempt at a signature thing like Michael Jackson’s glove. I broke my toe the other day leaping onto my mast during blown jibe number 4,327. I found that “buddy taping” it to the toe next to it keeps it from flopping around and a surf bootie keeps the assembly all tied together. It doesn’t do much for my balance, but other than that it’s not much bother.
The Jimmy Lewis 11’7″ X 26.5 X 4.75″ is the narrowest, has the softest rails and the narrowest tail of all four boards.
The Ku Nalu has similar gross dimensions: 12′ 2″ X 26 5/8″ x 4 5/8″, but it has a blunter nose, wider tail, and harder edges.
The Jimmy Lewis 11’0″ X 30″X 4.4″ has an extremely wide tail, a blunt nose, downturned rails, a flat bottom and a huge fin, all of which makes it as stable as a wharf.
The Laird is the behemoth of the bunch, 12’1″ X 31″ X 4.13″ thick. It’s flat in the midsection with a little nose and tail rocker. the rails are fairly soft with a little tuck at the bottom. It’s got a fin that looks absolutely tiny on this huge board.
I’ve been using all four of these boards for a while, the Laird being the newest. And I rarely paddle the JL 11’7″ – I use it as a longboard for small to midsized surf, and it’s wonderful for that.
So the plan is to ride all four back to back and assess them comparatively for initial stability, maneuverability, paddling, and surfing. Your mileage will vary, and I invite your comments and corrections.
We’ll start with the Ku Nalu since I’ve had it the longest. This is a challenging board for a beginner to ride, I’m surprised that I was able to learn on it. The very first thing you notice is that this board is relatively heavy. It calls to question the value of hollow boards. The second thing you notice is that it’s fast. Very fast, way faster than any of the other boards in this comparison and/or any others I’ve tried. I have no idea why. It accelerates very quickly, in fact that’s one of the problems in learning on it–you find yourself going off the back more than on other boards.
It has some initial stability, but once it starts to tip, it keeps going. It doesn’t seem to develop any corrective stability,. I suspect this is because there is so little rocker over the length of the board.
The Ku Nalu surfs beautifully, you can catch anything with the speed and acceleration that’s available, and it turns and trims very sweetly. You don’t need to stand on the tail to turn it, just a little rail pressure is fine. I haven’t been using this board as much since I got the others, and this test made me realize what I was missing. Except for the stability issues, this would be a great choice for a long paddle. It hauls. Some people have raised safety issues about hollow boards–they say if you break one you don’t have anything that floats. I don’t know if that’s true, but it might be worth some thought for open water crossing.
This is the best surfing board after the JL 11’7″ for my beginner skills. Pretty much surfs itself and doesn’t do anything funny.
Next up is the Laird. I’ve only had this a week or so. I put a “do-it-yourself” deck pad on it the other day. I should have taken it to the Ding King and had them do it. The self-stick pads are expensive ($139) and when I compare the finished product to what Amir at the Ding King did for my JL 11’7″ I could just gag.
The Laird is extremely stable, equal to or better than the JL 11′ X 30″. It paddles well, though it doesn’t accelerate or cruise like the Ku Nalu. What it does better than any other board I’ve tried is turn. It spins around with just foot pressure. It’s a very strange feeling. You can be just paddling and decide to turn. Instead of stepping back and paddling wide you can just twist your knees and ankles and the board swings.
What I haven’t been so successful at is surfing it. With the standard fin it slews in the wave as you try to turn. I had it spin out completely on one occasion, doing about two thirds of a 180 before I hit the drink backwards. If I had been trying to do that I’d be really pleased, but as you might have noticed, I ain’t Laird. I swapped in the huge fin from the JL 11×30 and it made two big differences. It fixed the slewing and made it very hard to turn. Maybe someplace in between is the answer.
Towards the end of the day I got one of my friends at Puamana (I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t remember his name) to try the board. He’s a superb and graceful surfer. He had the Laird dancing in the waves, and liked it a lot. So okay, it’s me, big surprise.
Next is the JL 11×30. When I first got this board I felt like I was cheating. It’s extremely easy to get on and paddle. I had a hard time surfing it at first–at one point I claimed it wobbled like a Rappala. Now I’m trying to figure out what my problem was. It surfs great. I can’t get it to do any of the things I used to complain of, even when I try. I hope the Laird turns out the same way.
You can stand on this board so casually that you start falling off from simple inattention. Like we used to say about motorcycles–new riders have two accidents, one caused by incompetence, the second by overconfidence. You can see in the bottom two pictures that I’m totally relaxed on this board, and I can catch just about any kind of sloppy little wave. During this session I was catching waves that were a long way from breaking, I’d just keep paddling hard until the board slotted in. You can paddle out through big whitewater–even when it pushes the board backwards the board stays stable. It’s almost too easy. Like I said, cheating.
The only downside is that it doesn’t really cruise. You paddle and it goes. You stop and it stops. Not much momentum.
Finally we come to the Jimmy Lewis 11’7″. What a great surfboard, and a great standup board for anyone under 185. But for me, it’s a longboard. My balance has gotten good enough that I can stand on it, paddle and catch waves. But it’s a battle. But when you belly paddle it into a wave and just stuff it under your feet, it feels like a living thing. It carves into a bottom turn like a parabolic ski, and it zooms. I’ve been startled at the speed I can get in a wave with this board.
But as for me paddling it, well, look at the pictures. I managed to get into a couple of mooshy waves, but the board was so deep under the water that i needed to step on the tail just to get the nose up on top of the water. It didn’t pearl, it just stayed submerged. This is the only board I’ve ever gotten a nose ride from, other than just passing through while I was staggering off the pointy end. There’s really no point in including it in this review other than it’s a great surf board, smaller people will love it, and I’ve already got it.
So here’s my not scientific at all ratings for these three boards. Laird is L, Jimmy Lewis 11×30 is JL11, and the 11’7″ X 26 is JL7, the Ku Nalu is KN:
Initial stability 1. L 2. JL11 3. KN 4. JL7
Recovery stability: 1. L 2. JL11 3. JL7 4. KN
Cruising (maintains momentum) 1. KN 2. L 3. JL11
Maneuverability 1. L 2. JL11 3. KN
Surfing 1. JL7 2. KN 3. JL11 4. L
More than what the numbers show is overall feel and enjoyment of the boards. If I could only have one board it would be the Jimmy Lewis 11 x 30, but that’s probably because I’m a beginner and I’m really big. Second would be the the Laird. the Laird is actually a better all-around board, but you can get confident and competent with the JL11 faster than any other board I’ve tried.
The Ku Nalu is more specialized, much higher performance, and I think as I get better it will become my favorite. The Jimmy Lewis 11’7″ is my favorite surfboard.
I’m really glad I have them all.