As a surfer, about the last thing you want to be is the person losing their cargo on the freeway, going 60+ mph. I have seen this disaster unfold right in front of me, and it’s not pretty. In terms of strap or rack failure, the best you can hope for is minor board damage. More likely, your board(s) will be ruined. And Neptune forbid that your loose board cartwheels into the car behind you. People could be hurt.
Therefore, properly racking your boards is a responsibility to be taken seriously. We have some tips and products to help you make sure your boards stay put in transit. Because there’s no point in going surfing if your boards don’t arrive with you, and in one piece.
Begin by realizing that longboards and paddleboards are like big wings on top of your car; they will catch a lot of wind, and they want to lift up. There are two components to keep them down and in place.
First, the right car rack: Whether it’s the factory-installed cargo rack or an aftermarket sports rack, make certain that your rack is solid. Regularly check the fastening hardware and tighten anything that’s loose. And invest in a good set of pads that fit the rack or cross-bars well. Like cushy pillows, the pads will prevent damage to your boards.
Second, get awesome tie down straps: Choose a set of straps that are appropriate for your gear. Most surf shops sell straps that are 3/4” or 1” wide, and usually only 8’ long. That’s fine for one or two short boards. But if you have longboards or perhaps SUPs, the upward lift increases greatly. Increased force means you need more (read: WIDER) strap. A wide strap will equalize the upward lift and disperse it over a greater area, which is better for your boards; better hold down without having to ‘crank down’ on your straps and into your boards. Yes, you can damage your boards with the wrong tie downs. For this reason, avoid hardware store straps with metal buckles; those are for hauling lumber.
We like FAT Straps by Mile 22, so much in fact, that they are now available in our online store. http://www.surflasolas.com/surfstyle/surfshop/2012.html . FAT Straps were designed with longboards in mind and are long enough to secure a board for every chica in your gang on surf safari. Even if you rent a car and surfboards on your surf trip, take your FAT Straps with you. When you arrive, you’ll have your own rack system. They’re long enough to go all the way around and through a vehicle. And you won’t be at the mercy of the rental counter staff. If there’s no rack on the rental car, use beach towels as a cushion between the boards and the car roof.
More tips for racking boards right…
You don’t want your surf wax to melt onto the car, so the fin goes UP and the wax goes DOWN, keeping the wax hidden from the sun. Contrary to intuition, the fin goes toward the FRONT of your car, not the back. Aerodynamics have nothing to do with it. If you place the fin forward, it just might prevent the board from sliding out of position if the strap loosens while in transit.
Next, don’t “tent” your boards by securing the straps at the bar ends; this leaves too much room for the boards to wiggle around under the strap. Instead, wrap the straps under the bar, right next to your board(s), and secure them in place.
Lastly, check your straps occasionally, especially on long trips at freeway speeds, and re-tighten as necessary. It just takes a minute and you probably need to stretch your legs anyway!
There are even more reasons you want FAT Straps in your gear bag!
They double as board hangers in the garage, for example. Just loop them over the rafters above where you park your car, thread them closed with enough clearance, and slide your surfboard into them like a cradle. They triple as a board carrier if you have to make a short (or long) hike from your parking spot to the waves. Just thread two straps together in a big loop, cradle the nose and tail of your board with the ends and then shoulder the middle section like a big carry strap. And you’ll still have one hand free for sunscreen, umbrella or cold beverages!
Mike McDaniel is the Las Olas Surf Safaris Operations Manager and fifteen year veteran of surf travel. With surf missions to Baja, Costa Rica, Japan, Hawaii, Fiji and over 70 safaris in mainland Mexico, Mike’s insights on air travel, surf culture and coastal geography have kept Las Olas’ surf safaris on course for a decade.