We don’t all surf like John John Florence. Most of us need board shapes that are forgiving—more volume here, less rocker there. But you still want one that won’t bog through turns or pearl on takeoff. To that end, these three models nail the delicate blend of performance and usability.
Channel Islands Mini 5'5" ($805)
Hands down, the Channel Islands Mini 5'5" was our favorite of the test. It has the speed and drive of a full-bodied fish combined with the rocker and outline of a performance shortboard. That means it works in nearly any wave under five feet. We liked it best set up as a quad, which allowed for exceptional down-the-line speed and snappiness through turns. “When I surf it,” said one tester, “sometimes I feel like I’m cheating.”
Firewire Greedy Beaver 5'6" ($765)
At first glance, the Firewire Greedy Beaver 5'6" looks like a longboard for a toddler. But don’t let the oblong log outline fool you. The rounded pintail keeps you loose and agile in the pocket, while beveled rails trim volume from the edges. As the name suggests, this board has no problem catching lots of waves that others can’t, thanks to scant rocker. As with other Firewire models we’ve tried, the paulownia-wood deck skin and EPS foam core proved durable over dozens of sessions in the water.
Boardworks Mini Mod 5'10" ($439)
Finally, the Boardworks Mini Mod 5'10" is the most beginner-friendly of the bunch. Beefy rails and lots of volume make for easy paddling and maximum wave-catching capability. It worked especially well on mellow summer days when the waves were waist-high and under.