“What in Poseidon’s name is a surf mat?” Well let’s begin with a little story…
Long, long ago, the Ancient Hawaiians created the first surfboard out a short plank of wood called a Paipo.
In the early 60s, the surfing industry introduced the modern Paipo in the form of a surf mat, giving the ability for surfers to ride prone, catch choppier waves, and travel lightly.
When boogie boards began to roll out about a decade later, surf mats became old news.
Fast forward to modern day, a number of developers have come out with more practical, durable, and maneuverable surf mats, slowly bringing these shredder sleeping pads back into fashion.
Not only do these things ride great, but also allow for far more portability than traditional boards, making them an excellent choice for the nomad surfer.
- 1 The 4 Best Bets
- 2 The History Of Surf Mats
- 3 How To Ride a Surf Mat
- 4 How To Patch A Surf Mat
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
The 4 Best Bets
#1 CHOICE - Bris Surf Mat
The BRIS Surf Mat, perfect for kids, is a super durable and very easy to rinse off and keep clean!
The mats have three conveniently located grab handles that make it easy to hold onto while riding and even easier to carry around the beach all day.
While with most boogie boards you’ll start to see some wear within the first year or two of heavy use, the BRIS drop-stitch inflatable construction is very rigorous and will last in the harshest conditions!
BRIS has taken these blast-from-the-past inflatable mats and completely revolutionized them to create a highly portable and packable one-of-a-kind board.
The skid resistant EVA foam swirl deck design is super helpful in maintaining grip on your board while riding as well.
Don’t fear losing this bad boy either as the front comes equipped with a D-Ring that you can attach a leash to.
Intex 45" Canvas Surf Rider 45x29 Inch
This classic surf mat is great for surf or whitewater!
You can inflate it in just under a minute with a small hand pump so you’ll be ready to get out there in the waves in no time.
The strong canvas design makes for an incredibly durable mat that provides excellent flexibility for steering in the waves and a vinyl construction that will allow it to hold up for years.
The ropes make it super easy to maneuver over waves and through curls just as you would in traditional surfing.
Easily deflate and store when you’re done riding.
This is an excellent mat for children and adults alike, under 200 pounds!
Intex Canvas Surf Rider Inflatable Fabric Surfer, 60x29 Inch
As a larger alternative to the Intex 45”, the 60” Canvas Surf Rider Mats are incredibly sturdy and will last for years taking a pounding in the waves!
The rubberized canvas design that comes in either a dark blue or red is perfect for children and adults!
The ropes on the sides, just like the 45”, make it easy to maneuver through the choppiest waves.
The best part is that these come at the same price as most low-end rubber rafts, though last about 10x as long!
Obviously anyone taller than 60” will probably have their feet dangling off the end, but if that’s cool with you, it is still a sturdy and easy mat to shred the gnar.
Easily worth every penny for hours of endless ocean fun!
Intex Surf's Up Inflatable Mats, 70x27 Inch
The Intex Surf’s Up Mats are absolutely great!
These bad boys can be used over and over again as they are made with a fiber-tech interior structure and come equipped with two 12-gauge vinyl air chambers.
Use your mouth to blow these up super easily and know that they’ll last for your whole session without worry of deflation.
Better for pools than actual waves, these vintage surfboard shaped rafts are fun and soft enough for casual water fun.
At a very small price, these mats are certainly worth the purchase!
The History Of Surf Mats
As we mentioned before, if you grew up in the late 60s or 70s in sunny Southern California, you’ll almost certainly remember the distinguished, bright red, yellow, and blue inflatable rafts that covered the ocean side on hot summer days.
For many people, these inflatable rafts were the devices upon which first waves were caught, and in a way, these were the primary inspiration for the modern boogie boards we see crowding beaches today.
Even further back, around the 30s, a doctor from Australia created surf-o-planes as the first surf mats in true vintage fashion.
He used popular vulcanization techniques and years of trial and error to come up with a product that could hold up in the waves and remain inflated in the harshness of the ocean.
These surf-o-planes caught on very fast and eventually became somewhat of a staple at popular coastal points. These weren’t only for the kooks of ocean as surfers and simple beachgoers rode them alike.
Not only were they great for fun and the sun, but they also caught on with lifeguards as the perfect flotation device for saving the unfortunate souls who found that they paddled way to far out.
How To Ride a Surf Mat
The key to riding your surf mats with stride is making sure that they are inflated correctly.
A softer inflation will give you a looser ride and make it much easier to bomb over waves and skim across the water in somewhat hover board fashion.
However, less inflation also makes it a bit harder to control.
This could be an issue in trying to catch longer lines. Inflate it a bit more to gain back that control but know that you’ll be sacrificing speed in the process.Paddling out is pretty similar to your traditional board.
You can push out to the front of the board and use your arms or sit back a bit and use both your arms and legs, as most of these boards are fairly short.
Because of the inflatable design, it is much easier to float over the waves rather than constantly duck diving.
If you’re paddling out in bigger conditions and need to duck dive, press down hard or deflate a little bit before you reach your waiting destination.
Your legs will be the main component in paddling into your first wave. Lay back deep on your mat, wait for a fast breaking wave, and kick long and hard.
When you feel the energy of the wave pick you up, push your body to the board as flat as possible. Remember, these are soft pliable mats. Any pushing down you might do with a traditional board will topple these mats in a second and make your session incredibly frustrating.
In all, your best bet is to treat these mats as if they were a part of you. They have the ability to float, turn, cut back, ride tubes, and shift into some pretty wild sets. The maneuvering should feel completely natural. Stay calm, stay cool, and most importantly, have fun! You’ll be on your way to speed demon wave riding in no time!
How To Patch A Surf Mat
Many surf mats that you purchase will come with material for patching up any holes that might leave you in tears.
Before you start your repair, you’ll want to rinse the mat with freshwater to clean and remove and small debris that might be stuck to it.
Allow it to completely dry while you cut out a piece from your material to patch onto it.
You’ll want to make sure that the material is at least 3” bigger in circumference to the hole so you can make sure it bonds and stays stuck on the solid material surrounding the repair point.
Cover the urethane side of your repair material with masking tape. You’ll need to buy some contact cement to spread around the area of the hole and paste your extra material around the hole.
Typically, you’ll want to allow a dry time of at least 30 minutes before reapplying at any points where you still see it folding up.
More than anything, you’ll want to make sure it is completely flat on the mat so you don’t accidentally created any unwanted bonds that will stick out vertically.
Frequently Asked Questions
surf mat vs bodyboard
They may seem the same, but know that these two wave riders are vastly different. These two types of ocean vehicles handle completely different. Surf mats are steered by pulling up on the front corners of the mat and then leaning into that angle to steer your way through the waves. With a bodyboard, you keep your feet in the water and typically use fins to help maintain speed and balance. When you launch in a surf mat, though you can use fins to paddle out, your feet will be out of the water as much as possible. The best part about surf mat distinguishability is that they are fully inflatable. Mats are polymorphic more than any other rigid wave rider and will move with you unlike any other.
Is this actually surfing?
In our experience, these things can catch you just as many solid waves as you would riding a traditional 6-footer upright. The beautiful thing is, because you’re carrying mats instead of massive boards, you’ll be able to enjoy the nomadic lifestyle that every avid surfer-traveler dreams of. Riding a surf mat is absolutely an acquired taste, though if you just enjoy getting out there and catching some waves, we can definitely say that these things will help you do just that!
What makes surf mats so special compared to your traditional boards?
The connection to the ocean is unlike anything you could experience with a hard board. It lands itself right in the middle of fully engulfed body surfing and upright surfing. Think of it as right a big pocket of air, feeling every contour along every wave. If you ever find yourself in a solid, glossy lineup, you can reach insane speeds that will make you feel like you are levitating across the water. We can’t think of any feeling that compares.
What are some important qualities that I should look for in purchasing a solid surf mat?
Top-tier modern mats are made out of a sturdy nylon-coated thermoplastic. If you are seriously thinking of riding heavy waves, these should be your first choice. Though there are only a small number of manufacturers building surf mats these days, most will use similar internal binding methods to keep their mats sturdy. If you want to go fast, you’ll want to search for the most lightweight fabric. If control is your forte, a heavier fabric will be better. Lastly, look for dimensions that will help you ride with ease and maneuver to get you the best “lift” in the water to find that air pocket.
How long will my mat last?
With the nylon material of some of the top mats, these can easily outlast surfboards with heavy glass jobs. If you want to add lifespan to your mat, don’t ever leave it inflated in a hot car or ride it onto rocky shores or shallow reefs. These are the easiest ways to tear up your mat. If you care for these after every ride, rinsing them off, repairing small tears, and storing in dry, cool places, your surf mat can last you for decades!