Packing a surfboard for flying on your next surftrip can be a bit nerve-racking, as you do not want to find yourself at the beach with a damaged board while the waves are pumping. We all know the way some airport baggage handlers treat our equipment, so here are some tips on how to pack your surfboard to protect it during transport, and find it ding-free on your next surftrip.
Before getting started packing your boards, i'ts important to decide which boards you will be packing. As nice as it would be to bring the entire quiver, this is rarely an option, so it is important to decide which boards to bring based on the waves you are expecting at your destination. This will have an impact on which airlines you will decide to fly with, as some airlines charge per boardbag, and others per number of boards even if packed in the same bag.
Once you know which boards you will need for your trip, you'll know the dimensions and how many boards you will pack, so you can make the best choice for which airline to fly with, so as not to get dinged by too many excess baggage fees at the airport. If you are planning to bring multiple boards, be sure to check that the airline charges per boardbag, and not per individual board. Check out the following links for selecting the best airlines for flying with surfboards:
The main form of protection for your boards will be the boardbag. Be sure to use a proper travel boardbag with additional padding, and not just a simple daybag or board sock. Ideally, if you are comfortably within your weight limit, you can pack the boards into daybags and then place them into the travel bag for additional protection. Have a daybag with you will help for easy day-trips to different breaks. When selecting a travel boardbag, keep in mind the dimensions of your biggest board, and how many boards you'll be travelling with. You will want at least 4 inches of lee-way on each dimension of your boardbag, to allow space for additional padding, wetsuits, etc without putting too much strain on the zipper.
Selecting a Boardbag: Wheeled vs non-wheeled boardbags?
Choosing between buying a wheeled and non-wheeled surfboard bag is a major decision. The main considerations are between comfort and weight. Wheeled boardbags are considerably heavier than non-wheeled bags of the same dimensions, so when packing multiple boards, these wheels may cause you to exceed your allowed weight limit. It is definitely a major convenience to have wheels when carrying your bags through airports and on paved streets however many of our dream surf destinations are known better for their uneven sidewalks and sandy beach access. In these cases, the wheels will be of no use, and just an extra burden carrying your bag on your shoulder. Cost is another major consideration, and wheeled boardbags tend to be more expensive than a basic coffin-style travel boardbag. Most surfers when traveling with just one or two surfboards opt for a simple non-wheeled travel boardbag, and simply use a luggage cart at the airport.
When choosing your boardbag, also consider the zipper opening of the boardbag, whether it open only the back half of the boardbag, or whether the full top flap lifts up. It is much easier to ensure your board remains protected from all sides when the bag opens completely and provides access to the board from all sides.
Time to get started with the boards. Remove the wax from your boards before packing them up, unless you want your bag to be covered in melted wax. As we usually tend to travel in search of warmer waters and waves, our cool/cold water wax will melt by the time we open the boardbag at the destination, causing a big mess in the boardbag. When heading to a warmer destination, we will have to switch to a harder wax either way, so it is best to remove the old wax before the trip, rather than at the spot while itching to hit the water.
Take off your fins and leash, and pack it all together with your fin key and wax, so it's all ready to go. Whether you place this in your boardbag or regular suitcase is a weight consideration. Many travel boardbags have an interior fin pouch inside the bag. Try to avoid placing these items in an exterior fin pouch, as they may get lost in transit.
Before beginning to pack, take a picture of everything that is going into the boardbag. As much as it sucks, it is a fact of life that baggage sometimes gets lost, and it tends to happen more often to oversized/odd baggage such as sports equipment. Be sure to have a full inventory of the items in the bag just in case you will need to make an insurance claim for a delayed or lost bag.
The nose, tail and rails are the most vulnerable parts of your surfboard. Protect the rails with cardboard, pool noodles, or surfboard specific rail pads. Pay particular attention to the rails opposite the side of the boardbag's handle and shoulder strap, as this is the rail which will always be placed down first, and unfortunately, may be dropped on. Place padding between boards, and fill in gaps between the nose rockers of the boards with foam, rashguards, or wetsuits, so that the noses are fully supported from the bottom and less likely to be snapped off. Place a hard piece of protection vertically by the nose of the boards, to support other bags that may be placed on top of your boards, rather than the weight being placed directly onto the nose of your boards.
If you have a boardsock or daybag, and you are still within your allowed weight limit, place the protected board into the daybag for an extra layer of padding and protection. This will be useful when doing daytrips to different breaks at your destination, as you will not want to be carrying a heavy travelbag everywhere you go.
Use your additional accessories such as towels and wetsuits to provide additional padding along the rails, tail, and nose of your boards. Most airlines frown upon putting clothing or other items into your boardbags, but this is all surf equipment, so should be alright. If necessary, use some sweatesr or other clothing to pad your board inside the bag, although this may cause issues at the airport if the airline is very strict.
Close any interior straps and tighten them to keep all of your boards and padding strapped together. It is important that your boards are all a single package and do not rearrange themselves inside your boardbag, as this may move your padding and make some parts of the boards vulnerable to dings. The more solid the package, the safer your boards will be.
Place a label with your name, contact info, and destination INSIDE the boardbag, in case the bag gets lost. It is safer to have this information inside the bag, as it will not get torn off. Have another label with the contact information for placing on the outside of the bag as well. You can also leave a note for the customs/TSA agents thanking them for being careful when re-packing your bag, and asking them to make sure to properly close the zipper. Every little bit helps.
Finally, close the bag and you're ready to go. Tighten any cinch straps on the outside of your bag, so that everything is nice and snug. You do not want your surfboard package to be sliding around inside the boardbag. You're ready to head out on your next surf safari!
Use roofrack straps to wrap around the boardbag from the outside. This will serve a similar purpose to the cinch straps on the outside of the bag, to help keep everything snug, and will also make your boardbag look smaller and less intimitating to the check-in agent. You will also then be sure to always have straps for attaching your board to the roof of your car or taxi once your arrive at your destination.
Bring a Fix'n'Zip zipper repair kit. Boardbag zippers take a lot of abuse with salt and sand and, as heavy-duty as they are, are notorious for breaking at the wrong moments. Be sure to always bring a Fix'n'Zip zipper slider repair kit with you, to be able to repair the zipper easily when packing to come home. Although quite expensive for what it is, this is the best zipper slider repair we've found, and you'll be happy to have it once your zipper breaks and you cannot close your boardbag just minutes before heading back to the airport. I always carry two spare sliders on every surftrip, because if it's not my bag that breaks, guaranteed a friend of mine will need to fix their bag.
Print the airline's official rules for surfboard travel. Know what to expect to pay for the bags at the airport, and what the airline allows you to bring. You may try to check-in and see whether you get lucky and not be charged a surfboard baggage fee at the airport, but in case the check-in agent is trying to charge you more than proper amount, it is important to have the rules in writing in order to be able to haggle. Be sure it is printed from the airline's official website, together with the web address and date it was printed.
When checking-in, you may be asked to drop your bag at oversize baggage drop area, rather than at the check-in counter. When the bags gets x-rayed and inspected by security agents, be sure to stay and watch if possible, to be able to help them to repack your bags properly without leaving your boards vulnerable to damage.
When arriving at your destination, your boardbag will probably not arrive on the regular baggage carousel. Be sure to ask where is the oversize/bulky luggage area where you can pick up your boards.