As a surfer, there are few things more soul-crushing than opening your surfboard bag after being on an 8-hour flight, removing your surfboard, and discovering a huge dent or scratch or worse a broken fin or a broken surfboard nose or tail.
You can travel with a surfboard on a plane. You will need to pack your surfboard well in a travel bag, understand your airline’s oversize luggage fees and be prepared to file a claim if you arrive at your destination with a damaged surfboard.
Let’s explore the ins and out of traveling with your surfboard.
Check Your Airline’s Surfboard Policy
Before you buy a surfboard travel bag and start packing, you should first check with the airline. Ask:
- What is their policy on surfboards?
- Are there are extra fees or specific requirements?
Your airline may have requirements concerning the size and the weight of your surfboard. As the oversize and/or excess baggage fees and/or limits can vary greatly from one airline to the next, you will need to factor this into the equation when you travel with your surfboard.
Choose the Right Surfboard To Travel
It’s not practical to take your surfboard whole quiver with you. Choose the best surfboard for the occasion and the conditions you will be surfing and if you’re worried about damage to your surfboards from the airline baggage handlers, don’t opt to travel with your most expensive or favorite surfboard.
Prepare Your Surfboard For Its Flight
Here’s what you need to prepare your surfboard for traveling on an airplane.
Remove The Wax From Your Surfboard
Surf wax can melt in transit which will make your surfboard bag a mess. Even worse, your surfboard will get stuck in your surfboard bag. You don’t want to spend your first hour in a tropical paradise watching your friends paddle out while you are jetlagged and extracting your surfboard from a waxy surfboard bag tomb.
Detach The Fins From The Surfboard
Remove your fins from your surfboard and place them somewhere secure. You can include them in the surfboard travel bag, but be sure you pad your surf fins so they don’t accidentally bang against your surfboard which can ding your surfboard and delay your surf session.
You may want tape any screws to bigger center fins so you don’t lose them and bring a screw driver (in a checked bag) to reattach the fin to your surfboard when you land.
Also, bring a fin key for your FCS, Future or other removable fin systems. You can get a fin key and fin screws here. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Buy A High-Quality Surfboard Travel Bag
Spend the extra cash on a heavy-duty travel bag for your surfboard complete with shoulder straps and/or wheels if you are traveling with multiple surfboards.
- Dakine has a great travel surfboard bag for a single thruster surfboard that will fit surfboards from 6’3” to 7’6”.
- Pro-Lite has a surfboard travel bag that will hold 1 or 2 surfboards from 6’ to 7’6” in length.
- Pro-Lite has a great travel surfboard bag that you can put 2 or 3 surfboards in.
Be sure to get a bag that has extra room so you can give your surfboards extra padding protection.
Get Foam Pipe Insulation & Bubble Wrap
The foam pipe insulation will help protect your surfboard’s rails, so be sure to get enough to cover the entire rail. The bubble wrap will help protect the deck and the bottom of the surfboard, and the tail and the nose of the surfboard. Don’t be shy, use these materials liberally especially around the nose and the tail of the surfboard.
Use Duct Tape
Get duct tape to keep the foam pipe insulation and the bubble wrap in place. They will fall off or move if you don’t tape them down. Bring the duct tape with you to wrap up your surfboard for your return trip home.
Use A Surfboard Sock
If you have a surfboard sock, use it. You can slip the surfboard sock over the padded surfboard for extra protection. It won’t do much to prevent dings, but it will help to prevent scratches and if you already have it, you don’t have anything to lose.
How To Pack Your Surfboard Bag For Travel
Your surfboard is now ready to go in the surfboard bag.
If it’s a heavy-duty surfboard travel bag, it should have some thick protection and a snug fit. If not, the surfboard will move around and is more likely to become damaged during transportation.
Either way you can use that extra room in your surfboard bag to your advantage by stuffing some bubble wrap or beach towels in there. You can also take some extra clothes and jam them in the bag—a wetsuit, jacket, a sweater, whatever you want.
As long as you don’t exceed the baggage weight and size allowances allowed by your airline, you’ll be fine. Most airlines will refuse to reimburse you if anything happens to your surfboard so pack it tight and pack it well.
Should I Write “Fragile” On My Surfboard Bag?
There is a myth that suggests writing “fragile” or “top load only” will encourage baggage handlers to mistreat your luggage. You hear the same thing said about delivery companies.
It might be true for a few unscrupulous handlers, but not for the majority. They probably won’t treat your package with kid gloves just because it’s labeled as “fragile”, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm.
So, yes. Feel free to put a piece of duct tape on the outside or your surfboard travel bag and write “fragile” or “top load only” or get stickers that say similar.
Chances are a baggage handler in Honolulu will know a surfboard when they see it, but a baggage handler at JFK or Newark Liberty International may not if they are new to the job. You want to be prepared for all scenarios and take the right precautions that your surfboard arrives in one piece at your destination.
What Happens if the Airline Damages Your Board?
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not a case of “hard luck, get over it” if the airline damages your surfboard during transit. In fact, regulations set by the Department of Transportation (DOT) require the airlines to compensate travelers for any damage that they cause to transported goods.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they have a long list of exclusions (these vary depending on the destination and airline) and even if your board is included, you may have a hard job proving it.
If you have experience dealing with airline customer support, you’ll know where we’re coming from. Trying to get them to see sense and do their duty is like getting blood out of a stone, so you’ll need a lot of patience and persistence.
Regulation dictates that airlines must pay up to $3,500 worth of compensation for lost, damaged, and even delayed bags. They can choose to pay more than this, but that would be a goodwill gesture and not a legal requirement.
You have up to 24 hours to file a claim for most domestic flights and 1 week for international ones. However, some airlines require you to notify them within a few hours, so if you notice a problem, report it quickly.
Most airlines had a baggage desk where you can take your damaged items and make a claim.
Surfing Travel Essentials
Don’t forget to bring the following essentials. Amazon is great place to get last-minute items:
- An extra surfboard leash or 2.
- A ding repair kit for polyurethane and/or epoxy surfboards.
- Surfboard wax for the right water temperature.
Summary: How to Properly Pack a Surfboard Bag For a Flight
A damaged surfboard can ruin your trip, so when you pack your surfboard before your flight, take care to wrap it thickly and protect it properly.
Get a quality surfboard bag for traveling, load it up with bubble wrap, towels, pipe insulation, duct tape, wetsuits and clothes, and pay attention to the airline’s rules.
Have a great trip. Aloha!