While soft-top boards were all but written off 10 years ago, these days it seems like everyone has one. From total beginners to pros who rip the snot out of them and paddle them into double-overhead Pipe, foamie surfboards are everywhere. Jamie O’Brien has pretty much built a career around surfing critical barrels on soft-tops, and pulling stunts like mid-barrel transfers from foamies to normal boards. Kalani Robb has seen his career revived after signing with a soft-top brand, and Koa and Alex Smith are notorious for breaking and returning so many soft-tops to Costco that they forced the retail giant to change its return policy.
Shore breaks used to be the domain of body surfers and body boarders, but these days there are just as many stand-up surfers pulling in over dry sand on the soft, nearly indestructible boards. But soft-tops are just as popular at small, soft waves, where beginners can learn to surf without many of the dangers of “real” boards.
There are a number of reasons for the popularity of soft-tops, such as affordability, durability, and of course the fun factor. After all, it’s hard to take your surfing seriously when you are on an eight-foot funboard made out of body board material—and the last thing you want to do when the surf is marginal is take your surfing seriously. But for most beginners, probably the best thing about these surfboard/body board hybrids is the fact that they don’t hurt too bad when they hit you. That’s great news for newbies, and for surf schools and rental companies catering to kooks.
The downside? They aren’t exactly high-performance boards. Plastic fins, weird flex patterns, and an over-all awkward feel means that while soft-tops might be fun and quirky and good for a novelty session, you probably aren’t going to boost a styled-out air on one. At least not yet.
But a company called INT is out to change that, and renowned board brand Channel Islands has decided to throw their hat in with them. A line of hard-bottomed soft-tops has been released, with two models from Channel Islands in the quiver, including the MINI and the Water Hog. These boards have a standard epoxy-resined glass bottom with high-performance fin boxes, but a durable, more forgiving soft-top deck on a core of Marko foam. In other words, they combine the performance of a glassed board with the forgiveness of a foamie.
Here at Hawaiian South Shore, we currently carry the MINI, which is somewhat of a hybrid groveler—short and stubby, with straight rails for speed and a round tail for control. The MINI was originally a popular collaboration with Kalani Robb and MINI Automotive, but the updated MINI x INT model is the next level of soft-top surfboard design, and is changing our idea of what foam boards are capable of.
We are also excited to announce that we will soon be adding the Channel Islands Water Hog x INT to our lineup. This mini-longboard equipped with the INT technology is revolutionizing the funboard design.
While most soft-tops (up until now) have been essentially oversized bodyboards with fins, or spongy pseudo-longboard clunkers, these cutting-edge soft-top/hard-bottom boards are as friendly to your top turn as they are to your shins. The fact that they are nearly indestructible only serves to make them even more utilitarian.
Channel Islands MINI x INT boards are available in 5’6″, 5’10”, and 6’2″, and Water Hogs will be available in 6’6″, 7’0″, and 8’0″. Stop by the shop and check them out!