Surfers have been transporting their surfboards on top of cars since, well, the car was invented (yeah, surfboards are older than cars). Unless you have a van or a pop-top camper that you ride solo in, or want to be the person whose buddies hold the longboard out the window, you’ll want to have some sort of surfboard racks for your car.
Even a pickup could benefit from a tailgate pad, and there are plenty of cheaper and more temporary options as well for surfboard roof pads that can be installed and removed with ease (think rental cars, your mom’s car, etc.)
Dakine’s Aero Rack Pads are insanely durable, reliable, and for a product that will last you years if not decades, pretty cost effective.
That being said, roof racks can also be used in a lot of different ways. whether you’re surfing, kayaking, biking, snowboarding, or just bringing a lot of stuff with you on your adventures, you could probably benefit from a solid set of roof racks for your car. If you’re not convinced, or have a different kind of setup that doesn’t require a roof rack (think pickup, sprinter van, or a rental) fret not, we have tried-and-true options for that as well.
We’ve done some soul-surfing (err, searching) on the topic of surfboard racks, and found a number that we like. If you don’t want to read the why and how, here’s the TLDR version for you. But do yourself a favor and read on to make sure you’re making the best choice for your vehicle and your surfboards. Then scroll to the bottom for a complete discussion of what to consider when buying a surfboard roof rack for your car. Here are our favorites.
The Best Surfboard Roof Racks (And Other Options)
Best Roof Pads:
I’ve seen these racks a lot, and I was pretty skeptical at first. But, they’ve grown on me. If you have a small car, borrowing/renting, or traveling and plan on renting a car, these can be pretty awesome and easy to use. And, if you have a bigger car, you can probably figure out how to get a board to fit in the car without racks, anyways.
You can even load a couple of boards onto the racks if you’re driving with friends or if you don’t leave home without your entire quiver. The racks themselves strap to your car and you can then strap your boards to the rack straps. The advantage of the FCS version over all the other ones on the market are FCS’s D-Ring, which securely buckles your board to your car with friction, and can be opened with one hand (most cam buckle straps require two hands).
Plus, these racks are easy to set up and take down so you don’t need to keep them on your car when you’re not using them. You can save your fuel efficiency and transfer them to another car if you have to with ease.
Though I do like this rack system a lot, there are a few disadvantages. You have to strap these around the roof of your car which means that you’re taking height away from your car’s headspace. If you’re a taller person this may make driving uncomfortable. I’m also not sure how much I’d trust these racks on a long trip on freeways. These are more than suitable for a trip to your local break, but I don’t know how much faith I’d have in them for a drive down to deep Baja.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
For half the price, Ho Stevie! provides an awesome and secure option with their proven customer service and satisfaction. The straps and pads are super durable, and the cams have a rubber sleeve to make sure the hard metal doesn’t damage your precious cargo. Though it’s just a single pad (FCS, above, has two-pad options) the straps are long enough to accomodate up to three boards stacked on top of one another.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Thule makes solid car racks, but they are expensive. The upside of going with Thule racks is that there are tons of attachments that you can add to make the most of your rack system. Their accompanying pads to protect the boards are great as well.
If you’re just looking to carry surfboards, you have a couple of options. You can get the board carrier system. It looks great for larger boards like longboards or SUPs, and works for shortboards as well, just make sure you have a good tight fit. Though it’s probably easier to strap a board down with this system, I’ve always trusted tie-downs as they are cheaper, and there is less that can go wrong with them.
If you want to haul any of your other toys around like bikes, ski gear, or straight up luggage, Thule racks are a great choice since there’s some sort of option for you. Personally, I’m a fan of the roof baskets since you can load it up with everything you need or just strap a longer board straight on it if that’s all you’re bringing.
Another great option, from another top-tier car-rack manufacturer. You can’t go wrong with Thule or Yakima, to be honest. The only downside of Yakima racks (which is why we give Thule the slight edge) is that they don’t fit every type of car so you might need to look elsewhere depending on your car. I’m also a fan of the flush bar racks since they can fit onto most cars that don’t have any sort of railing or gutter system.
Like Thule, Yakima has a variety of gadgets that you can put on top of this rack system to carry all kinds of things. The modular system allows for easy installation of any type of addition for whatever trip your taking.
This Yakima rack has a teardrop shape, and there are some aerodynamic benefits of having a flatter, wider bar (see round vs aero racks, below). You can save some of your fuel economy which is always a plus.
Budget Option: Malone SteelTop Square Bar Rack ($126-144)
For half the price of the crossbars that Thule and Yakima offer, above, you can get yourself a ready-to-go system from Malone that will attach to basically any side rail system a car might have (we’ve yet to find one it doesn’t work for).
However, one negative of the Malone rack is that it’s a square bar system. This kind of system is the least aerodynamic. It can also be a worry to strap boards straight onto since there is less surface which will apply more pressure to your board. But that’s less of a concern as you’ll be adding pads to those racks (right?).CHECK PRICE ON Backcountry
Best Cross Bar Pads
I cannot speak more highly of the durability of these rack pads. For the past 6+ years, the same pair of Dakine Aero Rack Pads have sat on the roof of my car, through rain, sun, snow, and everything in between, and they have yet to even think about deteriorating. Who’s to say if that has anything to do with the inordinate amount of surf wax that has melted into them over the years, or if they’re just plain awesome, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and these sure haven’t broken yet. There are cheaper options out there, but none with Dakine’s proven durability. They come in a couple different lengths (28″ and 34″) so be sure to order the size that will suit your needs the best.
If you have a round or square roof rack (like the Malone, above), you’ll want to go with these pads from Dakine, instead.CHECK PRICE ON EVO
Budget Option: Ho Stevie! Roof Rack Pads ($20-30)
Ho Stevie! strikes again. For low-priced, but well-made surf accessories, they really can’t be beat. These pads (made for aero-style roof racks, check out their round rack pads here) are made of a durable and waterproof nylon construction, to be honest, there’s very little difference, if any, between these and the Dakine pads. That said, Dakine as a brand carries a bit more weight and cachet than Ho Stevie!, so for extra style points, go with the Dakine option. Dakine’s pads are also a little longer (Ho Stevie!’s pads come in 17″ and 28″ sizes). For unbeatable pricing, Ho Stevie! fits the bill.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Roof Straps:
When it comes to roof rack straps for surfboard transport, FCS’s D-Ring Tie-Downs can’t be beat. Featuring the same buckle design as their roof pads, above, these securely strap your surfboard to your car, and only require one hand to open, helpful when you’re standing on your car tire and reaching across the roof of your car to get surfboards down.
However, they are a bit less versatile than classic tie-down straps that feature a metal cam construction as they need a flat surface for the most secure fit. If you’re more interested in an all-around pair of straps to keep in your car for whatever life throws your way, the D-Ring might not be your best bet.CHECK PRICE ON REI
Kanu Locks takes the classic tie-down strap and gives it a significant upgrade. If you’ve ever had to leave a surfboard strapped on top of your car for an extended period of time (aka a surf session), you have probably spent said extended period of time worrying that someone might steal it (at least I would be worrying). Kanu Locks fixes that problem with a strap that is reinforced with an interior metal cable, and a locking cam buckle to keep your boards safe and give you peace of mind. The interior cable wouldn’t be a match for a solid pair of wire cutters, but for a simple crime of opportunity they should do the trick.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Ahh, the classic tie-down straps. While they don’t offer the one-handed ease of the FCS D-Ring, nor the security of the Kanu Lock, these straps are about as versatile as you can get, and should be a staple in anyone’s car, surfer or otherwise. I’ve used them to extend my hammock straps on camping trips, roll up a sleeping pad, and strap anything from surfboards to skis to kayaks to my roof rack. They’re a better choice for surfboards than ratchet straps, as they can’t really be tightened enough to damage a board (but please don’t test that theory). COR Surf makes a solid set, but really, any cam strap from your local hardware store should do the trick and maybe save you a buck or two.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Tailgate Pads for Pickups:
If you own a pickup, you’re likely putting your surfboard in the bed, rather than on the roof. With that in mind, you probably will want some pads to ensure that the hard edges of your pickup bed don’t damage your board. The Dakine Pickup Pad, above is as multi-functional as it gets, protecting your board from your tailgate and vice versa. It’s also a great choice for bikes and other gear you might hang over the tailgate to ensure you don’t scratch that precious paint job. Note that you will need a set of cam straps if you choose to go this route for surfboard truckin’.
For a cheaper, more surf-specific option, check out the Dakine Tailgate Surfboard Pad, that clocks in at $75 bucks cheaper, and comes equipped with an integrated cam strap to keep your board secure.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
What Makes a Good Surfboard Car Rack?
Choosing car racks can be a daunting task. There’s a bunch of known brands that all seem pretty good. Then there are cheaper ones that are, well, cheaper and may seem a little sketchy. Thule and Yakima are the most-trusted brands, but there are plenty of other trusted options out there, too (and in this list). The main thing you’ll want to figure out, however, before you go out and get a set of racks, is what type of rack will be best for your car.
If your car has side rails already installed, you can go with a simple set of crossbars. If your car has a flat roof or a roof with rain gutters, you have some options there, too.
That’s the first consideration: get the system that fits your car. No one wants to shell out all that money for a system that’s not compatible.
Round vs. Aero Surfboard Car Racks
Supposedly aero racks are quieter when you’re driving. In my experience, quieter is a relative term when it comes to racks. But, they’re also more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient. Though, exactly how fuel-efficient isn’t entirely clear either, but anything helps if you’re going to be driving with them on your car full-time.
One true plus of the oblong-style aero roof racks is that they give a flatter surface to place things on when you’re loading up. For me, it makes me feel like I’m able to get a better base when I strap a board down.
Overhang vs. Flush Surf Racks
Some racks end at the spot where they attach to the base. These are flush racks. Others, called overhang racks, continue past that base for a few inches. If you’re going to be strapping things to your racks I recommend getting racks that overhang.
When racks overhang, you can attach the tie-down to the outside of the tower and prevent your board or load from sliding around the middle. If you wrap both sides of the tie-down to the outside, your strap won’t slide around as you drive.
Ok, now that you have a rack system, it’s time to look at rack pads.
Do I Need Rack Pads to Transport my Surfboard?
If you don’t have a special attachment and are just putting a board straight onto the crossbar, you should have some sort of pad. There are plenty of options, and it doesn’t have to be super fancy. But, you’ll want something to stop your board from being pushed into a hard, narrow rack and something that will stop wax from getting everywhere. Some sort of rack pad will help with this.
Other Surfboard Transport Options
Despite all the hoopla over roof racks, they aren’t the best for everybody, for reasons previously stated. Different strokes for different folks, and different surfboard transport solutions for different vehicles.
For those with a pickup truck, a tailgate pad will probably be what you’re looking for. These are great for longboards, and can often also be used for bikes and other equipment.
If you’re looking for a temporary or cheaper option, roof pads are a great call. They won’t work (or at least will be super sketchy) on a car that but for any car with a flat roof area and some doors or windows to thread the straps through, these will work great. That said, roof pads tend to be the sketchiest option out there for surfboard transport. Used properly they can be a bomber solution, used improperly, and you’re ending up on Kook of the Day, my friend.
Putting Your Surfboard on Your Car Rack
When putting a surfboard on a roof rack, put the board fins up and fins facing forward. You might think that it doesn’t matter which way the board goes, but fins back is for kooks. Your board probably won’t slide out from your straps when you accelerate, but what if it did and the fin wasn’t there to stop it? Just think about it.
This article was updated and contributed to by Will Sileo.