How to Attach Surfboards to Your Car: 17 Awesome Tips

Surfboards are large pieces of sporting equipment. If you are travelling to the beach with your surfing friends, you will have a number of boards to transport.

Unless you have a pick up truck with a bed big enough, you will be strapping surfboards to the top of your car.

You don’t want your surfboard to fly off the car and bounce across the highway endangering other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Strapping surfboards to the top of your car is an important skill to learn for surfers. The most common methods used to fasten surfboards is with soft racks, straps, lockable tie down straps or good old fashioned rope.

Although there are lots of different options and it is sometimes hard to determine the best products, taking the time to learn the proper way to securely fasten your boards will save you time and money in the long run.

For the 17 Tips on How to Strap Surfboards to Your Car, read on!

Secure Your Boards!

Before we get into the following tips and tricks, let me tell you a quick story.

When I first started surfing, I tied my surfboard to the top of my mom’s car and drove to the beach looking for waves.

When my friend and I were driving home from the beach, we both heard the whoosh of my surfboard detaching from the roof. We both looked back and saw it fly into the air and then bounce off the highway and past several cars, ending up in the ditch.

Luckily, it didn’t cause an accident and there wasn’t too much damage to the board, but I never forgot that sinking feeling of watching your surfboard flying across the pavement at 80 km/h (50 mph).

After that experience, I became a bit obsessive about securing surfboards to cars…..

21 Tips

The following tips are organized in the three categories:

  • Tips for Cars Without Roof Racks
  • Tips for Cars With Roof Racks
  • General Tips

Tips for Cars Without Roof Racks

1. Just Rope or Towels & Rope

When I first started surfing, my first roof rack consisted of a towel and some rope.

We installed the “rack” by laying a towel on top of my mom’s car for protection and then stacking the boards on top. Then we would throw the rope over the stack of boards, tighten it all together and tie it off inside the car.

If you want to get fancy, you can layer towels as extra padding between the boards.

You can also ditch the towels all together and just use rope to attach surfboards to the top of the car. There is a good chance that your surfboards will get dinged, but it will work. If the surfboards are in bags, it will work better.

I am sure every surfer has tried some version of this method at least once. It is simple and effective but it doesn’t provide much protection for the car or the surfboards.

As well, the roof line of the car can make it challenging to effectively secure boards because the towel doesn’t create any clearance. If the car roof is curved (like a Volkswagen beetle), there is very little roof surface area for the boards to rest on.

Surfboard rack technology has come a long way over the years and there are lots of great alternatives to the rope & towel method.

2. Soft Racks

Soft racks are a portable roof rack system for surfboards and stand up paddle boards. They are designed for cars without roof racks and are relatively inexpensive. Soft racks are constructed of foam padding, nylon straps, cam locking buckles and neoprene protectors.

Often, they come in a handy carrying case. See the picture below:

Soft racks are designed to hold multiple surfboards but check the manufacturers recommendations to make sure you aren’t beyond the carrying capacity. The racks come in single and double wide depending on how many boards you need to transport.

Soft racks are available at all surf shops and they are usually supplied with surfboard rentals so that you can get your boards to/from the beach.

See the Video tutorial below on how to install soft racks:

I have had the same soft racks for years because they are strong, secure and great for travel. Check out the resources page for more information on the top recommended soft racks.

Soft racks are great for travel! They pack small to fit in a board bag and are easily installed on rental cars, taxis or a friend’s car.

3. Straps & Foam Blocks

Another option for cars without roof racks is a combination of foam blocks and straps. It is the same principle as a soft rack but you can purchase the components separately and save some money.

As well, you can purchase smaller or larger blocks of foam to better fit with the roof line of your car.

If the roof line of your car is flatter you can probably get away with smaller foam blocks. If the roof line of your car is more curved you will probably want thicker foam blocks. This way you can make it more specialized to your specific needs.

To create this type of do it yourself soft rack, you will need to purchase the following components: 2 rectangular foam blocks & 2 straps.

Watch the YouTube video below for a tutorial on how to strap a surfboard to the car using foam blocks and straps.

Tips for Cars With Roof Racks

If your car has hard racks installed on the roof, then you are in luck because they will provide a solid foundation for your surfboards.

Before you strap surfboards to your rack, make sure it is installed solidly to your car.

That may sound like a funny tip but I have known some friends that have had the whole bundle (surfboards, rack & straps) detach from their car and fly into the ditch.

1. Rope & Bungee Cords

Good old fashioned rope & bungee cords. They are inexpensive, easily accessible and they work (sort of).

I used rope & bungee cords for the first part of my surfing career. It was the 1990’s and fancy surf specific straps weren’t available.

The biggest challenge with lower quality rope is that it either stretches or doesn’t tie tightly, which means there is a lot of extra length to manage every time you tie and untie your boards.

The biggest challenge with bungee cords is that they stretch. They wear out over time and they don’t provide the optimal amount of tension for your boards.

I stopped using both rope and bungee cords many years ago because I had bought so many different lengths of rope and packages of bungee cords and I was tired of the hassle.

2. Straps

About 8 years ago, I spent $25 on a set of FCS surf specific straps with neoprene padded cam locks and a small carrying case and it was the best surf accessory I have ever bought. Hands down.

They are indestructible. I still have the same set today and I use them all the time. Check out the resources page to read more about the top recommended straps.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t buy a pair earlier. I always thought that they were too expensive compared to rope and I didn’t see the benefit of having a dedicated set of surfing straps. I was so wrong.

Straps are so simple and effective. Every major surf brand has a set of straps and there are many different locking mechanisms, styles and colour combinations.

Straps are worth the investment, just make sure that any metal parts of the straps has padding to prevent damage to your board.

3. Rack Pads

Rack pads are installed on the racks of your car and provide padding for your surfboards.

For years I used duct tape to attached foam pipe insulation to my round metal roof racks. You can get foam pipe insulation at any hardware store for a couple of dollars. It worked pretty well and it is inexpensive.

That being said, rack pads have been designed for surfboards and provide significantly more protection and padding. They come in many different colours and you can add some style to your boring old roof racks.

I prefer plain black because they age well and always look good.

4. Lockable Tie Downs

Lockable tie down straps provide another level of security for your surfboards when they are on the top of your car.

Typically, the buckle has a locking mechanism and the straps are reinforced with metal webbing so they are more difficult to cut through.

Make sure to read the reviews and check the quality because there is a wide range of different products on the market.

At the very least, they act as an additional deterrent for someone looking to snatch your boards.

General Tips

1. Surfboard Deck Down

The deck of the surfboard is the flat area where you put your feet and apply the wax.

It is important to put the deck side down and bottom facing up, which will mean that your fins will be pointing up to the sky. With the deck pointing down, the wax will be less likely to melt because it won’t be directly exposed to UV rays from the sun.

If you have multiple boards, then all the surfboards decks should be pointed down and stacked on top of each other.

2. Fins First

Now that we have established that the deck will be facing down, the surfboard should be oriented so that the fins will be be towards the front of the car.

This positioning will provide two benefits.

Firstly, the straps will be installed behind the fins, which will provide extra security because the fins will stop the board from sliding off the car if they loosen slightly.

Secondly, it is easier to stack surfboards on top of each other when the fins are facing forward.

See the photo below for the correct board positioning:

3. Watch the Wax

If it’s hot and your board is strapped to the top of your car, the wax is going to melt and drip on your roof. You can try putting your board in a bag but the wax will still probably melt inside your board bag!

There isn’t really any way to get around it. In warmer climates, you can tell who the surfers are by the wax streaks on their car.

If you plan on leaving your surfboard on your car for extended periods on a hot day, consider taking it off and storing it in the shade.

4. Don’t Use Your Hand

The number of people that I see driving with their right hand while holding their surfboard on the car with their other hand is incredible.

I won’t act judgmental because I have done it myself. I was moving my vehicle between parking lots at the beach and I was too lazy to re-attach my board to the roof just to move a few hundred feet.

That being said, it isn’t the best strategy and can be quite dangerous for bystanders. And your board might get damaged too.

5. Surfboard Bags

Surfboard bags add extra protection for surfboards and help to reduce dings during transport.

I generally travel with boards in bags because it acts like the foam protectors in a roof rack system. All I need are straps and I can fasten my boards to any roof rack, whether they have foam protectors on them or not.

Also, surfboard bags can help protect surfboards from each other when they are getting stacked up on the roof. Board bags act like a non-slip surface that provides extra security when tied down.

Lastly, surfboard bags reduce the amount of road grime that gets on your board when driving to the beach.

6. Don’t Over-tighten

It is super tempting to tighten your boards as snugly as possible as an added level of insurance to make sure they don’t blow off your car. I get it. I have done it.

But it is important to resist the urge because over-tightening can cause damage to your boards. Especially, if several surfboards are stacked together.

A general rule is to tighten the straps enough that they fasten securely but you shouldn’t be straining to do it.

7. Ratchet Straps Aren’t Necessary

Ratchet straps are a tie down strap with a ratchet handle that can be used to increase tension in the strap by pumping it back and forth. They are used in different transport applications for securing heavy loads.

Ratchet straps aren’t really necessary for securing surfboards and end up being overkill. They increase the likelihood of over tightening and can cause damage to your boards.

I realize that many surfers use ratchet straps to secure surfboards, but i just found that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

8. Watch the Rails

The rails of your surfboard, which are the the two sides/edges that run from the tail to the nose, can become damaged by the straps/rope etc. when you are securing your boards.

Some surfboards are glassed lighter than others, so be careful. Also, make sure that any metal parts of your straps are not in contact with your surfboard when you are tightening or fastening.

Damage can even be caused by the strap alone if most of the tension is tightening on the rail. Although surfboard bags can provide protection, the main contributing factor that causes rail damage are from straps that are too tight.

9. Surfboard Socks

Surf board socks are a stretch fabric that fits tightly around your surfboard and provides cushioning and protection from dings during transport.

Surfboard socks are not as durable as a surfboard bags, but they have their advantages; including, UV protection, easy to carry and don’t take up much room.

When attaching boards to the top of the car, surfboard socks provide protection from the straps and other boards. Because they are streamlined and tight fitting, they don’t add as much bulk when boards are stacked on top of each other.

10. Board Stacking

Car pooling to the beach is a great way to save money and be a little kinder to the environment. Travelling with a car full of surfers results in a stack of surfboards on the top of the car.

As more boards are added to the stack, it becomes a little more challenging to securely fasten the boards to the top of the car. Multiple boards create additional surface area that might catch the wind.

In this scenario, it seems like more tension on the straps is required to fasten the boards which isn’t necessarily true.

Keep in mind that if if the boards are not protected from each other the pressure between them can cause damage.

Consider the following tips:

  • Organize from the largest board on the bottom to smallest on top of the stack
  • Protect the boards from each other with board bags, board socks or whatever you have (towels)
  • If you have three boards of similar size and only one board in a bag, put it in the middle!

Bonus Tip! – Freezing

In Canada, surfboards get frozen to cars all the time. If you live in a part of the world with freezing temperatures, you can use the atmospheric conditions to help you fasten your surfboard to your car.

It’s free, all you need is freezing temperatures, water and some time.

Try the following steps:

  • Put your surfboard on top of the car the night before you go surfing
  • Use a hose and soak the board and top of the car
  • Go back in the house and go to sleep
  • Wake up in the morning and confirm that your board is frozen to the car
  • If so, get in you car and drive to the beach
  • Don’t forget to bring warm water to disconnect your board from the car!

Click on the Links to Check out my other How-To articles for more helpful information.

How to Repair Your Wetsuit: Helpful Guide (with photos)

How to Recycle Your Old Wetsuit & Earn Discounts


I am the person behind Surfers Footprint. Thank you for taking the time to read through the post! If you want to know more about our story, scroll down and click on ABOUT SURFERS FOOTPRINT at the bottom of the HomePage.

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