Transporting bulky water toys can pose a challenge. Most surfboards and stand-up paddleboards travel to the water in a vehicle unless it’s accessible by foot or bicycle.
Most small crossovers can fit a short board inside with all the seats folded. Some three-row SUVs can even carry longboards or SUPs. But this method eliminates most passenger and cargo space. And constant exposure to saltwater, sand and wax risks damage to the vehicle’s interior.
That’s why roof-mounted racks are a good solution to carrying boards of all sizes. They are easy to use, preserve the interior and free space inside the vehicle.
TYPES OF SURFBOARD ROOF RACKS
There are three types of surfboard roof rack systems: Hard, soft and straps. Choosing one depends on your vehicle, your board size and the amount of boards you’re hauling.
Soft racks attach to any type of vehicle and use a strap system. They don’t require crossbars or roof rails. Hard racks offer more security and carry more weight, but they typically attach to crossbars and need more in-depth installation.
Strap systems also need crossbars on which to fasten the boards. Crossbar pads are a good idea for added protection. Surfboard bags can also help prevent damage.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR CROSSBAR SETUP
Different crossbars affect different rack systems. Check your vehicle’s crossbar compatibility with a hard-style rack. Factory-installed crossbars may present limitations when compared with after-market bars.
That’s because spacing can be an issue. Most surfboard, SUP and kayak systems use universal clamping mechanisms. The position of the clamps depends on the size of the equipment.
Aftermarket crossbars often extend beyond the roof’s width. This wider base provides a more versatile platform because the clamps can attach at whatever distance is needed.
For example, the standard crossbars provided by Nissan for its 2019 Pathfinder midsize SUV only allow clamps to sit 21 inches apart. Surfboards can be as wide as 22 inches. A 10-foot-8-inch SUP that is 31 inches wide would be too big for these crossbars. Fit kits and adapters could help but add an extra installation step.
Does the rack system fit onto the vehicle’s rain gutters? Some setups include two metal bars, a tensioner and a set of clamps that attach to the gutters.
Gutterless-style racks are use on vehicles without rain gutters. These clip onto and tighten to the top of the vehicle’s doors, creating tension once the doors close.
Research your desired type of roof rack and vehicle’s compatibility. Whatever your preference, we’ve compiled the following buyer’s guide for hard, soft and strap-style surfboard roof racks.
SURFBOARD & SUP ROOF RACK BUYER’S GUIDE
Why we picked it: The FCS Premium Soft Rack carries one to three shortboards, one to two longboards and most SUPs. It’s designed for easy rooftop installation and doesn’t need crossbars or gutters.
The pads secure onto a vehicle’s roof with a strap that runs alongside the ceiling of the interior. Two straps wrap around the top of the surfboards and tighten using a D-ring buckle attached one end. The D-ring is intuitive and works much like a double-ring belt buckle.
For $10 more, you can get double soft racks that hold twice as many boards. For the feel-good extra, FCS donates 1 percent of all online sales to ocean conservation charities.
Inno Surf Locker ($180)
Why we picked it: Inno’s Surf Locker uses a universal mounting system that’s compatible with round, square, aero and most factory bars. It can carry three shortboards or two longboards or a kayak. Rubber cushions on the straps and crossbar pads protect the boards.
Locker clamps attach and lock to the crossbars. Each clamp has a cable strap that extends and hooks to its counterpart once the boards are in place. A rubber strip on the cable sits on the board’s rails. The pliable material softens the cable’s contact points and prevents dings.
A ratcheting crank system in the clamps tightens each strap over the boards. Gradual tightening alerts you when it’s secure, which prevents too much tension.
Strap System Rack
Thule Express Surf Strap ($40)
Why we picked it: Thule’s Express Surf Strap uses a two bungee-style strap system to secure surfboards or SUPs to a vehicle’s existing crossbars. Each strap weighs less than a pound and is easy to stow when not in use.
The straps use an easy cinch system. And the soft construction protects against rail dings or damage. They’re compatible with naked boards, but rack pads or a surfboard bag is recommended.
Roof Rack (on a Budget)
Why we picked it: The compact Curve Surfboard Soft Rack lacks bulky foam padding, weighs two pounds and measures 6 inches by 4 inches. Its small size makes it an ideal pick for those who travel often.
The rack fits most vehicles with or without side rails and features a lockdown system to keep cargo secure. A cam buckle provides strap tension, and it holds three longboards or four shortboards.
SUP Hard Roof Rack
Thule SUP Taxi XT ($280)
Why we picked it: The Thule SUP Taxi XT carries up to two SUPs or four longboards. It has a push-button lock system, reinforced steel webbing and a spring-loaded locking cam for stability.
A telescoping design allows a custom fit for boards up to 34 inches wide. It has soft, weather-resistant padding that protects boards. The SUP Taxi uses Thule’s One-Key lock cylinders, which uses one key for all locks.
It’s rated to hold up to 55 pounds and is compatible with most factory racks, as well as round bars.