Large padded racks hold up to 4 longboards or 6 shortboards at once. Padding is square in shape for better grip against the roof and surface of the surfboards.
The included D-rings may start to loosen if surfboards are left on top of the car for a long period of time.
Small padding is aerodynamically shaped for a quieter road experience when strapped to the top of a moving vehicle. Can haul winter gear like snowboards as well.
Requires existing roof rack to cover. Some rack bars may be too thick to secure the padding on tightly.
Soft pads fit right onto the roof of a vehicle without damaging the surface. Can carry other types of luggage and flotation devices up to 165 lb. Fairly quiet.
Rack straps allow moisture and rain to get inside the interior of a car through the door seals.
The large pad is capable of carrying multiple thin surfboards at the same time using the included straps. Larger straps are secured right to the carrier for quick installation.
Rack requires separate roof rack bars to be installed correctly.
Easy to both mount and remove. Features a flexible, soft-rack design. Can hold up to 2 longboards or 6 shortboards. Uses heavy-duty aircraft buckles. Ships with a carrying case.
Some buyers say that boards become loose too easily when traveling. Straps can channel water into your car.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Surfing and stand-up paddleboarding are fun and relaxing sports, but one of the biggest difficulties related to these pastimes can be finding a way to safely transport your large board to and from the water. You can try to wedge it into your car, but chances are good it won’t fit. And even if it does, you can still end up with a sandy, waxy mess inside your vehicle. In some jurisdictions, it is illegal to transport a board this way. The solution is a surfboard car rack.
A surfboard car rack fastens to the top of your vehicle and is designed to keep boards secure as you’re cruising down the road. Many can fit several longboards or shortboards.
This guide introduces some of the types, factors, and features you’ll need to understand before setting out to buy a surfboard car rack. We also offer up a few of our picks for a variety of racks that we feel beat the competition in this niche.
A surfboard car rack can be subjected to a bit of abuse, so all aspects of it should be rugged enough to hold up to steady wear and tear. Any padding that comes in contact with the roof should be soft enough that it won’t scratch the paint. Materials and straps should not fray, and any metal should be rust resistant. All exposed surfaces should be aerodynamically shaped so they create as little noise as possible when you’re driving. All of these parts — racks, pads, straps, buckles — will be exposed to the elements, so they should be able to withstand rain and dry quickly. Any foam used in pad construction should not retain water.
There are two primary types of surfboard roof rack: soft and hard.
Soft: These racks usually come in the form of pads that you place between your board and car roof and strap down. They’re designed to be easily and quickly mounted and removed, so you don’t have to travel with a rack on your car when you don’t need it.
Hard: These racks are semi-permanent, generally meant to be installed and left on your car. As such, this isn’t the best option if you use multiple vehicles to transport your boards. A hard rack is a great solution if you have rain gutters on your car that make mounting a soft rack difficult.
Pay special attention to this because it’s an important point. Some of these racks are stand-alone models that need only a bare roof and some straps. Others only work in concert with an existing roof rack, either as sleeves that slip over the rack or mounting arms that attach directly to the existing rack. Know which type you’re buying.
Also, does the surfboard car rack require extensive installation, or does it strap on in a couple of minutes? A hard rack has the slight edge here in that you don’t need to worry about mounting it every time you head to the beach and storing it when you’re not transporting a board. Also, try to gain a sense of how difficult it is to secure the surfboard to the rack.
Frequently mounting and removing a soft rack can increase the chances of scratching your car roof.
Capacity: Some surfboard car racks are designed to carry a single board while others can hold two or more. Some we’ve run across are capable of holding six shortboards or four longboards. If you plan on transporting several boards at once, be sure that your car rack is up to the task.
Versatility: Is the rack you’re considering strictly for stand-up paddleboards and surfboards, or can you safely strap other items to it? Some of these racks can be used for other watercraft such as kayaks or even luggage. Some also offer a four-season solution and are capable of carrying snowboards and skis. Check a rack’s specs carefully if you’re in search of versatility here.
Straps: Does the rack come with straps? The majority include the straps necessary to attach the rack to your roof (if that’s how it’s attached), and some even include the straps you need to attach the board to the rack. Others require that you provide your own straps.
Straps can be the weak point of this whole operation, so be sure that they’re rugged and fasten securely. The buckles should also be durable and preferably made of metal coated with some material such as neoprene for weather protection. Some straps use aircraft buckles for improved durability.
Lock: A lock allows you to secure your boards against theft so you can leave them on top of your car. The ability to lock a surfboard car rack isn’t standard, but you can find some higher-end racks with this feature.
Bag: Does the rack come with a bag? Some include a bag for storing the rack, particularly soft racks that are made to be removed.
Hardware: If the installation requires hardware, be sure that the rack ships with everything you need so you aren’t scrambling for parts on your own.
Square pads in a soft-pad rack offer a better grip on both the roof and the board.
Inexpensive: The car racks you find in the under $50 range largely consist of simple soft racks.
Mid-range: The $50 to $100 range is generally taken up by higher-quality soft racks with larger capacity and some hard racks.
Expensive: In the upper range, $200 to $300 and up, are hard racks with maximum carrying/weight capacity and more advanced features, such as locking.
Pads that install on your existing roof rack should be padded to not only protect the board but also keep wax from building up on your rack.
We weren’t able to include all the surfboard car racks we liked in the list above, so we want to mention a few more that stand out for us. The DaKine Long Aero Rack Pads feature durable 600-denier polyester and ship with two rugged 12-foot tie-down straps. They works with Aero-style bars. If you’re seeking an affordable option, the Car Rack & Carriers Double Surfboard Car Rack can safely carry two surfboards and is both sturdy and soft so it won’t scratch your car’s roof. At the other end of the price spectrum, the Thule SUP Taxi Carrier has a quality build and a locking system to keep your surfboard or paddleboard safe.
Q. Do soft racks work on two-door cars?
A. Soft racks are usually mounted with the straps going through the car doors. So long as there is enough space between the two pads, a two-door car shouldn’t present any problems. You might have difficulty securing a larger board, however.
Q. Is there anything I can do about strap noise when I’m driving?
A. Give the straps a twist before threading them through the buckles. This will place less force on the straps and help dampen the noise.
Q. How do I know a rack will work on my car?
A. Most of these racks are universal fit and will work on a wide range of cars, SUVs, and other vehicles. If your car has gutters or a soft top, you might have a problem securely attaching some racks. Whether or not you have some form of existing roof rack can also affect your ability to mount a surfboard rack. Some require an existing rack, while others won’t mount securely if an existing rack is in place. Check the product’s online comment section carefully if you have concerns in this area.
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