In the past I’ve stored surfboards inside my car but in some cases that just isn’t an option. Whether I have friends traveling with me, luggage and other gear I’m bringing, or when traveling with larger boards, having my surfboards inside the car is too inconvenient or just not possible.
Regardless what type of vehicle you drive, whether it be a two door, four door, or what have you, there’s a handful of options on the market ranging between $40 to $80.
But what if I don’t want to buy a rack, or I don’t have time to order one before my road trip, or what if I just want to make one myself?
Well, here’s how you do just that. Let’s go through two options that are universal to almost any car.
The Pool Noodle Surf Rack Strategy
The first, and most common DIY roof rack we will be talking about is something we like to call “The Pool Noodle Strategy”. This strategy is perfect for those of you who do not have crossbars already attached to your vehicle.
Gathering the materials needed for this mini project is a simple task. All of the items we will list below can be easily found at any sporting goods and hardware store in your town. I found all of the items needed at Big 5 Sporting Goods and Harbor Freight.
Regardless of where you go, you’ll need the following:
- One pool noodle (or two – depending on length)
Avoid cheap dollar store pool noodles and opt for the thickest, highest quality one you can find.
2. Four sets of thumb releasing tie down straps
These can be interchanged for ratchet straps if desired.
Did you get all that? I hope you didn’t miss anything…
Apart from those two essential items the only other thing you’ll need is a set of scissors or a knife (ideally sharp) to cut your resilient pool noodle to the proper size.
Total Cost Of Materials = $16.06
Time It Takes To Install
Once you have all the materials it should take less than nine minutes to install.
For both strategies described in this article we installed the DIY roof racks on my 2023 Subaru Crosstrek. This vehicle came with cargo loading bars that run parallel with the vehicle.
However, most vehicles DON’T have these bars attached and as an FYI, they serve no purpose in this process and are irrelevant for the installation of our DIY pool noodle surf racks.
Here’s how to put them together:
1. Cut your pool noodle to the width of your surfboard, or if you plan on lugging around a kayak or other larger items you can cut it to fit the entire width of your car (a bread knife works surprisingly well).
2. Using your tie down straps (or ratchet straps) feed the non buckle end of the strap through the pool noodle until it comes out the other end. You can use a broom handle to help push it through. Repeat for the second pool noodle.
3(A). Place the DIY noodle racks roughly where you want them to sit on the top of your car and bring both ends of the straps into the interior of your vehicle and tighten with the buckle in the center of your cab.
3(B). Once it’s a bit tighter but still allowing some slack to adjust, make sure your racks are placed exactly where you want them before tightening completely.
4. Once the front and rear racks are completely tightened lay your surfboard(s), SUP, or kayak on the rack and use the second set of tie down straps to secure them in place using the same method as described in step number three.
Important to note: Sometimes at higher speed the straps will cause a hum or whistle that can be annoying. To avoid this, give the straps a couple twists before tightening completely around the boards.
Durability Of The Pool Noodle Surf Rack
The pool noodle option is low profile, very simple, and relatively durable depending on the quality of pool noodle… And if a pool noodle can last multiple summers laying in your neighbor’s backyard, it should be just fine on the top of your car for a while.
The good news is, if the noodle becomes damaged you can easily replace it for another $7.
Cons Of The Pool Noodle Car Rack
Utility wise, there’s no negative aspects that I could identify. However, aesthetically the pool noodle strategy isn’t the sexiest thing in the world. But hey, it works.
And as a wise man once said… “If it looks stupid but works… It ain’t stupid”.
The ratchet and thumb release straps I found at the hardware store all contained metal buckles. The hazard with metal buckles is that without proper caution they may scratch your car or ding your surfboard. So keep this in mind when securing your surfboard.
Another important note to consider is when closing your door on the tie down straps, the weatherproof seal around your door will be compromised allowing moisture to seep into your car. This is rarely a big deal but if it’s raining overnight we recommend removing the straps so water doesn’t get inside your car.
And with that, let’s get into option numero dos…
The Pipe Insulator Surf Rack Strategy
This strategy is a slightly more technical than the pool noodle strategy however, if you’re able to get your hands on some quality materials it can be the more durable and appealing DIY surf rack option.
The installation is a bit more complex but with that, the pipe insulator strategy will operate extremely similar to a proper surf rack you’d buy online.
Similar to the pool noodle strategy, this setup requires just two specific items:
- Two pieces of construction grade foam tubing (or one depending on length)
There’s should be a handful of options depending on the hardware store you go to. I looked for a thick rubber option but they were out of stock so I opted for the ones below.
2. Four sets of thumb releasing tie down straps (we used the same ones from the pool noodle strategy)
Total Cost Of Materials = $17.57
Time It Takes To Install
Once you have all of the materials it will take between 15-20 minutes to install.
1. First, cut the pieces to about two-four inches shorter than the width of your surfboard. Using a very sharp knife or box cutter will give you the cleanest cut.
2. Next, identify where you want your racks to sit on the roof of your vehicle. When in position, run the straps through to the inside of your car and tighten with the buckles in the center of the cab in a way where they are not impeding with the driver or passenger. Repeat for the rear straps.
3. With the straps in place it is now time to mark the points in the straps where you will tie your knots. Start by placing your surfboard, sup, or kayak on the roof of your car in the way that you want it to sit while you’re driving. Now, measure out 4 inches from the side of your surfboard and mark a line in the straps on both sides. Repeat for the rear strap.
4. Take both of the marked straps and feed them through the cut foam pads from step number one. You can use a broom handle to help with this process.
5. Now the base straps are almost complete, all we have to do is tie some loop knots at the points we marked down in step number 3. To tie a loop knot, make a loop at the marked point on one of your straps.
Keeping your fingers pinched at the base of the loop make a second loop with the original loop. Feed the top loop under your fingers around the strap and through the second loop that you made. You’ve done this correctly when you pull tightly on each end of the strap securing the original loop in place.
Repeat on all four marks.
6. At this point we are almost done, next all we have to do is connect the top strap that will secure your surfboard to the base straps that we just configured. First, take one of the base straps and identify the loop that is closest to the buckle.
Take the top strap and feed it through the loop buckle first. Take the buckle and tie an overhand granny knot securing it approximately an inch away from the loop (you want it this close to the loop so when you tighten it down on your surfboard the buckle wont be in contact with your board causing a ding).
Repeat this step for the other set of straps.
7. At this point all we need to do is rig the straps to the car and secure them in place with your surfboards. To do this take one set of straps and situate it on the roof of your car in the position you chose in step number 2.
With both car doors open on either side, climb into the cab of the car with the buckle end in one hand. Once in the car, reach and grab the tongue end of the strap with your other hand located on the opposite side of the vehicle.
Thread the tongue end through the buckle and pull tight with the buckle situated in the center of the cab. Repeat this step for the second set of straps through the other doors.
8. At this point, arrange the pads in the center of your vehicle’s roof if they aren’t already. Once the base straps are in place, you are now ready to place your surfboard, SUP, or kayak onto the pads. Make sure your surfboard is not making contact with the roof of the car outside of the pads. Now we need to tie down the surfboard with the top strap we secured in step number 6.
9A. With the board in place, the last thing we need to do is secure it down. To do this start on the non-buckle end of the strap. Throw the non buckle end over your board and feed it through the loop knot on the other side. Then, bring it back over the board and feed it through the buckle and tighten it down to fasten the board in place.
Repeat for the second strap.
You’ll notice that even though we tied our buckles as close to the loop as possible, the metal buckles still make contact with the surfboard when tightened. No bueno.
We highly recommend against leaving the metal buckles in contact with your surfboard directly like this. If you have a board sock or beach towel place it over the surfboard before strapping it in as an extra layer of protection.
9B. With the remaining strap you can hitch it off as many times as you need until it will no longer flap in the wind. A hitch is easy to tie. It looks like this:
If your tie down straps are as long as ours, you can also tuck the remaining straps inside the cab of the car!
Durability Of The Pipe Insulator Surf Rack Strategy
This DIY setup takes a little bit more “set up” time however, the quality of the foam is superior (if you find the proper materials).
Similar to the pool noodle strategy and any rack setup requiring you to feed straps into the cab, you can still have moisture come into the car if it is exposed to rain for a prolonged period of time. Again, this is why we suggest taking the racks off if you plan on having your car in the rain over night.
So Which Is Better: The Pool Noodle Surf Rack Or The Pipe Insulator Surf Rack?
If you want to make your own car rack, either of these two options will get the job done. But with that said, we prefer the pool noodle strategy over the pipe insulator technique for a few reasons.
First, setting up and installing the pool noodle surf rack took about half the time of the pipe insulator option.
Another thing to consider is that the pipe insulator option requires about 9 steps to complete (compared to only 4 steps for the pool noodle). And more steps = more opportunities to make a mistake. Simple is better and it can’t get much simpler than the pool noodle setup.
Also, the pipe insulator car rack option left the metal buckle in contact with the surfboard. This isn’t a huge obstacle to overcome however, it is an inconvenience and can potentially lead to a damaged surfboard.
So as long as you have $16 and about an hour or so of free time to gather materials and install, making your own car racks out of a pool noodle and cheap tie down straps is a very convenient and affordable option for carrying surfboards on your car.
But before we end it here…
Is Making Your Own Rack Even Worth It?
It’s an honest question to consider. Making your own racks will cost $16 and take at least an hour out of your day (including time to get materials and set up). They won’t look SEXY per se however, like we mentioned earlier, they get the job done. If you’re happy with that, we’re stoked this instructional article helped you!
HOWEVER, I’ll quote the writer James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits who asks; “How much is your time really worth?”. Is taking an hour or two out of your day to go to the store, buy supplies, drive home, and put everything together really worth your time and effort?
Maybe it is.
But if you took the cost of the DIY pool noodle car rack and paid just $37.78 more you’d get a super solid set of car racks delivered to your doorstep.
We make our own HoStevie! car racks (which have been purchased by thousands of surfers) and they are one of the cheapest options on Amazon at $49.97…
They take less than five minutes to install, support up to three surfboards, and they look a little better than a bright pool noodle on your car as well (in our semi-biased opinion).
And I almost forgot to mention… Remember those annoying metal buckles that could scratch your car or ding your surfboard? Ours have rubber covers to protect your pride and joy. No dings here baby!
Here’s what one of our customers had to say:
So if you’re looking to make your own car racks, the info above should help you out! We hope your girlfriend / boyfriend was impressed with your DIY skills. But if you want something nicer, more convenient, and a little more sleek, check out our roof racks here!