Choosing the right surfboard is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of learning how to surf. The board you choose to ride has a profound effect on how it responds to your movements and the ocean’s movements in the water, directly influencing your ability to surf.
When in the beginning stages of surfing, you need your board to be efficient in catching the small waves that are best suited to learn on, as before getting into the big stuff it is essential to first master your paddling, your pop up, and the basics of board control.
With all this being said, there are a few key aspects of which to keep in mind when looking for your first surfboard, and we're going to give you all the information you need to help direct this search so that your board choice leads to nothing but success in the water.
The Basics of your First Surfboard
There are three general categories of types of surfboards. These include shortboards, fun shapes, and longboards, with other subtypes of surfboards of course falling under these individual categories.
When learning how to surf, you are going to want to look for a fun shape or a longboard and not a shortboard.
The reason being is that fun shapes are 7-9” ft in length and longboards are 8-12” ft in length. More length means more surfboard, and more surfboard means more foam. This makes for more buoyant surfboards, which promotes your ability to catch small waves and learn how to efficiently paddle.
The increased surface area of these longer surfboards makes it so that the dimensions (measurements of the surfboard, including length, width, thickness, and volume) are increased, making the board feel nice and stable when you first stand up.
A shortboard, on the other hand, is a much smaller type of surfboard meant for performance. This is the type of board you will eventually work up to when you are looking to progress your surfing and begin performing maneuvers on the wave such as big hacks and cutbacks.
These boards are much harder to ride, as they sink deeper into the water which requires more paddling, and they are much less stable when standing up on waves.
The Best Beginner Surfboards
Now that you know you want a surfboard that is at least 8 feet in length, so raises the question of what type of surfboard should you then buy?
One of the best places to start is with a surfboard called a ‘foamie’ or a ‘soft top’. As the name implies, these surfboards are made from a specialized type of water-resistant foam. Other types of surfboards are instead covered with a layer of epoxy or polyester resin over the foam.
These surfboards are better in terms of durability and performance, but not necessary when you are first starting out. And there are a few benefits to this.
A soft top is of course soft, and this makes it so that the board is much less intimidating when in the water. Oftentimes a beginner surfer's biggest fear is being hit by the surfboard, as this is indeed one of the most common causes of surfing injury, and this creates a form of intimidation that will make it harder to commit to catching your first waves.
A soft-top lowers this intimidation greatly because in the end, even though the chance is small if you do get hit by a soft top the injury won't be as nearly substantial. It is also important to ride a foamie because of other surfers' safety in the water.
In your learning stages, you won't have good board control, and when you are paddling past the breaking waves it's pretty much a guarantee that you will have to ditch your board. A soft-top makes it much safer for other surfers in the water who may be paddling around you as a soft top won't damage their boards or their noggin’.
The nice part about soft tops is that you can find them super cheap. There's the classic Wavestorm, the soft top sold at Costco for just $100. No, it's not the best surfboard on the market by any means, but it's a great surfboard to start surfing on as it is cheap and perfect for catching small waves.
This way you can ensure that surfing is also something you will want to continue before investing a higher dollar amount.
There's also much nicer new soft tops for around the $300-$500 range. A little more expensive, but not only will you be able to learn how to surf on these boards, you will also be able to progress with them into an intermediate stage of surfing that gets you ready to ride a shortboard.
For someone that knows surfing is going to be for them, you might want to choose to invest a little more for a soft top that is going to last you much longer than the lesser quality Wavestorm.
Also, keep in mind that you can find used soft tops far and wide on local marketplaces, so this is another effective method for finding a cheap soft top to begin learning on.
Epoxy or Polyester Surfboards
Once you move past your soft top stage, it is then time to begin thinking about purchasing a surfboard that is meant for more performance on a wave. You will know that it is time to do this when you can easily paddle out your soft top past the breaking waves (into the lineup), when you can catch slightly larger and steep waves, and when you can turn your surfboard and ride it down the face of the wave.
If you don't know what a face ride is, then that is when you ride the unbroken portion of the waves in front of the whitewash parallel to the shore.
If you can easily paddle into a face ride and have nice control when standing up, then moving to an epoxy or polyester surfboard is the next step.
These surfboards are much thinner and have shapes that are meant to better navigate the face of the waves. To put it simply, these boards are shaped for surfing, specifically crafted to meet the needs of more talented surfers.
Although they might feel a little less stable at first, you will immediately notice how much easier they are to initiate turns and movements in the water, the basics to nailing your first big turns.
When looking for these types of boards, I suggest trying to narrow your search to only surfboards that are made from epoxy versus polyester. Epoxy boards are stronger, more durable, and they float better in the water versus polyester.
Your best bet is to try and find an epoxy fun shape, somewhere around 7-8” ft once you are ready to progress. Longboards are great, but they make it harder to begin learning how to turn as the increased length makes it harder to control the surfboard. Like driving a yacht versus a canoe.
You can find a ton of amazing new fun shapes around this size that will become an integrated part of your quiver (your collection of surfboards). Even talented surfers who can shred a shortboard often find themselves paddling out a fun shape to enjoy the easy wave catching ability and more old-school style of surfing.
So the good news is that buying a fun shape is absolutely a worthy investment in terms of the longevity of your surfing and having a board that you can always rely on.
When it comes to used fun shapes, there are probably more of these types of boards than any others available on the market. You can find them at your local surf shop or you can find them on online marketplaces.
Unless buying a used surfboard from a trustworthy website, keep a few things in mind. Before buying the used board, make sure that there are no bad dings that will lower its integrity. Look for open gashes or holes anywhere on the board, as although these can be fixed, there's always a lesser damaged board around the corner.
Also, look for big white patches along the surface of the board. This indicates past repairs. If the repair is flush with the surfboard and feels strong, then it is probably good to go, but if you notice a rough surface or a soft feeling to the patch when you press on it, then I suggest moving on to the next one!
The last thing to keep in mind is to try and feel if the board is waterlogged. A surfboard shouldn't be too heavy, so if it feels as though there is some extra weight in the water, or if you notice a weird distribution of weight from the tail and the nose of the board, then it might be waterlogged and no longer effective.
You'll know a nice used fun shape when you see one, as there won't be too many dings (a few pressure marks are okay, which are small indents in the board's surface that won't break through), and the color should be nice and bright. A yellowed surfboard means that it has seen a lot of sunshine, which weakens the board, and that it may have not been properly stored.
If you have any questions at all when looking for your first surfboard, do not hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, as I would love to answer any questions you may have about a particular surfboard you are looking for or any other surfing related inquiries!