Buying the right surfboard
So you’ve just started surfing and you want the best board for beginners. Or perhaps your upping your game and want the right board for your particular level and style. Make no mistake: if you’re not rich, forking over the cash for a new surfboard is a commitment. It’s a decision you should make only after being properly informed — through trying your friends’ boards, rental models and reading everything you can get your hands on.
If you’re asking yourself the question, “Which surfboard should I buy?” we are here to help. Read on.
Since most experienced surfers will have a pretty good idea of what boards they like and are generally well informed about the surfboard market, we are going to focus this post on boards for beginners. There are some high-quality, durable surfboards that are suitable for beginners and are affordable. Remember, you should buy a board that you will always love. Just because it’s a good beginner board doesn’t mean you won’t get years of use out of it, whether riding on it yourself or lending it to a friend.
Here are a few important factors to consider when choosing a surfboard
Size & shape
In your first couple of years, you’re going to need a board that is long enough to enable you to catch waves quite easily. The height (or length) of a good beginner board will differ according to your weight. The heavier you are the longer the board should be. Height also differs according to the style of board you plan to use (shortboard, longboard, fish, etc.). The average adult might use an 8-ft (2.4m) board while a child will need one of around 6 feet (1.8m) in height. Choose carefully as surfing with a board that is too big will make it difficult to handle and turn, while boards that are too small are challenging to gather speed on and catch waves with. Surfer Today has a very useful Surfboard Size Chart to help clear things up.
The only real disadvantages of standard beginner boards are their maneuverability, due to their large size, weight and features like flexible rubber fins. Longer softboards, longboards and the Malibu generally fit in this category. The Mini-Mal (mini Malibu), like the similar funboard or hybrid board, is a great compromise between length, control and portability. They are a popular step between ultra stable longboards or novice affordable softboards and the more maneuverable shortboards and fish boards.
For a rundown of the different shapes and sizes, their definitions and what they are generally used for, check out this page, especially the graphic at the bottom.
- Softboards: If you’re an absolute beginner, we suggest using softboards or “soft top” boards, which are heavier, larger and more stable than a common shortboard. Normally used by surf schools, round-nosed softboards are very durable, steady and have a soft layer of foam on top. They are considered the safest boards and the best value for money.
- Epoxy sandwich/pop-out boards: These high-tech boards are constructed of a polyurethane foam core and reinforced with epoxy fiberglass and have a plastic ASA skin. Epoxy sandwich boards are lightweight, durable and feature removable fins. They are often affordable as well, sometimes coming in packages including a bag and leash.
- Polyester resin: Considered the standard or traditional surfboard for much of modern surfing, traditional polyester resin construction resembles the “classic” surfboard. Such laminated, fiberglass cloth-wrapped foam-core boards have the drawback of being somewhat easily cracked or dented, though this will not necessarily affect the board’s performance and such damage can be repaired. They also normally feature removable fins and are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
- Epoxy resin: Similar to the above polyester resin, the difference is the type of foam used for the core and an epoxy resin layer rather than one made of polyester. The advantages are that epoxy boards are somewhat lighter, resilient and more durable than traditional polyester resin construction.
- Hollow wood: A heavier, environmentally friendlier surfboard, hollow wooden models are beautiful and retro for those who like a nice mix of tradition and style without harming the planet. Not to be mistaken with foam-core boards that feature wood veneers, hollow wood boards generally have a skeleton covered in wooden strips to allow flexibility, speed and buoyancy. They are normally constructed with coniferous woods like spruce, redwood or cedar.
- Balsawood: Constructing surfboards from this soft, ultra-light wood has its roots in the original surfers — the Pacific Islanders; more specifically, the Hawaiians. Like a natural version of foam, balsawood makes boards that are very light and easy to ride, but less durable compared to other types of board. They also have the advantage of being more eco-friendly than foam-based surfboards.
We’ve covered some basic info here, but there is a lot more out there and plenty of shapes, sizes and material to choose from. Of course price is also usually an important factor. Basically, beginners should get something stable and easy to ride, but also reasonably portable and not too expensive. A good route might be to take a few lessons while renting a softboard and then moving up to a Mini Mal, but that’s just one route to go. Talk to your experienced surfer friends and get their opinions on buying the right surfboard.
See you on the waves!
Lead image by Alex E. Proimos (Flickr CC)