The Ultimate Guide to Surfboards for Beginners
Surfing is one of the most epic sports to pick up. It is an awesome full-body workout and enjoying the beauty of the ocean is incredible! Choosing the right board is crucial to surfing, but it can be tricky to figure out. We’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to surfboards for beginners so that you can easily pick just the right surfboard for you. Read on and get ready to shred!
Understanding the Basics
To choose the best surfboard for yourself, you need to first understand the fundamentals of surfing.
Paddling, popping up and balance are crucial to riding a wave successfully. You will need to paddle to catch a wave, as well as paddle over and through whitewater to get out to the lineup. Popping up is the act of moving from laying down to standing up on your board. Balance is the key to riding the wave and preventing wipeouts.
Each surfboard performs differently and will affect these fundamentals in various ways so it’s important to keep this in the back of your mind as you are evaluating options.
The anatomy of the surfboard is another important basic to know:
It’s pretty straight-forward. The nose is the very tip or front of the board and the tail is the back end of the board. The rails are both the sides or edges of the board and are where you put your hands to hold the surfboard or duck dive. You lay (and stand) on the deck, or the top of the board. This is also the side that you wax. The bottom side of the board glides over the water and has the fins to help with direction. Last but not least, the leash keeps the surfboard attached to your ankle.
Different Types of Surfboards
These are typically between 8-10 feet long, although they can be longer. The longer the board, the smaller amount of momentum required to catch waves. The length also provides stability and balance for the surfer (more on that later). Longboards – also known as ‘logs’ – are ideal for smaller, gentler waves.
Note: a longboard is NOT the same as a Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) board. While some people do catch waves with their SUP boards, these boards are wider, thicker and more buoyant.
Shortboards are for high-performance surfing on larger, steeper waves. Usually 5-7 feet tall, these are great for maneuvering on the waves. The small size makes the board very responsive to the actions of the surfer. However, this also makes the board less stable and buoyant, which means it’s much harder to balance on for beginner surfers. Shortboards are typically not good beginner surfboards.
Shortboards come in various shapes such as a ‘Thruster’ or ‘Fish’. Fish boards are known by the indent on their tails and they often have a quad fin set-up, instead of the typical 3 fins on a thruster shape.
If a longboard and a shortboard had a baby, it would be a funboard. These mid-length boards are usually around 7-8 feet in length and vary greatly in shape. The goal is to combine some of the playfulness of a shortboard with the steadiness and ease of a longboard. The ‘Mini Mal’ (short for ‘Mini Malibu’) is an especially popular model.
Also known as Foamies or Foam Boards, these have plastic fins and have a plastic bottom covered with a thick foam top. The most typical size is an 8 foot log, however recently brands have started making foam surfboards in all types of sizes and shapes!
Choosing the Right Surfboard for You
Assess Your Skill Level
The biggest mistake people make when they buy a surfboard is that they don’t have an accurate understanding of their skill level and they get a board that is too advanced for them.
This leads to a very difficult learning experience and they usually become super frustrated. It’s best to choose a board that will help you catch the most waves possible given the skill level you are at. Evaluate if you are an absolute beginner (never/barely surfed before), an advanced beginner surfer (catching waves intermittently, fine-tuning the basics) or an intermediate surfer (confidently catching waves and working on improving your skills).
Factors to Consider
Generally the greater the length, volume and thickness of the board, the more stable and buoyant the board will be.
This is very good news for beginner surfers! Bigger boards are easier to paddle, easier to balance on, easier to float on, easier to catch waves with and easier to pop up on.
On the other hand, the benefit to boards with less length, volume and thickness is that you can do more maneuvers, generate more speed on the wave, turn more tightly and get past the whitewater easier (via duck diving). This is better for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Another thing to consider is the length, volume and thickness that is best for you is influenced by your height and weight. Whatever board shape and type you choose must have enough heft to keep you afloat and propel you into waves. Heavier, taller people need bigger boards than smaller, lighter people. For example, a shortboard for a girl who is 5’1″ and 110 lbs will have much smaller dimensions than a shortboard for a guy who is 6’2″ and 220 lbs. Both boards are considered shortboards, but they are tailored to the individual so they provide the same effect on a wave for each person.
Surfboard shapers and surfers are always discussing and debating how to tailor the boards better to each surfer so this is a huge rabbit-hole of information you could dive into! We will talk about it a bit more below, but if you need any advice, reach out to your local surf shop.
Popular Beginner & Intermediate Surfboards
We’ve listed some of the top brands for each board type below. Be sure to take note of the local ones – we have many incredible board shapers all around us in Southern California! Also, especially when you are learning, there is nothing wrong with getting a used board on Craigslist, Facebook MarketPlace, etc.! Just be sure to inspect for damage and quality before you purchase it.
A foam board between 8-9 ft. long is the best beginner surfboard – particularly for absolute beginners. Get 9 feet if you are a heavier/taller person or really want that extra stability, but for many people 8 feet is just fine.
Foam surfboards are cheaper than fiberglass boards, require less maintenance and the soft top is awesome both for your safety and for board longevity. You don’t need to worry about hitting your head on it when you wipeout or dinging the board on a rock. The other rad thing about foam surfboards of the 8-9 feet length is that they are very versatile and work with many types of waves, ocean conditions or skill levels. You’ll be able to have fun even in bad surf reports or small waves. They are great all-around boards to cruise on for many years, even as your skill level improves. Beginners have a great time on foamies and super advanced surfers like Jamie O’Brien surf the world’s biggest waves on them too!
Top foam board brands, in no particular order:
Wavestorm – They are perhaps the singularly most famous soft-top board and Costco stores often have them on sale in the spring/summer months.
Stormblade – These are Wavehugger’s boards of choice! We use them for all our lessons.
INT – All boards are made locally in Oceanside, CA and are fantastic in quality.
Longboards & Funboards
Keep in mind that these fiberglass or epoxy surfboards do require some maintenance and care (more on that below) and are often a bit of an investment financially. However, they can still be awesome choices for surfers who are confident on foamies and are working on improving their skills!
This is the best surfboard for advanced beginners or intermediate surfers. The general rule of thumb is to get a board 3 feet taller than your height. If you are a bit heavier-set, add a few inches to that or get a bit thicker board. If you’re light and thin, do the opposite.
A hard-top longboard will help you become accustomed to generating speed and turning more smoothly. You also will be able to work on your skills such as improving your balance, walking on the board and weaving up and down the line.
Funboards are another great option for advanced beginners or intermediate surfers. We recommend trying these boards once you are comfortable on a longboard. There are so many makes and models to choose from that it’s best to talk to a local shaper or the staff at a board shop to help you decide which is best for you. Some shapes are a small version of a longboard, other shapes are a large version of a shortboard and then there are endless combinations and variations of the two.
No matter the shape you choose, funboards are an awesome stepping stone to riding a shortboard. You’ll be able to develop valuable skills such as turning more sharply, catching steeper waves, learning new types of maneuvers and duck-diving.
Top Hard-Top Surfboard Brands:
Channel Island Surfboards – Extremely well-renowned across the world, it’s family owned & operated and based out of Santa Barbara, CA.
Encinitas Surfboards – Based in Encinitas, CA, it’s a great family-owned surf shop and shaping company.
Bing Surfboards – Started by Bing Copeland in the 50s in Hermosa Beach, this board manufacturer is now located in Encinitas, CA.
South Bay Board Co. – Family owned surf shop and board shaper in L.A’s South Bay.
Degree 33 Surfboards – Located in San Diego, CA, Degree 33 is known for fantastic boards of all types.
Pyzel – International, widely-known board manufacturer. Used by many pros!
NSP Surfboards – Also international, specializes in all types of boards & water sports equipment.
Maintaining Your Surfboard
It’s best to rinse both types of boards off with fresh water after you surf and store them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. The amount of additional maintenance required depends if your board is a foamie or a fiberglass/epoxy board.
It’s important to inspect both types of boards for damage before and after you surf. Here’s what to look for:
Generally you can beat these boards up all you want and they don’t show any signs of wear and tear. However, they might occasionally lose a chunk of foam or the top layer of plastic may start to peel. Duct tape is your friend for minor repairs! If the board is very damaged and becomes unusable, it’s best to just buy a new one as there isn’t a way to do major repairs.
Epoxy & Fiberglass Surfboards
Hard-top boards ding very easily and when the resin is punctured, water can seep into the board. This is very problematic and it is important to repair your ding before you surf with that board again! There are many local surf repair shops around, but if the ding is minor, do-it-at-home ding fix kits like this typically work well.
Almost every surfer will tell you that dings are more likely to happen when the board is out of the water – getting it in or on top of your car, accidentally dropping it, etc. – so it’s best to have a bag board or bag sock to protect it whenever it is out of the ocean.
Epoxy & fiberglass boards also need regular waxing. Waxing the deck of the board keeps the surfer from sliding around. If the board is brand new you’ll need a ‘base coat’ and a ‘top coat’ of wax. Base coats are basically all the same – just a harder type of wax. Top coats vary by water temperature – cold, cool, warm, etc. – and are softer. In Southern California, we usually use the ‘cool’ option. Ask the staff at local surf shop to show you how how to wax your board properly if the board is new. If your board already has wax on it, just rub a thin layer of your chosen top coat wax over the existing wax before you head out into the water.
Staying Safe in the Surf
While you are learning and developing your skills, it’s crucial that you have a leash on your board. You don’t want the board shooting into the air when you wipeout and hitting you or other surfers.
Additionally, make sure that you use sun protection (find out our favorite products here). And don’t forget to wear a swimsuit that is firmly & tightly attached to your body – no one likes losing more than just their balance during a wipeout! 😅
Surf etiquette is basically a set of guidelines to keep things polite and fun out in the water. The most important thing to know is that the surfer on the peak of the wave or the surfer who catches the wave first has priority.
As a beginner surfer, this may sound confusing, but the gist of it is this: don’t catch a wave that someone else is already riding. Sometimes it may look like the wave is clear, but someone has actually caught it prior to you out of your peripheral vision. A big mistake new surfers often make is that they don’t look over both shoulders as they catch a wave and they cut someone off without realizing it. If this happens, just hop off the wave as soon as you can and apologize if possible. Make sure to look over both your shoulders to avoid this!
Knowing Your Limits
Another common mistake novice surfers make is that they go out in unsafe conditions or conditions that are only fit for experienced surfers. Know what height and type of waves you are comfortable in. Look at the surf report prior to heading to the beach to know the surf forecast and any weather conditions. Talk to the lifeguards and ask if there are any rip currents before you start surfing.
Additionally, don’t paddle into a super packed lineup if you are a new surfer. This is going to be very stressful for you. You probably won’t catch many waves and you could end up ticking off some of the local experienced surfers – not fun!
It is best to go out on calm days with small waves (2-3 feet to start) and an uncrowded lineup. Watch the waves before you get in so you know what to expect and can ensure you aren’t putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
Learning to Surf
Finding a good surf instructor or surf school is the key to surfing well. Here at Wavehuggers, we have many different private lesson options for you to choose from such as private group lessons, one-on-one lessons and lesson packages! We have an instructor-to-student ratio of 1:4 so our students get plenty of high-quality instruction. All skill levels are welcome – from absolute beginner to intermediate surfer – and we will help you gain confidence in the water and catch more waves.
For absolute beginners, we start with teaching you how to read waves and master basic techniques. You’ll learn to paddle, pop-up and ride whitewater. If you are at a higher skill level, we will teach you surf technique, how to catch unbroken waves and surf etiquette.
Our instructors are trained to help you troubleshoot common issues such as minimizing wipeouts, improving balance and stability, and fine-tuning your turns and maneuvers.
Getting Involved in the Surfing Community
One of the most awesome things about surfing is the community that develops from it! Ladies, we have amazing Women’s Community Surf Classes that meet semi-monthly. It’s a really fun women-only surf group! We also have Summer Surf Camps in San Diego and Huntington Beach that are a great community for kids.
Surf competitions are a fun, exciting way to meet more surfers, whether you compete or just watch the festivities! Southern California frequently has great surf competitions such as the Super Girl Surf Pro in Oceanside, the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach and many more. These serve as a free lesson in surf culture and are an incentive to keep improving your surfing skills.
Another crucial part of the surfing community is protecting our ocean. As a company, we host regular beach clean ups and we donate the price of one pound of fish to the Marine Mammal Care Center in L.A. for every surf lesson we do!
This comprehensive guide will help beginners navigate the exciting world of surfing, from choosing the right surfboard to mastering the art of riding the waves safely and confidently. Whether you’re just starting or looking to improve your skills, this guide will be your go-to resource for all things surfboarding.
Surfing is a lifelong journey! Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you are progressing slowly because it’s a constant learning process! Even the best surfers are never done improving. The awesome thing about surfing is that every stage of the journey is a ton of fun!