As a beginner, buying a surfboard that maximizes your ability to progress is incredibly important to your development as a surfer. It might be tempting to walk into a surf shop and immediately set your sights on whatever style of board Kelly Slater is riding at the moment. In reality though, Slater didn’t start off riding potato-chip thin boards – and neither should you.
The most essential features of your first surfboard should be generous volume and length. Remember, your priorities as a surfer in the beginning stages are to catch waves as easily as possible, and stay up on your board and begin to feel out the dynamics of riding a wave. With that in mind, a board that is thick and relatively long (but not too long) is perfect, as you’ll have plenty of paddling power and stability once you get to your feet.
Hot Tip: Foam Calls
If you’re completely new to surfing, consider purchasing or renting a foam surfboard. Foam boards (or soft tops) are great beginner boards because they’re safe to you and other surfers in the water and make it easy to get to your feet. Of course, a foam surfboard does lack performance. So as soon as you get the hang of the basics, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a regular fiberglass board.
Don’t be afraid to ask an employee at a surf shop for help. Most surf shop staff members are knowledgeable and more than happy to help you scope out beginner boards. From their perspective, you’re a potential repeat customer and they’re more than happy to make a sale. Of course, a surf shop employee will probably try to sell you a new board, which is fine. For those unsure of their future commitment to the sport, however, purchasing a used board will save you money and feel like less of an investment should you realize that you’d rather enjoy the beach from the safety of the sand.
A suitable length for your first board depends on your height, but generally, an adult between 5 and 6½ feet tall should look at boards between 6 feet, 10 inches and 8 feet, 6 inches in length. Anything much shorter than a 6-10 board will be difficult to paddle, while a board over 8-6 will be difficult to control once you’ve started catching waves. The board’s thickness should be somewhere between 2½ to 3½ inches. The more foam there is between you and the water, the more buoyancy and speed you’ll be able to generate.
As already mentioned, the most important factors to consider when purchasing your first surfboard are length and thickness. You want a board that will enable you to have a great initial experience with the sport and keep you looking forward to your next session.
As mentioned earlier in the guide, purchasing a used surfboard is a great way to save money, especially if you’re not sure about your future level of commitment. In the Unites States, a used board in fair condition will generally cut the cost of a new board in half. Buying a used board is also an environmentally sound choice, since surfboard production generally involves the use of ecologically harmful chemicals.
Of course, buying a new surfboard has its perks. For one, you’ll know that your new board doesn’t have any water-logging or other decaying features. If you do decide to purchase a new surfboard, consider consulting with a local shaper about your ideal board. Shapers are happy to talk about any specifics you have in mind, and will be happy to shape you a custom board. Although you may pay a bit more for a custom board, it’s highly satisfying to receive a brand new stick tailored to your exact requirements.
Got a Board? Time to Surf
After you’ve purchased your board, you’ll most likely be raring to get wet. But before you head to the beach, make sure you have all the other gear necessary for a proper shred session. If you’re surfing in a cold-water climate, you’ll need to buy or rent a wetsuit. Get help from a surf shop regarding the type of wetsuits preferred in the area.
If you’re surfing in a warm-water climate, pick up a pair of trunks that are comfortable and fit snugly. Women should generally avoid bikinis that slip off easily – for obvious reasons. You’ll also need a bar of wax (unless you’re using a foam surfboard), fins for your board, and a leash. Now that you’ve got your gear, quickly review the basic rules of surfing etiquette and safety, and go rip!