Surfboards: A Beginners Guide to Buying a Surfboard

by Newquay Surfer on March 5, 2011

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How to select the best Surfboard for YOU!

Ok, you’ve had a lesson/s and decided your hooked on learning to surf and want to buy your first board. So what should you buy?…

Some surf shop staff will give you objective advice, others will sell you a board that they want to sell that will get them more commission…or even worse, you might end up talking to someone that may not know very much about surfing at all :-)

This article will aim to recommend a surfboard to you based on a few factors – how often you surf, where you surf and if you travel a lot. Though If you’re in a rush, here’s everything in a nutshell:

  • “I only surf 1-2 days a year” = Foamboard
  • “I surf about 5-7 days a year” = Foamboard, Longboard or Minimal
  • “I surf atleast once a month” = Longboard, Minimal or Magic Carpet
  • “I surf a few days a month” = Longboard, Minimal, Magic Carpet or Fish
  • “I surf every week” = Longboard, Minimal, Magic Carpet, Fish or Big Shortboard

Anyway here is an independent beginners buying guide to help you avoid the major pitfalls of buying your first surfboard.

Volume is everything…well almost everything. Selecting a good beginner board has a lot to do with making sure it has plenty of volume. Lots of volume in a board makes it float better and for someone learning it makes it easier to get to your feet and catch waves.

A mistake many people make when buying their first surfboard is not getting one with enough volume. Foam boards, longboards, minimals and magic carpets do have lots of volume. Fish surfboards and shortboards usually less.

Volume is measured in litres. A good beginner board would (in my opinion) be at least 60 litres or more in volume – the more the better. A minimal to longboard size surfboard could be at least 65-80 litres+ of volume. Lets compare this to a performance shortboard that say Kelly Slater might ride…he might ride something like a 6’1 x 18 ¼ inch shortboard. This would be around 24 litres in volume. To ride a board that small well you need to have a pretty solid surfing technique – plus you need the right waves to surf.

As a beginner its ideal to be able to go out and surf in pretty much any conditions to catch waves – first in the white water and then catching unbroken ‘green’ waves. A surfboard that will help you achieve this when you are a beginner is going to be a board with plenty of volume. So remember…for now atleast ‘volume’ is your friend.

Other factors to consider when picking a beginner surfboard can include durability, because as your learning you may knock your board around a bit and a practical consideration might be ‘ Will it fit in my car?’ this can be important. So there’s quite alot to think about… so lets look at the main types of surfboard you would want to consider to learn on and the pros and cons of each.

Foam Board/ Foamie: Length 7ft – 9ft

yellow_swell-board

Pros

  • Relatively cheap to buy
  • Soft – so safer than a hard board if it hits you
  • You can surf white-water
  • Easy to catch most waves
  • Great if you only surf very occasionally each year
  • Single fin or 3 fin thrusters available as well as smaller twin fin models

Cons

  • Can be quite big and heavy
  • A 9ft version won’t fit in most cars so you’ll need to put it on the roof
  • Can absorb a lot of water if you do have them inside car
  • Not much cheaper than hard surfboards
  • Not ideal for surfing over shoulder high waves
  • Can be difficult to paddle out on when surf is bigger
  • The lifespan is not as long as fibreglass or epoxy boards as foam boards can deteriorate.

Comment:

Popular brands for foam boards include: Swell, Alder, Liquid Shredder. Foam surfboards are typically available in 6 and 7ft versions (for kids and lighter folks) up to the 8 and 9ft models. 8ft long would be the smallest length a regular adult would usually learn on. One thing to be aware of is that there are a number of cheap, low quality/ poorly constructed foam boards being sold on sites like Ebay. If your unsure of what brand of foam board to buy, check the brands surf hire shops use  – these will tend to be tried and tested durable foam boards.

Fibreglass PU or Epoxy Longboard: Length 8ft – 9ft+

bilbo-longboard

Pros

  • Your learning to surf a hard board
  • Can be faster and more manoeuvrable than foam boards
  • Can learn to do longboard moves – like cross stepping, hanging 5 etc
  • Will surf in bigger head high waves (if you can paddle out)
  • Should hold value fairly value if you decide to sell.
  • Some people love longboards and decide to surf them forever

Cons

  • A longer board means it won’t fit inside most cars if its over 8ft
  • Heavy bulky item to carry
  • Hard surfboard means its going to hurt more than a foam board if it hits you
  • Can be more difficult to catch waves than a foam board
  • Most airlines won’t allow you to check in longboards due to their length
  • Going to perform better on unbroken ‘green’ waves as they are not really designed for riding white water

Comment:

Entry level brands that sell tough beginner friendly long boards include: NSP, Cortez, BIC…For more performance based & better quality long boards check out NinePlus, McTavish, Bilbo, Surftech, SkinDog Surfboards & Quiver. A standard Fibreglass (PU) surfboard will not be as tough and forgiving to knocks and dings as Epoxy surfboards  – though most performance shortboards will be PU.

Mini-Mal Surfboards: Length 7’4 – 8’0

NSP76MiniMal10Pros

  • Smaller board makes it easier to carry
  • A 7’6 minimal can fit in a Ford KA car! If no one is in the passenger seat
  • Easier to paddle out in bigger surf than a large foam board
  • Likely to progress your surfing a little faster and improve paddle fitness
  • Epoxy versions can be very durable and retain a good resale value. For example many boards will depreciate from new approx 35-40% in a month or two of you owning them. However Epoxy minimals can depreciate as little as 20-25%
  • Some people choose to surf minimal shaped surfboards forever
  • Possible to take on planes – some airlines have an 8ft limit

Cons

  • Harder to catch waves than a longboard or foamie
  • They are not soft so you want to avoid the board hitting you where possible
  • A minimal is still quite a large board so it can be difficult to get out back in overhead high waves (though if you’re a beginner you probably should think about sticking to surfing smaller waves to begin with).
  • Cheaper models can sometimes still be tricky to turn
  • Not as fast as smaller surfboards

Comment:

The popular brand for beginner minimals is NSP. They are made from Epoxy so are very durable and keep their value well and are available from around £250.00. That said they are not necessarily the best minimal surfboards if you’re looking for performance. Brands like NinePlus, McTavish and Surftech etc offer some fun performance minimals in the mid to higher price bracket – with the boards available in regular fibreglass/ PU versions or Tuflite Epoxy for the Surftech versions.

Magic Carpet: Length 6’10 – 7’2

magic-carpet-nineplusPros

  • Similar to minimals a Magic Carpet surfboard is a small version of the longboard with the middle 2ft taken out.
  • Single fin and thruster options available
  • Lighter than large longboards and foamies – so easier to carry
  • Slightly smaller than minimals these boards can be faster and a little easier to paddle out back when the surf gets bigger
  • A Magic Carpet will surf in small knee high waves to overhead high surf
  • Small enough to be allowed on most airlines if you travel
  • Progressive enough that you could carry on surfing this type of board for a long time
  • Can be popular boards with the general surfing public, so hold resale value well.
  • Small enough to fit in most cars

Cons

  • Less volume than a longboard so requires more effort to catch waves
  • Can be a more challenging board to learn on for complete beginners than a longboard
  • Non Epoxy versions will be more susceptible to dings and breakage
  • These surfboards have quite a wide and flat nose design which means if waves get steep or very choppy, care must be taken to avoid stalling or sinking the nose.
  • Whilst smaller than longboards Magic Carpets are not as fast or as manoeuvrable as shortboards, and still have quite a big turning radius.

Comment:

There are some good Magic Carpet style boards out there in both single fin and thruster 3-fin options – the NinePlus surfboards seem particularly popular. These surfboards are able to catch very small unbroken waves and can still handle overhead waves. Whilst they do not have as much volume as a longboard (so require more effort to paddle onto a wave) they can be a more practical option if you want to fit your board inside a small car.

Large Fish Surfboard: Length 6’4 +

gul-fish

Pros

  • Lots of cool designs available at affordable prices
  • Faster and more manoeuvrable than the other boards covered above (longboards, foamies, minimals and magic carpets)
  • Relatively light and easy to carry
  • Easier to duck dive under waves when paddling out
  • Epoxy versions can be durable
  • Can surf small waist high to overhead waves
  • If a beginner can surf a fish then it might be the only board they ever want
  • Twin fin, tri 3 fin thruster and quad versions are available
  • Small enough to be allowed on most airlines ( British airways limit board bags to a maximum length of around 6’2 still!)

Cons

  • A 6’4 fish will be a lot more challenging to catch waves with than larger boards
  • Lower wave count for beginners likely. Need to be able to catch unbroken green waves to get the most out of a fish – they are not really designed to catch white water with
  • Need to have mastered duck diving to be able to get under waves when paddling out.
  • Non – epoxy versions can be susceptible to dings quite easily – especially on the fish tail area.
  • Don’t tend to hold resale value quite as well as boards like the NSP minimals.

 

Comment:

Not an obvious choice for a real beginner. Learning to surf on a foam board, longboard, minimal or magic carpet first would make sense before moving onto a fish surfboard.

‘Big’ Shortboards – 6’6 to 7’2+

tiki-fatboyPros

  • Fast and easier to turn than longer boards
  • Lightweight and so easier to carry around
  • Will fit in cars easily
  • Easier to duck dive out in bigger surf
  • Epoxy versions can be durable
  • Low cost options available
  • Small enough to be allowed on most airlines
  • Tri (3) fin thruster and quad versions are available

Cons

  • Harder to catch waves. Lower wave count for beginners likely so you will spend less time surfing and more time paddling.
  • Beginners benefit from surfing smaller waves – shortboards are mainly designed for surfing bigger waves – chest to head high+
  • Ability to catch unbroken green waves necessary to get the most out of a shortboard, as they are not designed to catch white water
  • Need to be able to duck dive to be able to get under waves when paddling out.
  • Ability to turn and generate speed on a shortboard is key.
  • Overall out of all the types of boards listed this is not the obvious choice for a beginner (however cool they look!)
  • Can have weaker resale value compared to some of the other boards.

Comment:

  • Its important to note that big shortboards are not big purely because of their length, but also because of their width too – we’re back to the volume thing again…Big shortboards will often be atleast 20 inches or more wide. Well known models are made by brands like Tiki, o’Shea and even Firewire have a boards that fall into this category.
  • A large shortboard – sometimes referred to as a ’big boy’ or  ‘fatboy’ are sometimes encouraged as learner boards because they can have a lot of volume when they are in the 7ft + range. that said, they will tend to have less volume than a minimal of similar length, due to a shortboard shape having a more pointy nose.

Summary:

In a nutshell your own personal taste will come into play when buying your first surfboard to learn on, but as a yardstick here is a rough reference – you’ll notice the more often you surf the more choices open up in terms of what board you could ride.

  • “I only surf 1-2 days a year” = Foamboard
  • “I surf about 5-7 days a year” = Foamboard, Longboard, Minimal
  • “I surf atleast once a month” = Longboard, Minimal, Magic Carpet
  • “I surf a few days a month” = Longboard, Minimal, Magic Carpet or Fish
  • “I surf every week” = Longboard, Minimal, Magic Carpet, Fish or Big Shortboard

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

rachelb August 11, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Sooooo helpful, just learning, great to get local expert advice, thankyou,

alyssa April 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm

thanks looking for a board of my own just got hooked :D

mattea June 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

this was really helpful just learning how to surf…im only 11 so i really needed help thxs

sari August 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Hey my names Sari im 11 and need help buying a board thanks soooo mutch for ur helpful advise i skate and have been competing since i was 10 but i realy want to surf.

Oli August 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Hey, I am 6’1 in height and about 12.5 stone(about 175lbs ish). I have heard Bic are the best mini mals. I have surfed a bit before at college but on foam boards. I am going to uni on the coast next month in swansea and want to get myself a board. would a 7’3 bic mini mal be okay for me or would i be too heavy? or would it be better to go for a 7’9 bic mini mal. Please advise me on this and in general. thank you in advance.

Sandy September 21, 2012 at 1:32 am

Looking for a board for my daughter 130 pds and 5’5 has had a few lessons and will surf 10 times per month. I am 5’5 160 pds. I was thinking a mini mal fun board. Bic or nsp?

Newquay Surfer September 21, 2012 at 10:13 am

Yeah 7’6 mal (or around that kind of legnth) seems to make sense. Epoxy ones are durable. Either bic or nsp ones are pretty sturdy. Cheers

Newquay Surfer September 21, 2012 at 10:16 am

I’d go as big on the board as practical. 7’6 or longer. Maybe even 8 ft if you can fit a board of that size in your car. Bic are not really de facto ‘the best ‘ mals – there are performance mals made by many other shapers. Though nsp and bic are good for beginners!

Willi September 29, 2012 at 5:06 am

Hi, what kind of board would you recommend, if you are planning to surf as much as possible for about 2,5 weeks and sell it again because you won’t take it on the plane anyway?

Mike October 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm

What would be a good choice for me? I am a beginner 6″3 230 lbs

Newquay Surfer October 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Mike, I would suggest a large foam board, so 9ft or a longboard – again at least 9ft. Cheers.

Newquay Surfer October 6, 2012 at 9:33 pm

RE: “Hi, what kind of board would you recommend, if you are planning to surf as much as possible for about 2,5 weeks and sell it again because you won’t take it on the plane anyway?”

Willi, that’s a tough question to answer because it depends what country you will be surfing in?

From personal experience it can be quite hard to sell a surfboard back to 2nd hand surf stores in parts of California. I bought a used firewire surfboard in Santa Cruz and couldn’t sell it to stores in SoCal so had to take it home – luckily the board was free to take on the flicght as it was VirginAtlantic flight. In the UK in places like Newquay its easy enough to trade boards in. As a rule of thumb boards that are easier to sell are boards that appeal to the most people in that location. So in England and Wales quite wide fish surfboards and minimals can be popular. In Indo narrower faster shortboards will the be the order of the day :)

Cheers

Rhiannon November 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Hi there,
I am just looking for information about what surfboard would best suit me. I have never surfed before but am looking to do it on a regular occasion with friends who surf. I am female, 27 years old, small frame, around 5″5 in height and weigh about 53kilos. I am not real keen on a foam board. Is there another board that I could go for?

Tom November 10, 2012 at 2:15 am

living in wikiki, read your guide, wanted to know if i can start with a large shor like 5’9 -6’2 short channel islands, the south shore right now is 2-4 sometimes bit more, can i start of on a board like that if i plan to go out nightly ? took some lessons can pop most times on long board, what do you think,

Cheers

Newquay Surfer November 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Hi. The article was written with the UK in mind, so I really can’t comment about the best boards for north or south shore of Hawaii. Best to ask locals!

Newquay Surfer November 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm

If you really don’t want to learn on a foamboard.
Best bet will be something in the minimal to longboard range – though as you are quite light you will prob be OK on minimal from 7’2 – 8’0 range.
NSP make cheaper long lasting models, brands like NinePlus make some cool retro designs…but cost more.
Just remember if you don’t go down the foam board route to learn, hard boards do hurt a bit more when they hit you :)

Ali November 13, 2012 at 12:50 am

I have surfed a couple times. im good at a longboard and i have ridden a shortboard a couple times. I dont want a longboard, i would want one about 6′ and under. I want to try and learn tricks. I think it would be a waste to spend money on a longboard and then a shortboard, because once i get the shortboard i would never ride the longboard anymore. I was looking into maybe a lost board or something of that sort. Any opinions?

ryan November 19, 2012 at 11:01 pm

If you aren’t in the best shape and not looking to rip check out the foam surfboards. They are easy to learn on and most important safer for you and the other surfers in the water. Check out the following link for details.

http://www.squidoo.com/foam-surfboards

Newquay Surfer December 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

You can do tricks on longboards too. I’ve seen Ben Skinner in the UK do airs on a longboard :)

Newquay Surfer December 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Most people would probably get a minimal 7-8ft long as the first, smallest board to learn on.

Monica December 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Hi, I’m 5’7″ and weigh 143 pounds. I have had a foam board for a year and have managed to surf quite a bit so I’m ready to move onto a mini mal. I’m not sure whether I should buy a 7’4″ or a 7’6″ board. What is your opinion? Thanks heaps!

Jurgen February 28, 2013 at 10:05 am

Hi. I’m quite a beginner, 5ft.7in. and about 158lbs, what type of board would you suggest for me? 1-to-2 times a month would be a fair estimate of how surfing suits my schedule. Thanks.

Nicole Rebosky April 13, 2013 at 2:23 am

Hi, I am 4″9 and 12 I’ve never had lessons but I have tried surfing on a boogey board and only caught a few waves. I think I have the hang of what I’m supposed to do. So what would be a good choice for me? I am a beginner and way 103 lbs!!.

chris April 21, 2013 at 9:07 am

I have been given a 7″2 NSP funboard as a present last year. I am having trouble catching waves with it and am a beginner and getting frustrated as I want to get into surfing but feel this board isn’t for me. Do you think it is worth selling this board and getting a longer one so that I am able to catch more waves, or do I perservere with the one I have? Could I trade it in at your store and if so how much would I get for it? It is pretty much brand new with no dings on it! I am 5″11 and weigh 12 stone 76Kg. Is there any recommendations or advice you could give me?
Thanks very much,
Chris

Newquay Surfer April 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Hi. Suggest you get in touch with a surf school and get some lessons on a foam board. The 7’2 may be a bit small for your height/ weight if you are a total beginner.
Re: selling your board – try ebay or contact surf shops close to you.

Pleas note – this is a blog about surfing not a shop – we don’t buy or sell surfboards :)

best of luck

Newquay Surfer April 21, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The best thing to do is contact a surf school and get some lessons – they can help you the best, once they can see how you surf. Good luck!

Newquay Surfer April 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm
Sofia July 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Hi !! I’m 18.. Never had the opportunity to surf but been doing bodyboard for a while.. But was thinking about buying my first surf board.. Actually don’t know what to get.. Could you help?
The country for surfing will be Portugal..
Would appreciate your help thanks

Newquay Surfer July 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

hiya Sofia. I’d suggest take some lessons. You’ll usually learn on a 8ft or 9 ft foam-boards if you go with a surf school.
Once you can stand up on those and control it a bit, then you can think about harder surfboards.
I believe people should really learn first on softer foam surfboard for their own and other people’s safety – in fact its a law in parts of California.
Most surf schools in Europe will usually have some hard fiberglass or epoxy longboards too. These will be 7ft range ( minimal) to 9ft (long-board), so you could try those.
My main tip would be to have lessons on foam boards first. Get competent on those, then try some other surfboards the surf school has.

Mark July 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Great advice for a newbie like me, thank you!

Emily July 31, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi, I am 16 and currently surfing a 7ft foam board and have been standing up quite happily on it in the surf down here in Cornwall and I am looking to move on. What kind of board would you suggest I look at please and I am looking to buy second hand.

Newquay Surfer August 1, 2013 at 12:38 am

Well, it depends on the style of surfing you like…You might want to try a hard mal surfboard around 6’8 -7’2 size and see if you like that. Or you could go shorter and maybe try a fish. An option is to go to a surf hire store near the beach where you surf and hire one, but I feel the best option is probably to take a lesson with a surf school instructor that will have these types of boards at the surf school, so you can try them out during a lesson, and get some tips from your instructor too. Good luck!

Teilo Stone August 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

im 14 years old and would like to start surfing. I rented a surf board. A 8ft soft board. I would like to buy a 7ft mini-mal or a fun board. I would really like a board under 8ft as i found the other very hard to maneuver. I would just like to know what type of board and what size of board i should be looking at.
thanks

paul August 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

yopu havent mentioned biscuits, would this be a good board for me, im 13st, been surfing for a while but slowing down due to being 49.
tried a minimal but cant get on with it. i need volume but want manouverability. minimal hard to paddle out.

joep August 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

hello im am: 5.3ft and 90 lbs, i like the idea of a longboard but i am still 14 and i dont surf jet (dont live near the beach in holland :\ ) but in a couple of jears i want to surf what is the best board for me ?? and thx for the advice.

Scott August 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Hi , I’m an old fella (39) learning to surf with my 11 year old daughter , I was going to plump for a longboard as a safe bet for myself , do you think this is the best option as I intend to surf at least twice a week spring , summer and autumn . I am 5 ft 7 and 12.5 stone

Newquay Surfer August 16, 2013 at 9:01 am

A longboard sounds like a good plan. Have fun surfing!

Newquay Surfer August 16, 2013 at 9:03 am

You can borrow the surfboards from the surf school when you have lessons.

Newquay Surfer August 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

Sure, there a bunch of boards available in the 7ft-8ft range of minimals. Which one to get will really depend on your budget. Many people go for NSP minimals around 7’6. The boards are affordable & made from epoxy so are pretty strong. Nineplus make some nice magic carpet single fin surfboards around 7ft long as well, but they are twice as expensive as NSP ones. Cheers

Newquay Surfer August 16, 2013 at 9:12 am

Worth a try. I personally wasn’t sold on the biscuit design and found the channel islands one I had awkward to surf. I’m more of a fan of the really short & wide styles of the mini simmons noseless/ boards & shapes like the JS pier pony – but with this type of thing its a matter of personal taste hey! :)

andres August 18, 2013 at 6:33 pm

very useful, thanks!

Sophie March 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Complete beginner here.
I’m 17, 5’8″ and 104 lbs.
Gunna be going surfing this summer with my brother (who’ll be teaching me), what board would you recommend?
Since I’ll be going to college along the coast of CA I plan on surfing more often.

Scott March 22, 2014 at 8:23 am

Hi,Looking for an example of boards for a beginner of 6ft and 15st but athletic rugby build…seem the market caters for everyone under 13st :)

Newquay Surfer March 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm

You will need the most buoyant surfboard you can get that allows you to learn. At least a 9 foot foamboard or bigger.
In the UK “Swell Surfboards” aka Swellboards are usually what bigger guys get given to learn on as they have a lot of float.
Also you may need waves with a bit more punch to surf than a 7 stone grommit, but you can still learn for sure! Remember there are some big guys in Hawaii that look like Rugby players that are great surfers!

Newquay Surfer March 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Have lessons on the soft surfboards then maybe get an 8ft Longboard or 7’2 – 7’6 minimal maybe if its summer. They have been popular for California surf for decades. If you improve fast you may find yourself wanting a smaller board – but that’s a nice place to be, cos it means you have done lots of surfing and know you have gotten better! Good luck.

Anne Marie Murray April 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

HI my Daughter want to get into surfing we live in jersey channel islands
and she is going to commit to doing surfing lessons I want to buy her a board for her birthday she is looking for a surf betty can you advise she is 6stone and about 5 ft can you advise which board and can I get off internet.

Regards Anne Marie Murray

Anne Marie Murray April 7, 2014 at 11:07 am

HI my Daughter want to get into surfing we live in jersey channel islands
and she is going to commit to doing surfing lessons I want to buy her a board for her birthday she is looking for a surf betty can you advise she is 6 stone and about 5 ft can you advise which board and can I get off internet.

Regards Anne Marie Murray

Newquay Surfer April 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

Hi – yeah they are made by NSP and many surf shops sell them and there are usually lots on ebay. The ones beginners start on (after having a few lessons on soft foam boards) are often around the 7’6 – 7’10 sort of size. Hope that helps.

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