WARNING: Before You Buy Your First Surfboard Read this…

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

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Newquay Surfer September 10, 2014 at 11:14 am

I agree with some of your points e.g. Epoxy means its tough, it will last well, and resale value can be good of popular brand boards.

However I wouldn’t want to oversell the technical aspects of an NSP as being great for everything. There are far superior Mals out there for performance. In respect to “you will feel safer in bigger waves and not pearl” …well, should beginners even be trying to surf bigger waves? Most beginners are surfing on crowded breaks so I feel they should be discouraged from doing this unless they can control their board, and most beginners can’t otherwise they wouldn’t be a beginner :) So surf within your ability is a good policy.
One other thing is that when it comes to a 7’6, I don’t necessarily think a 7’6 is the answer for everyone due to its size. It’s a bit too small for total beginners, especially if they are adult males. I believe many folks would catch more waves and could probably progress a bit faster on a 8-9ft softie or longboard.

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