In surfing, we are blessed with a wide range of waves, so we also have many types of surfboards on which to enjoy them. Choosing the right board is essential to the experience. If you’re buying your first one, you’ll definitely need some tips on how to buy a surfboard. Choosing a good beginner surfboard can be confusing if you don’t have a local surf shop to help you out.
When buying a surfboard for beginner surfers, it’s important to consider their body size and the location where they will be surfing. In general, the best beginner surfboards are long and thick for good stability and flotation. These types of surfboards allow you to catch more waves with less effort.
Intermediate and advanced level surfers experiment with everything from a 10’6 longboard to a 5’4 fish surfboard. The most recent addition to the surfboard lineup is the stand-up paddle board.
The possibilities are many, and the capacity to enjoy boundless. Let’s go ahead and break down the different types of surfboards so you can choose the best fit for you.
SURFING 101 VIDEO: TYPES OF SURFBOARDS
Look at the cover of your favorite surf magazine and what you’ll see is a professional surfer artfully maneuvering across the face of a freakishly perfect wave. Relying on experience and a 6’1 wafer-thin shortboard underfoot, the pro makes the most difficult wave look easy to ride. Shortboards are highly maneuverable and suitable for fast, steep waves in the 1’ to 8’ range.
Shortboards range in length from 5’ to 7’. They have nose rocker (an upturned nose) to help you avoid burying the tip of your board under water (pearling), and possess two to four fins that allow for quick, radical turns. They are called shortboards because, well…they are shorter and narrower than long boards. While I would not recommend one for a beginner over 100 lbs, they are super fun for anyone with a bit of experience.
BIG WAVE GUN SURFBOARD (BIG WAVE BOARD)
If you possess loads of big wave knowledge, the demeanor of Clint Eastwood, and the capacity to hold your breath longer than Aquaman – you’ve found your board. The “big wave gun,” also known as the elephant gun, is for the really big stuff and a poor choice for all but the big wave surfer. It is a longer (8’-9’) and higher volume board built for the speed and intensity of big surf.
These boards are tested by serious surfers in serious waves and are specially designed to help the fully committed surfer drop into monster waves quickly. Once the big wave gun is into the wave, its narrow tail and nose help the surfer maintain the speed and control necessary to navigate giant swells.
Big wave boards are shaped for the sole purpose of riding and surviving large surf and as such are recommended for only the hardiest of surfers.
The longboard dates back to ancient Hawaiian nobility, and today is ridden by surfers of all ages, shapes, and skill levels. It is longer than the shortboard and is fun for novices and experienced surfers alike. The longboard surfboard ranges in length from 8’ to 10’6 and is ridden from the tail (back section of the board) all the way to its nose. You will find the predominant fin configuration is either one or three fins.
Depending on how it’s designed, you can surf it progressively (like a short board), making tight turns with the intent of moving up and down the wave face at a blistering pace. Most long boarders prefer to ride in a more traditional fashion and are content to slide along the wave while walking the length of the board, the sole purpose being to casually enjoy the ride and attempt to plant your toes on the nose. Placing five or ten toes on the front, or nose, of the board is arguably the greatest thrill of long boarding and is often likened to walking on water.
Fear not: even if you aren’t ready to hang ten, the thickness and length of a longboard make it easy to paddle and catch waves of all sizes – in other words, a good beginner surfboard. This is critical in the development of a new surfer, and it is what makes the longboard so much fun to ride.
The fish surfboard gets its name from its fish-like profile. It is shorter and wider than most short boards and looks a bit stubbier as a result. Fish surfboards typically are equipped with two to three fins and are extremely agile in small- to medium-sized surf.
Experienced to moderately skilled surfers love them because they go fast in slower-breaking waves and give a different-feeling ride than a shortboard. The wide surface area of the fish board makes it easier to paddle and catch waves, and allows it to be surfed faster in slower-breaking waves. However, these same design characteristics do not support good performance off the top, or in steep or hollow waves.
This wider and thicker fish is not a bad starter board for beginner surfers under 130 lbs. However, it inhibits a more experienced surfer’s ability to make radical direction changes in quicker hollow waves. Overall, the fish is a fun alternative to your garden-variety shortboard and delivers a uniquely entertaining surf experience.
FUNBOARD (FUN SHAPE SURFBOARD)
Somewhere between the shortboard and the longboard lies the utilitarian funboard. The funboard supports all types of surfers in a variety of conditions. It ranges in length from 7’0 to 8’2.
Because of its width, it’s a good fit for beginners, heavier surfers, and anyone with the desire to catch more waves with less effort. Like the fish, it is wider than the shortboard, but without the stubby fish-like appearance that comes with a smaller, wider board. It is superior to the longboard at executing sharp turns, and because of its width is a good choice for the shortboard rider who has packed on a few pounds.
STAND-UP PADDLE BOARD
As you sit on your traditional board, it is difficult not to envy the surfer standing up as he or she coolly paddles by, surveying the local scene on the newest addition to the surfboard lineup: the stand-up paddle board. The stand-up paddle board is a large, wide, buoyant board from 10’ to 12’ in length, and is designed to allow the surfer to paddle while standing up in all kinds of conditions.
To surf this type of board as intended, you need to purchase a paddle that is an appropriate length for your height. On calm days, you can paddle for exercise, enjoy the outdoors, or just soak up a view usually afforded only to boaters. However, when a swell arrives at the local break, the stand-up paddle boarder is in a favorable position compared to other surfers. Because he is already standing, it is easier for him to see and time the oncoming swells. Intermediate and experienced surfers are rewarded with a uniquely fun ride because they have the knack and timing required to catch waves.
Beginners, don’t despair: put your time in on flat waves (a lake will do) and get your balance down. Soon you will be surfing and paddling around. Bottom line, these boards are multi-faceted and fun. Regardless of your skill level, all you need is the time and desire to learn how to ride one effectively.