These days there is such a wide variety of different beginner surfboards on the market. Making the right decision on buying your first board can be difficult. What’s important to know is that there are two main elements when it comes to beginner surfboards. Both will play a part in your decision on buying a beginner surfboard most suited to you.
- Types of surfboard construction
- Surfboard shapes
Firstly, the surfboard construction or what material the board is made from is arguably the most important factor to consider when buying your first board. We recommend all beginner surfers start their surfing on a soft top surfboard, as they make for best beginner surfboards. The reasons for which are explained below.
Secondly the surfboard shape, or how long, wide and thick the board is will also be an important factor in your decision making.
Once you’ve decided on the surfboard you think is best suited to you, we also have a Wetsuit page which comprehensively explains what you need to look for when buying your first wetsuit.
And once you’ve got both a surfboard and a wetsuit check out our Accessories page to find out about the essential surf accessories needed to complete your setup. You may also want to put this equipment to use by going on surf holiday, so head over to our Surf Camp Guide page to find the right surf camp for you.
1. Types of surfboard construction
These days there are three different types of surfboards when it comes to construction. Fibreglass (PU), Epoxy, and Soft Top boards. PU (Fibreglass) and Epoxy are the most similar in construction and performance and are oriented to intermediate and advanced surfers. Foam or Soft Top surfboards are better suited to beginners.
PU of Fibreglass surfboards are made from a polyurethane/foam core. PU surfboards have a wooden stringer running down the center of the board. They are wrapped with fibreglass cloth and polyester resin.
They were the first construction in the era of modern surfboards in the 1970’s. Fibreglass surfboards are still the most popular type of surfboard to ride today due to their feel, and natural flex patterns.
Epoxy surfboards also have a polyurethane/foam core, but in most cases do not have a stringer running down the middle of the board. Moreover, they are only coated with epoxy resin. Epoxy construction surfboards came about in the 90’s.
They are seen by many in the surf community as an advancement in surfboard construction. This is due to a multitude of reasons. Firstly, epoxy is more environmentally friendly than fibreglass. For years shapers have toiled with inhaling toxic fibreglass residues when shaping surfboards.
Epoxy emits 50-75% fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than polyester resin, which translates into a decrease in harmful chemicals both in the shaping lab and the shop. Moreover, epoxy is a common household item, safe to use without a mask and with only moderate ventilation.
Secondly, epoxy surfboards tend be lighter, stiffer and more buoyant. This makes the faster to paddle and ride waves on. They are also more durable which makes them less prone to dings and cracks.
Soft top surfboards
Soft top surfboards are the new comers to the industry. It could be argued that surfboard manufacturers looked at body boards and thought there was potential to lengthen the body board and create a foam surfboard.
These surfboards are traditionally made from an EPS foam core, have fibreglass or epoxy wrapped around this foam, and then finally have another think layer of foam that covers the board.
In recent years soft top surfboards have soared in popularity with beginner surfers and surf schools. This growth has also led to surf companies making foam surfboards for intermediate and advanced surfers.
Hawaiian surfer, Jamie O’Brien has several videos on YouTube of him surfing soft top surfboards and has his own brand called Catch Surf.
The three main advantages of soft top surfboards are the following:
Cheap – Traditional PU and epoxy surfboards usually start at around $400 and go up from there. These surfboards start for as little at $60 on Amazon and usually go up to around the $400 mark. Needless to say, the advent of the foam surfboard has liberated the surf market. It has made the sport of surfing accessible to many more people.
Safe – Having a soft outer core makes these boards relatively safe to surf on. When we speak of safety in this context, we are referring to both the surfers personal safety and the safety of those around him/her in the water. Surf injuries are fairly common, particularly when one is learning to surf and wipeouts happen more frequently.
Hard PU and epoxy boards can cause serious injuries. In the past I have taken a fall on a mid size wave, landed on my board and cracked two ribs. It’s also very important to acknowledge the safety of those around you when surfing. The risk of injuring someone close to you in the water is substantially lowered when riding a soft top surfboard.
Durable – This is another key feature to look for when buying a beginner surfboard. PU surfboards pick up dings and cracks very easily. In some cases these dings have to get repaired.
This can cost anywhere from $20 all the way up into the $100’s. Based on the amount of times beginner surfers fall, and often do not fall away from their board, having a soft top surfboard will save you a lot of money in ding repair down the line.
Heavy – They are heavier than traditional PU or epoxy boards. This means carrying them long distances can be tiresome. We recommend using a surfboard sling for soft top boards that are longer than 8ft.
Rash – some brands of soft top surfboard can give you rash on your chest. If you’re wearing a wetsuit then this is not a problem. If you’re surfing in tropical water then we advise using a rash vest.
2. Surfboard shapes
Broadly speaking there are three main shapes of surfboard. All three are suitable as beginner surfboards. The Longboard, Minimalibu (or Minimal), and the Shortboard. In more recent times, other shapes have emerged such as the Fish and Funboards. These board shapes are often generally referred to as Hybrids.
Traditionally beginner surfers have surfed long boards and Mini Mals. As foam surfboards are now being made in shortboard versions, many beginner surfers are starting on this shape of board as well.
The birth of surfing is in the longboard. In the 6th century Polynesians began riding solid wooden longboards which ranged from 9-30 feet. As surfing began to spread across the pacific rim eventually reaching the US and Australia in the early 20th century, boards changed in material from solid wood to hollow balsa wood.
By the 1950’s the classic longboard was being made using polyurethane foam and fibreglass. These more modern boards tended to range in length between 9-12 feet. The most well known longboard in the modern is the Malibu deriving from California. It’s narrower than most longboards which gives it better manoeuvrability and performance.
Longboards are more suitable for beginners because of the board’s size and ease of catching waves. Compared to the shortboards, longboards are much easier to learn on as they are offer greater stability when popping up. They are also easier to paddle faster on, thus allowing a beginner surfer the chance to catch the wave as early as possible.
A good beginner long board is the 9ft foam EZ Rider by the Wave Bandit. It comes with a leash and a tri-fin setup and has a slick bottom. Due to it’s and length and overall volume (98 liters!) this board will be very buoyant in the water and allow you to catch waves with ease in the smallest of surf.
Mini Malibu (Minimal)
The Mini Mal is the smaller brother of the Malibu longboard. Mini Mals range in size from 7’0″ to 8’6″ and give a surfer more performance. They also offer the stability that a traditional longboard provides. It is for this reason that Minimals are now the most popular surfboards for beginners.
By starting on a Mini Mal, beginner surfers are able to more easily transition to a shortboard in the long run. This is the main reason why Mini Mals make suitable beginner surfboards.
One other reason for the popularity of Mini Mals with beginner surfers is that they are less cumbersome than traditional longboards. This makes them easier to transport, carry to the beach and also handle in the water. If a wave comes and you’re out of position, it’s much easier to manoeuvre a Mini Mal into position than a longboard.
One misconception however is that Minimals are easier to get through the surf than longboards when paddling out. This is not true as both types of boards require one to roll under the board (turtle roll) when attempting to duck under a wave. The difference in resistance is negligible.
If you’re looking for a Mini Mal at the upper end of the height scale then we recommend the 8’2″ Crocodile Groove Soft Top by Raystreak. With 75 litres of volume this board is going to offer you a load of fun in a range of different waves.
It comes with a leash and three fins. What’s also nice about this board is that is has crocodile grooves to help provide more grip when standing up. The board also has reinforced foam protection on the nose and tail of the board which helps to add durability.
If you want to surf a slightly shorter Mini Mal which sits somewhere in the middle of the size range, then we recommend the Wave Bandit EZ Rider 8’0″.
This surfboard is exactly the same shape as the EZ Rider 9’0″. The only difference is that this surfboard is 1ft shorter and 12 liters less in volume. The egg shape makes for a really fun ride for both beginners and more advanced surfers.
If you are after a short Mini Mal then we recommend surfing the Odysea Plank 7’0″. This board rides more like a traditional log as it’s a single fin, rather the standard tri fin that most soft top surfboards have.
This surfboard is made to exemplary standards with a dual composite core and triple maple-ply stringers. The stringers give the board extra rigidity and strength. Even though this board falls into the Mini Mal category, it rides just like a classic longboard due to it’s volume and single fin setup.
The shortboard constitutes any surfboard that is under 7 feet in length. Classic shortboards have narrow tails, pointed noses, thinner rails and a fair amount of rocker. The classic shortboard is designed to be ridden aggressively on powerful, larger waves.
As surfboard design has evolved over the last several decades so a much larger variety of shortboard shapes has begun to emerge. These days surfers will often have wide range of boards in their quiver, each to suit different types of surf.
Historically, the shortboard has been the preserve of the intermediate and advanced surfer. With the advent of foam surfboard technology, many shortboards are now being ridden by beginners as well.
The team here at Beginner Surf Gear encourages beginner surfers to learn to surf on a longboard or Mini Mal. Once you’ve picked up surfing then progress down in length from there.
If however you feel that you’d prefer to jump straight onto a shortboard, then we recommend getting yourself a hybrid. Hybrids make for the most suitable short beginner surfboards.
Hybrid surfboards are similar in length to a traditional shortboard. They borrow the attributes of thickness, width and volume from a longer board. This means that they are designed to replicate the the ease of turning of a shortboard.
They also provide more stability and speed due to their volume and width. These attributes make hybrids excellent beginner surfboards. The two most well know types of hybrid surfboard are the fish and the funboard. Fish surfboards can be surfed with a 4, 3 or 2 fin setup depending on what kind ride you’re looking.
The less fins the more speed you’ll have, but with less stability. More fins means more stability, but less speed due to the added resistance in the water.
If you’re looking to get started on a board which is longer than average, we advise going with 6’6″ Wave Bandit by Catch Surf. It’s a fun fish shape with a swallow tail. It’s made with an EPS core and double maple wood stringers. It comes with a tri-fin setup, but no leash. Catch Surf advise buying wax for this board to give it extra grip underfoot.
If you are after a mid length board then we recommend buying the little brother of the Wave Bandit which is 6 foot in length.
If you’re after an aggressive surfboard which will offer easy manoeuvrability and duck-diving then we recommend going for one size down on the on the Catch Surf Wave Bandit which is 5’6″ long.
If you want to hack around on a funboard then we can recommend the Stump 5’0″ Quad by Catch Surf. At only 5 foot long with 4 fins this little guy is going to rip.