Before heading to the surfshop or your surfboard rental office, make sure you read this small guide that will prevent you from being tricked, or from making a bad choice. Don’t worry; most of surf shops owners are relatively honest. But you better be careful than sorry, walking into the shop with a little idea of what is suitable for you will allow you to start on the right foot.
Don’t forget that surf shops and surfboard rental owners are primarily here to sell. Your progress is not always their main concern. Some of them will simply direct you with what they have in stock, or worse, a bad seller that they can’t get rid of. That being said, you are more likely to meet a great passionate guy who will help you than a greedy one who just want to increase his sales. But it also depends on your attitude and the questions/requests you will ask him.
Remember that it’s not about style, a wrong surfboard will slow down your progression, that is for sure. So don’t be a fashion victim and be smart!
So what do you need to look for?
A good paddler
You already imagine yourself taking long stylish rides on endless waves? Well you should probably manage your expectations. Surfing is 98% about paddling. Most of the waves in this world are less than a 10s ride. And as a beginner, you will probably not get more than 20 waves in a 2hours session before your arms and shoulders start to burn like hell (20 is actually probably a very high number).
Make the calculation yourself: 20 waves x 10 seconds= 200s, which is a bit more than 3min of actual surfing. Note that the 10 seconds wave is really optimisic although it is highly depending on where you live. In most cases it will be something like 3s for your average wave, which is already not so bad if you are a complete beginner. The 20 waves will also probably be a lot less depending on your physical condition. These are just super optimistic numbers to show you my point.
Let’s make a little math: if you actually surf less than 3 min on a total 2hours session, guess what you do the rest of the time? You got it? Yes you will be paddling like a mad man (or a mad woman) to get these 3 seconds of pleasure.
What is my point?
Regardless of your level, the best board is the board that allows you to catch waves.
The deal is pretty simple: you don’t catch wave= your surf level stays the same. And you’ve seen how short your window is for progress (max 3min on the wave/session for the ones who don’t follow!). That’s one of the reasons why being a good surfer is a long, long, long process.
So what are the characteristics of a board that catch waves easily (=a good paddler)?
A good beginner board is long, and large. You should not have more than your ankles dragging into the water. So yes, a beginner board is taller than you, always, and usually has a rounded shape like a biscuit, or a dildo, up to you.
If you are really beginner, it is recommended to start with a soft top surfboard, in order to not hurt yourself and the others. At least for your first few sessions. All serious surf school will teach you on these kinds of boards, once you are comfortable enough to follow a wave and controlling your board, you will be able to upgrade to a hard one. The dog above is waiting to follow his first wave before upgrading, and you should do the same.
Note that longboards are not always the best option, especially if you are short. In this case it can be hard to turn due to their size, and they will be a great option for people who are a bit more experienced and want to go into longboard surfing. Plus, they can be hard to control and quite dangerous for other surfers if you drop it. For bigger people, no problem.
Size and volume
Whatever what you have heard, size does matter, and so does the volume. (that’s what she said)
Depending on your size, most of people will be happy and experience the sensations of surfing with a board ranging between 6’8” and 8’2” tall, and 20” to 23” large, except if you are really small, or really tall/heavy. Note that the width is as important as the length, if not more, as it’s a key component of volume (expressed in liters for the ones who skipped physic classes), thus ability to catch wave. The volume is probably the most useful thing to take into account for a board, the same length with different width and thickness will react completely differently.The more liters you have under yourself, the more you will float, the faster you will paddle and very important, the earlier you will take wave. A good beginner board should definitely be a wave magnet.
The shape is also a key component, since as a new surfer, your position, paddling power and technique in general won’t be that great (I’m polite). So make sure the shape is generous in volume on the top/nose area of the board. It will make your pop up and take off a lot easier. You will simply have to push forward your board and it will go down the line automatically until you have enough speed to stand up. This characteristic makes the board very forgiving, you can do pretty much everything wrong and still catch something. It’s a virtuous circle: you will miss a lot less waves with this sort of boards (don’t worry you will still miss a lot), so you will be less tired, so you will catch more waves. Again, very simple math here !
So what you should you be looking for?
Probably the best way to go. Volume length, everything is built to make your life easy. They are not called fun board for no reasons. Really easy to catch waves, follow the face, great paddling power. It should be enough for your first few months/years of practice, and will help you to make a choice about the directions you want to go in the future: shortboard? You will go shorter step by steo. Longboard? You can go longer when you feel comfortable with your funboard. Always keep one in your quiver, you can use it when waves are small, or when your friends/cousins/nephew or dog want to start surfing.
Basically a longboard but smaller, so easier to turn and more dynamic, but less paddling power than a longboard. You can still noseride on some of them. They are also perfect for beginners, and are shaped in a way that is suitable for improving surfers. Everyone should have one of those, not only beginners and improvers, they are the funnest and laziest boards you can ride. You just imagine a line, a move and the board makes it for you.
If you want to know what it looks like when you are good at it, check at the videos below. If you are still not convinced with that…
Mistakes to avoid
Take a shortboard right away.
Biggest mistake you can make, really.
You didn’t learn driving a car with a Ferrari did you? You didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle with a racer bicycle? So why do you want to start surfing with a shortboard? As ridiculous and extreme as it sounds, it’s exactly what it is. Every single summer, we see stubborn people starting with shortboard, when they can’t even paddle nor stand up. “Yeah but I do snowboard so it should be ok” No it’s not, for the simple reason that being a good snowboarder has never made anyone a good paddler.
Buy a gun
Not this kind of gun of course. This kind:
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous surf shops tend to get rid of their guns by giving them to beginners. Guns do have a lot of volume, but are narrow and sharp. Sure it’s better than a shortboard as you will be able to catch waves if you are lucky. But you will mostly go straight and/or fall as these boards are not as stable as the ones mentioned before. Guns are for big waves, really pumping conditions, which is not what you are about to surf.
Buy fish/retro single fins just because they are pretty (god knows they are)
Some of them can be a great way to get a proper style and technique, especially single fins. Keep them in mind for a near future, not at the very beginning, as it will probably slow you down. Many retailers will try to sell you some of these boards arguably because they have good volume and will be good beginner boards. That can be true but mostly it is not.
I know, most of them look really sexy and are hard to resist, but be strong it’s for your own good! You can start considering some of them when you will be able to make your first turns, which can be quite quick if you choose the right tool in the first place. If you want to go into old school surfing, you can always start with a single fin egg or longboard that would be a much better choice and will give you a great learning curve before considering stepping down to these sexy and shorter shapes.
What about you? On which board did you start and what would you recommend for a beginner? Let us know your experience in the comments section below!