Whether you’re just learning how to surf or you’re looking to progress onto a more advanced style of board, choosing the right size surfboard is one of the most important and challenging decisions you’ll have to make in your hopefully long, illustrious surf career.
In the words of the great Kim Kardashian, ‘You wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley’ which translates elegantly to do not buy a flashy board if you can’t ride it. You are the bumper sticker, your new, pro tour shortboard that Gabriel Medina also uses is the Bentley.
Instead, your bumper sticker is more than welcome on a pickup truck. A user friendly durable vehicle to help you learn the ropes, or so I’ve heard - I’ve never actually owned one.
What I’m trying to say in my somewhat long winded analogy is that for your first surfboard you’re going to want something that catches a whole lot of waves. Even if you’re the next John John Florence you are going to struggle if you can’t stand up on the board. It can be pretty tough picking a board that’s right for you so I’ll take you through it step by step, bestowing some of my surf wisdom along the way.
Before you go about getting any surfboard you have to properly understand what it is you’re buying (or at least let me explain it for you). Every surfboard you see has a series of numbers along the middle of the board. Length. Width. Thickness. Volume. The first three measurements are its dimensions, while the volume is a measurement of how much space the board takes up in the water. These numbers essentially dictate the board’s buoyancy, its agility and its ability to perform in different conditions.
The two most important measurements for when you are starting out are length and volume. If a board has more volume, it’s more buoyant and it’s going to be easier to catch waves. Similarly with length, the longer the board is, the easier it is to get on waves. That’s why longboards are traditionally considered the easiest boards to ride – they’re long (around 8ft) and have lots of volume.
As you get better as a surfer, you become more in tune with your board and its features, learning how to notice the minute changes when it comes to its dimensions. However, until you reach this point, we have made a survey that will help you choose which surfboard you need and it’s dimensions.
The surfboard that you see in practically every beginner surf camp session is the foam board. The deck of the board is foam, not fiberglass. This means the board is significantly safer if it hits you or anybody else out in the water. Foam boards are generally quite long, wide and have lots of volume. This makes the board float more which in turn makes it easier to stand up on. The best board to use for your first ever surf sessions.
Longboards are the pleasure crafts of the surfing world. Minimal effort required, easy to paddle, you simply glide. As a beginner you’ll want a board that has a low weight to volume ratio which will give you as much time as you need to pop up when the time comes. The longboard is that board. It is perfect for small rolling waves as they’ll float through the flat sections as it perfectly carries your momentum.
That’s not to say that longboards are only for beginners at all. In the world of longboards there are many different variations of design. One trick that I’m sure you’re aware of is the hang-five or the hang-ten where the surfers stand with their feet at the front of the board with their toes hanging off. To perform this, you need a special style of longboard and a whole lot of skill.
These are the boards that the majority of people you see use. From those surfers out in your local lineup to the professionals surfing on the world tour. Shortboards are very fast and easy to maneuver because they are short (under 6 and a half feet) and are relatively thin. Another big plus of a shortboard is that it is much easier to duckdive with, allowing you to take on bigger waves. However because of this they aren’t ideal for your average beginner surfer.
However, if you think you’re ready to make the step up, I’d only really recommend purchasing your first shortboard if you’ve mastered the arts of paddling, taking off and turning a longboard or a hybrid board.
The Fish is a product of California innovation of the 60’s and 70’s. It is characterized by its alternate fin set ups, its unique tail shape and its high volume. It is sometimes seen as a stepping stone between the longboard and the shortboard. While the board is significantly shorter than a longboard, it maintains the volume which helps the board to glide.
The Fish truly produces a unique style of surfing. It is the ultimate board for carving long turns in slow mushy waves. Perfect for summer conditions when the swell is weak.
Hybrid shortboards and various other boards such as the Mini Mal and the Egg are all designed to have qualities of both the short and longboard. Mini Mals are perfect either as your fist board or as a step up from a foam board. They have very similar characteristics to a longboard, with the exception that they are a few feet shorter and almost always have three fins whereas longboards vary between one and three. Perhaps the main reason why they’re so popular as a beginner board is because they float well, paddle well, are much lighter than longboards, and are far easier to maneuver.
All in all, you’re probably pretty overwhelmed by all this and to be honest, I can’t really blame you. It does take a long time to properly wrap your head around the concepts of board dimensions and the different models of surfboards. It takes even longer to understand your own personal relationship with a surfboard and how you react to changes. Luckily for you, here at Wyve, we’ve designed an advanced algorithm that will sort all that out for you!