What Type of Surfboard is Good for Beginners?
Learning how to surf is hard. No matter what level of physical fitness you have when you begin to surf, you’re going to struggle. It’s important to get a board that works with you when you’re learning how to surf. The best surfboard for a beginner is going to be a:
- Soft top
- High volume
Surfboards come in an array of shapes, sizes, and materials. When you think of a stereotypical surfboard, a hard top, polyurethane board is likely what comes to mind. These boards are great once you’ve developed some basic skills. For those starting out, a soft top is the way to go.
Soft tops are foam surfboards without a hard resin exterior. Instead, the outer layer is made of ethylene vinyl acetate. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but just know it’s a soft, flexible material.
So what makes soft tops so great for beginners? First of all, they’re soft (obviously). Because they’re soft, they are much safer for those who don’t exactly know what they’re doing yet. If you’re learning how to surf, you’re going to take some (probably a lot) of falls. This is part of learning, and actually part of the fun.
Learning how to fall is really a skill in itself. Because this is probably a skill you don’t yet have, there is a higher risk of being injured from taking a fall as a beginner. This is why having a soft top is beneficial. If you take a fall and become separated from your board, you might collide with it. Even worse, your board might hit another surfer.
If you are learning how to surf on a hard top and get hit by your board, there is risk of being seriously injured, especially if you take a hard top to the head. I pride myself on being skilled at wiping out, but still I’ve suffered black eyes and busted lips from getting smacked by my hard top surfboard. Don’t take that risk as a beginner. Stick with a soft top until you know how to safely navigate your board during a wipeout. It will be safer for you and everyone else in the lineup.
Safety aside, there are other reasons why learning on a soft top is ideal. Because soft tops tend to have high volume, they are very buoyant. More volume will make paddling much easier. Easier paddling means you’re more likely to actually catch waves. The more waves you catch as a beginner, the faster you will improve.
That extra volume will also help you once you catch a wave. Higher volume surfboards also provide more stability. Once you’re on the wave, you’ll find it easier to keep your balance and stay on the wave. This will allow you to have longer rides. More time actually standing up on a wave will also help you improve faster.
As a beginner, the general rule is that you want your board volume to be at least 100% of your weight in kilograms. If you’re a 65 kg beginner, you want to find a board that has a volume of at least 65 liters. You can find surfboard volume calculators online that will tell you what volume you want based on skill level, weight, and wave type.
Hopefully you’ve been convinced that you should get a soft top for your first surfboard. But what length should your soft top be? Today you can find soft tops in all different shapes and lengths. But for your first surfboard, you want to keep it simple and go for a classic soft top longboard.
Longer surfboards (8-9 feet) are ideal for beginners because extra length means extra volume. As we’ve covered, more volume will help you progress faster as you’re learning because you’ll be able to catch and stay on more waves.
Longboards also perform better in small, weak surf. You may be able to guess why – volume. Small, weak waves are harder to paddle into. More volume makes paddling easier, getting you into those small waves with less effort. Hopefully, you’ll only be surfing small waves as a beginner.
What About Fins?
As you look for your first surfboard, you may notice that there are different types of fin setups. The most common fin setups are single fin, thruster, and quad.
Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about the fin setup on your first board. Fins are an important feature that affect the way your board surfs, but as a beginner you probably won’t be able to feel the difference between a thruster setup and a quad fin setup. Most surfboards that are marketed toward beginners come with a thruster setup. A thruster setup is going to provide a bit more stability to your board, which is why it is the go-to for beginners.
Don’t concern yourself too much with the fin setup of your first board. Your board will likely come with a thruster setup that will do just fine as you learn.
Will I Look Like a Kook?
If you’re familiar with surf culture, you’ve probably heard the term “kook.” A kook is a surfer who doesn’t know what they’re doing in and out of the water. Some people worry that paddling out on a soft top will immediately identify them as a kook.
If it’s your first time surfing, you’re probably a kook. Embrace it! Don’t think that to be a “real surfer” you need a “real board.” A real surfer knows how to choose a board that will work with them. If anything, it’s kookier to try to learn how to surf on a board that you aren’t ready for. Know your skill level, choose a board that’s appropriate, learn some surf etiquette and no one is going to give you a hard time for being a kook.
Keep it simple for your first surfboard and get a soft top longboard. This type of board will keep you safer and make it easier for you to catch more waves. Catching more waves safely will allow you to progress more with every session. Surfing is hard. You want your board to make it easier. A soft top longboard will work with you as a beginner.
Frequently asked questions
If you’re looking for a soft top longboard, you’re in luck as these tend to be the cheapest surfboards you can find. Most new soft tops, like our favorite Wavestorm 8’ Classic and other softtop longboards on our full review list, are in the $200-$500 price range. As you start looking for poly and epoxy boards, you can expect to pay a bit more depending on what kind of hard top you want (most likely upwards of $500).
Generally, longer surfboards are going to be more forgiving due to their volume. You’ll find that paddling is easier on a more buoyant longboard. You’ll also have more balance on a longboard, making it easier to actually stay on the wave once you’ve caught it.
You probably don’t need to worry about waxing your soft top. The outer coating of soft tops tend to have enough grip. Poly and epoxy surfboards need to be waxed because the outer resin layer is slick. If your soft top is older, the outer layer may have lost some of its grip. In this case, it may be beneficial to add a bit of wax to help you stay on your board.