Yay you are ready to buy your first Surfboard? Surfboard shopping is one of my favourite past times. It’s even more exciting if you are getting your very first board. It can be a bit of a daunting experience though when you are buying your first surfboard and you are not quite sure what you are looking for.
So what’s the right board for a beginner gidget?
Generally speaking, there are two main categories of boards. Shortboards and Longboards.
Shortboards are the ones with a pointy nose and are generally under 7ft long. They are quite light which makes it easy to turn and do tricky maneuvers with. When you are first starting out though, you’ll be more concerned with catching waves and trying to stand up which is much easier on a bigger board like a longboard. Longboards are not only bigger but also have a rounded nose. Generally, they have more volume which makes them float better. If you are watching surfers in the line up, you can see how surfers sitting with small boards are usually in the water up to their chest, whereas the peeps on the boards with the longer boards with a rounded nose, sit much higher in the water.
The good thing about a more floaty board is that it will be easier for you to paddle and catch waves. The more waves you catch, the more practice you’ll get standing up. Plus, longboards are also more stable in the water, which makes it easier to stand up and more forgiving if you are a bit wobbly on your feet to start with.
So don’t listen to the guy who’s trying to sell you his shortboard on ebay and trying to persuade you it’s the ideal beginner board. I’ve seen it over and over again. People who have rarely surfed, rocking up with a short board. You are not doing yourself any favours. It might look cooler walking down the beach to it but you won’t be a happy camper in the water and take you much longer to improve because you are not catching as many waves. I know a lot of people who gave up surfing before they even properly started just because their first board was far too small. They’ve lost their confidence and/or got frustrated because they were not catching any waves and stopped surfing altogether.
It’s much better to get a bigger board to start with, build your confidence and you’ll be able to ride a Shortboard soon enough.
How big are we talking?
When I say bigger, I don’t mean to get a 9 footer (unless you are 8ft tall). Yes, it will be really easy to catch waves on that thing because they are more like a boat than a board. However, are you really going to use it? How are you getting to the beach? Do you need to get the board into your car? Do you need to carry it far? There is no point in having a big board that’s easy to catch waves on but you are not using because it’s a mission to get it into the water (I’m a bit further from the beach and my longboard is getting dusty, just because I can’t be f….ed to carry it to the beach).
My recommendation for an ideal beginner board is a mini mal between 7ft and 9ft depending on your height, weight and fitness level. Mini mals have a rounded nose just like long boards they are just a bit shorter (longboards are 9ft +). Don’t worry about things like thickness and width and stuff like that (that’s the small numbers written on the board). They are mostly proportionate to the length of the board anyway. One thing though, put it under your arm and see if you are comfortable with it, carrying it….just like a handbag ;-) I’m 170 cm and weigh around 60kgs and was quite fit before I started surfing. My first board was a 7ft mal (ok 6 10 but that’s almost 7ft) and I loved it (until I broke it).
What if you’ve accidently bought a board already that’s too small or too big?
Now you might be thinking that’s all great advice but too late. You’ve already bought a board that’s too small. That’s ok too. Boards don’t have a due date. Maybe store that one for now and get a second hand mini mal to practice on and get on the short board at a later stage. I’ve had a board sitting at my place for two years before I actually learnt how to ride it and it ended up being my favourite board for years.
If you bought a board that’s too big and clunky for you, same thing. Keep it for later. I mostly surf short boards after I learnt on a mini mal but now love riding longboards on really small days because they float so well.
Should I get a softboard or a hardboard?
Too make it even more complicated, boards are made of different materials. Softboards are made of foam with plastic fins. I would not really call them ‘soft’ but they are softER than hardboards. They are great to build your confidence with when you first get into the water – especially, if you are worried to get hit by the board or hit others with your board. They are also great if you know you won’t get into the water too much and you just want a casual board for summer time for having a play now and then. If you plan on surfing regularly, you are most likely to outgrow the board quickly as they are hard to turn. Think of them as boards with training wheels.
Most hardboards are also made out of foam but they are covered with fiberglass and resin. They are lighter and move better through the water than a softies. And they are more durable. Well, that is if you don’t ding them. Once you have a ding you need to fix it (most surfshops can do that for you). Otherwise the foam inside will soak up water which is not so great because the water goes in but won’t come out anymore and wreck the board. If you are serious about surfing and planning on going regularly, you’ll have more fun with a hardboard.
I hope that gives you a bit of an idea what’s out there and guides you when buying your first board.
Remember, the most important thing, pick a board that you love and it will make you want to go in the water. The best board for you is the one you are actually going to use. Don’t let anyone talk you into a board you don’t like. Unfortunately, some shops are more concerned about getting a commission on their board rather than finding the one that’s right for you. You’ll know if they are any good if they ask you lots of questions about you (i.e. your surfing experience to date, fitness level, how often you are planning on surfing, etc). And don’t be shy to ask any questions if you don’t understand any of the surf terminology they are throwing at you. If it’s a good shop, they’ll readily and patiently explain. Trust your instinct. You’ll know.
Good luck with the board shopping. If you are looking at buying around Bondi, drop me a note, if I’m around, I’m happy to come along and help you pick your board.