I have a theory, feel free to disagree, but I strongly believe that every single person on the planet wishes they were a surfer. Think about it: Who wouldn’t want to spend their time on the beach with beautiful people, under the sun, leaning against a palm tree, without an inkling of stress from the outside world. Trust me, stress evaporates when you’re in the middle of a picture-perfect wave.
So the question is, why isn’t everyone a surfer? With a sport like surfing, transitioning into the sport can be tough. It’s not as simple as walking into store, buying a basketball and shooting some free throws. When you start surfing, you have to raise your hand and ask for help. If not, it’s going to be tough.
I first started surfing at 16, on a tiny shortboard, just like Kelly Slater, and didn’t know the first thing about board selection. My friends and I saved up a small fortune, got a board, took to the water, and got tossed around by the Atlantic Ocean, didn’t catch a wave, and couldn’t even paddle out. All of my friends quit. If we only had help with picking the right board, the story might be different for my friends.
With basketball, the first skill you learn is basic dribbling. You don’t get to basketball camp and start dunking! So, we’re not going to start surfing on boards that will teach us to fly through the air like Kelly Slater. We’re going to start with basics.
So what goes into picking a surfboard for beginners? It’s important to remember these golden rules:
- Size is Your Friend
- Consider Your Waves
- Think of Your Goals
Rule #1: Size is Your Friend
When you start surfing, you want a longboard. Plain and simple. Too often, we see new surfers struggling on a shortboard. Shortboards are great for the experienced surfer in perfect waves. Before you start surfing on a shortboard consider the following:
8 foot longboard:
McTavish Evolution Longboard:
Imagine you are trying to surf for the first time on a shortboard. Your arms turn to jelly as you struggle to paddle out. You get tossed off your board half a dozen times before ever reaching a wave to ride. You’re gasping for air. When you are finally lucky enough to paddle for a wave,
First day on a shortboard:
you are either catapulted off before you get a chance to stand, or you fall off while trying to pop up. This is what happens when we try to start surfing on a shortboard. Why? Shortboards have a very small volume. This small size translates to a board that is hard to paddle, hard to balance on, and hard to time for a wave. As beginners, we simply don’t have the technique and experience to handle a shortboard. Don’t worry, it will come with time.
Longboards: A great combination of fun and style:
So what kind of board do we need? A longboard surfboard. Size is our friend when it comes to beginner surfboards. Size, both in length, and in thickness.
Longboards are typically 8-12 feet in length, being most popular at 10 feet. When you are starting out, start with a 10-12 foot board. The fins can be tri-fin, single-fin, or 2+1, where the board will have two smaller side fins, and one large fin. Beginners should look for a single fin set up, as it will provide increased stability and control. The shape of the tail (the back of the board) will normally be pointed (pin-tail). The function of this tail design is to have more grip and control. Longboards are commonly made with foam – giving them a huge amount of buoyancy.
Pin Tail: Perfect for stability in the water:
Longboard surfboards are designed to offer the surfer maximum stability when balancing, momentum when paddling, and incredible ease when catching waves. You’ll have a great experience on your longboard.
Rule #2: Consider Your Waves
It’s important for surfers to consider the waves where they surf. This is why so many people that surf regularly have a quiver (set of boards). A large quiver can take years to develop, as experienced surfers will have boards for large waves, mushy waves, small waves, and everything in between.
Let’s consider the best kind of waves to learn in. The best kind of waves to start learning in are going to be smaller ones, from knee to waist high (about 3 feet). These waves will allow you to learn the basic mechanics of surfing in a safe environment. So what kind of board is best for surfing in 3 foot waves? The winner again: the longboard surfboard.
Due to the longboard’s large volume, it it a champion at catching waves in smaller surf. It provides almost effortless paddling into small waves.
Rule #3: Think of Your Goals
Considering your goals is an important step in selecting a board for beginners.
When you are starting to surf, it doesn’t matter if your goal is to fly in the air like Shaun Thompson, or be a longboard champ like Taylor Jensen, the starting point is the same. Working on fundamentals is necessary for any sport, and surfing is no exception. The way we work on beginner fundamentals, is with a longboard, because it provides the extra balance, and wave catchability that we lack when we are starting out.
How about those people who are only interested in surfing as a leisure activity? Then a longboard is your choice, yet again. Learning advanced maneuvers takes a great deal of time and dedication. So if you’re starting on a shortboard, be prepared for weeks or months of flailing around before you begin to see results. With a longboard, you can have a great day on your very first day.
Additionally, there is a lot of potential to have fun and demonstrate skill on a longboard. Here is a great video from CJ Nelson, showing us how much fun it can be on a longboard!
When considering the goals and wave type of a beginning surfer, and the need for volume and stability, it is clear to see that a longboard is the perfect choice for a new surfer.
For adults, we would recommend a 10 foot soft surfboard, made of foam. For children, we would recommend an 8 foot “foamie” as well. By the time you are ready for a new board, you will have a great set of fundamental skills to transition into a shortboard board.
About the Author: Interested in learning more about surfing? Surf Science is dedicated towards helping you learn more, surf better!