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How to Choose the Right Surfboard

Aug 26, 2008
If you're just learning to surf, the kind of board you use is second to learning the ins and outs of the sport, but once you've gotten a handle on the sport and the different ways boards ride on a wave, you will come to understand the art of choosing your perfect surfboard.

Many beginners learn how to surf on a long board, a board that is at least nine feet long. Any board longer than nine feet will be much easier to learn on because it will be much more comfortable to lie down on, much faster to paddle out to the break, and much easier to catch a wave. With time, practice, and patience, you will be standing up on your long board and catching waves in no time. At that point, you may consider a smaller board.

Let's talk a bit more about the advantages of the long board. The factors that allow you to catch a wave are the size of the wave, the velocity of the wave, and the quality of your board. The key for beginners is to not get a board that is too short or too narrow. You will be much happier starting out on a long, wide board, as you will catch more waves and get more practice standing up. You'll have far less inclination to lug a heavy board around with you, so find a board that is light enough to carry around. The thickness of the board doesn't matter as much, but try to get a board that will fit comfortably under your arm or one that you can actually carry for at least two blocks.

As a general rule of thumb, you don't want a board that seems discolored or overly worn or tired. You want a board that still has a little life in it and you shouldn't be afraid to ding it up a bit. Beginners definitely shouldn't buy new boards. The ideal situation for beginning surfers would be to borrow a board from a friend, buy a used board, or purchase a long-term (seasonal) rental. Don't worry about buying something fancy. Just get something that will get you in the water, keep you coming back for more, and will stand the test of time.

Short-boarding beginners might prefer a "fish," which tends to be short (about six to seven feet in length) and wide (about 20 inches). Fish-shaped boards provide a little more float for the rider, which is a help to beginning surfers. Fish-shaped boards may be a little harder to turn and duck dive, but they will help you get the feel of short boarding and provide enough confidence for you to continue learning. As is the case with beginner long boards, your beginner short board should also be newer (10 years old at most) and should not have dings, holes, bumps, or bruises.

If you have a decent budget, you could opt for the practically indestructible epoxy board. Epoxy boards, as opposed to cheaper fiberglass boards, last longer and are machine made. They're good for beginners because they don't ding as easily (and, as a beginner, you will find that your board is difficult to carry without bumping into things).

Finally, if you don't feel completely comfortable on the board, don't worry too much―you'll get used to it. Get something decent enough to keep you paddling out for a year and trade up for a better, faster board when you're ready.
About the Author
Robb Bailey works for South Coast Surf Shops, San Diego's premiere surfboard distributor and surf apparel dealer for more than 30 years. He has been inducted as a lifetime honorary member of his college surf club, the Cal Poly Surfer's Association, and has traveled the world surfing for the past 11 years. Find out more about Robb at SouthCoast.com
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