I remember the first piece of advice I ever got regarding buying a surfboard; it was from a salty-bearded surfer in a surf shop in Newquay, I can’t remember the names of either the shop or the surfer, but his words will always stick with me. “You’re about to begin a beautiful relationship with the ocean, don’t ruin it by sticking a piece of **** in it.”
Sage-like wisdom indeed and something I pass on to my students to this day. What it basically means is that there is a minimum investment level when it comes to buying a surfboard, and if you don’t have the cash for it, be patient, work another shift or two, and come back when you’re feeling a bit more flush. There’s no joy in two months down the line facing the grim fact that you made a rush purchase and your second hand ding magnet is soaking up water and turning yellow.
Let’s assume you’ve outgrown the foamy board you used in your surf lessons, and have a basic knowledge of the parts of a surfboard.
One constant of the ideal first surfboard, regardless of size, is the shape. Most commonly, this shape is referred to as the mini-mal, since it resembles a smaller version of a malibu, or long board. Mini-mals feature the following characteristics:
– Rounded nose: A rounded nose on a surfboard adds extra foam, and thus extra stability and volume to your board. Round nose boards are less ‘tippy’ in a side to side motion, this will make paddling in a straight line easier, and sitting on it more comfortable. Because a round nose carries more volume, it lifts more of the surfer out of the water. This increases wave catching ability, and allows the board to plane a little easier on slower waves.
– Rounded-squash tail: Similar to a rounded nose in the way it works, a rounded-squash tail gives you more lateral stability than a skinny, narrow ‘pin’ tail would, and the extra foam keeps you floating, and so planing, on slower waves. The squash part of the tail refers to how it is squared off; this allows water to ‘release’ cleanly from the back of the board, which allows for more responsive turns when your surfing progresses to that level.
– Length: I would advise you look at boards around 1ft 2 inches and 2ft inches longer than your height, erring towards the longer end. Go too short and your paddling speed and wave count will be stymied. Boards in this length make up at least 85% of all first time surfboards sold. So if you are 5’6, look at boards from 6’8 up to 7’6.
– Width: For first surfboards, the rule is the wider the better, but you still have to be able to carry it to the beach! Pick the board up in store, feel it under your arm. If you can’t get it under your arm, there’s a chance it may be too wide for you to paddle effectively.
One of the greatest developments in surfboard design was the thruster, or tri-fin surfboard. It works so well that this is what I recommend you go for today. Three fins offer a good blend of performance and smoothness of ride. Ideally go for a board with removable fins because they are easier to replace if you knock one off, and can be taken off for storage and travelling. FCS and Futures are good brands with universal presence so replacement fins and keys are never far away.
I could write an essay on this, but I’ll spare you the boring details! My advice would be to go for a resin or epoxy surfboard, and skip the heavy plasticy ‘pop out’ boards.
Resin: This is how all boards used to be made, and the majority still are. Easily recognisable as you can see the foam core with its wood stringer under the glass. The glass is made from draping layers of fibre cloth over the board, then soaking them with resin. There’s a bit more to it, but those are the basics. Resin boards are light, look great, easily repaired and well priced. They are not as strong as epoxy boards though.
Epoxy: Typically these boards have a hard, plasticy looking outer shell and may at first glance look like pop outs, but they are quite different. Huge developments have allowed epoxy boards to be stronger, floatier and lighter than traditional resin boards. They are however much more expensive to buy, and harder to repair in case of a ding.
Along with my first piece of advice about starting a beautiful relationship, my next biggest tip is to try before you buy. Look out for test-centres in shops near beaches you are familiar with. Usually, you rent a demo version of the board you are interested in, and that rental price is deducted from your new board when you purchase. Listen to the staff in the surf shop, they’ll want to help you choose the best board, a) because they want you to come back and b) because they’re nice guys and want to see you stoked!
If you can’t get to a test-centre, join a surf club or find a way to surround yourself with other surfers at the start of their journeys and get a go on their equipment.
Oh last of all, pick a colour and design you really like. For if you’re anything like I was, you’ll spend at least two hours an evening gazing at your lovely new board as it stands in the corner of your room. Happy hunting!