You’ll never forget your first surfboard. Mine was a 6’6” pintail JC Hawaii hand-me-down with glassed in fins and an awful yellow sunburn. Little did I know, this is far from the ideal beginner surfboard. At the time, it was the kind of board that a pro surfer would ride at a solid barreling wave like Banzai Pipeline. AKA, perhaps one of the worst surfboards to learn to surf on.
I didn’t know any better and I remember just being super stoked to finally have my very own surfboard. So I went on my merry way, on a paper-thin, potato chip pro model surfboard, struggling to claw into waves, falling nonstop because of the lack of stability, and getting super frustrated with how long it was taking to learn how to ride a wave.
Needless to say, it was a slow and challenging progression and I could have really used some guidance at the time. Fortunately for you, I’ve already made some bad surfboard decisions throughout my surfing journey so you don’t have to.
Selecting the right board for your surfing level can be the difference between having a blast and a world of frustration. Let’s avoid that world of frustration, shall we?
In this article, I’ll cover the best beginner surfboards, how to gradually make the transition from a longboard surfboard to a shortboard surfboard, and give you some recommendations for boards at every level.
With some basic board knowledge under your belt, you can be confident you’re buying the right surfboard for your level and exponentially increase your learning curve and fun factor.
The Best Beginner Surfboards
What makes a good beginner surfboard? When you’re learning how to surf, there are a few fundamental skills you’ll want to work on and develop before progressing to the next level. Most notably: where to position yourself on the board, your pop-ups, balance, paddle strength, endurance, and so on.
With these basic skills in mind, a good beginner surfboard is easy to paddle, floats you well (high buoyancy), and is very stable. The basic rule of thumb here is: the bigger the better.
The best beginner surfboard makes it as easy as possible to catch and ride as many waves as possible. Because the more waves you catch, the quicker you’ll progress. With a wide and stable outline and lots of buoyancy, a longboard surfboard is the best beginner surfboard around.
In the following sections, we’ll go into more detail and also give recommendations for specific surfboards.
Considering everything that makes a good beginner surfboard, all of the opposite points are true for what makes a bad beginner surfboard. If you try to learn or progress on a board that’s too small for your current surfing ability, you’re setting yourself up for a challenging time. Smaller boards don’t float you well and have less stability, making it much more difficult to paddle, catch waves, pop up, and balance.
Here’s a quick summary with minimal surfboard jargon:
The Best Beginner Surfboards:
- Are longer surfboards with plenty of stability
- Have a fuller shape (which will provide more stability)
- Have lots of volume that will float you well (the board is on the thicker side)
- Are easy to paddle and catch waves
The Worst Surfboards for Beginners:
- Are short surfboards that don’t give much stability
- Have a narrow shape
- Have low volume (essentially this means a thinner and lighter board)
- Are difficult to paddle and catch waves
Another element to consider in your board search is surfboard construction (i.e. what your surfboard is made of). There a lot of different materials being used to make surfboards these days, but we’ll keep this high level. Two of the most common surfboard constructions are Polyurethane (poly or PU) and Epoxy.
Epoxy surfboards are very popular with beginner surfers because they are known to be much more durable and buoyant than traditional poly surfboards. Epoxy boards don’t get dinged as easily, they float really great, and they’re very easy to paddle.
Poly boards are typically not quite as buoyant and are a little bit heavier, but they have more flex to them which becomes more relevant and is a common point of preference for more advanced surfers. Poly boards are going to be more susceptible to dings and damage, so you’ll need to be more careful with transporting and handling your board.
Another popular type of surfboard for beginners is a soft top surfboard, also known as a foamie. Soft top surfboards are exactly as they sound – they have a soft, dentable/durable top layer as opposed to a typical surfboard with a hard fiberglass top layer.
Soft top surfboards are a good option for beginner surfers because they’re user-friendly, very stable, and easy to paddle.
When you’re learning how to surf, falling is an unavoidable part of the process and it’s likely that you’ll bump into your surfboard here and there along the way. With a soft top surfboard, these bumps will be, well, softer than a poly or epoxy board. Lastly, soft tops are extremely durable so you don’t have to worry about dings or damage.
What type of surfboard construction is best for beginners?
Like most things, it really depends on your personal preference and surf progression. You might want to just rent a soft top board as you start to learn in the beginning and save your money to buy a poly or epoxy longboard soon after. Or perhaps you want to buy a soft top and stay surfing it for quite a while before transitioning to a hard top board.
If you’re privy to crashing into things, you might want to get a soft top or epoxy board that’s more durable to withstand your abuse (instead of a poly board that will get dinged more easily). If you have specific questions, feel free to ask in the comment section at the bottom of this article and we’ll give you some feedback!
The Progression of Learning to Surf
Different strokes for different folks. Maybe you’re the casual and stylish lifelong longboarding type or your surf ambitions are simply to be able to cruise down the face of a wave without eating it, nothing wrong with that.
But it’s probably fair to say that when most people first get interested in surfing, they’re looking at the ocean watching a good surfer rip a wave to pieces, or seeing a pro make unbelievable maneuvers in a surf film and they’re thinking, “I want to surf like that!”
For the majority of us normal humans, that level of surfing might be a long stretch. But don’t be discouraged because it doesn’t make surfing any less fun. The constant progression and breakthroughs of your own surfing ability are always so fun and exciting you’ll never even know the difference.
And hey, who am I to say you won’t be the next Kelly Slater in just a few short years of testing the waters. Our only limitations are the ones we impose on ourselves, right?!
One thing is for sure, if you want to get as good as possible as fast as possible, you’re going to need all the help you can get and there are a few shortcuts you can take along the way to make your own progression smooth and seamless.
One of those shortcuts is being on the right board at the right time for your surfing ability and gradually downsizing in board length once you master the necessary skills for the board you’re on.
Here’s the ideal progression path to most quickly take your surfing skills from beginner to advanced, and how to transition from a longboard to a shortboard.
The Longboard Surfboard – Step 1
When I was learning to surf, it seemed that anything over 8 feet with a longboard outline (basically a wide template with a full and round nose) would qualify as a longboard.
Nowadays, surfboard shapes and designs are constantly being debated and broken down further and further into smaller more specific categories. So a lot of surfers might call an 8’ surfboard with a full outline a mid-length and might tell you that longboards aren’t really longboards until they’re 9’ or longer.
Alas, let’s spare the technicalities and details of what makes a surfboard a mid-length or a longboard for another article and for the sake of this article call anything with a longboard outline above 8’ a longboard. Sound good? Great. Glad we’re on the same page.
Once again, longboard surfboards are prime beginner surfboards, even if your ultimate goal is to shortboard. While longboards come in a variety of lengths and dimensions, they are typically wide, flat, stable, thick, buoyant, and very user-friendly.
A good rule of thumb is to start with a longboard that is about 3’ longer than your height. So if you’re 5’8” to 6’0” tall, a 8’6” to 9’0” longboard would probably be a good place to start.
Top reasons why longboards are the best beginner surfboards:
- It’s easier to catch waves so you’ll spend more time actually riding waves and less time bobbing around in the ocean waiting for a strong enough wave to catch.
- Longboards offer the most stability, making it much easier to pop up and balance on your board.
- You’ll be able to paddle back out to the break much faster and easier, increasing your wave count and sparing your energy.
- You’ll be able to surf on super small and fun days, which are ideal for learning anyways and often not surfable for shortboarders.
- As you learn the fundamentals of flowing with the wave and maneuvering a longboard, it’ll make your shortboarding style and ability that much cleaner and more refined when you get there.
- All of the above reasons will enable you to catch more waves, which means you’ll surf more waves, which means you’ll get more experience and ultimately improve your surfing as quickly as possible.
Recommended Longboards for Beginners:
The Funboard Surfboard – Step 2
Once you’ve started to grasp some of the fundamentals of surfing, you’ll be stepping into the advanced beginner or intermediate realm and ready for a shorter board. Enter the funboard.
Funboards are surfboards that are around 6’ to 8’ long with a wide round shape and forgiving rails. Funboards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from 6’ mini-eggs to 7’ hybrid fish surfboard shapes and more.
Again, there are a lot of different terms for specific shapes like an egg or a fish and some general terms can often be used interchangeably like funboard, mid-length, or hybrid, but let’s keep it simple and call anything with a fuller outline in the 6’ to 8’ range a funboard.
The features of a funboard make it a perfect stepping stone on the path to progressing from a longboard to a shortboard. With wide outlines, fuller rails, and still plenty of buoyancy, you’ll be feeling super nimble and snappy on your more compact funboard, without sacrificing wave count.
At this step in your progression, you’ll really want to explore the maneuverability of the shorter more responsive surfboard. You’ll want to work on pumping down the line to generate more speed, surfing the wave from top to bottom, and your execution of open face turns and cutbacks.
Recommended Funboards for Beginners:
- Available 6’6” to 7’2” in a variety of colors and finishes
- Construction available: poly, epoxy, soft top
The Shortboard Surfboard – Step 3
After you’re comfortable surfing funboards, the next step down is the shortboard surfboard.
As with funboards and longboards, not all shortboards are created equal. Some shortboards are specifically designed for really good punchy performance waves, while other shortboards are better suited as a daily driver and will perform in a wider variety of conditions and softer waves.
The first time you transition to a shortboard, you’ll definitely want to look for a board with a fuller outline that would fall into the daily driver or groveler type of category.
Your daily driver type of shortboard is typically a bit wider and thicker than a high-performance shortboard with a fuller nose and/or tail and a flatter rocker. These characteristics allow you to paddle them a bit better and get into waves much easier. They also handle fat and mushy sections of a wave more effectively, allowing you to keep your speed through the flats.
Recommended Beginner Shortboards:
- Available 5’4” to 5’9” in a variety of colors and finishes
- Construction available: poly, soft top
Tips For Buying A Surfboard
Buying your first surfboard might seem a bit complicated at times. You have one person telling you one thing and another saying something completely different. Here are a few tips from many years of buying surfboards to help you sort it all out.
- Don’t follow your friend’s advice. If you have a friend who grew up surfing and only rides shortboards, he or she might have a skewed perspective on how hard it is to learn to surf in adulthood versus as a kid and a bias toward shortboarding. “Get a shortboard,” they said, “you’ll be fine,” they said. Trust me, don’t do it.
- Find a board that is appropriate for your height and weight. If you’re a 6’0” 185-pound male, you’re probably going to want a slightly bigger board than a 5’7” 130-pound female for buoyancy and maneuverability purposes. Now when you get up into the longboard range and if this is your first surfboard, it’s not that big of a deal and either person could get by on the same 9’0″ longboard, but it’s always good to follow the shaper recommended dimensions for your height and weight when you’re just getting to know the ropes.
- Choose the right board for your ability. I know it’s tempting to want to dismiss all the information out there supporting learning how to surf on a longboard surfboard and just go straight to a shortboard if that’s what you ultimately want to ride. Just don’t do it. Grab yourself a longboard and focus on having fun while catching tons of waves and learning the fundamentals. You’ll be glad you did.
- Don’t overthink it. It’s always good to do your own research and due diligence, but at the same time, if you’re just starting out a great beginner surfboard would simply be a good all-around longboard like The Ultimate in the 8′ to 10′ range, depending on your height and weight.
- Try not to sell one surfboard to buy another if you don’t have to. As you progress from longboard to shortboard, you might consider selling your old surfboards as you progress. The funny thing is, once you get to your goal of riding a shortboard, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to ride a variety of surfboards depending on the conditions and to switch it up from time to time. Keeping each of your surfboard purchases as you expand your surfing horizons is a good way to start to build your surfboard quiver.
Beginner Surfboard FAQs
A good rule of thumb for beginner surfboards is to start with a longboard that is about 3 feet longer than your height. So if you’re 5’6” to 6’0” tall, an 8’6” to 9’0” longboard would be pretty ideal.
Generally speaking, an 8 to 9-foot surfboard is good for beginners. However, there are a couple of scenarios where a 7ft surfboard could be a good fit for you. First, if you’re super athletic and highly skilled at other board sports like wakeboarding or snowboarding, and your ultimate goal is to shortboard as soon as possible and you’re dedicated to surfing at least a couple of times a week, then, you might prefer a smaller 7ft surfboard to start. Second, if you’re in your teens, full of energy, and 130 lbs or less, and looking to work your way to a shortboard ASAP, then, a 7ft surfboard could be a good place to get your bearings.
Yes, longer surfboards are better for beginners for the following reasons:
– Long surfboards are more stable which helps when learning to balance
– Long surfboards are more buoyant which helps with paddling and catching waves
– It’s easier to catch waves so you’ll spend more time actually riding waves and less time bobbing around in the ocean waiting for a strong enough wave to catch.
– Long surfboards allow you to surf when it’s small which is ideal when learning
Foam surfboards are a great choice for beginners! For beginner surfers, an 8 to 9-foot foam longboard surfboard is one of the best options as an entry-level surfboard for a number of reasons. Foam surfboards are stable, user-friendly, and easy to paddle which makes catching waves and standing up a lot easier.
Also, you’re going to fall a lot when learning to surf so you’re likely to bump into your surfboard from time to time and a foam surfboard doesn’t hit as hard as a fiberglass surfboard.
Last but not least, another nice thing about foam surfboards is that you don’t really have to worry about dings, so you don’t have to be so careful when handling your precious cargo.
Shortboards are really not a great choice for an absolute beginner. If you really want to shortboard, it is still recommended to start on at least a funboard if not a longboard to nail the fundamentals before giving a shortboard a go. That said, many surfers (including myself) learned how to surf on shortboards, so while I wouldn’t recommend it, it is certainly possible. It’s just likely to be a longer and more difficult learning curve unless you are an innately gifted athlete or super grom.
While the purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the progression of performance surfing and the ideal transition from a longboard surfboard to a shortboard surfboard, some people might just want to stick with longboarding their entire surfing life and can still progress from beginner level to advanced on a single board.
In this case, the lifelong longboarder might want to try out different types of longboards such as a performance longboard, a noserider, or a log to further progress their surfing and style.
That’s all folks, I hope you found this article to be helpful in one way or another on your quest to find the perfect beginner surfboards! And believe me, if you follow the simple longboard to funboard to shortboard approach to surfing progression, your road to ripping will be a lot shorter and more enjoyable along the way.
Thanks for reading, have fun out there, don’t take yourself too seriously, and we’ll see you in the water!
Questions, thoughts, or just want to say aloha?
Let us know in the comments below!
* This is a sponsored post in partnership with Degree 33 Surfboards and all words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep Lush Palm going with fresh content and helpful guides.