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 starter 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.
What Makes a Good Starter 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 starter 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 starter 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 starter surfboard around.
On the other hand, all of the opposite points are true for what makes a bad starter 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.
Another thing to consider is board materials. There a lot of different materials being used to make surfboards these days, but two of the most common 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.
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.
Step 1: The Longboard Surfboard
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 starter 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.
There are a lot of good reasons to learn how to surf on a longboard. Here are just a few of them:
- 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.
A couple of great starter longboard surfboards are:
- The Ultimate (epoxy longboard) – available 8’ to 10’
- The Classic Log (poly longboard) – available 9’4” to 9’8”
Step 2: The Funboard Surfboard
Once you’ve started to grasp some of the fundamentals of surfing, you’ll be stepping into the intermediate realm.
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.
Funboards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from 6’ mini-eggs to 7’ hybrid fish shapes and more. A funboard is the perfect next step down transition from a longboard for the progressing surfer. 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.
A few great starter funboard surfboards are:
- The Poacher (mid-length funboard) – available 6’6” to 7”6”
- The Easy Rider (hybrid fish)- available 6’6” to 8’
- The Over Easy (speed egg) – available 6’ to 8’
Step 3: The Shortboard Surfboard
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.
A few great starter shortboard surfboards are:
- The All Terrain Vehicle (shortboard) – available 5’10” to 6’2”
- The Bullet (performance groveler) – available 5’8 to 6’2”
- The Cloud (performance groveler) – available 5’5” to 5’9”
- The Codfather (performance fish) – available 5’4” to 6’2”
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.
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 starter 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.
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 starter surfboard! 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!
* 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.