July 17

Beginner Surfboards: What You Should Be Riding, And Why…



What type of surfboard should you be riding for your ability?

Soft-top or Fiberglass?

Volume, length, rocker, concave...

What does it all mean, and does any of it really make a difference?

Don't worry, I'm hearing you.  All of this complex technical jargon can be a minefield when you're just starting out, which is why in this post I'll be breaking everything down for you in layman's terms, so that you can be on the right board for your level - so that you can improve the fastest.

In this article you're going to learn:

  • The biggest mistake over 90% of beginners make with their board selection - and how to avoid it.
  • What the different types of surfboards are - and which one will be right for your level.
  • What all of the complicated surfboard jargon really means - so that you can make the right decision next time you're buying a surfboard.

And much more...

So let’s dive in, shall we?

Breakdown: What makes a good beginners board?

A good beginner surfboard is a board that helps you to catch a tonne of waves, is easy to stand up on, so that you can get plenty of pop-up practice done every time you surf.

And the main components that go into the makings of a good beginner board with all of these attributes are: Volume, length & width

So, let’s take a closer look:


Volume is the single most important factor when considering buying any  beginner surfboard. 

Not only will it make the board more stable, the buoyancy will actually help you to paddle faster - and more effectively - to help you catch more waves.

In surfing terms we measure this volume in litres. 

If you check out any new board, it will have it's dimensions - including litres - written on it somewhere, usually on the stringer near the fins.


The length & width of the board is another key factor in choosing the right surfboard for you.

Longer, wider boards have more surface area, making them easier to stand up on than those that don't.

This is where the delicate balancing act comes in...

As you drop down in board size - length & width - you lose paddle power and stability in exchange for more manoeuvrability, so be careful about dropping down in size too small too quickly.


The No.1 mistake we see our beginner surfers make with their equipment choice across the board is...

Going too small too soon!

I get it, everybody wants to be on a fibreglass board, something small, light and cute, but don't be fooled.

This, more than any other factor will stunt your progression.


Think about it like this:

Surfer one has a big, buoyant foam board and catches 20+ waves each session.  Tonnes of practice, tonnes of repetition.

Surf two has a small fibreglass shortboard.  She struggles to catch more than a couple of waves a session.

Which do you think will improve the fastest?

Surfer one right!

If you can take anything away from this article it would be this:

Be on the right equipment for your level, and do't drop in size too soon.


There's a board out there to suit every ability and budget.

From the complete novice to the seasoned beginner. 

Below I'm going to quickly dissect the 6 types of surfboards, and what they're all about. 


Foamboards or Foamies as they are known are the perfect entry level surfboard. 

These boards are great if you're a complete novice or have been surfing only a handful of times. 

I know they're not the coolest looking boards on the market, but before you right me off here me out.

There are a lot of benefits from starting on this type of equipment before progressing to a fibreglass:

  • Buoyancy
  • Soft (you'll avoid serious injury)
  • Relatively cheap
  • Easy to catch waves
  • Great for whitewater surfing
  • Super stable
  • Heavy to carry up the beach
  • They don't look very cool
  • Limited manoeuvrability
  • Hard to get out the back


Most beginners try to bypass these boards altogether.  

Understandably, once you’re capable of popping up and effectively catching plenty of waves consistently, these boards lose their purpose.

But, there’s a fine line between a foam board (which can really have it’s place in the beginner's journey) to buying a longboard straight up. 

With that said, I find it hard to pass up the opportunity to not buy one of these and learn the correct technique and foundations of surfing before you transition onto your next board. 

If you're progressing quickly, that’s a good thing. Sell the foamie and move onto the next board for you, just don't transition too soon. 

Believe me. This is not a bad investment.

Your surfing will thank you for it later I promise

Soft top beginner surfboards


These Mick Fanning soft-tops are a great, cheap way to get yourself in the water and start having fun.  



Longboards are the perfect board once you’re familiar with the fundamentals of surfing and you're comfortable tackling the unbroken waves. 

By now, you’ve most likely had a few surf lessons already. If not, it might be worth a visit to a private surf coach just to make sure you're on the right track.

These boards are perfect for the beginner surfer who’s been surfing for a few months, that's looking for the extra manoeuvrability that a soft-top surfboard just can't provide.

  • Faster and easier to maneuver than foam boards
  • Can practise nose riding
  • Often hold their value
  • Good for small days (if you do advance you’ll probably want to keep it for the fun small days)
  • Great for small point breaks
  • Made of fiberglass (including the fin) so can cause some serious damage in the wrong hands!
  • Will need to be strapped on the roof (get Googling)
  • They sink a little more into the water. This can make it hard to paddle and catch waves on
  • A completely different style of surfing to shortboarding. This could mean it takes you longer to adapt once you make the transitioning
  • Very expensive


I'm not usually someone to bang on about safety, but these longboards - in the wrong hands - can be very dangerous to the individual, and other surfers/swimmers.

So if you're thinking about getting yourself a new longboard just be sure you're at the level where you have solid control of your board at all times.

And one other thing, it's important to understand that longboarding works from a slightly different fundamental technical base than shortboarding.  

One is all style, grace and flow.  The other is speed, power, and agility.

It’s a bit like Tennis and Squash. 

They are similar rackets sports but they have completely opposite biomechanics. 

Just something to consider that's all.

Longboard beginner surfboards


These Thomas Surfboards don't come cheap. But they're very, very good. 



Mini-Mals get a bad wrap. 

But, I’m going to put that to bed, right here, right now! 

Every board serves a purpose in your surfing development. Including Mini-Mals. 

Minimals are a great choice for the beginner surfer that's transitioned from a soft-top, who's slightly lighter, that's looking for a board that's more responsive and manoeuvrable.

Similar to Longboards, these boards are for the surfer who is comfortable taking off unassisted on unbroken waves, who feels in full control of their equipment that's looking to take their surfing to that next step.

  • Lots of choice and can often buy a good one straight of the shelf
  • Reasonably priced
  • Easier to manoeuvre than a longboard
  • Similar technique to surfing a shortboard
  • Can generate a lot of speed
  • Lighter to carry and travel with
  • Usually hold their re-sale value
  • Surf small and bigger waves
  • Harder to catch waves
  • Made of fiberglass (including the fin) so can cause some serious damage in the wrong hands
  • Only suitable for a certain weight (can be deceiving , so check the volume calculator)
  • Only meant for unbroken waves so make sure you can surf these unassisted and with confidence


Minimals are epic. 

No, they really are. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shit ones out there on the market. 

But, if you get the right one, for the right surfer they can be absolute gold. 

What I really love about these surfboards is their manoeuvrability. They are a great introduction to turning and carving. Yet, they are still buoyant enough to get you into a lot of waves. 

If you are fit, have good paddle power, and have been surfing for a season, then this just might be the right board for you. 

Minimal beginner surfboards


These Modern surfboards are perfect for the surfer wanting an affordable board that’ll not only progress their skills, but maximise their stoke time



Just as the name suggests, these surfboards can be a lot of fun.

Alternatively, if these boards fall into the wrong hands, they are no fun at all. 

Funboards are a fairly new concept in surfing. Providing a different approach to surfing a longboard. 

Funboards have a lot of similar characteristics to the longboard but are smaller so your able to surf them more like a shortboard. 

They are a real inbetween board.

The best way for to describe them is - Big and stable but with a flare of high performance thrown in the mix. 

  • Easy to carry and transport anywhere
  • Quite progressive , so you’ll get your money's worth
  • Great to have in your quiver if you can afford it
  • Easier to get ‘out the back’ 
  • Fast and fun
  • You need to be light or very agile
  • You need to be a good paddler to catch waves on these boards
  • Limited buoyancy and stability so make sure you're well on your way to being an intermediate surfer
  • Only for a small spectrum of surfers (hipster included)


Unless you're surfing to a very high level, I would strongly suggest not buying one of these. 

If you have some spare cash and your hopeful of surfing like a pro in the future, by all means go and get one. 

Yes they look fricken cool, but they're not going to help you improve which is what we all want right?

Stay clear of these types of surfboards, unless of course you're absolutely sure they are for you. 

Beginner fun boards


These Degree 33 surfboards are fun for the surfer who wants to dabble and not pay high end prices.



Everybody wants a shortboard. They look cool and they make you look like you can surf. 


But, the actual practicality of riding one, is a different story altogether.

Shortboards are only ever for high performance surfing. I’m talking cutbacks, snaps, airs, barreling riding and more. 

They are suitable for all surf breaks and waves. Unless you're getting up to the 6 + range (that’s a post for another day). 

For the majority of surfers, transitioning onto shortboards comes after a decent spell of surfing and when they are really ready. 

Any sooner, and you could see zero improvements, start hating surfing altogether, and eventually give up, and we certainly don't want that.

  • Huge variety & availability everywhere 
  • A wide range of pricing
  • Light and easy to carry and transport anywhere
  • The best board for maneuverability
  • Can get out the back easy - via duck diving
  • FAST and super fun - in the right hands 
  • Can surf a wide range of waves - from small onshore grovel to a barrelling reef break
  • Very hard to catch waves
  • The damage very easily
  • Incredibly unstable
  • You have to put in far more work to generate speed
  • Zero buoyancy and floation, so you’ve got to know what you’re doing
  • Can only be surfed properly in the critical part of the wave


Unless you're a surfing ninja and are showing all the signs of being the next Steph Gilmore, I would stay well away from shortboards. 

There is a HUGE gap between a foamie and shortboard.

Let me put this into some perspective for you. 

Surfing is a bit like being a baby. 

First you can neither walk, crawl or run. 

Over time you start to develop the ability to crawl. From here , you gather your balance and confidence to start walking. Once you can walk, sooner or later you're able to run. 

This development stage of a baby, is similar to surfing. 

It's futile to try and run run before you can walk. 

If your reading this and no matter what I say you're still determined to buy one, then I won't stop you. 

Just don’t say I didn’t tell you. 

Shortboards for beginner surfers


These boards have been under the feet of the worlds best for years. 'Nough said. 



Nowadays everybody is surfing a fish.

From your German backpacks at Canggu to your elite WCT surfers. Fishes are the new cool. 

This is because these boards have the best of both worlds. 

They have a lot of volume but they are also high performance.

For the beginner surfer showing some real talent these boards can be a great option. 

  • A huge variety of styles for every weight and height
  • Affordable
  • Handy to have in your quiver for later on
  • Can surf small waves and can hold their own when it gets bigger
  • Easy to manoeuvre
  • Light and easy to transport
  • Can catch waves pretty easy
  • Can get out the back easy - via duck diving
  • Need to be light, very agile, or very co-ordinated
  • Fishes are usually not the only board you have - for this reason, you’ll have to splurge again
  • Fairly limited once the waves get good


Fishes are great. 

Most people - if they're lucky enough to have a quiver of boards - will have a fish thrown in the mix. 

On smaller days I prefer to ride a fish, than a longboard. So they really are useful for all levels. 

For beginners, don’t get too far ahead of yourself though. Learning to surf on a fish will have it’s limitations. 

Make sure you are honest about your ability and make the right choice for your surfing and not because it looks cool. 

Don't be fooled into thinking if it's cool, it's good. 

Fishes are surfboards for beginners


These boards are fun, fun, fun. No questions asked. If you're any good and have some spare $$ everybody would have one of these in their quiver.



In an ideal world, you'd walk into your favourite local shaper and ask him or her to make you a board that is perfect for your current ability. 

A few months later, you’d ask for another one. This time catering for your next level of progression. 

And the list goes on…

But lets be honest, most of us don't have this type of luxury - nor is it really necessary at the beginner level.

Working closely with a shaper can have some enormous advantages, it's just these advantages will only really be felt once you're moving into the advanced levels.

And, custom made surfboards don't come cheap.

  • Crafted to your exact ability allowing you to confidently make the next stages of your development faster and easier
  • Supports local shapers
  • Expensive
  • Could out preform the board quickly (that's not a bad thing really, is it?)


A custom made board is a bit special if you ask me.

Having that intimate relationship with your shaper is such a valuable thing, but it's just something that'll really pay dividends once your out of the beginner stage.

That's where you'll really see the benefits of that close working relationship.

Shaping beginner shortboards


Your local shaper. 



Soft-top surfboards are the type of surfboards that you’ll see at surf schools worldwide. 

They're made up of a mix of materials often with a solid epoxy interior, covered in a softer foam composite exterior.

They’re big, they’re ugly, but they’re amazing for beginners.

soft beginner surfboard material
  • Soft - You won’t get hurt (much) if/when the board hits you
  • Very stable
  • Extremely buoyant
  • Easy to paddle
  • Super durable - because they’re made of soft material they don’t ding
  • Very hard to manouver
  • Not very responsive
  • Heavy


Polyurethane is the surfboard material that you’re probably most familiar with.

It’s the preferred choice of the majority of the worlds best and for good reason…

It’s light, fast, has a certain flex and super responsive!

This board composition has been the standard for the past 40+ years - so it's stood the test of time.

Polyurethane beginner surfboard material
  • Light
  • Manouverable
  • Fast
  • Responsive
  • Easy to duck dive
  • They ding easily
  • Hard to paddle
  • Not very stable
  • Very hard to catch waves
  • If it hits you, it damn hurts


Epoxy is a more recent surfboard construction to hit the market gaining in popularity over the past 5 years.

This board composition type is much stronger than its polyurethane counterpart, and it's much lighter too - so it can be great for small wave grovel boards.

The only real downside to epoxy is their lack of flex compared to a traditional fibreglass construction - but that's a nuance that only the top level surfers will ever really experience.

epoxy surfboard material
  • Super light-wieght
  • Very durable
  • Responsive
  • Easy to duck dive
  • Don’t ding easily
  • Fast
  • They can be a bit stiff (not much flex)
  • They hurt when they hit you
  • Not as stable as a soft top


Ok, so here it is.  This is the fastest route to progressing as a beginner.

Start off with a soft top and stick with this board type until you’re catching tonnes of waves, feel super in control, and are beginning to get frustrated at the lack of manoeuvrability.

From there, get yourself an epoxy with a tonne of volume.  Something where you’re going to be able to catch a heap of waves, and begin to get the hang of changing direction and doing turns.

Moving forwards it’s a gradual progression of dropping your board size and volume over time.

And before you know it, you’ll be ripping on a little shortboard throwing spray over your friends.


To have a killer beginner board set, you’re going to need to know a little about fins. 

Learning about the different types of fins and their functionality can get pretty technical but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to keep it pretty simple. 

The most common beginner surfboard fin set up is known as the truster - one trailer fin and two either side (all of which are the same size). 

The reason for this type of fin set up is, it’s found to be the best for stability, control and direction for a beginner surfer. All of which are helpful in learning to surf. 

Some beginner surfboards have plastic fins which are fixed. If you buy one of these boards, you can’t swap and experiment with any other fin sets. 

This isn’t such a bad thing. 

Swapping and changing fins setups can be very confusing. It's easy to get lost figuring out all the variables.  

For those of you, who have bought a longboard or a minimal and want to experiment, here's a a few to think about: 


Most common on longboards. A single fin set up is good for cruisy drawn out turns, not for tight fast transition turns.

Single fin set up
Twin fin set up


The two fin set-up is fast, loose and great for small waves.


Thruster set-up generally speaking has the best mix of speed, control and drive. Suitable for waves of all sizes. 

Thruster fin set up
Quad fin set up


Quads can be good for hollow, steep waves as they have a lot of grip.  They're good for down the line surfing, but not great for tighter turns and transitional surfing.


I have nothing against buying second hands surfboards of course. 

But, it's very rare to find exactly the right type of board for your ability secondhand.

If you find that elusive board, then snap it up for sure.  Just don't be lured into buying the wrong boards just because it's cheaper.  


Ok, so there's a hell of a lot of info in this article and you're probably wondering what board is right for you.

I'd love to be able to give you an exact recommendation, but without seeing your ability in person that's just not possible, so instead use these guidelines below to help you along:

- If you're not catching tonnes of waves each time you go surfing, you need to be on a bigger board.  Stay on that bigger board until catching waves is not a problem for you whatsoever.

- Repetition wins: You want to be on a board that gives you plenty of opportunity to practice your pop up, turning, etc.  A bigger board will help with this.

- Only consider dropping down in board size if/when you are feeling impeded by the manoeuvrability of your current board.  Drop too early, and you'll stop catching waves and rob yourself of all of those learning opportunities.

- Dropping down in board size comes with considerable downsides: Much harder to catch waves, much harder to balance.

I think that's about it for the minute.

You should now be armed with the right information to make the right equipment choices for your level from here on out.

Are you on the right board? Have you made any rookie board choice mistakes? Got any recommendations?

Write it in the comments section below and get the conversation started.


Lauren is the founder and head technical coach of House of Surf. 

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