Surf Board Guide for Beginners                                   Info Center

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Beginners guide to Surfboards


Boards come in many shapes and sizes making choosing a board very daunting to the beginner as well as to experienced surfers.   Compounded with improved technologies and new school ways of surfing the boards are becoming very specific.  In general there are the Long boards that are boards over 8 1/2-foot long that will float anyone, are slow and not as easy to maneuver but provide easier and better paddling as well as wave catchingShort boards are fast, short, easy to turn, but requires experience to ride one. They are more difficult to catch a wave on, and they require experienced balance to stay up on.  Fun boards are a good cross between a long and short board.  They are easier to turn than a long board but are much more buoyant than a short board making it fairly easy to catch a wave.

For beginners using the right type of board can make learning to surf fun and improvement rapid. The best beginner board are ones that are light, wide and thick.

The larger and wider boards are more buoyant allowing for easier picking up of waves especially with small or weak waves. These larger style boards are often called mals (equivalent to long boards) or mini-mals (equivalent to Fun boards) and are the ideal learning boards.  Many of these boards come with a soft top deck which does not require waxing the top surface for riding thus avoiding melting wax or dirty wax build up.  Being soft it won’t hurt if you accidentally hit the deck with your head, face or other body parts.  The best way to learn is with the Fun boards or mini-mals that have great flotation capability because the better a board floats the faster it will paddle so the easier it will be to catch waves, giving you more time to get to your feet before the wave breaks!  Yet it is a good size to be able to handle it in the water.  Next would be a long board or mal which are even easier to catch a wave but may take a bit more time getting use to going out through the whitewater and requires a bit more work to turn the board around.

Going wider is better for the beginner:  Narrow boards turn easier side-to-side than wide ones. However the width should be considered for experience, body weight, and conditions. The narrower and thinner the board then the less buoyancy making catching a wave more difficult or more exact in the pocket area of the wave (the area with the greatest push from the wave and is typically right in front of the breaking wave.) The narrower the board is also less stable for the beginner requiring that they stand right in on the center for balance.

As a beginner we do not recommend the small boards even though they are generally more maneuverable on a wave they have the disadvantage of a slower paddle speed, making it more difficult for a beginner to take off on a wave. 

With a small board you have to take-off on the steepest part of a wave and get to your feet quickly.  For most beginners taking off is the most frustrating part, unable to catch a wave or pearling (going head over heels on a wave).  Also, smaller boards are harder to paddle tiring a beginner out very quickly.  When you are comfortable with catching the wave then a small board might which allows for greater maneuverability maybe the next step.

Thought you might appreciate some comments from other beginners with their experience using a fun board:

Get a fun shape board they are good for all conditions and ride awesome. Ask your local surf shop what a fun shape is, but basically, it's not too long, not too thick but thick enough to float you well, easy to paddle and catch waves.  It also maneuvers better on the wave then the big heavy longboard.

...Everyone's different - I'm a beginner, 5'10", 165 lbs.. I started out learning on my boyfriend's 7'4" board, which was really frustrating - couldn't get up for longer than 2-3 seconds. Borrowed a friend's 7'6" mini-mal and caught, and rode every wave - even if it was in a straight line. I feel a 7'8" funboard would be perfect: sooo stable, but will take me through the transition to learning to turn etc., ready for a shortboard.

I think the longer board you learn on, the quicker and less frustrating the learning curve will be. Lessons are definitely a great idea -

For a new surfer, it's best to start out on a longboard so that you can develop your stability and get up. Once you've nailed that, than you can go for a shortboard. The best type of board would be a 9.0, or bigger, maybe even a soft one.

About  Surfboards

 Finding the right board depends upon your height, weight, ability and the type of wave you plan to ride. 

 Though there are many types of boards we will cover only the general categories of boards.  The better you understand about the board more you will be able to find the appropriate board for you.  To understand what is the right board for you, you should first know the physical characteristics of a surfboard, and then learn about the 3 basic categories or types of surfboards

  I.    The physical characteristics of a Surfboard.

plan shape or outline,

tail design,



and fins.

Plan shape or Outline

When you look at the top deck of the board the general body shape is the Plan or Outline of the board.

In general the  plan shape or outline determines the type of the board. A big wave board called a “Gun” has long drawn out curve that assist in paddling power and long turns in large surf.  A board for riding smaller waves will have a shorter more rounded curve for tight maneuvers that allows for riding in the wave’s pocket (area with the greatest push from the wave and is typically right in front of the breaking wave.)

 Tail design

Common tail designs consist of pin, round, squash, square and swallow.   Wider tails gives more area to turn off, allowing for greater directional changes on smaller waves but can cause a lack of control in bigger surf.

Square and squash tails that give larger tail area allow the surfer to jam hard or come to an abrupt end point during the turn. Smooth unbroken lines flow with round tails. Swallow tails allow for deep carves.


Is the upturn at the nose and at the tail and flows along the bottom of the board.

The rocker can affect speed and turning.  In general a flat or straight rocker will assist in the speed going down the wave in a line, whereas tighter turns in the pocket can be achieved through a board with greater rocker or more curve allowing for more pivotal turns.

In general the amount of tail rocker determines how a board will turn - the more curve, the easier the board will be to turn, but can cause more drag and therefore slows the board. But this is  all relative as in the case of advance surfers who tend to turn in the steep areas of the wave where fast speed is all ready present and the important thing is to have enough tail rocker to allow for a quick turn.

 The nose rocker is the amount of curve in the bottom of the board from the middle forward.  Too little of a nose rocker increases the chance that the nose to dig into the wave and catch or pearl. Having more nose rocker can cause resistance and lift under the nose of your board.   In the case of long boards, low nose rockers are generally easier to nose-ride because there is less resistance to plane on the water from a straighter curve. High nose rockers will cause too much resistance and bogging when attempting to nose ride. But a high nose rocker is better suited for hollow, snappy situations, and in high performance long board riding when nose riding is not much of a consideration.


Is the side of the board.  Boards can have low, medium, high rails that affects how thin or boxy they look and feel.  Thin rails are very sensitive and unforgiving whereas a fuller rail provides more resistance and is harder to turn. A fuller rail is associated with a flatter deck (widthwise). This design creates more volume in the board

Thin rails means a thinner board that are more sensitive, i.e. your feet are closer to the water and the leverage situation is much better than a thick one.  A thick board means your feet are farther away from the bottom of the board making it more difficult to turn.


Fins allow you to steer your board.  These can be glassed (permanently attached) or attachable systems.  Attachable fin systems allow you to swap fin sizes and remove the fins completely which is great for traveling.

In general small fins allow for loose turns and slides whereas large fins permit drive and greater holding power. You will find that many surfboards have 3 fins.  This is known as Tri-fin.  The two fins by the rails allow a fin to be in the water when the board is making a turn.  The third fin is used for drive and direction.  

 In general, depending on the fin(s) type and position, the plan outline, amount and where the rocker is on the board, rail design and the tail type will affect the way a board paddles, rides, steers and turns for different type of waves.

 So now when the young sun tanned man or woman in the surf shop comes up to you and says,  this surfboard has a low entry rocker with softer, forgiving forward rails that progress to a boxy tail with a very hard bottom edge making this tail and rocker combo one that allows the board to hold in critical spots and breaks loose on cue.

 You can interpret this as the board having a flatter or straighter rocker allowing a fast take off down a wave with a soft forward rails meaning it is a fuller side that is stable going straight and less likely to be sensitive to erratic turning or windshield wiping.  However, the tail is boxy having a larger tail area allowing easier turning on smaller waves combined with a very hard bottom edge for a tail that increases sensitivity for turning.    So this board in theory gives both a stable ride down or across a wave yet it allows for turning control on small to medium waves when the surfer pushes down toward the tail using the tail portion of the board for steering.   But no matter what they say you have to ride it to see if its good for you with the type of waves you ride.


II.                  Types of Boards

 Armed with some knowledge of board characteristics we can now tackle the types of boards your looking at.   You will find many names for different types of boards however, in the attempt to keep it simple as possible we will divide all boards into 3 categories.

1.                  Funboards, mini-mal and hybrids

2.                  Long, Mal and paddleboards

3.                  Shortboards and fishes


Cat 1: Funboards (also called mini-tankers and mini-mals) are boards that could handle good surf as well as small surf and have the paddling ease to handle both. A board that would turn and perform like a short board but paddle and catch waves like long boards. The performance is improved by having a three fin combination with down rails and edges giving them greater carving capability. Paddling and wave catching ability is better than shorter performance boards due to the forward portion of the outline being much wider.  The bottom rocker (bottom curve) typically has a deep entry, that allows for keeping the nose out of the water when the surfer is standing and is in the back turning part of the board. 

These boards are easy to paddle, offer good floatation for stability while waiting for waves and standing up, and are fairly light to easily carry around.  Called fun boards because they are fun for all surfers who want easier paddling and more 'surfing' capability in mushy conditions.  Fun boards are about seven to eight and half feet in length with a rounded nose and tail with a nose width of 14"0 to 17 a tail of 14 to 15 and a width of 19 1/2 to 22 1/2 with a thickness from 2 3/8 to 3'0 .

The mini mal is a shorter version of the longboard with the characteristics of more maneuverability without sacrificing too much with paddle speed and stability.  Typically 7' 2" to 8' 6" in length and 21" to 22" wide. Usually, for those who ride long boards but want a little more maneuverability.

A Hybrid is a shape somewhere in between a short and longboard, but closer to a shortboard in the tail and fin configuration, but wider in the middle and nose for more floatation and ease of paddling. The Hybrids little wider through the nose and tail with a rail and rocker combo makes it an all purpose board that works equally well in mush and good surf.  Nose width is between 14" and 16", middle width from 20" to 22", tail width from 13.5 to 15", thickness from 2.75" to 3.25", and length from 6'6" to 8'4".  A hybrid can be used in high performance situations where more floatation is desired, due to poorer wave conditions or heavier rider weights. They are ideally suited for surfers who have "grown out" of a shortboard.   Hybrids are then a wider and thicker board originally intended as a cross between a short board and a longboard. However, they are more like short boards than longboards because they have a tail shape and overall rocker that is similar to a high performance short board. They are a good choice for beginners and surfers past there teens, i.e. those that need more buoyancy. An Egg is similar to a hybrid, with less a pronounced nose rocker. An Egg is usually finished off with a rounded-pin tail rather that a square tail.


Cat 2: Longboards:  The Longboards are ones longer than 8 feet 6 inches. The long boards provide easier and better paddling as well as wave catching through their increase volume and width.   Long boarding is great when the waves are waist high, making paddling effortlessly with their buoyancy and offer a stable platform for making easy moves.  Surfers of all levels enjoy riding a longboard.  Once a beginning surfer learns how to paddle a board through the whitewater, a longboard can be a great board for learning.  As one progresses a longboard will let you drop into waves early and use that momentum of the drop to carry you down the line for a long ride.   A modern longboard is a refined, lighter and more maneuverable shape than it's '60's cousin. Typical Longboards run from about 8 ˝  to 10 ˝ feet in length with widths ranging from 21" to 24.5", thickness from 2.75" to 3.75", noses from 16.5" to 19", tails from 13" to 15", and rockers from 5" to 6" in the nose, and 3" to 4" in the tail. Usually tail shapes are either square or rounded-pin shapes.


Cat 3: Shortboards are generally high performance shaped boards (able to turn fast and move up and down the wave quickly) typically  between the length of 5' 6" to 7' 0" wit a width from 16" to 19" and thickness from 1.75" to 2.75 " depending o length of board.  Nose widths vary from 10" to 12" and tail widths from 12.5 " to 14.5". The bottom rocker are usually around 5.5" in the nose and 2.5" in the tail.  Most use a 3 fin configuaration known as a thruster althopugh twin-fins and Quad fins are also common.  

Fishes are short boards with wider noses and are a better alternative for small waves with extra float but a shorter more pivotal board. These have wider noses usually 12 to 15 inches wide with wider tails 14 1/2 to 15 1/2 and a more overall width 18 3/8 to even 22 inches wide with a thickness of 2 1/4 to 2 3/4. The wider fish is more of an older style board and the modern fish is narrower and more shortboard oriented.

  As mentioned shortboards can be referred to as performance boards because they are the type one uses to rip and shred. You don't need one of these if you are just starting out. Learn to surf, then get a shortboard. Performance boards feature a narrow nose for pressing over the ledges of pitching waves and offer a narrow tail for carving deep bottom turns and cutbacks.  As the conditions get bigger (double- to triple-overhead) a surfer will choose a longer and narrower board often referred to as a gun.  These boards are called guns because they help the surfer to shoot down the face of the wave with maximum speed.  Guns also paddle more efficiently to help the surfer drop in and paddle through sets.  They have a flip in the nose - built for bigger faster surf. Typically for bigger waves a little more rocker through the back half of the board and the tail width is pulled in.

Performance boards can vary in length from less than 6 feet for smaller surf to 9 feet for the biggest surf.  

            So in review the Long boards are the big long boards over 8 1/2-foot long boards that will float anyone, are slow and not as easy to maneuver but provide easier and better paddling as well as wave catching. Short boards are fast, short, easy to turn, but requires experience to ride one. They are more difficult to catch a wave on, and they require experienced balance to stay up on.  Fun boards are a good cross between a long and short board.  They are easier to turn than a long board but are much more buoyant than a short board making it fairly easy to catch a wave.   Guns are for serious riders on big waves.




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