What To Look For In A Surfboard

What To Look For In A Surfboard

Nothing is more important to the beginning surfer than choosing the right first board and what to look for in a surfboard.  Those thin, narrow rockets the stars are riding sure look exciting, but they are a disaster for surfers learning how to surf.

Pick a surfboard for you and your body. Your age, weight, and fitness level will play an important part in your decision, and so will the types of waves and beaches you surf in, as well as your ability.

While learning how to surf, you’re going to ding and scratch a board if you really put it to use, so don’t spend too much cash.  Click here for our guide on “How To Buy A Used Surfboard.”

All the cool girls and guys have small, narrow surfboards, right? So what! You’re not cool yet. Get a board that will give flotation and allow for easy paddling.

Kelly Slater Rides It

Don’t ride what the professionals’ ride and don’t believe the hype. A lot of surfers make this mistake and it’s easy to see why. “These professionals rip, so I’m going to ride what they ride.”

Professional surfers (e.g. Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Mick Fanning, etc.) are like any professional athlete, they have physical gifts and skills that make them better than the Average Joe, you and I.  A professional surfer could probably rip on an ironing board or door. Riding the same board that the professional’s ride, ultra-thin, narrow, and with a 4oz glass job, might look cool, but it’s not going to do you any favors in the water.  What’s the point of having a cool surfboard if you can’t surf it.

Anatomy Of A Surfboard

Outline: The general body shape of a surfboard is known as its outline. In general the outline determines the type of 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: 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.

Rocker: Rocker 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.

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 will dig into the wave and catch or pearl.  Having more nose rocker can cause resistance and lift under the nose of your board.

Rails: Rails are the sides 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: 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 types.

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.

They Come In All Sizes

There are many shapes, sizes and types of surfboards but the fall basically into these three categories:

  • Shortboards
  • Funboards
  • Longboards.

What To Look For In A Surfboard

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.  Most use a 3 fin configuration known as a thruster although twin-fins and Quad fins are also common.

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.  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.

Funboards 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.

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.  Fun boards are about seven to eight and half feet in length with a rounded nose.

Longboards are boards longer than 9 feet. The long boards provide easier and better paddling as well as wave catching through their increase volume and width.  A modern longboard is a refined, lighter and more maneuverable shape than it’s ’60’s cousin.

What Should I Choose?

The most common mistake I see people making is riding boards that are too small for them.

Length is pretty important and it’s going to vary depending upon your height. Try to keep it about a foot to a foot and a half taller then you.

Width is also important and will impact the stability of your board.  Going a bit wide is better than getting something not wide enough, the thought being that the wider the surfboard the more stable it will be, choose a width between 20 – 22 inches.

Thickness is very important, it is important because the thicker the surfboard the more buoyant it is and thus easier to paddle, stay within 2-1/4 to 4 inches thick depending on your size and weight.

If you are a small person then the thickness can be around 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches.  If you are average size then go for something 2 1/2 to 3 inches. If you are larger in size then 3 to 4  inches should float you.

Don’t get something to big and thick because then you will have a very hard time maneuvering it around.  A beginners surfboard will be completely different if you are a 6’5″ 250 lb man compared to a 5’3″ 100 lb girl.  One thing for certain, the wider and longer a board, the quicker you will be able to stand up and ride a wave.

I hope this post helps you find the right board.  Thanks for dropping in and if you have any comments or questions, please post it in the comment section of this page.



6 thoughts on “What To Look For In A Surfboard

  1. I never knew the background and anatomy of a surfboard at all. What an amazing breakdown and detailed information of the various aspects of what one needs to look for in a surfboard. For a guy that is 6 feet tall and weighs about 160 lbs, do you have a recommendation of a particular style or type of surfboard that would be best for me? Also, keep in mind that I am a complete beginner.

    • Hi Chris, For you, I would recommend a surfboard that is at least 10 feet long with a thickness of at least 3 inches. As a beginner, all you want to do is catch waves and have a board that is easy to paddle and a board as described should do that. Once you get better then you can look for something else. Thanks for dropping in!

  2. Super informative! There’s so much information out there but you’ve really broken it down into manageable chunks so that it’s not quite so overwhelming. I don’t see a funboard in your graphic but see that you mention it based on length….can you tell me more about this type of surfboard?

    • Hi Kimberli, Most fundboards are shorter versions of longboards, though some have a less rounded nose, and can range from 7′ to 8 1/2′ in length and be 2 1/2″ – 3″ thick. Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

  3. Cool info here. No doubt a 5’8″ thruster is not going to be good to begin with as a beginner who may eventually beable to ride thatboard with practice if the right weight. I would also check out those cheaper foam boards out just to get your feet wet. Cool post!

    • Hi Dave, Unless you’re a child or very small woman or man I definitely would not recommend your starter board being a 5’8″ thruster. You would spend more time sitting on your board than catching waves.

      Thanks for comments and dropping in!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *