To the uninitiated, choosing a surfboard might be nothing more than a matter of favorite colors or graphics. While these are undoubtedly important considerations (you can automatically surf better if you look cool of course), there are so many variables involved in board choice it will make your head spin.
So how do you find your way out of this maze of surfboard choices? For all intents and purposes, let’s agree that the size of the board should be your first consideration. That’s right, size matters.
Does that mean the bigger the better? Of course not, it’s not the size of the board, it’s how it floats in the ocean!
Corny metaphors aside, let’s take a look at the three main size categories of boards and what they mean to you.
Generally speaking, a bigger board is going to help a beginner surfer build confidence. Because a big board has more volume (displacement), it is usually going to be faster, more stable, and enable you to paddle it better and therefore catch more waves – and your confidence will grow with each wave!
Bigger boards are more buoyant (float better) than smaller ones allowing for more stability when standing | Surf lessons with Saltwater Dreaming, Bang Tao Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Beware: not all big surfboards are beginner boards. When choosing the right surfboard as a beginner surfer, your first choice is a longboard which is often referred to as a Malibu, or Mal, in surfer lingo. Malibu’s are mostly in the 9’-10’ range, are more than 21” wide, and have a full, round nose.
The longboard is going to float high in the water allowing you to paddle faster – and going faster means it will be easier to catch waves. The wider shape provides more stability which makes getting up, and staying up, easier. However, life is always a compromise and longboards offer little performance in comparison to their smaller siblings. Don’t worry, you have to learn to walk before you can run so you’re going to need to spend some quality time out in the waves before you start thinking about performance.
Paddling into a wave sooner and catching waves are easier with a longboard | Surfing with Andaman Sea Surf, Patong, Phuket, Thailand
If you are scoring lots of waves and feeling comfortable on the longboard, you might want to try the funboard, or mini-Mal. This category/size of board maintains a similar shape to that of the longboard in a smaller package. If you are lighter weight, a kid, or have a natural gift of agility, you could start out, or may have learned, on a funboard.
Funboards are sometimes referred to as an Egg Surfboard due to their rounded nose and shorter size | Paddling out at Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand
But if the longboard is working out so swell for me, why mess around with other boards? Different size, and shape, surfboards offer different characteristics and allow you to confront, and overcome, new challenges. In the case of the funboard, it will help you get past the break easier, turn faster, and have more maneuverability overall.
On the downside, that same reduction in volume that makes the funboard feel like a sports car, compared the bus-like longboard, also makes it paddle slower, makes it harder to catch waves, and is less forgiving of your errors.
Funboard fun at Kata Noi Beach, Phuket, Thailand
At the surf break, you are likely to see beginners struggling to drag out their 9-footer past the break while watching longingly at the ease which the shortboarders are duck diving and making quick maneuvers.
Of course, we all want to be surfing like Slater but it’s no secret that surfing takes a massive amount of time, effort, and practice to make even the slightest improvement. If you are resilient and stick with it, you will work your way up (or down) to the shortboard.
Tony’ Surf Shop, Kata, Phuket, Thailand
The stereotypical shortboard is between 5’-7’ and is characterized by a narrower outline and less overall volume. The shape and size of the nose and tail can vary greatly depending on the type of wave it is intended for, and the size and ability of the surfer.
Although some shortboard designs are wider and more stable, which can be friendlier to the novice, it often requires a higher level of proficiency to find success on a shortboard. While an elite group of naturally talented beginners may be able have some luck in ideal conditions, most mortals will become frustrated and end their surfing career prematurely trying to learn on a shortboard.
Shortboards are less buoyant but more maneuverable | Surin Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Longboards and funboards are loads of fun and are perfectly suited to some styles and waves, but when a surfer gets a taste of the maneuverability and increased feeling of connection to the wave that a shortboard provides, it can be hard to go back to a bigger board.
That’s everything I Need to Know?
Not even close! But hopefully you now have a better understanding of why surfboards come in so many different sizes and which size board might best fit you.
Keep in mind that this is just the tippy-top of the iceberg because we have only touched on overall size and haven’t discussed different shapes (egg, fish, nose-rider), fin configurations (single, thruster, quad), etc.
In the end, the basic rule-of-thumb for selecting what size surfboard you should use: start big and work your way down.
Stay tuned for more articles where we will demystify the technical side of surfing.
Sea you later!