It’s many years ago now but I will never forget my first surfboard. She was lemon and yellow striped, 9 feet and 2 inches long and her name was Daisy Looper (to this day I have no idea why!) I loved that board with all my heart.
My partner went through similar emotions except his bordered on obsessional.
In the early hours of the morning, the day after the board had been carried proudly home, I awoke in my bed, alone. I crept downstairs and found my partner stretched out on the lounge carpet gazing adoringly at and lovingly stroking his new mistress: an eight foot six inch rival for my affections made from foam and fiberglass, his new surf board.
I was not particularly sympathetic at the time as I was not yet a surfer myself. You see I just didn’t understand. There’s not a surfer in the world who couldn’t describe to you his first board.
Without some guidance, as a novice surfer, you will almost certainly choose the wrong board unless you just strike it lucky.
1. Don’t just go for the shiny surfboard!
Many of the things we are drawn to as purchases are in some way beautiful or we are led to make selections by colors and lines that appeal to us. A surfboard will be no different. This is especially true if you are buying new.
You will wander round the shop which is full of shiny, polished beauties and be attracted by funky logos and fantastic graphics. But it is the last reason on earth to buy a surfboard.
Of course it will come into the decision at some point, no-one wants an ugly board, but it comes low down on a list of what is important in selection.
Besides anything else that shiny new surfboard won’t stay shiny and polished for long. The minute you want to ride it that beautiful design will be covered over with a layer of wax which is what a surfer uses to make the deck of his board non-slippery.
2. Don’t give too much value to the deck design
More often than not, you will be tempted to make your choice based on its deck design.
DON’T DO IT!
The cocky strut you will have from toting around your super cool board will soon fade as soon as you realize what a big and costly mistake you have made.
3. Avoid short surfboards
The other common error made by beginner surfers is to try and hop straight onto a short board.
You may picture yourself slashing those waves on a fancy little 6 feet long, pointy nosed thing no wider than a toothpick but if you start off with the wrong board you may never be that aerial stunt-pulling supremo of your dreams. One thing is for certain, it will take you much, much longer to progress (unless, of course, you are a highly gifted and natural surfer which unfortunately the majority of us are not).
But short surfboarders are cooler, right? Try telling that to an enormous Hawaiin chief who was riding his 10 feet long board way before your grandparent’s grandparent’s grandparents were even a glint in the eye. That is a whole different topic.
One thing is for certain, you won’t look very cool struggling to catch waves and falling off immediately even when you do. Choose correctly at the outset and you may yet get to be that surfer you see in your dreams at night.
4. Try going for a Mal or Mini-Mal Board
To a surfer learning the ropes size does matter. A long board or Mal (short for Malibu) is a board that measures in excess of 9 feet and has a rounded nose and tail.
A mini Mal or funboard, which as the name suggests is a smaller version of a Mal, can measure anything from about 7 feet 6 inches to 9 feet. Short boards are generally taken to be those less than 7 feet.
There is a little more to it than this but for now that is all that you need to know.
When you are starting out a Mal or mini Mal are good choices. If you are shorter or lighter then you will be okay with a mini Mal. Here are four reasons why:
a. Long boards are more stable: A bigger board gives a larger surface area and a more stable platform. It’s easier: easier to get to your feet and easier to stay on them once you are there.
b. Long boards allow for easy paddling: Another reason for opting for a bigger board is for ease of paddling (which is the term used for lying down on your board and using your arms to propel yourself through the water).
Surfing is not hard on the legs as is so often assumed by non-surfers. It is hard on the arms. If you have a one hour surfing session, on average, you will spend less than two minutes of that actually standing on your feet and that is allowing for decent length rides and a good wave count. On a really bad day this could be as little as 15 seconds spent standing in a one hour session.
The majority of the time is spent either sitting on your board and waiting for the waves or more often paddling about to position yourself correctly, constant adjustments of this nature as the tide and currents move you out of position, paddling for waves and paddling back out beyond the breaking waves again after the end of a ride. It will take a while for your arms to become ‘paddle fit’.
A long board is more buoyant, sits higher in the water and again, due to the larger surface area, is far, far easier to paddle and takes less energy.
The ease of paddling reason for selecting a long board to start out on is not as important as other reasons for the novice surfer. Initially, you will be spending a lot of time in the shallows learning the basics and catching waves after they have broken (white water). Whether or not you venture out further initially will depend on many things: the size of waves, the type of waves, your own confidence levels and the number of other surfers in the water (believe me, other surfers will not thank you for floundering around in their midst with an enormous out of control board and messing up their rides).
c. Long boards makes it easier for you to catch waves: With this in mind another reason for selecting a bigger board is that the more volume a board has the easier and earlier it will catch waves. How to catch waves is yet another misconception of non-surfers. In order to catch a wave a surfer must match the speed of that wave and must also position themselves in exactly the right spot and time it perfectly. Trying to catch the wave too early or too late will at best mean you miss it and at worst will result in a complete mashing!
d. Long boards allow you to catch shorter waves: A long boarder will be able to catch and ride far smaller waves than is possible for the short boarder. Little fun waves are great for confidence building and are far less exhausting when you need to practice over and over and over again to get it right. Also, the reality is that, although every video and piece of footage you may have seen of surfing shows towering waves, unless you live in a world class surf spot, many of the days you go for a surf will have small wave conditions.
5. Go for boards that are wider and thicker
Surf boards are not just measured in length (and no matter where you live measurements are always in old imperial standards of feet and inches) but also in width and thickness. These willvary greatly. Do not assume that long boards are just there to be an easier option for the beginner. Before the relatively recent advent of short boards in the 1970s there were onlylong boards.
To many it is still the purest and most soulful of all forms of surfing. In recent times an enormous amount of snobbishness has surrounded the long board versus short board debate. It has been perceived by many that long boarding is yesterday’s thing, for old men and girls, and that short boarding is cooler. Rivalry between long boarders and short boarders can be anything on the scale from joking between friends to fist fights on the beach!
But if you were to actually ask many top surfers, who although specialize in one or the other, actually have long and short boards in their collection. A pure surfer just wants to ride waves and he will avail himself of the best equipment to do that in all conditions and on all types of waves. In fact George Greenough, one of the ‘coolest’ surfers in the world and a pioneer in so many ways in the world of surfing, now almost exclusively rides waves on an air-bed!
With all this in mind do not be drawn into thinking that all long boards will therefore be suitable for the novice surfer. Look for wider and thicker dimensions that will increase your board’s volume for reasons mentioned earlier.
6. Don’t get lost in the minor details
The shape of the board, its nose, tail and rails (the sides of the board where the top deck meets the underside) and also its rocker (whether a board lies completely flat on the ground and its levels of deviation from this in the form of concavity) will all vary greatly. The variations in these are endless and it is perhaps better as a novice to not get too tied up in them. Generally just look for rounded shape nose and tail.
7. Give special attention to the make of the board
The other thing to be considered is what should your board be made of? Until relatively recently all surf boards were made one at a time by hand and by highly skilled ‘shapers’. This often made them expensive and no two boards were ever exactly the same.
With recent developments in surf board design some boards are now mass factory produced and made from different materials to the original fiberglass covered foam core board strengthened by a stringer (or wood strip) down the middle.
Composite Epoxy resin boards are often a very good choice for the beginner. They are resistant to damage (‘dings’ in surfers’ parlance that are often costly to fix or at worst undermine the boards performance or make the board useless), often lighter and, because they are mass produced, are far cheaper. What’s more they retain their value a lot more because they are less likely to be damaged.
You may also come across what was known as a ‘pop-out’ board, the first alternatives that were offered to the handmade board. As these are virtually indestructible they may still be around in the second hand market. They are extremely heavy which is a pain for carting to and from the waves and also for taking a whack round the head in the surf. With the new advent of robust but far lighter mass produced boards the ‘pop-out has become virtually redundant.
You may also come across the softboard or foamie which is made completely of foam. These are very thick and very stable and are often used in surf schools for the reasons just given but also because they are more forgiving should you get knocked or hit by them whilst in the water. Surfers very quickly surpass the need for a softboard so these are perhaps less of an option than the others but of course that is up to you.
8. Double check if you are buying a second hand board
If your budget allows it is of course nicer to buy a new board but for many this is impossible. Second-hand boards are therefore an option. In addition, individuals selling boards will often throw in fins, leashes (or leg ropes) and board bags all of which can be costly if bought separately.
This however needs to be undertaken carefully and armed with information of what to check for. If at all possible avoid buying boards that you haven’t actually seen.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some bargains to be had and on-line sellers can be of the honest variety providing full photographic evidence of any damage end therefore allowing you to make a decision armed with all the facts. But unless you are very confident that the seller knows what they are talking about and is trustworthy you may well find your self the proud new owner of a totally useless board.
Things to look for in second-hand boards are cracks, holes and dents in the fiberglass. If these have penetrated to the foam beneath they can still be fixed but may be costly to do so. In time you will learn to do your own minor repairs but for now be aware that repairs don’t come cheap. The buyer may consider dropping the price for this.
If the board is still covered with wax an enormous amount of damage can be hidden from you. Always be a little wary if the seller hasn’t stripped the wax from the board they are trying to sell you.
The most important thing to check for are any areas of the board that feel spongy to the touch or give way when you press on them. This is a sign that water has got into the foam core and delamination between layers has occurred. In most cases this will mean the board is unfixable and useless. Avoid it at all costs.
Hopefully you will now be armed with some of the most important pieces of information to buy your first board with confidence. This is in no way a comprehensive guide. The modern market and recent advancements in board design and technology has meant that there are many innovative selections and hybrids to choose from and smaller boards can now sometimes have the benefits that previously only long boards had. Look around, ask around and take advice where it is offered.
Selecting the right board from the off will save you many frustrating and disheartening hours of thrashing around in the ocean and you may yet be that surfer you long to be. Buy the wrong board and you will struggle to clear even the first hurdle and may end up taking such a confidence bashing that you may decide to give up all together.
Once you have bought your board then surfing is totally free. From the moment you catch your first wave you will be amongst an honored bunch of people – those that have tapped into one of the greatest sources of power on earth. But, surfing comes with an extreme warning and should not be taken lightly. It is this:
BEWARE: Surfing is highly addictive!