Surfboard Buying Guide - How to Buy a Surfboard

The oceans are full of waves of different sizes and strengths. There are boards to suit all of them. Defining the right board for your ability and conditions can be tricky though. To help, we've put together a surfboard buying guide so you can choose the right board for your next surf.

Ability Level

Beginner
As you've probably guessed, if you're just starting or had a lesson or two you'll be a beginner. Getting your paddling technique, pop-up and stance correct are all important. The stability you'll get from foam boards, beginner surfboards, mini mals and select longboards will help you get better quicker.

Intermediate
As an intermediate surfer, you're comfortable on your board and able to pick the waves you want. You're climbing, dropping and starting to piece together a few turns but you would like to get more critical and put more power into your manoeuvres.

Advanced
As an advanced surfer you've had a good, consistent amount of time in the water and in a wide range of conditions. You are confident in your turns and manoeuvres and can hold your line in a barrel.

Beginner Boards

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These boards are big, wide and thick. This makes it easier to catch waves and stand up. They usually have a round nose shape, which makes paddling easier and the board more stable when attempting to pop up.

The design of these boards are all about getting you to catch as many waves as possible and get you up on your feet. They're super buoyant and forgiving to ride.

Top Tip
Stay on your beginner board for as long as possible, when you step down in size you will catch less waves - make sure you are ready.

Foam Boards

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Foam boards are generally used by surf schools for beginners to learn with. They are hard wearing, safer to fall on and have a lot of floatation to make it easier to catch small waves.

They are a great way of getting an introduction to surfing at a lower cost before purchasing a more performance orientated board such as a funboard or mini-mal.

Top Tip
A foam board is essential for any surfing family. The kids can use them to learn and the grown-ups can use them to brush up on their basic surf skills.

Mini Mals

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Mini mals, as the name suggests, resemble a smaller version of a Mal or longboard. They have lots of volume which provides paddling power, easy wave catching and stability. They also offer slight tail refinements, which means that you can start to turn. They range from 7ft to 8ft in length.

Top Tip
Mini Mals are your friend. They will always help you pick up lots of waves, particularly in small and weak surf. When thinking of moving on to a funboard, keep a Mini Mal in the quiver - they are great for those sessions where you aren't up to full paddling fitness after some time out of the water.

Funboards

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Funboards fall between mini mals and shortboards in size. The reduced size makes the board more manoeuvrable but they still have enough buoyancy to let you catch lots of waves. These boards have pointier noses than Mini Mals; you'll need this as you will be now duck diving under oncoming waves.

They work in a wide range of waves so if you're learning you can start testing yourself in more demanding conditions. If you're more experienced, they are a great all-rounder to have in the quiver.

Top Tip
Don't be scared to keep volume in your funboard. It's far worse to have too little than too much. If you have too much - it might take the edge off some of your turns - but if there's not enough you might struggle to catch a wave in the first place.

Fish Surfboards

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Fishes are wide and full - they have plenty of volume, which means you can paddle fast to catch weak waves. They also generate more speed when up and riding. This all means you can go shorter - fishes will be around 2 to 4 inches shorter than your standard shortboard. This makes them even more manoeuvrable.

They are super curvy and always want to turn. So it's easy to turn even at low speeds and on small waves.

The vast majority of fish have a swallow tail. This helps widen the tail which loosens the board up and gives you two pivot points to turn on.

Top Tip
Your fish will be your saviour in below average surf, but don't get too used to it...It's easy to surf and if you use it in all conditions your surfing may become less critical.

Short Boards

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Shortboards typically range from 5ft to just under 7ft in length. You have to be confident in your surfing ability to be riding a shortboard, they are at the cutting edge of surfboard performance.

Due to the lower surface area and buoyancy they are typically harder to ride and require larger, steeper and more powerful waves to surf on. There are numerous shortboard shapes which are ideal for different types of waves, such as slower peeling waves, beach breaks and fast barrelling waves.

Typically, shortboards have a pointed nose and either round or square tail, although a number of tail-shape variations exist.

Shortboards normally have 3 fins which can also be changed depending on your fin size and shape preference.

Top Tip
Choose your shortboard wisely. Minor differences can go along way to how it will surf. Have a varied quiver so you are always prepared for what the ocean has in store.

Longboards

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If you're looking for a board to compliment your quiver on the small days or you're a full time stylemaster, the longboard is essential.

Longboards offer the most traditional style of surfing. Starting at 9ft long, they are decent sized bits of kit. They are superb for keeping that wave count up thanks to their large surface area and high buoyancy.

Although longboards can be used by the larger beginner, they also allow for distinct styles of surfing. Longboards offer the opportunity to cruise more and some are constructed to let you hang ten or five toes over the nose. Nose riders have more volume in the front of the board to support this. Performance longboards are more refined for shortboard style surfing and let you perform more critical turns.

Top Tip
Longboards are more about style, choice and the waves you want to ride and less about ability. So figure out what conditions you want to ride your longboard in and then decide if you want turn or glide.

Stand Up Paddle Boards

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When SUP'ing you stand up from the get go and use the paddle to move through the water. This is excellent for your core balance.

They are a great introduction to board sports and can be used on lakes, rivers and calm seas.

It is also a fully fledged competitive sport with high performance, racing and touring boards designed for speed and more demanding surf conditions.

Top Tip
Sea sweeping by SUP is always fun, you can travel good distances - but make sure you know the tides and conditions to stay safe.

Skim Boards

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Skim boarding: the new kid on the block of modern watersports. Innovative, fun and easily picked up, it's great fun whether you're shallow cruising or catching waves on a big shore break.

The method is simple. Throw the board out in front of you in shallow waters then proceed to run, jump and mount with two feet. From there, just let the board carry you along at pitch break speeds. 360s, ollies, you name it - more advanced riders should make small fry of it and have a world of fun in the process.

Top Tip
Skim boards are small, always have one in the boot, you never know when you might need one!

Wax

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Wax is used for grip on the top (or deck) of the surfboard. They ensure you stay in place when paddling and make sure your feet don't slide off the board while surfing.

There are many types of wax used, which are mainly dependent on water temperature. Cold water wax, warm water wax, tropical water wax can all be applied over a base coat wax.

Top Tip
Use base coat wax or wax for a cooler temperature first, this will create good bumps for you to apply you regular wax on top of.

Fin Types

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Fin type
There are many different fin systems to choose from. The difference in fins system might not drastically change the way a board will ride, but the fin you put in the system can make a difference.

FCS - The most widely known and used fin system around. Plenty of great fins to chop, change and try with this system. You use a key to screw the fins in. The bonus is that the fins have a designed weak spot so if they are going to snap then the fin will go, but the plugs within the board usually stay intact.

FCS 2 - The upgrade to the original FCS, these have a wider connection to the board than the originals. This means the flex pattern transfer is better to the tip of the fin so the performance should be better. The fins snap in so no need for a tool. The plugs in the board are larger, so should be stronger but perhaps slightly heavier than the originals.

Futures - Highly innovative designs where the fin box runs the length of the fin. This makes it stronger and means all the flex travels to the tip which is the key place for performance.

Lokbox - Offer half an inch of movement so you can customise your fin positioning to suit your ride. The Finlok design greatly resists damage from impact.

Fin Setup

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Fin Setup
Most boards come with removable fins which gives you the opportunity to mix and match. If you have a board that has a five fin set up you can switch between single, twin thruster and quad.

Single - The classic single fin, with these you will rely more on your rails (the sides of the board) to put a turn in. They're great for training your surfing if you want to go back to basics.

Twin - These will really loosen up your board and give you heaps of release off the tail. Mostly found on fish surfboards.

Thruster (3 fins) - The most common set up, the thruster offers drive and stability and work for most people in most conditions.

Quad - Offers great drive and direction, and good tail release in turns. A great down the line fin set up that will help hold that line in heavier waves.

Leashes

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Leashes are essentially a piece of safety equipment that helps you to surf more.

The leash attaches around your back foot's ankle with a velcro wrap. The other end attaches to the tail of the surfboard. This means when you fall off a wave, the board stays with you. This prevents countless surfboards washing around and hitting others. It also means you have a floatation device close by at all times too.

The easiest rule of thumb is to go for a leash that is closest to the length of your board.

Top Tip
Keep the string that attaches your leash to your board short. If it extends further than the tail or rail of the board, when the leash snaps tight; the string could cut through the board. Make sure the rail saver covers the edge of the board. Do this by looping the string through the leash plug and by attaching the rail saver to both ends of the loop.

Grip Pads

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Grip, tail pad, tail grip - this section of raised grippy rubber is stuck on the tail end of your board's deck.

They come in a range of designs from complete one pieces to pads with multiple sections (this lets you modify the padding to suit the width of your board).

It has a couple of functions, primarily for enhanced grip but also to help you position your back foot. The rubber, with its raised and bumpy sections, offers better grip at different angles, which is important as you are pushing the tail of your surfboard into a radical turn. The fact you have a section of rubber exactly where you need to be standing can also help guide your foot to the best position. Particularly as some have foot arches and kickers at the end.

Top Tip
Grips are a great help for everyone, especially when surfing bare foot. The pad helps you get better foot placement which in will turn help improve your overall surfing technique.

Surfboard Bags

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A surfboard bag is essential protection for transporting surfboards. Surfboards can be easily dinged (damaged) in transit so having a good bag to protect and carry your board is vital. They have various depths of padding and capacities for carrying multiple boards at once.

A thinner bag would be suitable for taking your board to the beach by car and a thicker bag is needed for air travel.

Many bags are also constructed with reflective materials to prevent heat damage during surf trips in hot countries.

Top Tip
When packing your board bag for a trip, use towels and other soft gear to pack out the nose and tail for extra protection. Board bags can double up as a comfy ground matt when camping.

Wetsuits

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Wetsuits are worn by most surfers when the water temperature is too cold to just surf in a pair of boardshorts or swimsuit.

Wetsuits are made of a foamed neoprene, which provide thermal insulation when in the water. The neoprene fills up with a small amount of water which the body then heats. This layer of warm water is then trapped around the body in the wetsuit keeping you warm.

Wetsuit technology is now so advanced that the best wetsuits are made of a super-stretchy neoprene. This makes it easy to paddle whilst also retaining the heat qualities allowing you to
surf all year round.