A first surfboard should be like a first car: a basic model, easy to handle, and built to last until you're ready for something with more horsepower. As with cars, the size and construction are two factors that most effect handling and durability.
Of the two elements, size is more important. A surfboard should match the user's size: shorter boards for smaller surfers. Longer, wider boards are more stable, however, so even a petite, 110-pound (50-kilogram) surfer should choose a board that's at least 7.5 feet (2.25 meters) long and 22 inches (55 centimeters) wide. A 9-foot (2.7-meter) board is more suitable for a novice who weighs about 200 pounds (91 kilograms) [source: On the Edge Surfing].
Concerning construction, softboards, which are made of foam for extra buoyancy, are a good choice for true beginners. Fast learners, however, might go with an epoxy board. Epoxy boards consist of a foam core encased in epoxy resin. This construction makes them both buoyant and tough. That helps as you're learning to ride the waves and minimizes damage to the board from a wipeout. Advanced surfers often prefer fiberglass boards, which are more responsive but less durable than epoxy boards, something like a sporty coupe compared to a family sedan.
As you gain skill and confidence, you can modify the board via the fin setup. Fins are prongs attached to the underside of the board that act as rudders. You can change out your fins, varying them by size, number and placement to increase speed, make tighter turns, and surf in a wider range of conditions.