How to Choose a Surfboard

Wood vs. Fiberglass Surfboards

In 1926, Tom Blake built the first hollow wooden surfboard by drilling dozens of holes into his solid wooden board, then covering it with a layer of wood [source: Couldwell]. This innovation, along with the invention of waterproof glue, soon led to the construction of hollow balsa wood, plywood and mixed balsa and hardwood boards. Wooden boards remained the most popular choice until about the 1960s, when more and more surfers began to opt for fiberglass boards. In recent years, however, wood has made something of a comeback [source: Brisick].

Modern wooden boards are generally made out of balsa wood or available alternatives, such as paulownia, cedar and even plywood [source: Brisick]. Though wooden boards are heavier and usually more expensive than fiberglass boards, they're also stronger, more environmentally friendly and faster in the water [sources: Brisick, Jensen]. Many surfers also find classic wooden boards to be stunning visually.

Fiberglass surfboards, which initially made an appearance in the 1940s, are generally made of foam cores wrapped in fiberglass, cloth and resin. Sometimes they are strengthened with carbon fiber. These boards are generally cheaper, lighter and arguably more buoyant than most wooden boards. There are two major types of fiberglass boards:

  • Polyurethane: Polyurethane-core boards glassed with polyester resin are generally cheaper than either polystyrene or wooden boards. They're buoyant, very durable, and a huge variety of "pop-out" (off the shelf) polyurethane boards are readily available to rent or buy from just about any surf shop in the world.
  • Polystyrene (Styrofoam): In 2005, the closure of a major foam manufacturer caused a shortage of polyurethane, so surfboard designers began experimenting with polystyrene, which is up to three times lighter and also more buoyant than polyurethane [sources: All About Surfboards, Surf Science]. Polystyrene emits fewer volatile organic compounds than polyurethane, making it a better choice environmentally, and since polystyrene must be glassed with epoxy, these boards are even more fracture resistant than polyurethane boards. On the downside, polystyrene boards may start to delaminate at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), so they probably shouldn't be left in hot cars [source: Surf Science].

There's more to a board than the materials it's made of -- size can make a big difference in how a surfboard performs, too. In the next section, you'll find out more about different board sizes. Read on to find out which size is right for you.