How to Choose a Surfboard

Beginner Surfboards

Most surfing resources will tell a beginner the same thing: It's really important to start off on a big, thick longboard. But what exactly constitutes a longboard? For a six year old kid, a 6.5-foot (1.98-meter) funboard might qualify as a longboard. A 180-pound (81.65-kilogram) adult, on the other hand, probably needs something more along the lines of an 11-foot (3.35-meter) log. As a general rule, your first surfboard should be a minimum of 16 to 20 inches (40.6 to 50.8 centimeters) taller than you. You also want it to be at least 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 centimeters) thick [source: Weaver].

Beginners shouldn't worry about the shape of the surfboard. Tail shapes and fin setups come into play further down the road, after you've learned how to catch a wave, pop up and balance. In the beginning, stick with a simple, oval-shaped, single-fin longboard. If your first board comes with more than one fin, that's fine. Chances are you won't even be able to tell the difference at first.

Beginners should also seriously consider starting with a foamboard or softboard. Every beginner will get whacked in the head by his or her surfboard at least once. Foamboards are made with soft materials (think boogie boards) and have flexible fins, making learning safer for beginners. Foamboards are also less expensive than some other boards. You can also learn on fiberglass, but if you do choose a fiberglass or epoxy board, get one with a thicker coating -- this helps protect against dings.

When you're picking out your first board, think of the local surf shop as your friend. Not only will they have invaluable surfing advice and knowledge about local wave conditions, they also might be willing to let you rent or try out a few different boards. This will help you get a sense of what works best for you before you actually shell out the big bucks for your first surfboard.

Follow these tips and you'll be catching your first waves in no time. Then you'll be pouring over the previous sections of this article trying to decide if a fish tail or a square tail will help you finally learn those bottom turns, reentries and cutbacks your friends are doing. By then, you could be hooked for life on one of the most popular water sports in the world: surfing.

For more information on surfing gear, explore the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • All About Surfboards. "The History of the Surfboard: From Wood to Fiberglass." (12.28.09)
  • Brisick, Jamie. "Ancient Surfboard Style is Finding New Devotees." New York Times. 12.04.09. (12.29.09)
  • Couldwell, Andrew. "History of the Surfboard." Club of the Waves. (12.12.09)
  • Couldwell, Andrew. "Types of Surfboard." Club of the Waves. (12.12.09)
  • Filosa, Gary Fiarmont R. "The Surfer's Almanac." E.P. Dutton. 1977.
  • Jensen, Paul. "Hollow Wooden Surfboards." 09.2009. (12.28.09)
  • Marcus, Ben. "From Polynesia, With Love: The History of Surfing From Captain Hook To the Present." Surfing For Life. (12.11.09)
  • The Surfing Handbook. "Surfboard Fins." (12.14.09)
  • The Surfing Handbook. "Surboard Tail Design." (12.15.09)
  • Surf Science. "The New Word on Surfboard Foam." (12.28.09)
  • Weaver, Robert and Scott Bannerot "Wingnut's Complete Surfing." McGraw-Hill. 2009.
  • Werner, Doug. "Surfer's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing." Track's Publishing. 1999.