Boards come in many shapes and sizes making choosing a board very daunting to the beginner as well as to experienced surfers. Compounded with improved technologies and new school ways of surfing the boards are becoming very specific.
In general there are the Long boards that are boards over 8 1/2-foot long that will float anyone, are slow and not as easy to maneuver but provide easier and better paddling as well as wave catching.
Short boards are fast, short, easy to turn, but requires experience to ride one. They are more difficult to catch a wave on, and they require experienced balance to stay up on.
Fun boards are a good cross between a long and short board. They are easier to turn than a long board but are much more buoyant than a short board making it fairly easy to catch a wave.For beginners using the right type of board can make learning to surf fun and improvement rapid. The best beginner board are ones that are light, wide and thick.
The larger and wider boards are more buoyant allowing for easier picking up of waves especially with small or weak waves. These larger style boards are often called mals (equivalent to long boards) or mini-mals (equivalent to Fun boards) and are the ideal learning boards. Many of these boards come with a soft top deck which does not require waxing the top surface for riding thus avoiding melting wax or dirty wax build up. Being soft it won’t hurt if you accidentally hit the deck with your head, face or other body parts. The best way to learn is with the Fun boards or mini-mals that have great flotation capability because the better a board floats the faster it will paddle so the easier it will be to catch waves, giving you more time to get to your feet before the wave breaks! Yet it is a good size to be able to handle it in the water. Next would be a long board or mal which are even easier to catch a wave but may take a bit more time getting use to going out through the whitewater and requires a bit more work to turn the board around.
Going wider is better for the beginner: Narrow boards turn easier side-to-side than wide ones. However the width should be considered for experience, body weight, and conditions. The narrower and thinner the board then the less buoyancy making catching a wave more difficult or more exact in the pocket area of the wave (the area with the greatest push from the wave and is typically right in front of the breaking wave.) The narrower the board is also less stable for the beginner requiring that they stand right in on the center for balance.
As a beginner we do not recommend the small boards even though they are generally more maneuverable on a wave they have the disadvantage of a slower paddle speed, making it more difficult for a beginner to take off on a wave.
With a small board you have to take-off on the steepest part of a wave and get to your feet quickly. For most beginners taking off is the most frustrating part, unable to catch a wave or pearling (going head over heels on a wave). Also, smaller boards are harder to paddle tiring a beginner out very quickly. When you are comfortable with catching the wave then a small board might which allows for greater maneuverability maybe the next step.
Finding the right board depends upon your height, weight, ability and the type of wave you plan to ride.
Though there are many types of boards we will cover only the general categories of boards. The better you understand about the board more you will be able to find the appropriate board for you. To understand what is the right board for you, you should first know the physical characteristics of a surfboard, and then learn about the 3 basic categories or types of surfboards
The physical characteristics of a Surfboard.
plan shape or outline, tail design, rails, rocker and fins.
Plan shape or Outline
When you look at the top deck of the board the general body shape is the Plan or Outline of the board.
In general the plan shape or outline determines the type of the board. A big wave board called a “Gun” has long drawn out curve that assist in paddling power and long turns in large surf. A board for riding smaller waves will have a shorter more rounded curve for tight maneuvers that allows for riding in the wave’s pocket (area with the greatest push from the wave and is typically right in front of the breaking wave.)
Common tail designs consist of pin, round, squash, square and swallow. Wider tails gives more area to turn off, allowing for greater directional changes on smaller waves but can cause a lack of control in bigger surf.
Square and squash tails that give larger tail area allow the surfer to jam hard or come to an abrupt end point during the turn. Smooth unbroken lines flow with round tails. Swallow tails allow for deep carves.
Is the upturn at the nose and at the tail and flows along the bottom of the board.
The rocker can affect speed and turning. In general a flat or straight rocker will assist in the speed going down the wave in a line, whereas tighter turns in the pocket can be achieved through a board with greater rocker or more curve allowing for more pivotal turns.
In general the amount of tail rocker determines how a board will turn - the more curve, the easier the board will be to turn, but can cause more drag and therefore slows the board. But this is all relative as in the case of advance surfers who tend to turn in the steep areas of the wave where fast speed is all ready present and the important thing is to have enough tail rocker to allow for a quick turn.
The nose rocker is the amount of curve in the bottom of the board from the middle forward. Too little of a nose rocker increases the chance that the nose to dig into the wave and catch or pearl. Having more nose rocker can cause resistance and lift under the nose of your board. In the case of long boards, low nose rockers are generally easier to nose-ride because there is less resistance to plane on the water from a straighter curve. High nose rockers will cause too much resistance and bogging when attempting to nose ride. But a high nose rocker is better suited for hollow, snappy situations, and in high performance long board riding when nose riding is not much of a consideration.
Is the side of the board. Boards can have low, medium, high rails that affects how thin or boxy they look and feel. Thin rails are very sensitive and unforgiving whereas a fuller rail provides more resistance and is harder to turn. A fuller rail is associated with a flatter deck (widthwise). This design creates more volume in the board
Thin rails means a thinner board that are more sensitive, i.e. your feet are closer to the water and the leverage situation is much better than a thick one. A thick board means your feetare farther away from the bottom of the board making it more difficult to turn.
Fins allow you to steer your board. These can be glassed (permanently attached) or attachable systems. Attachable fin systems allow you to swap fin sizes and remove the fins completely which is great for traveling.
In general small fins allow for loose turns and slides whereas large fins permit drive and greater holding power. You will find that many surfboards have 3 fins. This is known as Tri-fin. The two fins by the rails allow a fin to be in the water when the board is making a turn.The third fin is used for drive and direction.
In general, depending on the fin(s) type and position, the plan outline, amount and where the rocker is on the board, rail design and the tail type will affect the way a board paddles, rides, steers and turns for different type of waves.
So now when the young sun tanned man or woman in the surf shop comes up to you and says, “this surfboard has a low entry rocker with softer, forgiving forward rails that progress to a boxy tail with a very hard bottom edge making this tail and rocker combo one that allows the board to hold in critical spots and breaks loose on cue.
You can interpret this as the board having a flatter or straighter rocker allowing a fast take off down a wave with a soft forward rails meaning it is a fuller side that is stable going straight and less likely to be sensitive to erratic turning or windshield wiping. However, the tail is boxy having a larger tail area allowing easier turning on smaller waves combined with a very hard bottom edge for a tail that increases sensitivity for turning. So this board in theory gives both a stable ride down or across a wave yet it allows for turning control on small to medium waves when the surfer pushes down toward the tail using the tail portion of the board for steering. But no matter what they say you have to ride it to see if its good for you with the type of waves you ride.