Surfboards Explained: How to Pick the Right One

Don't go for what the pros use; you won't make any progress
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Surfing is one of the most interesting water sports. There are many reasons why you should try it – from being a great workout to making new friends and earning bragging rights for conquering crazy waves. The problem comes when you get too excited too early.

“It happens all the time,” Mike Reinhardt, surf instructor and co-owner of Locals Surf School, says. “People get so enthusiastic and eager to learn, they come back with a professional board and we have to tell them ‘You’re not ready for that yet,’” he adds.

Investing in a surfboard is a big purchase – some cost more than $1,000 – and you have to realistically and objectively assess your skill level before spending money. “Otherwise you hamper your ability to progress,” Reinhardt says.

Be open-minded and don’t underestimate the waves you’re going to be riding, or you may be on the wrong board for years, which happens “without a doubt,” he adds.

Longboards

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The standard longboard is around to 9 feet, but they can range between 8 and 11. They are recommended for beginners because they are more stable, Reinhardt says. “The wider, the longer and thicker a board is, the more stable and the easier it is to ride and paddle.”

The width should be about 22-23 inches at the center, and the thickness about 3 inches.

Pay attention to what is called “the rocker.” This is the bottom curve of the board from the nose to the tail. If the board doesn’t have it, the nose goes under water. (This is something you can afford to experience when you’re no longer a beginner.)

Lonboards are great for catching small waves with not much power, if you want to stay on the wave, do simple maneuvers, or just cruise and relax in the water, Reinhardt says (Sunscrees that won't wash away).

Shortboards

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The shortboard is usually between 5’7 and 6’4 feet. Even though you can ride really fast with a longboard, believe it or not, most surfers prefer shortboards for that kind of action, Reinhardt says (How yoga makes you better). They allow for more maneuvering because they are thinner and narrower. This also makes them harder to paddle and stand up on which is why more advanced surfers should use them, he adds. “Once you’re there though, you have a lot more freedom.”

Shortboards are also good for mastering your pumping (gaining speed) skills. This is when you apply pressure to the inside rail and push down with your front foot.

Funboards

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A funboard is used when you want to do simple tricks in the water and you are not yet ready for shortboards,” Reinhardt says. It’s like a longboard, but between 6 and 8 feet, and it has a more rounded nose, making it a little more maneuverable than a long board. It’s perfect for surfers who are ready to transition to smaller boards without losing stability.

Fishboard

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Fishboards can be pretty short; they have wide nose and tail, allowing for a lot of moves. “This is what some would use to do radical things but can’t really use a shortboard,” he adds. A fishboard is relatively flat with only a bit of rocker. This allows the surfer to paddle well and carry speed even if the waves are flat.

Softboard

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These are for the novice surfers, those who are just starting and haven’t had more than a few lessons, Reinhardt says. This kind of board has a soft layer of foam on the exterior, which is very forgiving on you and others when you fall (which is likely to happen a lot at the beginning). Softboards are also good to use when you’re only surfing a few times a year. “You should still stay in the 9 feet range,” he adds. Because they are foam, they are easier to catch waves on and easier to stand up on.

Gunboards

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These boards are slightly bigger than softboards. The extra length makes it easier to paddle into big waves. The gunboards are narrow and pointy at both the nose and tail, making them perfect for riding strong and steep waves.

More readings: 

10 Best Surf Towns in the World

The 15 Best Surf Camps

The World’s Best Beaches for Big Wave Surfing

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