Softboard Buyers Guide 2015 - 16
By Kelly Ratcliffe*
Micro Groms (small kids under 20kg)
- 6’0 G Board Original model
- 6’0” Gnaraloo Flounder Pounder
- 6’0” Softlite Classic & Lani Models
6’0” models from most brands will also work for tiny kids under 20kg or for slightly bigger kids with the good fortune of being able to surf at least 3 times a week. Whilst many parents prefer purchasing a cheaper board for their kids to start on, due to not knowing if their kid is going to really love surfing, just make sure the softboard being purchased is thick and wide throughout the nose and middle of the board. This will make the board more stable than narrow nosed boards. Avoid the tiny 5’4” boards and the like, which although they are easy for kids to carry around and catch whitewater waves with, they are very difficult for most kids to stand up and stay connected with the wave, due to the lack of volume / length in these boards, so kids surfing skills will develop more slowly.
Kids (20 to 40kg)
- 6’6” and 7’0” Softlite Classic & Lani models
- 6’6” and 7’0” Softech models
- 6’6” and 7’0” G Board Original models
- 6’6” and 7’0” Gnaraloo Softshell Surfboards
- 6’6” Gnaraloo Flounder Pounder
- 6’6” Ocean & Earth Grommy model
- 7’0” Ocean & Earth Ezi-Rider model
For kids that weigh around 30kg or for smaller kids that are realistically only going to use the board during holidays or less than once a week, go for a 7 foot softboard. Remember that for growing kids who normally surf only during the summer months, the extra volume in a 7’0” softboard will be needed as the child will be taller and heavier when summer returns each year. For kids this size, it's all about learning to catch small waves independently, pop up to their feet and beginning to turn, all of which will be achieved with more confidence, more quickly and with a smoother style on a 6'6" to 7'0 board than a 6'0" or shorter.
Big Kids, Small Adults (40 to 70kg) and a Family All Rounder
- 8’0” Softlite Classic & Lani models
- 7’6” and 8’0” Softech models
- 7’6” and 8’0” Ocean & Earth Ezi-Rider models
- 7’6” and 8’0” G Boards Original models
- 7’6” and 8’0” Gnaraloo Softshell Surfboards
- 7’4” Gnaraloo Fatty model
Very fit and flexible adults up to 80kg will also be able to ride these 7’6” and 8’0” softboards above with success. This size softboard is also a good all round keeper for families wanting a board for kids, mum, dad and visiting friends to share and enjoy on surfing weekends and summer holidays for years to come.
Adults (70kg to 85kg)
- 8’4” Softech model
- 9’0” Ocean & Earth Ezi-Rider model
- 8’6” and 9’0” G Boards Original models
- 9’0” Gnaraloo Softshell Surfboard
- 7’4” and 8’4” Gnaraloo Fatty models
The softboards in this size range are the most commonly used by reputable surf schools in surf lessons around Australia for providing beginner adult surfers a safe, successful and fun surfing experience. As surf coaches, we have seen countless adult beginner surfers underestimate the difficulty of surfing a lower volume board and purchase their first surfboard at 8’0” or under, only to fail miserably at surfing! Apart from the very fit and flexible, most learner adults who can only surf once or twice a week or less, all year round, will benefit by riding a surfboard that is at least 8’6” in length and is thick and wide (at least 22” wide and around 3” thick). Don’t believe us? Go rent a smaller board than this and you will quickly understand what we mean! 85+kg adults along with the unfit and inflexible adult, will have more fun on the range of bigger boards below.
Big Adults (85+kg) and the less fit or flexible surfer
- 9’6” G Boards Original model
- 8’4” and 9’2” Gnaraloo Fatty models
These softboard models are awesome for big adults and the unfit or inflexible surfer wanting to enjoy surfing success. The beefed up size and volume in these softboards sits between a regular longboard and a stand up paddle board. On small wave days, catching waves is a breeze and these boards maintain their speed and connection with the wave whilst the surfer is going through their steps to stand up. The extra volume of these boards does make them difficult to negotiate bigger waves however, so stick to surfing smaller waves on these softboards and practise surfing etiquette at all times so that you and other surfers remain safe and happy in the surf.
About Surfunation's Recommended List of Softboards
Some of the softboards we recommend above are the premium quality softboards that we have tested in surf lessons over the years, coaching surfers from day one beginners to intermediate level.
Other models listed above are softboards that are readily available in most surf shops and that we see students bring along to do surf lessons on their own boards, along with softboards that we see in the water being surfed by beginners and progressing surfers that work really well.
We have intentionally left off the list the brands and models of softboards that we have observed to be either very difficult for beginner surfers to successfully ride, or poorer quality boards that are similarly priced to better quality softboards found in surf shops. Softboards that we haven’t observed in the surf or tested in surf lessons sufficiently to make a fair judgement on their suitability for beginner surfers also do not appear on the recommended list above.
Advice on Buying a Softboard for Kids and Beginner Surfers
When buying your first surfboard or that for your child, a safe softboard with flexible fins and soft rails, deck and bottom is a good option so that you minimise the risk of injury if you wipeout and your own surfboard bumps into you.
Get a well shaped, durable softboard that is the right size and you’ll have more surfing success and fun and improve your surfing skills more quickly, from the beginner stage right through to becoming an intermediate skilled surfer. Beginner surfers need volume in their surfboard for good flotation and stability which makes paddling and catching waves, standing up and surfing waves much easier. This extra volume will make a beginner softboard a little heavier and bigger to transport to the beach and carry into the surf, but once in the water a beginner will actually be able to surf on their board!
Just like buying any cheap product, when buying a softboard, you get what you pay for. Most of the cheaper models, purchased by the budget conscious and for kids, are poorly designed and although they are light to carry and look cool, especially when surfed by skilled surfers in advertisements, many are extremely difficult to learn to surf on. Many of these softboards are too small – too narrow and / or too flexy and / or too short with strange rails and foils (volume distribution).
The volumes of many cheap softboards around 6'0" in size and under aren’t that much greater than a bodyboard. So although kids will be able to have fun catching waves on these boards, most kids (and adults) will struggle to stand up and surf without disconnecting with the wave and falling off (just like they would if they tried to stand up and surf a wave on a bodyboard).
Buying a quality softboard is a good investment as they are shaped correctly to connect with and maintain flow with waves, making learning to surf, including trimming and turning along the wave face as a surfer progresses, fun and easy. They are also more durable, so will last for years and should you wish to sell it, these well designed and constructed softboards retain their resale value a lot more.
Buy a decent softboard when you are starting out - you will have way more surfing success and fun.
A Review of Softboards by Brand and Models
Softlite classic, xlite and lani range of softboards 6’6” and under
Good for skilled kids, teens and adults and tiny micro groms (under 5 year olds). Beginner surfers (even kids) will have more success learning on 7’0”+ models in the Softlite range.
Softlite classic & lani 7’0”
Great for small kids and tweens (under 40kg) wanting to learn to surf, as these boards are more stable and make catching waves and staying connected with waves easier for kids than the smaller boards in the range.
Softlite classic & lani 8’0” (biggest board in their range)
Good for bigger kids, teens & small adults (40 to 70kg). A great midsize board for families with kids learning to surf & surfer mums and dads to enjoy on surfing weekends and holidays.
Fit and flexible adults of 60 - 80kg will also be able to ride an 8’0” softlite. Less flexible or fit adults and adults of 70+kg will have more success on a 9’0” to 10’0” softboards from other brands.
Design & Surfing Performance: The well designed and durable Softlite boards make catching waves, standing up and surfing easy for beginners.
Price & Value: Premium durability and well shaped boards at similar prices to inferior quality boards from other brands makes Softlite Softboards a good value choice for kids and small adults.
Flounder Pounder & Soft Surfboards range 5’6”, 6’0” and 6’6”
Good boards for small, light kids due to the increased volume of these boards than that of boards of a similar height from many of the other brands. This extra volume makes these boards more buoyant, so paddling, catching waves, standing up and surfing is easier.
Soft Surfboard range 7’0”, 7’6”, and 8’0”
Kids, teens and small adults will find learning to surf easy and fun on these models. For families looking to buy one board for all to enjoy, the 8’0” is a great board to share waves on surfing weekends and holidays.
Soft Surfboard 9’0”
Good volume where it’s needed for average sized adults to learn to surf and improve their surfing skills due to the ease of catching and riding waves this board offers. Bigger and less fit and flexible adults will find the even higher volume Gnaraloo Fatty range of softboards a better option.
Gnaraloo Fatty range 7’4”, 8’4” and 9’2”
For bigger kids and adults and for those who want to enjoy surfing success quickly, the super high volume Gnaraloo Fatty range of softboards is an excellent choice. The stability and flow with the wave that these boards offer will have beginners standing up and riding waves sooner than on most other boards on the market.
Design & Surfing Performance: Great designs for beginner surfers with the right combination of volume, rail shape, rocker and foil make these boards up there with the best on the market in terms of surfing performance.
Price & Value: The Gnaraloo range offers very good softboards at a price that is reflective of these high quality and functional boards that are much better than most of the other softboards on the market.
Original Series 6’0”, 6’6”, 7’0”, 7’6” and 8’0”
Good kids and teens softboards for learning to surf with more volume than G Boards’ more refined Classic Series that are better suited for skilled surfers. The well designed, thicker and wider range of boards in the Original Series will have kids enjoying surfing success quickly and allow them to progress their skills well beyond the beginner stage. The 8’0” is great for surfing families to share as an all rounder on surfing weekends and holidays and to introduce visiting friends and family to the surf.
Original Series 8’6” and 9’0”
Very popular models for average sized adults, these two boards are also widely used by some of the top Australian surf schools due to their ease of use for beginner surfers and durability that withstands the testing surf lesson environment.
Original Series 9’6” and 10'6"
Like the Gnaraloo Fatty 9’2” softboard, G Boards’ 9’6” and 10'6" Original models are great for 85+kg adults or for the unfit and inflexible who need some decent volume in their surfboard to have success and fun learning to surf.
Classic Series 6’0” through to 8’0
G Boards’ lower volume Classic Series of softboards are excellent for progressing kids and teens and skilled mums and dads as an all round board for the whole family to share in some surfing fun. Add one of these boards to the family quiver and it will last for decades and become a cherished family heirloom!
G Board Summary
Design & Surfing Performance: G Boards have been building great softboards in Australia longer than the others and this history is evident in their well shaped and durable designs that are preferred by many surf schools and beginner surfers both here in Australia and around the world.
Price & Value: A premium board at a premium price, G Boards’ wide range of softboards offer a good investment for those who truly want to enjoy surfing a great board for years to come that will last a lot longer than other softboards on the market.
Softech range of softboards 6’0” and under
Suitable for tiny micro groms (under 5 year old) beginner surfers. The lack of volume and length of these boards equals less stability and flow whilst surfing waves, so all but the tiniest of beginner kids and adults wanting to have more learn to surf success should go for higher volume boards in the Softech Hand Shaped range below.
Softech 6’6” ,7’0”, 7’6” and 8’0” Hand Shaped Models
Good for small kids, tweens and teens, these four boards offer more stability due to the higher board volume and increased length, therefore catching waves and staying connected with waves is easier for kids than the smaller boards in the range.
Softech 8’4” Hand Shaped Model
Good for small and fit and flexible average sized adults or as a family all rounder to bust out on surfing holidays. The Softech 8’4” has less volume than some other brands 9’0” models, so adults who aren’t overly surf fit or flexible will have more surfing success on the higher volume 9’0” to 10’0” softboards from other brands.
Design & Surfing Performance: Durability on the whole range is very good. The narrow nosed 6'6" and 6’0” TC Pro and smaller models are either a tad too low in volume, short or flex too much for beginner surfers who will find learning to surf easier on the super fun mid sized models in the Softech Hand Shaped range.
Price & Value: Durable boards priced in the middle of the market with the mid range Hand Shaped models between 6’6” to 8’4” good fun for kids through to small adult beginner surfers.
Ocean & Earth
Grommy Softboard Range 5’6”, 6’0” and 6’6”
The Grommy range’s best model for making learning to surf successful and fun for little kids is their biggest, the 6’6”. Good volume over the nose and middle of the board will make this easy to paddle into waves, stand up and surf.
Ezi-Rider Range 7’0”, 7’6”, 8’0”
The best choice for kids, teens and small, fit adults these boards, although slightly lower in volume than what is used in most surf schools, still have enough buoyancy over the front half of the board to make catching and maintaining flow with waves whilst standing up easy. Small kids will learn more quickly on this 7’0” than the Grommy range of boards and bigger teens and small adults should go for the 8'’" model.
Good for fit, average sized adults who possess decent paddle fitness and have the flexibility to pop up to their feet on the board in one motion. Adults who don’t possess this fitness or flexibility will find higher volume 9’0” and bigger boards from other brands easier and therefore more fun to learn to surf on.
Ocean & Earth Softboards Summary
Design & Surfing Performance: Lighter and slightly lower in volume than the softboards used by many surf schools, the shape of the Ocean & Earth range of boards still offer enough flotation under the surfer’s chest for catching and riding waves easily.
Price & Value: A fun option for smaller adults and parents with kids who are wanting to buy a board that is functional and of good quality at a price that is positioned in the middle of the market, so the overall value of the softboards in the Ocean & Earth range is good.
Fluid & Flow, Core and Diva ranges
Like the smaller softboards in other brands ranges, the boards of these El Nino ranges are challenging boards for beginner surfers to learn on, for all but tiny micro groms (under 5’s) or older kids who are going to be able to surf a few times a week, all year long. The low price points, light weight and wide distribution into most surf shops contributes to the popularity of these softboards amongst parents. In the water however, the lack of volume in these boards and their construction makes them a tad too flexy and offers less buoyancy and stability than is ideal, so kids find standing up and staying connected with waves tricky.
The biggest model in the fish range, the 6’6” is a better option for small kids for some learn to surf fun. The extra width from the nose through to the tail of the board makes this an easier model for small kids to ride.
The bigger two of the cruiser models, the 7’6” and the 8’0” will also be fun for kids and lighter teens for learning to catch and ride waves. The 8’0” Cruiser is the biggest board that El Nino makes yet has less volume than other 8’0” softboards on the market, so bigger teens and adults will find softboards from other brands easier to ride.
El Nino Summary
Design & Surfing Performance: The 6’6” Fish and bigger Cruiser models are lightweight and fun softboards for small kids wanting to learn how to surf. The entry-level softboards in the El Nino range are a little too thin and flexy to make learning to surf easy, especially for bigger kids and adults.
Price & Value: A wide range of entry-level options for parents on a budget or who are hesitant to spend too much money on a surfboard for their kids, not knowing if their kid is going to keep surfing. Widely available in most surf shops, El Nino offers a 60 day warranty (check their website for more details).
* Note: the author of this article has spent the past 11 years coaching with & riding a vast range of sofboards whilst working with Manly Surf School.