How To Choose The Right Surfboard In Australia
Buying the right surfboard as a beginner or progressing surfer is one of the most important decisions to get right if you want to have fun and success at surfing. Get the wrong surfboard and you may well lose interest in learning to surf as it's not much fun getting tired whilst trying your best, without success, to catch waves, stand up on a board and surf.
The most common mistake people make is buying a surfboard that is too small (not enough volume). Put simply, the bigger the surfboard (higher the volume) the easier it is to learn to surf and to improve your surfing more quickly.
Types of surfboards suitable for beginners and progressing surfers
Longboard (or Malibu): Buoyant and stable, longboards are a good choice for adult beginner surfers as they are easier to catch waves, stand up and surf on (even safer as a softboard). Longboards perform well in small, slow breaking spilling waves when surfers of all levels can enjoy the fun of trimming along the wave face. Typically 9 to 12 feet long, 2.5 to 3 inches thick and 22 to 24 inches wide.
Minimal (or Funboard): A smaller, lower volume version of the longboard, Minimals are a good choice for kids (and tiny adults) to learn to surf on, or for the progressing surfer looking for more maneuverability and the challenge of surfing slightly steeper wave faces. Minimals come in a wide range of volumes so adult beginner surfers looking to start out on a minimal should stick to higher volume versions (longer, thicker and wider, eg: 8 feet long x 22 inches wide x 3 inches thick) as many of these minimals on the market are way too thin for adult learners - better yet, adults will learn to surf more quickly by learning on a higher volume Malibu in small waves. Minimals typically range from 6 to 8 feet long, 2.5 to 3 inches thick and 20 to 22 inches wide.
Fish and Retro boards: A popular option for intermediate and advanced surfers, along with kids, who can perform maneuvers on the wave face during small surf days when wave energy is low. These shorter boards still possess a good amount of volume, and a flatter rocker, making them easier to catch waves with and maintain speed through flat sections of waves on than low volume, pointy nosed shortboards.
Softboards: To increase your safety (and that of other surfers), start out by learning to surf on a foam softboard with soft flexible fins. The most common surfing injury occurs from surfers being hit by their own surfboard. If your board bumps into you, hard fibreglass or epoxy surfboards with stiff fins hurt a lot more than a safe softboard. Softboards today come in varying styles and volumes, including longboard, funboard and fish designs.
Why a big surfboard in small waves is best for beginners
Big surfboards make it easier to paddle and catch waves on which is needed as our paddle fitness and wave knowledge is low when learning to surf. Big surfboards also make it more stable and easier to stand up and surf a wave on, also needed whilst learning and improving our pop up technique (especially for many adults with lower core strength and flexibility).
Try to practise surfing on your big surfboard in small waves, as you'll find it less tiring paddling through the wave breaking zone so you'll actually have the energy to catch waves! Find a spot with small spilling waves that form and break slowly as you'll have more time to catch, stand up and surf the wave before it's too steep. Or, if the waves are big or are dumping on shallow sandbars during lower tides, stick to riding whitewater waves. The more waves you catch, the more quickly you'll improve your surfing. If you can't paddle through the surf zone and negotiate multiple waves on bigger surf days understand that your surfboard is not too big, but rather, at this progressive stage of your surfing development, those waves are still too big for you!
Some common reasons why people choose a surfboard that is too small include:
- it's easier to travel with by public transport to the beach,
- I want to fit the surfboard in my car,
- so my small child can carry the board,
- because it's easier to duck dive on big wave days,
- it only costs $50 or a mate gave it to me for free,
- because big boards are too heavy,
- I want to look cool.
These reasons may be valid but someone who purchases a surfboard that is too small for their surfing level for the reasons above, whilst these needs may be fulfilled, they most likely won't have much success at even catching waves let alone surfing. Remember that the surfers you see riding small boards really well have been surfing for decades or have practiced for many hundreds or even thousands of hours...
Becoming a good surfer (and having a heap of fun) is about catching waves, so stick to a big surfboard when starting out, go to a surf spot where the waves are small and guaranteed you'll catch more waves and therefore improve your surfing more quickly than you would on a board that is too small.
The next surfboard for progressing surfers
As your surfing knowledge, fitness and skills improve, and if you do want to ride a smaller board, make sure your next surfboard isn't too much smaller (lower in volume) than your existing surfboard that you have been successfully riding. Too often people underestimate the difficulties in riding a much smaller surfboard and take too big a step when buying their second or third surfboard.
Some of the challenges progressing surfers face when riding a smaller surfboard include:
- smaller surfboards sink lower in the water, so are more tiring to paddle around on,
- surfers often catch the green wave too late when the wave face is too steep due to a lack of paddle fitness and more importantly lack of wave knowledge / positioning - this leads to lots of nose dives,
- a quick and smooth pop up technique is needed to survive these steeper take offs,
- when popping up, the surfer's front foot often ends up too far back on the board, so with too much weight on the back of the board, they disconnect with the wave and fall off the back of the board.
Before you think about getting a smaller board, make sure you can confidently and easily negotiate waves as you paddle out the back, spot and catch green waves (both spilling and dumping waves) and pop up to your feet with a smooth and fast technique before the wave is too steep. It is also good to know how to turn with control and trim along the wave face both left and right and how to straighten towards the beach to avoid another surfer or before a section of wave closes out (breaks) in front of you.
If you are keen to progress to riding a smaller surfboard, just make sure that the board still has some decent volume, especially under your chest and throughout the front half of the board to make paddling and catching waves easier and so the board maintains flow with the wave. So, if you want to ride a shorter surfboard than what you have been riding, just remember that the shorter the board, the wider / thicker the board should also be to ensure that you maintain and improve your surfing success. Buying a surfboard that is shorter, thinner and narrower than the board you have been successfully riding is not impossible, but if you realistically can only go surfing once or maybe twice a week it may prove to be a frustrating journey...
The best way to choose and buy a surfboard in Australia
Surf Shops: All around Australia, surf shops with a wide range of new and second hand surfboards can be found where friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you to choose the right surfboard for your level of surfing. Ask questions and when asked a question about your level of surfing, make sure you give honest answers. Trying to be cool in the surf shop and overstating your surfing prowess or how often you are going to surf definitely won't be cool when you end up with a surfboard that you can't even ride!
Demo boards: Some good surf shops will allow you to try a demo board to see if the surfboard suits your needs. You could even book a demo surfboard from a surf shop and a private surf lesson from a surf school at the same time so that a surf coach can advise you if the board is appropriate, and if so, some tips on how to ride the board successfully.
Ask your surf coach: Take a surf lesson, tell your surf coach that you want to buy a surfboard and ask for their advice on what surfboard is right for you. Of all the people you can seek advice from, your surf coach knows more about where your surfing is at and what surfboard you need so that you can continue to improve your surfing and have the most fun in the water.
Rent a surfboard: Rent from a surf shop or borrow and swap different surfboards in different conditions with a mate (stay safe and stick to smaller, spilling waves). If you are really keen to ride a smaller surfboard, definitely go and rent or borrow a mate's smaller board before you buy one. If after attempting to ride a smaller board you fail miserably, don't lose heart, remember learning to ride a small board well requires a long journey of years (and decades) of surfing practice.
Gumtree, eBay and online surfboard classified websites: Search online for second hand surfboards. Like when buying other products, at times, absolute bargain priced surfboards can be bought online. However, don't go wasting your money on buying a surfboard based purely on it's low price, as a $50 or even $250 surfboard may be totally inappropriate for your level of surfing. Also beware of the online ads that spruik 'perfect for beginners', as many of these surfboards are way too small for adult beginners and that may well be why they are up for sale...
So go find that surfboard that is perfect for you, along with a surf spot with the right surf conditions for learning, hit the water and have fun. Good luck!