For someone new to the sport of surfing, the most essential purchase – that of buying a new board – is the most bewildering. The process used to be reasonably straightforward, but time and tide have marched on, so the options have increased dramatically. There are so many different types of surfboards out there. In this guide, we are going to cover the different surfboard types.
There are many ways how to choose the right surfboard, but it is based mainly on two things:
1. Your level of expertise
2. The type of waves that you tend to surf the most.
The most common surfboard types are:
- The soft top
- The fish
- Retro surfboards
- High-performance short boards
- The step-up
- Big wave surfboards
Choosing the right type of surfboard is crucial, both for your learning curve and performance. Each type of surfboard provides different advantages and disadvantages. The right surfboard for you, depends on your level, your body metrics, and the conditions you are about to surf.
Let’s start by breaking down the different types of surfboards
The soft top
The soft top surfboard has been trending for a while, popularized by Jamie O’Brien and his CatchSurf boards. Jamie has of the more popular YouTube vlogs, and he strongly punts the CatchSurf soft top brand. It’s because they’re one of the best and JOB does his bit in showing all the different types of soft-top surfboards and their uses.
As in most categories, soft tops come in various lengths and in different thicknesses, but the soft top is designed to have fun and be safe. There are no rules to the sizes of soft tops, with young kids riding long soft tops, and adult surfers riding tiny boards.
Many years ago, the soft top was introduced to circumvent the black ball beach rules that saw surfboards banned from beaches restricted to swimmers. Soft tops were not classified as surfboards, and thus surfers could still use them in bathing areas. It is also the best type of surfboard for beginners, that’s why you will find this surfboard type, at any given surf school.
A fish surfboard is also a fun board that was popular many years ago but has come back into fashion. The fish is a short and thick surfboard with extra foam for buoyancy and a wide swallow tail for more drive in smaller surf.
Being thicker and wider, it is effortless to catch waves, especially on small days. It is super loose and skatey, for fun sessions when the waves are small and gutless. When it comes to surfboard types and uses, the fish is focused on small waves and having fun.
A retro surfboard is any surfboard with an old-fashioned style and characteristic. Before we knew enough about surfboards’ dynamics, before surfboard length guides and surfboard height guides, all boards were short and thick. They had minimal rocker and were flat under the chest.
They were surfed more with planning characteristics than rail surfing, with surfers gliding with style instead of ripping hard. Many surfers admire the retro surfers’ traits and choose retro surfboards to surf with the same style and glide. Being short and stubby, retro surfboards tend to go great but are not ideal when the waves get big, powerful, and hollow.
As surfboards progressed and surfing as a sport became more dynamic and obsessed with coolness, many people were riding the wrong surfboards. They were simply copying their heroes, but the best surfers in the world ride very different boards to your average surfer like you and me.
Luckily surfers like former Australian pro surfer and journalist Derek Hynd and others came along and pointed out that many people were not having enough fun. They were quite simply struggling with boards not designed for them. Thus the floodgates of fun surfboards were opened, and anything went. It no longer was an issue if a board was fat and rounded and wide and ugly looking – if it got you into waves, then it was accepted and respected. Funboards generally evolved into a shape and paradigm where they had the most paddling ability than any other boards but were low performance. There are all types of surfboards in the marketplace, but the fun board is focused on surfers catching waves above all else and having fun.
A unique surfboard popularized by 4 times World Champion Australian legend Mark Richards, the twin-fin changed the world when it was invented. The whole world comprised single fin or single keeled boards, and the twin fin opened up the world of high-performance surfing.
Twins can go to places on a wave that single fins couldn’t fit by having two fins instead of one. It saw a massive increase in surfboard performance and surfing popularity.
Twin-fins are generally ridden by experienced surfers in small waves.
Something relatively new to the system, the mid-length surfboard doesn’t really fit into any shortboard size guide or as a type of longboard surfboard. A mid-length has a shortboard outline, but the shortboard is extended to a length between 7’0 and 7’6. Any fin configuration, be it a twin, three fins, or quad, will work on a mid-length and they are long and paddle great.
It is mainly for experienced surfers, but it can be used for beginners due to its paddling and wave-catching performance.
There are two types of longboards – a standard longboard, and a log longboard. The traditional longboard can have any characteristic, can be any weight, and can have any number of fins. In competitive surfing, there are some extremely light, high-performance longboards on which people compete. They are finely tuned and can be surfed incredibly well in all conditions.
A log is a retro surfboard that has specific criteria that make it a log. It needs to be a certain weight and a minimum length, it can only have a single fin set-up, the rails are always soft, and it has to be surfed without a leash. It may seem counterintuitive, but a log is difficult to surf.
The high-performance shortboard is the surfboard type that surfers like John John Florence, Kelly Slater, Jordy Smith, and Kanoa Igarashi compete on while surfing on the Championship Tour.
HPS is the cutting edge of surfboard technology and manufacturing equipment. They are finely tuned, are finished off to perfection, and the dimensions are measured down to the millimeters. They are super light and thus super fragile, and they are the type of surfers used to execute massive aerial moves and win heats and contests.
They should only be used by outstanding surfers, and are wasted on anyone else. Bad decisions on selecting high-performance surfboards by so many people are what saw the Fun Board era come about.
The step-up surfboard
Somewhere between the high-performance surfboard, and a big wave surfboard (gun), lies a realm that consists of big powerful waves that are too big for the shortboard, but too small for a gun. Enter the step-up.
This surfboard type is a high-performance shortboard, with many tweaks to enable the board to still function when the surf starts pounding. While the surfboard plan shape stays the same, an inch or two of extra length is added. A decent amount of volume is also added, the nose is rocker given just the slightest extra tweak. The tail is pulled in ever so slightly. So although it’s not that much bigger than the high-performance shortboard, the step-up has all the characteristics needed to surf bigger waves with confidence.
Big Wave Surfboard
These are also referred to as guns or rhino chasers. They are reserved for the crazy surfers who take on waves like Jaws, Mavericks, and Nazaré, arguably the three biggest waves in the world.
Guns are designed to catch giant waves and provide stability and safety in massive surf while dealing with streaming winds, enormous chops, and scary situations. They are for experts only and are not considered by anyone else unless you want to use it as a wall ornament.
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Pick the right surfboard size
There are a few rules of thumb:
- If you are a beginner, your board choice will be based around a super stable board that can float you. A general guide to surfboards for beginners is that your board will be wide, and it will be thick. It needs to be at least one foot taller than you are, but it can be any length up to 10 foot, as long as you can paddle it and not fall off.
- A guide to choosing a longboard is similar. Still, when it comes to a longboard, it’s ok to get a heavier and stronger board as it will often be going in fairly straight lines.
- A guide to choosing a small board if you’re a competent surfer is that it needs to be about 4 inches longer than you are. If it’s longer than that, it might make it a bit cumbersome, but anything less than that could be too short and whippy.
- The under-the-arm rule. If you watch someone feeling a new board for the first time and tend to pick a board up and feel it by holding it under an arm. Sometimes a board just feels right immediately, and sometimes a board feels a little bit off. It’s an intuitive process, and it works for experienced surfers.
Most surfboard brands have a volume calculator on their website, that will guide you to the right dimensions.
Your level of expertise determine the surfboard type
1. Absolute beginner
For this category, you’re going to need a forgiving surfboard, most likely a fun board or a soft top, that has plenty of volume and is really forgiving. Soft, easy rails, lots of foam, a surfboard made to paddle well and catch waves easily.
2. Competent surfers
These surfers know what they’re doing, and they know what they want to do on a wave. Still, sometimes the body doesn’t synch perfectly to the mid at this stage, and these surfers need to practice a bit harder and get closer to their 10,000 hours. These surfers need less board, though, and while it isn’t time for a high-performance shortboard, these surfers will enjoy a fun board, a retro board, a fish, and a mid-length type of surfboard. This equipment is made to paddle effortlessly and catch waves, but with enough high-performance tweaks in the outline and the rocker to enable those surfers to do some fairly radical turns.
3. The expert surfer
This is the zone of the high-performance shortboard.
The best way to choose a shortboard if you’re an expert surfer is simply getting a board that is the same height as you. A 5’7 surfer can comfortably ride a 5’7 surfboard provided they have the appropriate level of fitness. If you’re an expert surfer, then you are most definitely fit.
4. The older surfer
These surfers generally tend to ride longboards and mid-lengths and some fun boards and maybe a few retros. Surfing is only for fun, and possibly keeping fit, and surfboard choice is all about fun and enjoyment. Nothing else is of importance, and these surfers choose what they need to keep surfing.
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There are many different surfboard types, including soft tops, retros, fish, funboards, mid-length surfboards, longboards, logs, high-performance shortboards, step-ups, and big wave guns.
The best volume calculator is the lost/mayhem calculator: https://lostsurfboards.net/surfboard-volume-calculator/
You can also use a simple chart like the one from: Pyzel
A simple slider that lets you work out the best volume according to your weight and fitness level.
For a beginner, a couple of feet taller than you, for a competent surfer, 4 inches taller, for an expert surfer the same height as you, and for a longboard of a mid-length surfer, as tall as you like.
Your surfboard size dependent on so many factors including age, weight, height, experience, and the type of waves that you surf the most.
A soft top surfboard usually cost between $250 and $450, depending on brand and model. A new Firewire costs about $800. The price of a regular hard top surfboard usually begins at 600$ – A new Firewire costs about $800.
Many people who know exactly what they want, order their surfboards online. There are many surf shops, but it is still a satisfying experience buying online if you know your needs and dimensions.