“The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”
- Phil Edwards
Use this guide as a simple explanation of a few board shapes you will encounter in your foray into surfing.
Having the right surfboard can make an enormous difference when surfing. You must spend the time reading the ocean, familiarizing yourself with the break, and learning board shapes in order to choose the optimal equipment. Imagine yourself biking up a huge hill, but all you have is a single-speed beach cruiser. Your trip up that hill is unnecessarily difficult and frustrating, made worse by the cyclist passing you by on their road bike and climbing with ease. When in quiver doubt, ask a trained professional for advice, or take a surf lesson to get the hang of riding your new board. Eventually the surfboard becomes an extension of your body as you fly through countless adventures in the ocean.
The funboard lives up to its name. They are easier to ride than most other shapes and are wide and stable. Beginners, heavier surfers, and advanced surfers looking for a great time favor funboards. These boards typically range from 6 to 9 feet in length with many variations available on the market. Many funboard shapes tend to have a soft-top, making it a much safer and cheaper board on which to learn.
A soft-top is a board with a soft foam deck. They do not require waxing, won’t ding, and are much less painful if you find yourself tangled up with your board. They are great for most conditions, but their bulk can result in sluggish turns. Funboards trim well and allow for clean, deliberate turns.
The longboard may be the best choice for any and every surfer in small conditions as it tends to be the ultimate wave-catching machine. Longboards are 8 feet plus and are therefore the easiest boards on which to paddle and balance. The extra volume also helps you catch waves early, allowing for drawn-out and more forgiving pop-ups. Keep in mind that since the board is long, adjustments in body position while prone and foot placement while standing are often necessary. Paddling into the wave requires awareness of the nose position as to not pearl (nose-dive) or sink the back of the board, which slows you down resulting in a missed opportunity. More advanced longboarders will take these adjustments and turn them into stylish moves, ranging from cross-stepping to nose-riding.
The nose of the longboard is typically rounded and the board has a single fin or a 2 + 1 setup and a blocky tail to lock into the wave. These boards are almost always a good time and are ridden by surfers of every skill level.
This is the surfboard design that brought surfing to the public eye at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach from the 30’s - 50’s. The evolution of surfboard design has originated from the goal of making longboards more maneuverable and versatile in various conditions.
Ride your longboard in just about any condition from knee-high peelers to big surf, and always follow wave etiquette!
Stemming from the kneeboarding scene in San Diego during the 60’s-80’s, the fish is another option for surfers of varying skill levels. Shorter and wider than a standard shortboard, this board is a good choice for anything from small, fast surf to mushy days. Typically, these boards are shorter than a standard shortboard because of their increased width and thickness. However, beginners often choose a bigger version of this board for a responsive feel similar to that of a shortboard without the necessary strength needed to paddle and generate speed.
Traditional fishes are ridden as a twin fin while high performance fishes are ridden with four fins, also known as a quad setup. These boards are quite loose, allowing for nice flowy turns and a fast ride. However, they also tend to be more squirrely than a shortboard and can slide out in big surf, so watch your bottom turns!
One of the most common mistakes for beginners is purchasing a high performance shortboard and paddling out, only to find themselves missing every wave that comes by, ending in exhaustion and frustration. This is a result of inexperience, easily cured by a simple surf lesson. This board option is favored by most professional surfers and is often mistakenly purchased as a first board because of their popularity and presence in surf media. In reality, it is far more beneficial to begin on one of the aforementioned options and progress to riding a shortboard.
Shortboards are lower in volume and are harder to paddle than more voluminous boards such as those mentioned above. This leaves less experienced surfers unable to catch waves and sinking on the waves they do catch. However, the shortboard is a more popular choice for experienced surfers because of its maneuverability and hold in critical sections of the wave. These boards typically have three fins, known as a thruster setup, or four fins, known as a quad setup.
The boards range from 5 to 7 feet long and often requires the most work to keep moving down the line. Once you get the feel and the board becomes comfortable under your feet, you’ll be hitting the lip and pulling into barrels in no time…
These boards are best ridden in bigger and more powerful conditions. When the waves are small, grab your high volume shortboard, or size up...
Mid-Lengths or Step-Ups range from 6 to 8 feet in length and are great boards for larger and more challenging conditions. These boards are either blown-up versions of a shortboard or are retro, throwback shapes, such as eggs and pintails. Most step-ups are ridden as a thruster or quad setup, but single fins are also seen on mid-lengths. Remember that the bigger the wave is, the faster it moves. Speed is needed for maneuverability on these boards, so only ride them when the conditions call for it and make sure you feel comfortable with what is on hand.
This is your big-wave board. Ranging from 8 to 11 feet, these boards are meant for paddling into big, critical surf. These boards are reserved for those who have truly earned their right to surf these types of waves: waves of consequence. Only about 1% of the top 1% of surfers are surfing in conditions like these… so you may want to hold off on this option for now!
Surfing is a sport of opportunity. This opportunity comes in the form of waves, and just as in real life, more opportunities lead to greater improvement. With each wave, surfers are able to learn more about themselves as athletes, and increase their knowledge of the sport as each success and each wipeout offers a lesson. From these collective experiences, surfers gain invaluable knowledge that can assist in improving future sessions.
Many beginners will purchase the wrong board and get frustrated, which is easily avoidable. Tap into local resources: surf schools or instructors, surf shop employees, or highly experienced surfers. If you are still not sure, Aqua Surf instructors will help you identify and achieve goals, develop and find your surfing style, and pick the ideal boards.
Read up on surfboard design, talk to instructors, take surf lessons, but most importantly, head out there with a sense of purpose, perseverance and stay stoked!