It's an exciting time getting your first surfboard, but it can also be a bit confusing in terms of what to look for! Hopefully these tips will help you in making sure you find that magic surfboard right off the bat!
For the purposes of this guide we're going to assume that you've had at least 5 lessons with us here at Big Green, that you've had a go at catching unbroken waves, your paddling is pretty good and when on a 7-8ft foamie you're making basic turns. If you think you're at a different level then there'll still be some useful info in here but feel free to get in touch with any queries you might have.
New or Used
This is the first choice you need to make, we would always recommend going for a used board, aside from the fact that it'll be a lot cheaper, there's a very good reason behind this. It is almost a guarantee that you're going to damage your first board pretty quickly, it's just what tends to happen unfortunately!
If you've splashed our hundreds of pound on a shiny new stick and you drive it into the sand on the first wave you're going to be a bit upset! Also for your surfing you don't ever want to be holding back, worried that you might damage a board by going on a wave, if you've got a board that's a bit more beaten up then you're more likely to commit to all your waves. Once you've got everything a bit more dialled, then you can look for something a bit fancier.
When we talk about shape we mean the 'outline' shape of the board. To start with make sure you look for a round nose & full tail, similar to the outline of the foam-boards you'll have surfed with us at the surf school. These types of board will be more forgiving and really help with your progression. The name of this shape is a MiniMal, everyone you speak to will know what that means.
This does depend a lot on the other factors discussed below, but as a very rough guide we'd suggest that if you're a regular build, then a board around a foot and a half (45cm or so) taller than you are as a minimum should be a good starting point.
So if you're 6ft then go for at least a 7'6" board, 5'8" then go for a 7'2" or bigger and so on. As with all the dimensions discussed below, it always depends on other factors, here's a few examples:
• Build - If you're a bit bigger than average then get a bigger board, if you're skinny and slender then you could get a bit of a smaller board.
• Paddling ability - bigger boards paddle easier, smaller boards need you to do a bit more work.
• Type of Waves - If the waves you'll generally be surfing are quicker, steeper waves then a longer board might be harder to handle, whereas a more gently spilling "fatter" wave will need a bit more size in the board in order to catch them.
Width, Thickness, & Volume
Look at these dimensions in conjunction with the length and shape, but as a rough guide boards will fall into these 2 categories:
• Thick, wide boards with lots of volume will be easier to paddle and provide you with a bit more balance. On the flip-side they won't be as responsive and could be harder to turn when up and riding.
• Thin, narrow boards with less volume will be much more responsive and generally faster when surfing, but they'll be much harder to balance on and you'll have to work a lot more to catch the wave in the first place.
A quick additional note on width of boards - make sure you ALWAYS pick a board up and stick it under your arm before buying it. We've seen plenty of smaller surfers who buy a board that theoretically would work well for them in the water, but they haven't got arms long enough to carry it to the water!
Looking for damage (dings)
Obviously if you've gone for a new board then this shouldn't be an issue, always give it a check though! For used boards you'll be lucky to find one without at least a bit of damage but you need to have a good check as to how bad the damage is and how well it's been repaired. Before we get to identifying dings we're going to assume that you want to buy a board you can jump in the water with straight away, obviously if you're happy to either repair the board yourself or pay for some repairs then that opens up a lot more possibilities.
• First thing to check is whether the board is watertight, if there are any dings that expose the foam underneath then it'll fill with water if you surf it. On hairline cracks you can try to run your fingernail over it, if it catches then water might be able to get in.
• Give it a squeeze, if the board feels spongy or if it's got a bit of discolouration (yellowing), then it means the foam core has been damaged by water, this can cause you a lot of problems in the long run.
• Feel over any repairs and have a good look at them. A decent ding-repair shouldn't alter the shape of the board at all, if you run your hand over it you shouldn't really feel it, it certainly shouldn't have a bump or lump as you feel it.
• Check out the design on the board, especially if it looks like it's been sprayed over the top of the fibreglass. Often this is done to hide repairs or even snaps so worth having a good check over or bringing an experienced surfer with you.
• If the fins are in then give them a light wobble and check they're not loose. If they're not then check around the fin plugs for cracks as this is a common area for damage.
• If the board feels heavier than it should (try picking up other boards of similar size) then it's a sign that it's taken on water. Also if the weight distribution isn't even (nose is a lot heavier than the tail for example), then it could be waterlogged inside.
Firstly you need to see if the fins are glassed-in (permanently attached to the board) or removable (most common). Glassed in fins generally aren't as practical for most surfers, despite being more responsive, they're very easily damaged and a bit of a nightmare to travel in. Unless you're absolutely set on the board then go for a removable fin-system.
The 3 most common fin-systems are FCS, FCSII & Futures. If you've got one of these systems you'll find replacements fins really easy to come-by, whilst other fin systems do exist you might find it a bit trickier to find replacements if you knock a fin out.
In terms of number of fins, you'll find boards with 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 fins. We're going to go into the differences between fin setups in another blog post, however for your first board we'd recommend going for a 'Thruster' (3 fins). Thruster's are pretty much the standard, it's a great grounding point, will work in almost all waves and will be the best for your surfing development.
There are a few new technologies emerging, but generally you'll see either 'standard-construction' Poly-Urethane Foam & Fibreglass boards, or Epoxy boards. Standard construction boards are prone to dings from time-to-time and certainly aren't the most eco-friendly option, but every ding-repair guy in the world will be able to fix the board for you and you'll even be able to do it yourself.
Good quality epoxy boards are generally a bit tougher so won't damage as easily, however the market is flooded with cheap, poorly made boards which can be nothing short of terrible. It can also sometimes be hard to find a ding-repairer who'll work with epoxy so that's worth bearing in mind when making your purchase.
As with all purchases, prices can vary massively, especially in the used surfboard market, but as a rough guide between £150-£250 should get you a fairly decent used board, for a decent new board expect to pay upwards of £400 as a minimum.
If your buying new then don't just order one online. Take the time to visit the shaper or a reputable surf-shop like Sunset Surf in Newquay, speak to them about your surfing and what you're looking for and they'll be able to offer you sound advice.
If you're going for a used board then don't EVER buy the board without seeing it in person first. There's a lot of things that are easy to hide on a photograph and a lot of things that you won't have a clue about without picking the board up and having a feel.
As always BGSS are happy to give advice free-of-charge so ping us a message, send us a picture of the board your looking at or just give us a call and we're always happy to help.