Can I learn to surf on a shorter board?
February 15, 2015 9:26 PM   Subscribe

I took a few surfing lessons, using a 9 ft foamboard. I'd now like to buy a secondhand board to practise with. My instructor said to get a foamboard, nothing shorter than 8 ft 6. But all I can find on ebay secondhand is shorter boards, around 6 ft in length. (Some are sold as "funboards" or "fish" style, which I believe some people manage to learn on). Would I find one of those too frustrating?

My instructor says it's almost impossible to learn on a shorter board, but he is also trying to sell me a board for about four times what I want to spend, so I wanted to ask here for an objective opinion.

I am a woman, 1.73 cm tall and about 70kg in weight. I can catch waves and stand up most of the time in good conditions on the aforementioned long foamboards. I can't turn yet, and usually fall off before I want to. I mainly will be surfing at the Sydney beaches. I don't have any ambitions of doing tricks or getting super good. I just want to spend a few hours splashing around and enjoying lazy rides into shore in the weekends. But I do get frustrated when I can't catch any waves, which I guess might happen with a shorter board? I don't really want to buy a new board, when I might get bored with the hobby after a few months.
posted by lollusc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
I'm a beginner surfer as well, and was advised to stick with longboards by not only my instructor, but an acquaintance who's been surfing longer than I've been alive.

Acquaintance told me to aim for a foamcore at least 9' long, 22 1/2" wide and 3 3/4" thick for the right balance of buoyancy, ease of paddling out so I don't get exhausted 30 minutes into a session, and surfability -- just being able to pop up on the damn thing. And this was his recommendation for both myself (lady, 5'2" 140lbs) AND my boyfriend (5'8" 160lbs). He said it's the "sweet spot" for when you just wanna get out and catch some waves.

And I, like you, can't turn reliably and am still struggling. I think this advice may also fit the bill for you.

I tried an 8' fiberglass board once when I was surfing North Shore because I thought I was better than I am... and it was a shitshow. I was so tired from just struggling to stay on the board, I couldn't even catch anything. Not fun, don't recommend for beginners. :(
posted by Snacks at 9:55 PM on February 15, 2015

To clarify, it's not finding a foamboard that's the trouble, but finding anything that long. It seems like all the secondhand boards are much shorter, even the foamies. I've just spotted an 8ft one, but that's the longest I've seen so far, and it's still a foot shorter than was recommended to me.
posted by lollusc at 12:15 AM on February 16, 2015

Have you tried Surfboard Exchange?
posted by blob at 5:35 AM on February 16, 2015

The advice you got about it being a longboard is good advice, the part about buying a foamboard is not! Foamboards are good for your first or second time out when you don't yet know what it's like to grapple with a surfboard in the water and the people teaching you/renting you the board want to limit their liability caused by you possibly knocking yourself in the head with the board. Ultimately though, foamies are limited use-- not that you can't have fun on one, it's just they are what they are.

My advice is to get a longboard (nothing shorter than 9', and preferably something between 9'2" and 9'6"), and to get a newer one made from epoxy. Epoxy boards are light, easy to carry and paddle, and you can swap out the fins for a different ride as you progress and become opinionated about such things. If you are looking for a good, not very expensive starter board and are having trouble finding one used, I would suggest checking out Torq boards-- their longboards are very affordable for their length (about $500 USD-- usually longboards are closer to $1000). If you have more to spend and want a really easy ride, check out the Walden Mega Magic boards-- the 9' Mega Magic is so easy to paddle it feels like cheating.

It's not that you can't learn on a shorter board, it's that there's no real reason to make your life difficult when your ability, ambitions and personal style sound much more suited to longboarding. And as to the foamboards, it's not like you can't learn on a foamboard, it's just that everything about your learning experience (especially when you go to try and turn, etc) is going to be much more pleasant with a slightly better piece of equipment.

Bonus: on a longboard you can surf even when the waves are small and not very powerful, which will keep you paddling out when all the hotdoggin Aussie shortboarders can't be bothered. That means more practice for you, in a less crowded line-up.

Bonus bonus: if you are concerned about needing a roof rack to get your board to the beach and are wondering about a shortboard for the convenience of throwing it in a car, just get a foam block roof rack like this one.
posted by shaka_lulu at 1:59 PM on February 16, 2015

You say you can't turn and fall off sooner than you want to. If you try to continue learning on a board shorter than 9 feet you will likely become so frustrated you quit. Hold out for a longer foam board, or buy an older fiberglass longboard from craigslist. One of my favorite boards is an old 9'6" with fiberglass that has yellowed, and multiple patched dings. Always check the nose, rail, and tail for cracks that let in water.

For some context:
A longer board has a longer effective waterline which will track in a straighter line.
Conversely, a shorter board will turn more readily. Until you have more control on a shorter board, you are more likely to initiate uncontrolled turns and fall off.

Many shorter boards held out as "funshapes" or "fish" are thicker - which improves floatation but does nothing for stability on the wave. Typical fiberglass shortboards are 2.5" thick, give or take a few eighths. Funshapes/Fish may approach 3 inches thick.

I understand not being ready to spend $300+ on a board when you're not very experienced.
In my experience, many folks won't go to the trouble of posting a foam board on Craigslist. Maybe try a WTB (Want to buy) posting?
posted by ElGuapo at 2:25 PM on February 16, 2015

Hmm... okay, I guess I'll keep hiring boards for now then and watching ebay and gumtree. (Craigslist isn't really a thing here.)

Surfboard exchange doesn't have any boards above 7 ft listed.
posted by lollusc at 3:48 PM on February 16, 2015

Also, talk to other surfers in the water - don't be afraid to ask if they know of any used boards for sale. There's a meetup for Bondi that highlights beginner surfers - even if you don't go you might find someone there who would pass on an old beater board for next to nothing.

If you do the ROI and decide it makes sense to spend a little more money, maybe check the consignment racks at the surf shops. Depending on how much progress you feel you're making, you could go as short as 7'6", but as a beginner look for rounded noses and tails.

This 7'6", is 2 7/8" thick, but the nose is a little narrow for easily catching waves.

This 8' shape hits the sweet spot for learning and continuing to enjoy

Pura Vida!
posted by ElGuapo at 10:24 AM on February 17, 2015

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