The Complete Surfboard Progression Guide for Beginner and Intermediate Surfers

June 29, 2019 4 Comments

A surfer never forgets that first surfboard. Now outdated, undersized, and obsolete (if not sacrificed to the surf gods,) our first boards are still the foundation of our oldest surf stories, riddled with fish tales and mythical surf lore. For some, it was a chunky, faded soft top; others, dad’s old longboard. For myself, it was a 7 foot Spyder step-up, long outgrown by my “cool” uncle, adorned with fluorescent Bubblegum Wax, Gotcha, and Maui & Sons stickers. As much as we loved those boards, they weren’t the best beginner surfboards.  

As surfing popularity has continued to stretch across all reaches of the globe via the world wide web and huge surf brand ad campaigns, new surfers are arriving at every coast from all walks of life, young and old, large and small, and their boards range in just as many variations. 

One thing is for certain, for most surfers just starting out, they’re often on boards they have no business waxing up! We’re here to help you avoid that. Even if surfings’ original rebel culture stands against this notion, we believe there’s a board for every surfer, especially the newbie! 

Learning to surf is unforgiving and challenging, a true soul-searching adventure of humility and glorious discovery. We won’t rob you of that. Our goal is to help educate you and guide you to the right starting place, which begins with your first surfboard. From there, we’ll guide you through the progression of surfboard types, from beginner to advanced, with our favorite choices along the way. 

Once you’ve read this article, you’ll have all the knowledge necessary to make an informed, educated decision when it comes time to picking out the best surfboard for you.

What are the essential ingredients to the best beginner surfboard?

BUOYANCY & STABILITY

Yes, it really is that simple… 

If you stick to this formula for your first board you’re maximizing your results of success in becoming a confident, new surfer. So what do we mean by beginner surfboard that’s buoyant and stable? How’s that going to translate to success in the early stages of surfing? 

When a surfboard is buoyant, it’s “floaty.” A surfboard with good float sits high in the water, and helps you maintain glide through your paddle stroke. This is the first half of learning to surf, learning how to paddle. A buoyant surfboard will give you the speed advantage. A short, less buoyant board will get you stuck on the inside, paddling pits deep, and eventually sent back to shore, totally defeated!

The other half of the puzzle is stability. With more surface area to stand on and planing surface gliding through the water, larger boards are more stable and give you a better shot and keeping your balance. The larger the board, the more stable it will be, meaning the more waves you’ll ride, and that’s our goal, more waves. A small board will leave you dragging through the water, falling over, and watching the wave pass you by.  

Now that we’ve established that a longboard surfboard is the call for you, you’ll feel much more confident when it comes to practicing all the tools needed for surfing: Paddling technique and strength, pop-up speed and technique, and finally, once you get your toes in the wax, foot placement and balance. These will be the essential building blocks of your journey to becoming a surfer!

Types of surfboard constructions. What’s all this Epoxy and Poly business?

Epoxy is one of the most common beginner surfboard constructions because it tends to be more ding resistant and more buoyant. Also at the entry level price point, they tend to be more affordable than Poly boards.  

Poly surfboards are the more traditional form of the two constructions. Though they’re heavier and can tend to ding more often, the craftsmanship is unparallelled, and fully customizable. The feel of a Poly board underfoot is also unmatched by most epoxy boards, but for now, as a new surfer, these are irrelevant points.  

While there are beginner and advanced ends of the spectrum on any given surfboard style, we’ll start at the most stable and buoyant board, which is the easiest to learn on, and finish with the most advanced board, the shortboard, which is the least buoyant and least stable, making it the most difficult surfboard to ride. As you progress in your surfing, you’ll eventually downsize in surfboard length to the ever-popular shortboard. Be patient. You’ll get there eventually.


*Disclaimer: What we’re saying, is that there are no shortcuts in surfing. In fact, if you attempt to try a shortcut straight to “ripping” on a shortboard, it will take you longer to learn how to surf. We only say this because, at one point, most of us have made this mistake. So stay true to this roadmap. Stay at each destination until you’re confident with your board, and most of all, enjoy the ride! The joy of surfing is in the journey, not the destination. 

So, to get this surfboard progression under way. We’re going to start you off on the best bet to get you a ton of waves and get you on your feet as soon as possible. We’re talking about the longboard surfboard. 

STEP #1 - The Longboard


Keeping things simple, a longboard is any surfboard with a full outline, that’s 8ft and up. By full outline, we mean a round nose and wider, thicker rails than a funboard or shortboard. This is the best place to start. As we saw earlier, a bigger board will be more stable and buoyant. Those are the key ingredients for smoother paddling, easier pop-ups, and more waves ridden. 

A general rule of thumb for length is 3 feet taller than your height. If you’re on the lighter side for your height, you can go down 6 inches, heavier, go up 6 inches. I’m 5’11 and have always been a bigger guy. A 9’6 is my sweet spot for a longboard. It’s the perfect balance of buoyant and stable, while also feeling maneuverable while scratching for a wave or making a bottom turn!


Longboards come in many different flavors. We suggest two basic styles; performance, and classic. 

A performance longboard has a touch more rocker than a classic longboard. This helps keep your nose out of the sand and you from going over the handlebars! Modern rails allow the board to plane quickly and smoothly for better control and speed. Modern fin boxes bring variety and choice to how your board turns and creates speed. 

The classic longboard sticks true to the golden era of surfboard design. Lower rocker, 50-50 (soft) rails and a large single fin setup make the board slow and steady through turns and caters to paddle glide and momentum down the line.  


 

As a reminder, here are the benefits of starting your surfing journey on a longboard:

  • Longboards make it easy to catch even the smallest of waves. No bad days!
  • Longboards are more stable, making it easier to get to your feet, and less likely to tip over.
  • Longboards are more buoyant which means they glide easier on the water when paddling.
  • Longboards require all the essential skills to progress on to more advanced surfboards.

Here’s our best picks for your first longboard:

  • The Ultimate (epoxy longboard) – available 8’ to 10’
  • The Classic (poly longboard) – available 9’4” to 9’8”

Step #2 - The Funboard Surfboard

Our goal with transitioning into funboard or mid-length surfboards is to take the skills we’ve gained on our longboard, and add the perks of a more maneuverable surfboard to score a more exciting ride! It’s important to know when to make this jump down in size from a longboard to a funboard. Here’s what we suggest you have under your belt before you take the leap:

  • You have graduated from catching whitewater, to catching unbroken waves out at the lineup.
  • You have learned how to time when to paddle out. 
  • You are learning where the takeoff spot is at your favorite wave.
  • You ride more waves than you wipe out on.
  • Once you’re on your feet, you can navigate a smooth bottom to top turn.
  • You’re learning to bring the board back to the power pocket of the wave.

If you can confidently grin at the majority of this list, you’re ready to take your surfing to the next level and start your journey towards becoming an intermediate surfer. There’s an even wider array of funboard styles than there are longboards; the choice is up to you and how far you’ve progressed with your longboard! Funboards range in length from about 6ft to just over 8ft.

For our fun board overview, we’ve chosen 3 favorite mid-length surfboard styles.

If you love all the full-bodied aspects of your longboard and just want something more nimble, an egg shape is a great choice. They look and feel like mini longboards, maintaining the most stability and buoyancy out of any funboard. The shorter length and thinner rails make it easier to wrap your turns. 

If you’re interested in more speed down the line and still want that smooth flow through turns, a speed egg is a touch narrower, with a lower profile nose and pulled in tail. The straighter rail line caters to speed, flow, and maneuverability. Speed eggs tend to be the longest of the bunch in the funboard category.

Finally, if you want speed, agility, and don’t mind sacrificing some stability, the hybrid fish is a great way to make a giant leap in your surfing progression. The hybrid fish comes in a broadest range of lengths, toting a similar but thicker, lower profile nose like the speed egg, but with a wider swallow tail that gives it a ton of speed!

Here are our picks for mid-length funboards:

STEP 3 - The Shortboard

We highly suggest you progress your surfing through and out of the beginner stages and into the basic skill set of the new intermediate surfer. We talked about what it meant to be confident as a beginner longboarder and what skills you should be getting cozy with when looking to downsize to a funboard. When it comes to picking out your first shortboard, you’re going to want to be pretty polished in a few crucial skills! Here’s what they are:

  • You’re able to paddle out on the bigger days within your comfort zone. 
  • You are beginning to pick off set waves within your comfort zone.
  • Your pop-ups are happening quick on take-off, not late at the bottom of the wave.
  • You can generate speed and navigate turns to keep moving with the open face of the wave. 

If you feel you’ve got a foothold on these, you’re ready to start your transition from newbie to ripper. There IS a right way to do this, and it doesn’t begin by buying the signature pro model performance shortboard. If you’re like us, you’re going to need something that’s high performance, but still gives a solid go on junkier days. We’re looking to make just a single, sure-bet investment. Luckily for us, surfboard shapers have picked up on this and have created an array of shorter performance boards meant to give us easy entry into high performance surfing. We’ll go over four of our favorite entry level shortboards. All of these types of shortboards take the speed and agility qualities of a high performance shortboard, and add float, stability and glide to accommodate a wide range of surf conditions. 

The most forgiving of these entry level shortboard templates is a wider, rounder performance groveler. These boards have a front end much like an egg or longboard, with a wider tail. Tons of paddle speed! This template is all about creating speed while keeping the ride loose and nimble by going short, about chin to eyebrow high, on board length. The wide-nosed performance groveler is unmatched in poor conditions making a fun, shreddable wave out of just about anything!

Next is the more tapered performance groveler. Still sporting a similar wide tail, the nose is pulled in a bit, matching the planing speed with the ability to take a more vertical, aggressive approach to your line. This style of surfboard gives you an early entry when the waves turn on, and holds enough extra float to score you plenty of waves when your picky surf buds bail and leave the lineup empty just for you. 

Slightly trickier to sort out, is the performance fish. With an outline like the tapered performance groveler, a performance fish is built for easy paddling, maximum speed and agility. The rails on this ride are a touch thinner than a performance groveler. Fishes are distinguished by their swallow tipped tails. The wide tail uses the swallow tail to trail an extra point of control through turns. The performance fish takes a patient surfer to figure out the right foot placement and pressure to control unrivaled speed!

Finally, the most advanced style of entry level surfboard templates is the daily driver shortboard. Almost identical to a high performance shortboard, there’s extra volume added throughout via wider template and slightly thicker rails. A board like this is designed to shred whether Surfline cams show blue “poor” or reach the coveted code orange “good” rating! Most surfers that have made it to the shortboard realm keep a daily driver stashed in the surf wagon to keep their vertical surfing sharp, polished and crisp. 

A few great beginner shortboard surfboards are:

  • The All Terrain Vehicle (shortboard) – available 5’10” to 6’2”
  • The Bullet (performance groveler) – available 5’8 to 6’2”
  • The Cloud (performance groveler) – available 5’5” to 5’9”
  • The Codfather (performance fish) – available 5’4” to 6’2”

As we said when we started this article. This surfboard progression map is just an informative suggestion on which boards will gain you easy access to the three most common surfboard styles. You can very well be an advanced soul surfer who’s never touch shortboard and has mastered the art of noseriding or mid-length single fins. Most shortboarders don’t know the first thing about any board that doesn’t don thrusters or quads. For the average beginner, this is the path of least resistance. Find where you’re at and use this guide for your best bet on moving forward with your surfing!

Tips for buying your first surfboard

Every shop and surfer will pull you in their direction when “helping” you look for your first surfboard. Here’s some helpful advice gathered from us at the shop when picking out a winner:

  • Your buddy is not always right. If he or she only rides one style of board, they have a narrow, skewed stance on what a good surfboard is. Seek more advice.
  • Get a board that fits you. Every surfer is different in their height, weight, strength, age… everything. If you do your research online, most surfers will give you firm suggestions on what will float. Don’t under gun yourself. Rob Machado always says, extra foam never hurts. 
  • Consider your current skill level. If you’re just starting out, read the earlier section on longboards, wave count is EVERYTHING for the rookie surfer. Follow our roadmap.
  • We did the research for you. Just getting started? Ultimate Longboard. 3 ft taller than you are. 6 inches up if you’re a sturdy fella like myself. 6 inches down if you’re light and limber like an older grom or leaner lady. 
  • Save up. Don’t break the bank or your growing surfboard quiver. There will always be a time when the surf conditions call for the board you thought was old news. Different waves call for different boards. If you’re patient, it only takes two or three boards to cover most surf forecasts. If a board brings you joy, keep it, surf it! 

Enough reading! Grab your board and get that wave count up. Wherever you are in your surfing, we hope that this guide has given you the confidence to pick out your first surfboard, how to transition into your next one, and what all of our favorite boards are geared to do for you along your surfing journey. It’s all about having the most fun possible. Stick to our suggested path, and you’ll be the most stoked person in the water, every session. See ya in the lineup… YEW!







4 Responses

Kevin Bree
Kevin Bree

October 21, 2019

Helpful! Thanks.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith

August 05, 2019

Awesome article guys!

Jason Finley
Jason Finley

August 05, 2019

Great article of picking the best surfboard. Some day I will be able to afford a new longboard when the kids are grown and move out. :)

Doug butterick
Doug butterick

August 05, 2019

Great info! For me after I kinda of know what I was doing i stayed with the wider egg style boards more so like the Easy Rider board. They work better in everyday waves. Even with the shorter boards width is your friend like in the Cloud or the Codfather.. Kelly type boards starting out won’t make you surf better or be cooler with your amigos but make life in the water a lot harder.

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