When you’re buying a surfboard for the first time, nobody’s going to blame you for feeling a bit lost. There’s a huge variety of shapes and sizes from miniature soft-tops to high performance big wave guns lining the racks of your local shop, and the most minute changes in volume, shape, and fin placement can make a world difference.
You’ve likely been fed a heavy dose of mainstream surf media—a.k.a professional surfers shredding unfathomably large waves on boards so small they can be easily tucked under their arm for a jog down to the beach. The problem is, that’s not the reality of being a beginner surfer.
Surfing is about having a good time with your friends, not trying to look the coolest. Lesson learned.
Being a lifelong snowboarder, I figured surfing might come easier to me than others. So much so that I decided I could start off with one of those paper-thin boards and eventually ‘figure it out’. I was wrong. It took me a solid 5 years of surfing to realize, but I finally recognized my mistakes—and now, for your entertainment (and information) follow along as I painfully recount them each so you don’t make the some ones I do.
Lesson #1: Short and Pointy isn’t the only way to have fun
Ah, I was so young. That mainstream media stream that was fed to me? Well, that had me thinking that was the only way to have fun on a board. So I went out and bought a ever-so-pointy 6’2 shortboard with a thruster (read: traditional 3-fin arrangement) setup. I couldn’t catch anything in the Northwest mush, and even if I did, it would take me years to get the board up to speed to make a proper turn.
As I began to look around at my local breaks, I realized I was the odd-man-out. High volume was the name of the game. So, what did I do? I went out and got me a 40 litre fish in anticipation. That leads me to the next lesson….
Lessons #2: More Volume in a Short Board Won’t Solve Your Problems
Refusing to let go of my ego, I made another purchase to stay as close as I could to those aforementioned pro surfers running down the beach with boards under their arm—a 6 foot fish with 40 litres of volume.
A board that any intermediate surfer would have no problem getting up on, but for a beginner surfer, the board was still way too small. Just because I went with more volume, didn’t mean I was all-of-a-sudden going to be catching waves. All I got was a dents on the top of the board where my knee was smashing into the board as I tried to stand up. I needed a major change.
Lesson #3: Don’t be ashamed, ride a soft-top.
Maybe it was my ego derived from snowboarding, or maybe I had watched a few too many YouTube videos, but for some reason I just thought I was head-and-shoulders above the soft top world, even though I had never surfed—I was wrong.
There isn’t much to be ashamed of when your soft-top looks like this. The 7'2" Poacher EpoxySoft hybrid surfboard fresh out out of the water after a surf.
With increased buoyancy I could paddle faster and further and most importantly catch more waves. I could not fret about dinging my board, and I could occasionally run into my buddies without having to worry about ruining my weekend. Once I got rid of my preconceived notion that I was ‘too good’ for a soft-top, things quickly changed.
Lesson #4: The Bigger, The Better
I started on a 8 foot soft-top, and once my ego was forgotten, the sky was the limit. Once I got confident on my softie, I wanted to step up to a poly board—and I now I knew for a 6’2 person, the bigger, the bigger.
The Classic Log: Big board bliss for getting started is the way to go
I picked up a 10 footer and although it took a few sessions to get used to the size, I was having more fun, and catching more waves than anyone else in the lineup—and now, I’ll never look back.
Mistake # 5 Fin Placement Matters
Somewhere along the way, I did find the right shortboard. After a 6 month stint in Costa Rica, I had it figured out— I was catching waves regularly on my 5’11 groveler with a thruster fin box setup.
Then, I bought a fish—because, once again, mainstream surfing told me I should. Little did I know, the two keel fins (and absence of a middle fin) on the board would make surfing a whole new ball game.
The Codfather Fish Retro Fish great if you know what you’re doing, but you won’t catch waves just because it looks good—first, you need to master the basics.
The board was a bit smaller and lower volume than the boards I usually ride, and it proved to be difficult. Generating speed was tough as I was used to a thruster setup, and I ended up selling the board—I learned the hard way that fin placement is ever so important, and it can make or break how much you like surfing a particular board.
Five Lessons is Just The Beginning
It’s been ten years on a board, and I’ve learned plenty—but those five lessons are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got plenty more to learn along the way, and I couldn’t be more excited.
The Bullet Groveler has proved to be a one-size fits all for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
For now, I’ve got a two-board quiver— a 9’4 classic log, and a 6’ Bullet, both from Degree 33. For me, I’m either longboarding or shortboarding—I haven’t dove into the world of midlength just yet—and these two boards service all types of conditions here in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. As I build out my quiver there will undoubtedly be some more hiccups—but my lessons along the way should help me avoid any truly costly mistakes, and I hope they can do the same for you.