For the uninformed beginner surfer, choosing the right surfboard can be a bit tricky. There are many types of surfboards, including long boards, fun boards, short boards and fishes, along with a number of other variations and hybrids; each shaped for a different purpose and each recommended for a different skill level and wave type. The beginner surfer must first choose between the short board (including the fish) or the long board (including the fun board).
If you want your surfing experience to be an action-packed aggressive assault on the wave, one in which you envision yourself carving the face of the wave and performing all manner of high performance maneuvers, then you will need a short board. However, be warned, learning to surf on a short board is not easy and takes commitment, effort and dedication. On the other hand, if you want to start off easy and be up and riding within the first day, then you will be better off with a long board or fun board. This is not to say that there are no highly skilled surfers riding long boards or fun boards. There are plenty, but long boards and fun boards are by far easier to catch and ride waves with.
Long Board vs. Short Board
The length and width of a surfboard provides its stability; that is, the longer and wider a board the more stable it is. Therefore, riding a large type surfboard requires less balance and skill than a smaller type surfboard. This is why surf lessons and schools often use long boards for beginner surfers. Long boards also provide a great deal of flotation by volume than other boards, making them easier to paddle and catch waves, specifically smaller, less challenging waves. Long boards can also be ridden in medium-sized surf, but become difficult to handle in larger more powerful waves.
Though sluggish, the long board minimizes balancing errors and allows the unstable beginner to ride the wave without immediately tipping over as they try to stand. Though these boards are perfect for learning the basics, mastery of the long board style takes years and includes a number of well-respected maneuvers, such as the cutback, the floater, hanging five, hanging ten, walking the board and the three-sixty.
If however, you consider yourself to be athletic enough to bypass the training wheels of a long board, then by all means, start with a short board. Just remember you will not be ripping the waves apart on your first day out. The learning process can be frustrating at times, and at first, just getting up and riding will be an accomplishment.
Since the short board is smaller by volume than a long board, it has less flotation and requires more physical strength to paddle. Lack of flotation also requires that short board riders catch waves at their apex (just before they break), allowing less time for the surfer to stand up. The short board is also less stable under foot and more difficult to balance and control. This instability is the short board’s advantage as well as its disadvantage. Although it may be more difficult to balance it is also more responsive to the surfers movements and much easier to maneuver. This is an advantage for the experienced and intermediate surfer, allowing for quick turns and radical maneuvers. Short boards are best suited for skilled surfers who are looking to maximize their wave riding through high performance surfing.
The Fun Board and the Fish
Not all surfboard dimensions fall into the category of long board or short board. There are a number of hybrids and experimental type surfboards to choose from. Two very common surfboard designs are fun boards and fish.
The fun board is a shortened version of a long board, designed to maintain stability and flotation but improve maneuverability. The fun board is in no way as responsive as a short board, but it is less cumbersome than a long board, allowing beginner surfers to gain greater freedom on the waves, while keeping it easy and stable. Fun boards are just as their name implies; they are not for the serious surfer, but instead for the surfer who simply wants to catch some waves and make a few turns.
Not recommended for beginner surfers is the fish, a shortened version of a short board. The fish is wider and thicker than the average short board in comparison to its length. The increased surface area and flotation of the fish enables the surfer to easily catch and ride any size wave, despite the board’s short length. Fish are especially useful in small surf, since they have a shorter turning radius and maintain a plane with little momentum. They are also extremely responsive and maneuverable, making them fun for experienced surfers, but a bit tricky for beginner surfers. To ride a fish would require equal to better skills than needed to ride a short board.
Each type of surfboard has its pros and cons depending mostly on the surfer’s ability, desire and type of surf conditions. Though it is more difficult for a beginner surfer to start with a short board or a fish, it is not impractical, but good physical condition and dedication are necessary. However, if you are only looking for an introduction to the sport and simply want to catch a few easy waves while spending the day at the beach, you should probably go with the long board or fun board. In the end, it all depends on what kind of surfing experience you want to create.