Editor’s Note: (Updated 9/12/2021)
“I think I’m gonna just get a mini-mal,” they all say, a far-off look in their eyes. These new-to-be surfers have done approximately 47 minutes of Googling, skipping over all the common-sense advice for beginner surfboards to justify an expensive, hard-topped board that could be “swung on Craigslist for, like, under $300.”
Really, they (and you, probably) are masking the lack of wanting to buy something with the word “beginner” in it.
I get it. Nobody enjoys the beginning of a new sport, especially a sport as image-conscious (and cool) as surfing when done gracefully, and as comically dorky when done poorly.
The reality is that you’re going to suck at surfing initially (probably for a long time…or for the full duration of your obsession), and it’s better to suck on the right board (for the right amount of money) than the wrong one. You will progress faster, you won’t hurt anybody, and, most importantly, you’ll have a lot more fun.
This guide aims to give you context for why beginner surfboards really are the best option for anyone dipping their toes into the sport, and how to easily answer the question: “I’m new, what board should I buy?”
The Quick Answer: The Best Beginner Surfboards
2. Catch Surf Odysea Log
3. Boardworks Froth! Soft-top Surfboard
4. Foamy 8′ Gunner
5. Catch Surf 5′ 6″ Odysea Tri Fin
6. South Bay Verve Surfboard
7. South Bay Board Co. Guppy
8. Bic Sport Paint Softboard
9. Channel Islands Water Hog
10. The Used Surfboard
What Size Surfboard Should a Beginner Get?
“I’m just starting out, what size surfboard should I get?” This question is the one most surf shop employees roll their eyes at, and the one you probably asked at some point.
The answer: eight to nine feet.
No, that’s not what the pros typically use. This isn’t basketball. And yes, that puts the board in the realm of “longboard” or “funboard.”
If you’ve watched a professional surfing event you’ve seen lean, low-center-of-gravity athletes crouched over small, thin boards. They tear through head-high waves and come out of hollow tubes with ease, making it look a simple bike ride.
Their boards are short. Their length typically hovers around six feet, unless the surf is very large, and then the boards are long and narrow with a sharp, pointed nose.
Beginners want the exact opposite. They want a long, wide board with a rounded nose and a rounded tail. Why?
In order to catch small, weak waves, which beginners should start on, you typically need a longer board.
In order to stand up for the very first time, you need a wide board. This will keep you stable possible while you find balance.
In order to paddle with any sort of vigor and mobility, you will need a long, wide board.
A surfboard in the 8-to-9-foot range is typically 22-24 inches in width, which is the perfect general size for beginners, and the kind of board you’ll find on this list (for the most part).
You can carry this board under one arm (or overhead if you’re here because you saw Endless Summer), you can move quickly across the water with your feeble strokes (trust me, they weak), and you can maybe, mayyybe stand up (if you’re lucky), and not fall off immediately, with a long wide board.
Should I get a foam surfboard or a hard-topped surfboard?
This is the second most popular question: “I’m just starting out. Should I get a foam surfboard or a (hard) fiberglass board?”
The answer: foam.
All the way, every time. Yes, even you, the pre-stoked stoker who has snowboarded since birth and actually has an unreal low center of gravity and gets this intense feeling whenever he sees a massive set roll through from the beach, like he’s meant for this on some cosmic level. Yeah, you too.
Are foam boards what the pros ride? Nope. (Well, sometimes. Everyone’s embracing the Wavestorm movement. After all, surfing is intended to be fun…no matter how super-serious you may grow to take your surfing.) Are they what “surfers” ride? Sometimes. But usually not. Are they what old dudes hanging out in VWs at your local break will give you an appraising grin and shaka for? Absolutely not.
But you’re trying to learn. Not impress anyone. Not yet. Impressing comes way later. Probably never.
Foam surfboards were invented for beginners. They are covered in varying degrees of soft foam on the top of the board, and often have plastic fins, which are softer than normal surfboard fins. Foam boards take away all the practical stress of owning a hard-topped surfboard.
Hard-topped surfboards have to be waxed regularly for traction. You have to buy wax, learn how to use it, and then continue to apply it, scrape it off, and keep it from melting on your board and in your car.
More pointedly, hard-topped surfboards break. They seem like sturdy hunks of wood and glass, but are actually fragile creatures that can barely take a rock to the face. (This may be an inadvertent analogy for surfers themselves…). You have to repair them, and then they’ll break again. Foam boards can break, too, but it matters less, and the top almost never has to be repaired.
Hard-topped surfboards can injure people. Technically, so can foam surfboards, but it’s a lot harder. Case and point: this crowded f**kfest. Beginners will understandably have almost no control over the direction and speed of their surfing, which means they are prone to running into (and over) people. This hurts a lot less when the surfboard is made of foam.
Hard-topped boards are expensive. Surfing, on the whole, is an expensive sport. Wetsuits, leashes, vehicle for transport, time to do literally nothing but be in the ocean. The list adds up to money. As a beginner, you may not even know if you like it. Do you buy a standard-edition Gibson Les Paul before your first guitar lesson, or the cheap Epiphone?
With all the apparent hate on hard-topped boards above, let’s be super clear: a fiberglass board with the right shape, on the right wave, will sing to a surfer’s soul like nothing else. There’s no way to get that feeling on a foam board.
But, as a beginner, you’re not going to get that feeling anyway. Patience, young Slater.
Should I Get a Used Surfboard?
Should a beginner get a used surfboard?
The answer: maybe.
The list below (scroll if you’re impatient) does actually contain “used” boards, because the used surfboard market is the true underbelly of surf culture. While not every surfboard today is literally unique – even most “hand-shaped” boards are actually cut by a machine then fine-tuned by hand – they are each slightly different.
Craigslist and similar used markets allow surfers to constantly look for sweet boards with unique dimensions, fin setups, tails, and swirly resin patterns that can really, honestly, trip you out. And a surfer worth his salt in quiver size should know what each hand-written dimension means for his actual surfing. Same with fins, shape, and glassing.
A beginner, though? No way. Not even close.
“Is this a good beginner surfboard? Used on CL for $150”. Arguably the most popular general title topic on Reddit’s r/surfing. It may be a good beginner surfboard, but it’s probably not.
Remember the long, wide, and foam rule?
If the board pictured is not long, wide, and covered in foam, look elsewhere.
That said, you can find used foam boards on Craigslist. Just don’t fall for the used $200 Wavestorm trick and you’re off to a good start.
Breaking Down the Beginner Surfboard Costs
You’ll see the true breakdown for each individual board below, so I’ll keep this section short.
I wouldn’t, personally, spend more than $400 on a beginner surfboard. I’d prefer to spend under $100, and would even further prefer to have a friend find an old, beat-up foam board on the side of the freeway, pick it up, and drop it at my house. That’s what happened, and I definitely prefer that.
But if you need to buy one, and really are a beginner, there’s no need to drop more than $400. I do list boards that are more expensive than that – such is the life of a gear list. There are things I wouldn’t personally do, and then there’s you, the reader, who may be ready to fork over some serious cash for the right board. To each their own.
The Ultimate List of the Best Beginner Surfboards
The reality is that the Wavestorm is often a conversation-stopper when it comes to beginner surfboards. If one single board has become iconic for beginners, cost, ease of use, and availability, it is the Wavestorm.
Affectionately referred to as Kookstorms, after many, many years of being available for $99 from Costco (membership required), they have since been replaced by this Gerry Lopez softtop surfboard made by California Board Company. As you can see on the Costco product page as well as Reddit’s r/surfing, reviews of Costco’s new toy have been pretty mixed. There’s a chance that they are looser/easier to turn than a Wavestorm, but they are also decidedly flimsier. If you’ve already got a Costco membership ($60) it’s worth considering for the price, but there’s a reason why Wavestorms have stuck around for this long. They’re super durable, they float incredibly well (86 liters vs the Costco Gerry Lopez’s 73.5L), and they’re stable as anything (see “harder to turn,” above). In short, they’re a damn good beginner surfboard.
Since Wavestorms are no longer a Costco item, they are no longer subject to Costco prices, but can be found on Amazon closer to the MSRP of $200, as well as taking up plenty of space on your local Craigslist.
The board is easy to paddle, and actually catches waves pretty well. It has a slight nose rocker to keep from pearling (but let’s be honest you’re new and going to pearl often), is made with an EPS core and 3 marine-ply stringers for surprising stiffness, and comes with three plastic fins. There’s even a tail pad at the back for increased traction. Furthermore, once you’ve passed the stand up and go down the line stage of learning to surf, there are ways to upgrade your Wavestorm such as the Perfect Storm Single and Twin+1 Fin Systems for increased maneuverability, momentum/drive, and to prevent sliding out on steeper waves. As well as increased steeze, because who doesn’t look steezy with a massive pink fin on their Wavestorm?
Fin conversion aside, you can’t go wrong with a Wavestorm. Can you go better? Definitely. But nobody would knock you for getting a Wavestorm as your first board and, in fact, many recommend it. Like, right now. I recommend it.
Catch Surf has done something incredible: they made foam boards cool. So, if you’re one of those beginners who wants to follow etiquette by going long, wide, and foam, but also wants the cultural cache of shakas and coconut water and hanging ten and hitting the lip and paddling deep for the wave of the day, Catch Surf may be your jam (Please don’t say any of that stuff though).
The company did this by taking pro surfers like Jamie O’Brien and Kalani Robb and throwing money at them to surf these previously “silly” beginner boards. They quickly proved two things: that pros can rip on anything, and that foam boards are entirely rippable.
All Catch Surf boards have regular models and Pro Models. Pro Models cost more…because of course they do. But hey, you’ll be like a Pro when riding one. Right? Right?!
The Odysea Log is one of many models from Catch Surf, and the one I think is best suited for beginners. It comes in multiple lengths — 7, 8, and 9 feet — a number of rad (yeah, rad) colors, and is built to be easy. Long, wide, foam. Once again.
Catch Surf has a good fin system (which you can actually replace with real surfboard fins for better performance) and the Log is designed with more skill and surf-craft orientation than the Wavestorm (and honestly many of the boards on this list), meaning it won’t necessarily feel like a giant boat in the water. The Log is made with a dual composite core and triple wood stringer, has a PE deck, and the fins can be removed, a godsend for traveling.
If you like Catch Surf but want a different model, the Plank is another solid beginner board offered in multiple lengths. Similar shape, but a single fin instead of thruster.
Volume: [5ft] 30.39L, [5ft 6in] 37.4L, [7ft] 55.5L, [8ft] 71.47L, [9ft] 87.17L
This is one of the better-looking soft-tops available on the market, and a huge upside: It comes with Futures Fins. So you’ll be ready to transition to a Futures fin system when you make your next step up the food chain. It has a rounded tail and a thruster fin setup. It’s available in 5′, 5′ 6″, 6′, 7′, 8′, and 9′, so take your pick. This board covers all the necessary fundamentals and even gets a few style points. A hard thing to accomplish in the early days. Arguably, that alone is worth every penny.
Cost: Starts at $345
Recently, Foamy realized there were a bunch of people (ie., you) who want what’s dope about surfing, yet don’t know how to do it, and need a board to learn on that can take you past the beginner stage. Thus, Foamy boards were born, with a commitment to maximize wavecount without sacrificing mobility, and produce a high-quality soft-top. Designed in San Clemente, CA they’ve attracted the likes of Nique Miller and Kirra Seale, longboard champs in need of a board that can make any conditions fun.
5’6” x 21.0” x 2.875” (42 Liters)
The fish. This is an iconic template. It’s not long, but it still manages to be user-friendly and forgiving. Twin fins, keel cuts, wide arcs, flat decks and pulled in tails. Fishy fishy gnar gnar, as I like to call my (used) old-school fish. The Fish shape is iconic, and this template is tried and true. This is just the soft-top version. It has a stiff dual composite core, a winged swallow tail with thruster (tri) fin setup, which is ironic, because fish typically have two fins.
It only comes in one set of dimensions, and chances are you’re going to have a very hard time paddling it when compared to longer options on this list. It’s only 5′ 6″ so it will be quite small for a beginner, but if you are dead-set on short-boarding and refuse length of any kind, this is your best bet for starting out.
Be warned: you won’t catch waves right away. Be doubly warned: you will fall over way more often than on a longer board. Be triply warned: paddling a board this size will exhaust you in a way you’ve never been exhausted before.
But, with serious perseverance, you may be able to skip over the length of a beginner board and move rather quickly to full lip-smacking, hard-topped shredder gold.
Cost: $289 – $359
Never heard of South Bay Verve Co.? Don’t fret. Every product category, from hats to sunscreen to hiking boots to surfboards, has a super hot Amazon shop. They’re not necessarily name-recognizable, but have mastered the Amazon algorithm and are selling product like hotcakes. You can tell from the image: every color visible, all sides of the board, all included fins, the leash, the plug – buy this and you won’t even have to learn to surf!
But of course, you will, ’cause you’re a beginner.
To be fair, South Bay Board Co. does make a really solid product. Long, wide, foam. Lots of extra goodies when you buy a board, and they “go”, as they say. At least, they go about as far as a foamie should.
The Verve is an 8-foot model that has an extra-wide tail for stability and a rubber tip at the very back for extra hold. A tip: don’t tout that rubber tip to anyone. It’s not doing you any favors in the surpster department.
But the tail shape does actually help beginners stand up easily, then turn once, and ride down the line. The Verve has a well-textured foam material, meaning no wax for you, and a bit of tail rocker. The core is EPS foam and has three stringers for maximum stiffness (brah).
The Verve is a solid beginner board, can be found on sale, and will come with basically everything you need to hop in the water.
If you’re beginning to see a trend it means you’re paying attention. Long, wide, and foam actually looks rather similar when you put one board after another, doesn’t it?
The 8-foot Guppy surfboard is 8′ x 22″ x 3″ with 80L and has 2 full-length wooden light-weight stringers to enhance durability, and its closed-cell EPS foam core prevents water absorption (unlike most beginner boards). The Guppy is super beginner-friendly.
The Bic Sport Paint oft Board is born on the long, wide, and foam properties, but it has a bit more style than other boards on this list. With that style comes a slight uptick in cost.
It’s used by surf schools, in part for its extremely “soft” foam, easy rails, and malleable fins. Nothing screams hardcore here, and that’s great for beginners. The board has high volume and stability for quick popups, but the rocker is more pronounced in this than other foamies, and you can carve a little quicker because of that.
It uses twin composite reinforced stringers, making the board a good bit lighter than the 3-wooden-stringer combo used in foamies above, and an EVA deck. It has a thruster setup, and would be a great board to use and eventually pass on to kiddos or a stoked grom.
Well, I broke down. The Water Hog is a straight-up hard-topped surfboard from one of the most iconic names in the industry. I said I wouldn’t do it, but here I am. If you absolutely insist on a hard-topped surfboard at the very start of this process, I will point you in the direction of the Water Hog.
Aptly named, I think. Nobody really likes a wave hog, but everyone wants to catch waves. As long as you’re respectful, catch as many as you can.
This is a tried-and-true shape from the master Al Merrick himself. It’s offered in a range of lengths, with the 8-foot being the most practical for beginners. It has volume, length, and width, but no foam. Channel Islands can make it in a variety of constructions, and it has a low entry rocker for casual riding with decent tail rocker for all those slashy carves. It comes with a thruster in either FCS or Futures, and can (of course) be modded in any sort of custom way you want.
I still don’t think this is the “best” beginner surfboard, but I know there are people reading who like brand names, who think they’ll be the next great whatever, and who want to wax up a fresh stick.
You could go for a huge traditional longboard, you could go for a fish, or you could settle on this very easy funboard shape that’s found almost anywhere there is surf.
Thickness: 2 7/8”
The last item on this list is nebulous. Like telling you to find the dopest wave with a left-hand barrel that’s easily accessible, never too intense, but solid every day of the year. Where is that, exactly?
A used surfboard is a magic quest in which you will always find something, but rarely exactly what you were looking for.
For a beginner, used is an excellent way to go. It should be cheaper, induce less stress, and make the whole process of starting this epic sport way more casual. These are good things.
Just know how to look. A used Wavestorm is fantastic. Actually, a used version of any of the boards on this list will be worth it, granted they don’t have gaping holes.
There are a few key qualities when looking for a used beginner surfboard:
1. Long, wide, foam. How many times can I repeat this?
2. Under $200. As the list above shows, there’s a wide variety of prices for brand new beginner surfboards, but they’re not crazy expensive (for the most part). If you’re going the used route, at least make sure it’s financially worth it.
3. No holes, especially on the bottom of the board. Foam boards are usually made of epoxy, which is harder to damage and has more float. But it’s also a lot harder to repair, especially in foam-topped beginner surfboards. Whether you go for a hard-top board (not recommended) or a foamie, make sure it is free of holes.
4. Comes with fins. Most foam beginner surfboards have custom fins that don’t match up with FCS, Futures, or even stock single-fin boxes. They are therefore much harder to find, if not included.
If you take the time to find a used board, you will save money one-hundred-percent of the time. But that might not be your style, and trolling CList all day can get wearisome, as well as the difficulty of tracking some random internet dude down so you can buy the stuff he’s used so much he doesn’t want anymore.
Where to Buy Beginner Surfboards
We go over this above, and this guide is ostensibly one grand push to get you to buy a board online. That’s one way to do it, and it certainly works for stock foamies that have the same dimensions no matter what, and can’t really get damaged in the shipping (well, probably).
That said, a surfboard has always been something to see, to feel, to hold under the arm, to sleep with at night…wait, what?
For beginners, I actually recommend trying surfing before buying a board. You know, find a friend with a spare, pay for a lesson, or join a camp. At least once. That way you don’t actually have to buy a board until you’ve caught a wave (or tried to).
If the bug bites you, start shopping. If you feel like you’re drowning in one-foot slop, this may not be for you.
There are solid surf retailers you can shop at, like EVO, Jack’s Surfboards, Backcountry, and even Surfboards.com. Then there’s Amazon, which we link to and recommend for select products on this list.
If you want the local route, head to your local store.
The Life of a Beginner Surfboard
We all start out as beginners. Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore, your mom, dad, and super-cool older brother. You. Everyone couldn’t surf at some point. I’m not saying they all started on big, long, wide foamies, but they have all used one at some point.
The best part? It’s hard to kill a beginner surfboard. They’re built to last, which means if you get one you’ll always have a spare, even as you progress. You can lend it when friends come to town, you can have a raucous day when the beach break is pounding things in half, and you can teach your kids, or friend’s kids, someday.
A beginner surfboard really is for everyone, at some point.
Disclosure: The Inertia may receive a small commission if you make a purchase from the affiliate links included in this feature at no additional cost to you. Our goal is always to entertain, educate, and inspire, and we hope you find this feature useful.