Surfing 101: Your First Surfboard

So you're stoked to buy your first surfboard and want to go out and get the latest 6-foot rocket.

Not so fast says Mike Reinhardt, surf instructor and co-owner of Locals Surf School in New York.

"A lot of beginners like to rush in and get 'real surfboards' made from epoxy or fiberglass, whereas we like to encourage them to go in slow," says Reinhardt. "We've seen some injuries that could definitely have been avoided if they were using a soft top [board] instead."

Reinhardt and Locals co-owner Michael Kololyan know a thing or two about helping people catch their first wave. With over two decades of surfing experience between them, the two Mikes founded Locals Surf School in 2012 on New York City's underrated Rockaway Beach.

We reached out to Locals for advice on buying your first surfboard.

What kind of boards does Locals use?
We start students on a longboard, one with a lot of volume and stability and a soft foam top. They're not able to do as much damage when you wipe out because they're soft and have flexible fins. There is a risk of injury from hard fins, but these ones will just make you feel silly for not covering [your head].

Why a longboard?
They're more buoyant because there's so much volume to them and they're more stable; but they're not as maneuverable as a regular surfboard.

What's a good size to start with?
The height and weight of the surfer does play into this quite a bit, but the standard is 9 feet. As a beginner, a few inches here and there is not going to make a difference. Generally, you should be learning on a 9-foot soft top longboard.

Can you name some good brands for beginners?
There are many different brands out there that can suit a beginner. Some are BZ, Liquid Shredder, NSP, and Torq. We definitely recommend that a beginner buy a used board if they can [since] this will save them a few bucks. However, you can purchase most soft top longboards anywhere from $200 to $500—depending on which brand you choose. A regular longboard will be around $600.

The boards at Costco aren't the greatest, but if you're looking to save a few bucks, the Costco one [The Wavestorm. —ed.] would be a good bet. But if you're looking for something a little more durable or high quality, you would go with one of these other brands.

Where's a good place to get your first board?
The best way to do it is to go to a surf shop so you can try out a bunch of different boards. Sometimes soft tops vary in how soft they really are. Some have a layer of soft foam over fiberglass, so they can actually be pretty hard; some are only soft on the top, but have hard rails; Some also have pretty flexible fins while others have pretty rigid fins. It's good to go see and feel all the different boards out there.

If they don't have exactly what you're looking for you can always look on Craigslist—these are the kind of board you can use for a few months, and when you want to get another board, you can sell it online.

We recommend a few different surf shops in New York: Breakwater Surf Co., Aegir Boardworks, and Boarders. Otherwise, you can buy most of these products online via Amazon or Google searching.

What else should you keep in mind when buying your first board?
Most soft top surfboards now come with leashes, [but] if not, you should certainly buy one! The leash is one of the most important parts of the surfboard that will keep you safe in the water. Without a leash, you would spend a lot of time chasing your board back to the shoreline and possibly hitting other surfers in the water with your board.

You [also] might want to ask your local surf shop if a particular soft top needs wax or not. Some have enough traction that you can take them out there and ride them right away, and some need that extra layer of wax.

How much fun are soft tops?
We find that soft top longboards can be more enjoyable since they do not offer much risk when you're out surfing. They are a lot more forgiving compared to your regular fiberglass or epoxy surfboard.

If the conditions are perfect, I'm always going to want to take out one of my regular surfboards; but if it's just to mess around a little bit, I like to take out the soft top. It's fun to crash around with friends and bump into each other, and there are no major repercussions.