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The four golden rules for buying your first surfboard

Mar 17, 2024

By Patrick Wright

If you've caught the surfing bug or have a wannabe Mick Fanning in the family, the first thing you're going to need is a board.

Surfboards can be incredibly specialised pieces of equipment, which can make board shopping a difficult and confusing experience when you're just starting out.

Fortunately, there are some clear-cut options for newcomers.

To help you get out beyond the white water this summer, we asked three surfing gurus for what to look for — and what to avoid.

The single biggest mistake that beginner surfers make is getting a board that's too advanced for their skills, says James Murphy, who runs a surf tour business on Victoria's Great Ocean Road.

With 40,000 kilometres of coastline, it's never too late to give surfing a try.

"I often see parents who go out and buy their child a high-performance shortboard. The kid will get on the board and get disheartened, because they can't use it," he says.

"Anyone who starts out needs to be humble about their ability, humble about their intentions, and humble about the equipment they're going to use."

If you're a complete beginner, the best board to start with is almost certainly a softboard, explains former pro tour surfer Harry Mann.

You might not have the steeze like surfers in magazines, but you'll get plenty of waves, and that's what matters.

If you want to start taking surfing really seriously, the other major option is a fibreglass mini mal, short for mini Malibu, the common name for longboards.

Fibreglass boards are easier to turn than softboards, but can be less stable and are more likely to cause injury due to their hardness.

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"When you're getting to your feet the majority of the time and are ready to start manoeuvring, that's when you'll start to get frustrated with a softboard," says Dylan Schulze, who manages an independent surf shop in Torquay.

"You'll get a lot more progression out of a mini mal, and it'll allow you to advance a lot further. If you're not surfing a whole heap, you could be on that board for years and years to come."

Whatever your skill level, the best advice you're going to get is from the guy or girl with wetsuit tan lines at the surf shop near your local beach.

Australia has plenty of great spots to go surfing and we've compiled a list of some of your favourites. Did your break make the cut?

People who work in board shops will be able to find a board that suits your skills, your body and the beaches you're surfing.

"You can walk in and talk to somebody about where you're surfing, what you're looking to do, and they can put you on the right board," James says.

"That's not something you're going to get buying something online."

If you're just starting out, surf instructors are another great source of advice, adds Harry.

If you have a good time on a particular board during a lesson, ask the instructor for details and whether it's suitable for your skills.

Many surf shops will let you trial or hire a board before making a purchase, which can help you avoid something unsuitable.

"Surf hire can be a great way to go," James says.

"Talk to the person you're renting from and listen to their advice about where to surf, too."

Source: James Murphy

Unless you have done a lot of research and know what to look for, the second-hand market for surfboards can be a minefield.

Around the world, people are taking to the waves as part of their treatment for mental illness. Advocates of surf therapy say it's a way to draw people out of dark places, and world champion surfer Layne Beachley couldn't agree more.

You might end up buying a board that has been broken and incorrectly repaired, or a board designed for waves beyond your ability.

"What you can sometimes find with second-hand boards is that you look for something a certain size. You might have someone saying, get a 6'8" board, 20 inches wide, two-and-a-half inches thick," says James.

"You will find something like that online, but it might not be a beginner's board at all — it might be designed for a powerful wave."

The second-hand market can come in handy when you're looking to upgrade, though.

Buying the right board from the outset has the advantage that beginner's boards — such as softboards and mini mals — tend to retain a lot of their value.

"If you look after your board, you might find that you can sell it six months down the track for not much less," James says.

By spending a bit of time finding the right equipment, you can make sure you're ripping it up for years to come.

do your best to keep it coolRinse off your boardbuy a bagStore your board flat