Introduction to Surf Gear For Beginners

Published on 1st Nov 2018

Thinking of taking to the waves for the first time and not sure what kind of surf gear to go for? It is best to know the basics of surfing equipment before you rush into renting (or even more so buying) any surf gear, to make sure you make the best purchase to help you progress. This guide is a handy introduction to the kinds of surfboards and wetsuits you will most likely need as a beginner surfer.

Surf Gear: Best Surfboards for Beginner Surfers

When starting out on your future career as a pro surfer, you need the right surf gear, namely a surfboard, to suit your ability level or progression can be inhibited rather than sped up.

When looking for a beginner surfboard, always remember, a foam board is definitely your friend. Read our foam board blog to find out why you need one. Hard top boards are available, but these are best left until you have found your feet on a board; foam boards are largely designed so that you can fall off with minimal risk of unwanted injuries from a hard top board. The large volume of foam boards make them float better, in turn making them easier to catch waves on, and giving them more stability when you ride them.

Size wise, the bigger the board the faster you will be able to paddle on it, so the more waves you will catch, and the faster you will progress. Larger boards are again considerably more stable and easier to keep your balance on than smaller boards.

Matt from Team Ongosa checking in to a local surf shop in Hossegor, France
The Ongosa Team picking up some kit in Playa de Somo, Spain

Beginner boards should usually be between 7 and 9 feet - large enough to be easy to stay standing on, but not so large as to be too cumbersome and difficult to control. Once your surfing progresses you can move on to smaller style surfboards in the 6 to 8 foot size range. Shorter boards such as Mini-Mal, Magic Carpet and Large Fish surfboards can make tighter turns, and come into their own on steeper waves, but these are less stable than foam boards and best left until intermediate level and beyond.

Three fins are most common on beginner boards, giving good stability in the wave. A leash (a cable attaching the board to your ankle) is an essential on any beginner’s board, as unfortunately you can expect to be forcibly separated from your vessel many times during the learning process. As well as saving you a long swim back to the shore to collect your board after each fall, a leash stops your board from wiping out unsuspecting fellow surfers. 

Surf Gear: The Right Wetsuit For The Weather

Especially important for those learning to surf in the UK, a wetsuit is essential for keeping warm in the water. Some surf spots in the world are warm enough that wetsuits aren’t needed, however most breaks close to home, and that are suitable for beginners, are in waters where a suit should definitely be on your surf gear shopping list.

Different wetsuits come with different thicknesses, so you can choose the right suit for the climate (and most importantly water temperature) that you are going to encounter.

The way the thickness of a wetsuit is written looks like a fraction, for example ‘3/2’. What this means is the thickness of the neoprene around the core and torso of the body is 3mm, and on the arms and legs is 2mm.

Surf Wetsuit thickness
surfer in wetsuit

Have a look at this rough guide to quickly see what suit thickness is best for what kinds of water temperatures:

  • 18 – 23°C: 3mm “Shortie” (Short sleeved and legged wetsuit)
  • 16 – 21°C: 3/2 full suit
  • 11 – 17°C: 4/3 full suit
  • 6 – 15°C: 5/4 full suit
  • 8°C or less: 6/5 full suit

In the UK, in Cornwall, Devon, Wales and Ireland, water temperatures rarely drop below 8°C, so a 5/4 full suit is ideal. In places on the east and south coasts, and especially in Scotland, water temperatures can be lower so a 6/5 full suit will be more appropriate.

In southwest France and Northern Spain a 4/3 or a 5/4 suit will do the job, and further south in Portugal water temperatures are higher again, with highs in summer of anywhere between 16 – 23°C, so you may never need anything thicker than 4/3.

In colder temperatures, for example if surfing in the UK in winter, extra warm surf gear such as boots, gloves and a hood can be needed as well as your wetsuit. These are usually only necessary if you are going to be surfing in waters colder than around 12°C, although some prefer the extra warmth and protection these offer, even in warmer water.

This guide is meant to give an introduction to the kinds of equipment you will need as a beginner surfer. Those who will know best are those surfing the break every day – when you book one of our qualified and knowledgeable instructors you can speak to them to learn what surf gear will best suit your ability level, and the spot you will be surfing, before you buy.

Learn How to Surf Video from Ongosa

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