Why You Need A Foam Surfboard If You're A Beginner

Published on 1st Nov 2018

When starting to learn to surf, there is one thing you need to remember above all else – foam is your friend. Put simply – get a foam surfboard to make the learning process as quick and easy as possible. Here we look at the what and why of foam surfboards, and explain how these are your second best tool to learn to surf, behind a qualified and experienced Ongosa surf instructor.

What Is A Foam Surfboard?

Surfboards come in what can seem like a daunting number of shapes and sizes. But when broken down, you can learn what each type of board is best suited to, and that there is actually a need for all these variations.

One of these types, the foam surfboard, alternatively called a soft-top, foamie or softie, is a board with a top side made of exposed polyurethane or expanded polystyrene, (the kind of material your post-surf-beer cooler is made from, but much more dense). The base of the board is usually fibreglass, as with many other types of board.

Many boards have a foam core, for light weight and therefore increased buoyancy – having a board with a top made entirely from the material only means more buoyancy. Foam boards are traditionally larger than most and fit into the ‘longboard’ category, although foam shortboards are available.

Advantage Of A Foam Surfboard

Size – a larger size of a foam surfboard allows you to paddle faster than a shorter board, making it easier to catch waves. As the saying goes – “you can’t ride what you can’t catch”. The more time you spend riding waves during a session, the more you will progress in that session.

Stability – a number of factors combine to produce stability; the larger size and foam construction means the board has more volume, resulting in better float. Stability simply means the board is easier to stay standing on, which means longer rides, getting the most practice time out of the waves you catch, and less falls (which can be dispiriting for beginners).

Falls, however, are an unavoidable part of the learning process. Falling into water is luckily a relatively painless process (swallowing a bit of salt water aside), but the risk of getting hurt comes from your board dinging you on the head or body after you loose control. With a foam surfboard there is far less chance of pain or injury than with a hard top board. It doesn’t stop with just soft tops – soft rails (the edge of the board) and soft fins are also a great idea for beginner surfers for the same reason.

Learning to surf on a foam surfboard

Foam Surfboard Sizes

So you know what material is best for you as a beginner, now you just need to know the best shape of board to help you learn. As luck would have it, the boards which are most commonly built to beginner friendly dimensions, are (you guessed it) foam surfboards.

Whether you use a long or short foam surfboard should really be dictated by your ability level first, and your size second. Regardless of height or weight, a true beginner will always find it easiest to learn on a long foam surfboard of up to 9-10ft. Once you have mastered this, a foam shortboard of around 5ft – 7ft is a good intermediary step between your first foam longboard, and a hard top board such as a Malibu or Mini Mal. Foam shortboards are great for allowing for progression in your surfing, whilst still enjoying all the benefits of a foam surfboard.

An important thing to look for in a beginner board is not just the height or width, but also the volume of the board. Volume is calculated by multiplying length x width x height, which is easy for cubes, less easy for shaped surfboards. The old school way to measure volume was by dunking the surfboard in a bath and seeing how much water was displaced – this is why volume is still usually measured in cubic litres. These days with boards designed using computers, volumes are accurate and often displayed alongside boards, or more increasingly written on them.

The chart gives an indicator of the appropriate board size and volume for your weight.

Chart Of Correct Foam Surfboard Sizes For Beginners

Your Weight Foam Board Size Foam Board Volume
45-63 kg 9’2”-9’4” 36-44 cl
63-72 kg 9’4”-9’6” 44-50 cl
72-81 kg 9’6”-9’8” 50-57 cl
81-90 kg 9’8”-10’ 57-63 cl
90 kg > 10′ > 63 cl >

Whilst the table is a good starting point, some surfboard companies such as Firewire also have a Surfboard Volume Calculator giving a more tailored suggestion of what volume of board best suits you, by taking a series of facts about you such as your exact weight and ability level.

Foam Surfboard Width

The length of your board is important, however width also needs to be taken into account as this is a key determining factor in volume. Having a wider board not only gives stability in terms of more volume, but also gives you more room to play with when learning to pop up and stand on your board. Foam surfboards which are at least 20 inches wide are best for beginners. Be sure that your board isn’t too wide to carry under your arm though, as dragging your board will damage it which will only make it harder to ride.

Walking Out To The Surf

Fins On Foam Surfboards

Fins on the base of the board reduce sideways movement when standing. As a beginner, you will be learning to surf in a straight line, directly back to the beach, so more fins will help you stay on course. 1 or 3 fins gives good stability, and you will probably see this set-up on most foam boards, but you can see up to five on some beginner boards too.

We can go into much more detail on fins, but for beginner boards, the most simple thing to remember is that the more fin surface area, the more stability. The bigger the fin and the more ‘cant’ it has (the more it curves towards the tail of the board), the easier the board will be to control.

The downside is that greater surface area of fin increases drag, and slows the board down. When you progress you will be able to use boards with smaller fins which can generate more speed for you to play with.

After mastering the basics on a foam surfboard, you can start to try other board types. Only when you are catching at least 60% of the waves you paddle for should you move on to a smaller board, or when the size of your foam board is holding you back and limiting how much manoeuvrability you have in the wave. The more you try, the more you will understand each board, and the better your surfing on each will become, but there is no better place to start than your old foam friend.

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