The Ultimate Surfboard Buyer’s Guide

Buying a new (or used) surfboard can be an exciting thing. This page will go over some of the best ways to get your hands on a new stick.

The first thing you’ll want to do is have in mind the rough dimensions you’re looking for in a general type of surfboard.

Which Size Surfboard is Right for Me?

Maybe you have no clue and you just want a new board to surf. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, that’s no problem – you’ve entered the exciting experimental and progression phase in your surfing life.

An experienced surfer is going to have an easier time surfing a wider variety of surfboards – higher volume, lower volume, and everything in between.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for as a beginner, just remember that something with more volume and buoyancy is generally going to be easier for you to paddle and surf. Check out our reviews for the best beginner surfboards.

There are some trade off between high volume and a lower volume board:

  • A higher volume board will be easier to paddle, but harder to duck dive.
  • A lower volume board will be easier to maneuver quickly, but harder to catch waves.

However, there is a limit. If you’re simply too big or too heavy for a surfboard, it’s not going to perform very well. You’ll find that it bogs down, feels sluggish, and is difficult to paddle. If you experience these symptoms, it might be time to get a higher volume surfboard.

Higher volume boards are also going to go well in a wider variety of conditions, whereas lower volume boards really shine in steeper, faster waves.

If you’re a beginner looking to step-down in size from a longboard or mid-length, something like a fish, a hybrid, or a shorter board made out of EPS foam may be a good place to start looking.

We’ve covered the different types of surfboards and the best types of boards for different waves pretty extensively, but as a quick overview:

  • Good all-rounder boards: Hybrids, mid-lengths, fish.
  • Good small wave boards: Longboards, mid-lengths/funboards, grovlers, fish.
  • Good boards for good waves: Hybrids, fish, mid-lengths, performance longboards, shortboards.
  • Boards for big waves: Guns, step-ups, tow-ins.
  • Good boards for beginners: softops, mid-lengths, funboards, longboards.

When selecting your next board try to consider:

  • The types of waves you’ll be surfing.
  • The type of surfing you plan to do.
  • How often you’re able to surf.
  • Your experience level.
  • Your budget.

This rest of this guide will provide tips on the different ways of buying a new (or used, or cheap) surfboard:

  • Off the rack at a surf shop.
  • Custom from a shaper.
  • Used off of Craiglists or some other local classifieds.
  • Online.

Buying a New Surfboard at the Surf Shop

At the surf shop, you’ll have a selection of a variety of stock boards from some of the major board manufacturers along with maybe a house-brand and maybe some local shapers.

Depending on the size and location of your surf shop, you should have a pretty good selection of shortboards on up to logs. The boards you find here are going to include the newest and most popular models – the majority are going to be machine shaped with stock colors.

Thumbing through a rack of new boards can be a little overwhelming. You may have walked into the shop with something in mind, but now you think you want them all.

Take a look through the racks to get an idea of the selection. If you’re looking to save some money, you might even spot some older models that have been marked down.

Selecting the right board for you is going to come down to personal preferences, but here are some tips:

  • Before you even start shopping, have some dimensions and volumes in mind for a few different types of boards. You can think about boards you’ve surfed in the past or some sort of volume calculator or asking for help from a knowledgeable employee.
  • Have a general board type or two in mind – are you looking to replace a board you already have or are you looking for something totally different?
  • Don’t forget the fins! Take a look at the system and setup that’s in the boards you’re interested in. Do you already have that type of fin system and some fins you like?
  • Unless you’re surfing competitively, you’ll probably want to avoid the boards that are posted with hand-written labels that say “Don’t Squeeze the Rails!” – these are going to usually include the stock high-performance short boards with super light glassing schedules.

Be sure to check whether the shop will throw in some fins with the board. Sometimes, if you’re nice or you shop there a lot, the surf shop might even throw in a traction pad and some surf wax.

The nice thing about buying a new board off the rack is that you’re going to be able to visually inspect and compare a pretty good variety of different boards. If you’re an average-sized surfer, you’re probably going to have a lot of options to choose from. If you’re looking for something really unique or obscure, you might have a harder time picking a board off the rack.

Ordering a Custom Surfboard

Ordering a custom surfboard can be really exciting. Assuming you’re able to find the right shaper and are able to work with them effectively, you might just come out of it with a board that feels magic.

You definitely don’t need a custom board for your first boards. Wait until you’ve got a sense of a variety of different surfboards and your own surfing style and preferences before thinking about custom.

Just like with buying a board off the rack, it can help to have some ideas of what you want in your mind. For example, if you know you’re looking specifically for a longboard, you can find a shaper that specializes in longboards.

The first step is finding a shaper. If you live near the coast, you’ll probably have some local shapers that you’ve heard of. You can always talk to some friends or folks in the lineup to get some more ideas. Again, think about what type of board you want. Check out the shaper’s website if they have one and talk to a few if you’re able to.

Once you settle on a shaper, you’ll want to have a conversation about your new board. Here are some things you’ll want to cover with them:

  • Your height, weight, fitness and surfing abilities. Honesty good here.
  • The waves and spots you like to surf.
  • The boards you currently surf.
  • Some things you’re looking to improve upon.

As the shaper gets the information he needs, he should be able to start working on a board that just right for you. Keep in mind, that you’ll find most magic custom boards through developing a relationship with a particular shaper. This works best if you’re able to provide real, honest feedback on what you experience with their shape.

Depending on the shaper’s backlog, you’ll probably be waiting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for your custom board.

Buying a Used Surfboard

Used surfboards are great for experimentation and expanding your quiver on a budget.

If you’re patient, you can usually find some great deals on used boards that are still in pretty decent condition. The one caveat being, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

You can find used boards on classifieds like Craiglist, surfboard swap meets, and your local surf shop’s used and consignment racks.

Given the low price you can find for most used boards, it’s a great way to surf something you might be hesitant to purchase brand new.

When buying a used board:

  • Keep a budget in mind.
  • Inspect the board for any unrepaired dings, sloppily repaired dings, or major repairs.
    • Look for cracks, delamination, major pressure dings, etc.
    • Be wary of used boards that are waxed up – a layer of wax can hide cracks and other damage.
    • If the board feels heavy or the foam looks “moldy,” the board has been water logged and is probably past repair.
  • Take a look at the fin system and set up.
  • Get a feel for the seller (if buying from a classified ad) – if you get bad vibes or sense something sketchy, find something else.

Buying used boards is the perfect route for those who are looking to experiment and expand their surfing abilities. If you shell out a couple hundred (or less) for a funky used board and find you don’t like it, the sting is a lot less than if you had bought the same board new.

Used Surfboards for Beginners

Another good option for beginners is to check out your local selection of used surfboards.

The same rules apply here: look for something long and wide with plenty of volume.

You can check out your local Craigslist, local surf shop’s used board rack, or an occasional board swap.

If you’re buying a used board as a beginner, don’t worry about the condition all that much. Obviously you want something that’s water tight, but pressure dings, repairs, or yellowing should be no problem.

Worse case scenario is you pick up something cheap and get to practice your own ding repairs.

Cheap Surfboards

Surfboards can get pretty expensive pretty quickly. So so should just go with a cheap board?

There’s a spectrum of “cheap” surfboards.

On one end, you have used boards that could use a little TLC. On the other, you have new boards that are mass-produced out of low quality materials.

If you’re looking for a cheap board – aim for something used. This is good for the environment and your wallet.

Avoid cheap pop-outs and the like. Support your local shapers and reputable surf brands.

Ordering a Surfboard Online

Shopping for and ordering a surfboard online gives you pretty much unlimited choice in your surfboard selection.

Most of the above advice applies to buying surfboard online too, with one major difference – shipping.

You don’t want to order the perfect surfboard online just to have it arrive at your door in pieces because of bad shipping.

Before you buy, look into how the company will be shipping or coordinating pick-up for your surfboard.

If the website has no information about how it packages and ships its boards, that’s probably not a good sign.

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