You're preparing to hit the surf for the first time. You've perused the surf forums, read the basics, and now you're ready to buy or rent your first board. But there's one question that's leaving you stumped: hardboard or softboard?
Each board type has its advocates and detractors; there are lots of pros and cons for each, but which one is right for you?
We're here to help you figure out whether you need a hard top or a soft top.
Let's get to it.
Soft Surfboards (Softboards)
The most common soft top surfboards are foam surfboards or "foamies". Often used as a beginner board, a foam surfboard is easy to ride and provides a lot of buoyancy.
In fact, the added buoyancy is what makes softboards such a good choice for beginner surfers. It's much easier to paddle on boards with lots of buoyancy and you'll also find it easier to surf short and choppy waves.
Foam boards tend to be very cheap, and they are a little more forgiving than hard tops, as it won't hurt as much when you fall and collide with the board.
Soft top surfboards are often big and cumbersome, but it really all depends on the length. As a beginner, bigger is better, but that doesn't mean you need to buy the longest board on the rack and there are some short and mid-length boards that are still suitable for a beginner surfer.
Hard Surfboards (Hardboards)
Hard tops are often made from a dense foam material that is coated in fiberglass or epoxy resin. It's a light inner core and a hard outer shell that provides buoyancy without creating something that weighs 50+ pounds.
The problem is that the outer coating is prone to dents and dings, and this jeopardizes the foam within, making it waterlogged and shortening the life of the board.
Hard tops are also prone to sun damage and heat damage, although they tend to be fairly light and stylish.
Generally speaking, you will pay more for a hard top board and will also need to take better care of it to ensure it doesn't degrade, lest you have an expensive repair or a total write-off on your hands.
Hard Tops or Soft Tops for a Beginner Surfer?
As a beginner, you should focus more on soft top boards. You'll get more paddling power, and they won't leave a sizable hole in your bank account. They're fun, easy to ride, and great for mild summer conditions—just what you need as a beginner surfer.
When to Upgrade to a Hardboard
Softboards are great for beginner surfers, but there will come a time when you need to upgrade. Once you feel more comfortable on the water and are looking for a sharper, smoother surfing experience, it's time to upgrade to a hard top surfboard.
It's important not to go too short. You can shave a couple of inches off the length, but you shouldn't look for anything shorter than a funboard. At that point, it starts being more about performance benefits and less about staying stable, strong, and having fun. Even as an intermediate surfer, it may be too soon to consider a hard top shortboard.