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Best beginner surfboards 2023: Catch waves with these learner-friendly boards

Our selection of the best hard and soft-top surfboards for those dipping a toe into choppy waters

If you’re venturing into the waves for the first time, you’ll want to make sure you’re carrying one of the best beginner surfboards on sale today. Too many beginner – and even intermediate – surfers attempt to catch waves on inappropriate boards.

The professionals busting huge airs and tucking into gnarly, gaping barrels all ride impossibly small, impossibly skinny surf craft, but that’s because they’ve been surfing since they were knee-high to a grasshopper.

The best surfboard for anyone new to surfing is a large, preferably soft-topped surfboard with plenty of “volume”, which refers to the amount of dense foam that’s packed into the surfboard’s core. This gives the board additional buoyancy, which not only makes it easy to paddle in the water, but also aids all-important stability when you’re trying to get to your feet.

With that in mind, here we’ll reveal some of the best beginner boards for catching your first waves. These range from excellent-value, do-it-all foam boards to slightly more performance-oriented models with more premium features.

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Best beginner surfboards: At a glance

  • Best cheap beginner surfboard: Vision XPS Take Off | Buy now
  • Best surfboard for more advanced surfers: Olaian Foam Surfboard 900 | Buy now
  • Best beginner surfboard for kids: Ocean and Earth Ezi-Rider | Buy now

How to choose the best beginner surfboard for you

What is volume? And do I need to worry about it?

Volume is the amount of foam packed into the middle of a surfboard, and you’ll see it referred to in litres. The higher the number, the more volume the board will have. This in turn means it floats better and will generally offer a more stable ride. Even though having more volume generally makes a board slower to react, it’s great for beginners, as it makes getting to your feet easier, so look out for those boards with a higher number. That said, lighter riders can get away with less volume, while heavier riders generally need more to counteract the weight.

Does the shape of the surfboard matter?

Yes, it really does. Confusingly, you’ll see surfboards referred to as Fish, Mini-Mals, Longboards, Performance Shortboards, Grovellers and much more. These nicknames refer to the board’s shape, template and outline. The shape of the board will affect the way it performs in the water, with Longboards and Mini-Mals (short for Malibu) offering a slower, more relaxed ride that works very well in smaller waves. Performance Shortboards and Fish tend to be used in bigger swells, when the waves have more power. Beginner surfboards come mainly in Longboard or Mini-Mal dimensions to make it as easy as possible to get to your feet.

How many fins do I need?

Fins can be found on the underside of a surfboard and act like a keel on a boat, giving a board stability, increasing or decreasing speed, allowing the rider to perform snappier turns or a mixture of all of the above. Most beginner boards come with a single fin, or a classic three-fin set-up (referred to as “thruster”), which is the most popular thanks to its blend of stability and manoeuvrability. The layout isn’t too important, but beginners should look to ride boards with soft or rubberised fins, as these reduce the risk of injury to you or fellow surfers.

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Hard or soft top?

More advanced boards are typically made from a foam core that’s covered in epoxy resin. This makes them hard and sharp, which is particularly bad when one is flying towards your head in the water. To combat this, most beginner surfboards feature a soft foam top, with a tougher plastic underside that allows the board to glide across the surface. Stick with soft tops or full foam boards until you’re full in control of your board, and then make the step up to a hard board.

How much should I spend?

This is subjective, but beginner surfboards tend to be inherently robust. That said, the more you spend, the more performance features you are likely to get. These include a set of fins from an established name, such as FCS, or a reinforced core that packs several stringers, which aid rigidity and help keep the foam core intact.

How we test beginner surfboards

We understand that getting hands-on experience with a product is the best way to whittle down a long list of items to a genuine collection of what we deem best. As such, all the boards that feature below have been assessed in the water, for the purpose for which they’re intended.

It’s impossible to experience exactly the same conditions at our local beach day in, day out, so we attempt to test as many boards back-to-back on days where a small wave is running. This allows us to get a real feel for all of the boards in the conditions that learners and beginners will first hit the water.

During testing, we look for stability, the ease with which the board can catch waves, on-
Wave-performance and the board’s ability to induce turns. We also look at the board’s safety features, such as rubber fins and the strength of the included leash (if there is one).

Out of the water, we take a closer look at the overall build quality, we assess how easy it is to remove the fins (where possible), and we carry each board the short distance from the beach to the car park to test any carry-handle features and general ease of use.

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The best beginner surfboards you can buy in 2023

1. Catch Surf Odysea Log 8ft: The best beginner surfboard for versatility

Price: £480 | Buy now from BoardshopCatch Surf is a brand born in the waves of California and it specialises in foam and soft boards with a twist. They might be soft but the performance can often match hand-shaped numbers from well-known names.

Its 8ft Log packs a whopping 86 litres of volume but features a high-performance three-fin setup and tapered tail that ensures it doesn’t just glide in a straight line. This will be an easy board to learn on but will also be able to keep up with riders as their skills on the waveface progress.

Key details – Dimensions: 8ft x 23 x 3.375in; Volume: 86 litres; Fin setup: Catch Surf Thruster; Conditions: Knee-high waves to overhead

Buy now from Boardshop

2. Vision XPS Take Off: The best-value beginner surfboard

Price: £385 | Buy now from SurfdomeBoasting two stringers that keep a waterproof EPS foam core together, this learner-friendly board has been designed to take a beating in the whitewater. It’s available in three lengths, from 6’6” with 61 litres of volume, to an 8’0” model with a generous 80 litres of volume.

Its friendly outline and three-fin set-up (they’re soft, too) make pretty much any length board a solid recommendation for beginners, although larger riders will want to err on the side of volume.

The 4mm thick rails add to the feeling of stability, while that safe soft top is as kind on tumbling limbs as things get. There’s even a neat carry handle on the deck for easier transportation to the beach, so no more dragging your board in the sand.

Key details – Dimensions: 6ft6 to 8ft x 24.25 x 3.25in; Volume: 61, 72 or 80 litres; Fin setup: Soft three-fin thruster; Conditions: Summer ripples to waist-high surf

Buy now from Surfdome

3. Surfworx Banshee Mini Mal 7ft 6: The best beginner surfboard for stylish looks

Price: £290 | Buy now from BoardshopDecked out in eye-catching black and yellow, the Banshee from Surfworx certainly stands out from the crowd of dull blue and grey boards favoured by surf schools. The Mini Mal outline and general dimensions also make it a perfect platform to start your surfing career.

The package comes with free basic fins, although the fin boxes are compatible with FCS fins if you wish to upgrade. On top of this, riders receive a leash, which attaches to the ankle and the board, so you don’t lose it when you inevitably wipe out.

This 7’6” version packs around 76 litres of volume, making it good for younger or lighter riders, although the wide nose and tail, coupled with a fairly flat underside, make it a stable option for a variety of rider heights and weights.

Key details – Dimensions: 7ft6 x 22.0625 x 3.125in; Volume: 76 litres; Fin setup: Plastic three-fin thruster; Conditions: Summer ripples to head-high surf

Buy now from Boardshop

4. Olaian Foam Surfboard 900 6ft: The best beginner surfboard for more confident riders

Price: £250 | Buy now from DecathlonAlthough not necessarily aimed at complete novices, this great little foam board from French sports equipment suppliers Decathlon is the perfect ride for anyone who is gaining confidence or has simply outgrown an oversized foamie (surf slang for a soft board).

The performance shortboard shape allows the rider to easily execute more advanced manoeuvres on the waves, yet it still retains a hefty 46 litres of volume, making it easy to paddle and get into waves early – even when those waves are small or lacking power.

Despite this, it remains a user-friendly soft board that lacks all the sharp edges and spiky bits of a traditional epoxy board. It even packs a tail pad for added grip when turning and some rather neat graphics on the underside.

Key details – Dimensions: 6ft x 21.125 x 2.75in; Volume: 46 llitres; Fin setup: Plastic three-fin thruster; Conditions: Knee-high to shoulder-high surf

Buy now from Decathlon

5. Ocean and Earth Ezi-Rider: The best beginner surfboard for kids or more advanced riders

Price: £310 | Buy now from SurfdomeThe Ocean and Earth Ezi-Rider range comprises boards that riff on the classic fish shape of the 1960s and 70s, offering bucket-loads of performance in a board that’s more robust and user-friendly than its resin counterparts.

This is suitable as an entry-level board for most riders, especially when specified in the larger 7ft model, which boasts 60 litres of volume and will happily carry up to 95kgs without complaint. We’ve plumped for the smaller model here, purely because it’s a fantastic board for kids to hone their skills on.

The core of the board is super lightweight and highly waterproof, while a slick 1mm bottom plate reduces friction for a faster and more stable ride. It’s also durable and robust, should it be dropped or dinged in the water.

What’s more, the fin box is compatible with most major fin brands, so riders can experiment with varying sizes and styles of fins once they start to get the hang of this surfing lark.

It’s not the cheapest board here, but its inherent performance credentials means it can still provide the thrills, even as experience and skill improves.

Key details – Dimensions: 6ft x 21 158″ x 2 3/4″; Volume: 40L; Fin set-up: Plastic three fin thruster; Conditions: Knee-high to shoulder-high surf

Buy now from Surfdome

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