Gear Today, Surf Tomorrow
For the fledgling surfer, deciding that surfing is something you want to do as a hobby or pastime is the easy part: actually going and doing it is a little more difficult. Before you even consider the fairly difficult task of finding anywhere in the UK to surf and a day with good weather (going abroad is the only sure-fire way of guaranteeing good weather and good surf), you’re going to need the correct equipment to be able to surf the waves, and before you think it, no, a surfboard alone simply isn’t going to cut it, even for the least-initiated of beginners. Turning up at the beach with a randomly-selected board grabbed from the nearest hire station is like a guitarist turning up at a gig with a borrowed electric guitar: it may work for a little while but when you realise you need plectrums, a lead, an amp, or a cab/head combination in order to play on stage, you will come unstuck pretty quickly. This is a short guide that hopes to list the essential surfing equipment a beginner is almost certainly going need accompanied by handy examples of these great-quality products and where to find them.
It might be the most painfully obvious piece of advice for the beginner surfer, but there’s no avoiding the fact that since you have chosen to become a surfer, you’re going to need to purchase (or as least temporarily facilitate the presence of) a surface on which to surf, otherwise you’re technically just flailing in the water, aka swimming badly. Before you go clicking on any random surfboard and purchasing one outright, you must take the fact that there are several different types of surfboard into consideration. These general types are as follows.
Beginner Board (aka Soft Board)
Beginner boards are named as such because the soft versions are made from foam or a porous material that is extremely buoyant and will therefore keep you floating with more vigour than other boards. These boards are often fairly large (between 6 and 8 feet in length, your choice of which depends on your height; it is usually best to pick one that is 1-2 foot longer than your height). Soft boards are also less harmful when the inevitable wipe-out sends the board careering into you at high speed.
You can also purchase beginner boards that have a soft interior but hard, exterior made from perhaps fibreglass or other hard material. These are painful if you should be on the receiving end of a blow from one, but they can get beginners used to the feel of a hard board and all of the caring/maintenance for it that comes along with it.
Obviously named because of their increased length, these are more stable and are suited for cruising and performing tricks that shorter boards do not enable the surfer to do.
Because of their relatively short length, these are perfect for the typical surfing you’ll see in contests or on packed beaches in the summer. Short boards allow for quick turns and shredding extremely fast waves.
Malibu or Mini Mal
These are similar to a longboard in design but a little shorter to allow for quicker turning and more versatility.
These boars range from anywhere from six to ten feet. Gun boards are point and narrow in order to be able to ride larger waves. Guns are used for extremely steep and gigantic waves, the likes of which beginners probably shouldn’t be taking on in the first place.
Fish boards are simply variants of the short boards, differing in shape by having a wider nose that is more rounded in shape. The mid-section is a little wider as well and it has a distinctive tail. This board is designed for maintaining the ability to catch waves that is typical of longer boards but with manoeuvrability that boards of greater length don’t have.
Recommended Boards for Beginners
Softsurfboards 7.5 Beginner Soft Board - £149 New
As a long and buoyant beginner board, this one is perfect for the beginner surfer looking to get used to riding average-sized waves. It is relatively inexpensive and will please the beginner looking for a brand new board at a very reasonable price. Sold at: King Of Water Sports.
Wave Storm 8’ Classic Surfboard – $179.99 New
Wavestorm are shaking up the surfboard industry with their high-quality boards at ridiculously low prices. This is an 8’ soft board which is perfect for the beginner. It is soft enough not to pose a danger in the water to the average beginner as well as being buoyant and a decent length to allow for maximum stability in the water. The only problem is availability. The above link is to the CostCo website where they are freely availably but the Wavestorm on Amazon is currently unavailable.
Osprey OSX 6ft, 7ft, 8ft and 9ft Boards – £83.99-£149.95
Perhaps the most versatile set of boards you can possibly hope to purchase in the UK, the Osprey OSX series ranges from 6-8 feet in length meaning that you can purchase smaller ones for children and the larger ones for the taller, heavier adults. These boards go up to 9ft in length with the longboards which is sizeable enough to provide maximum stability for beginners. The smaller 6ft boards are fish-tail and are for intermediate to experienced surfers but the 7ft boards are Mini-mals which can be ideal for beginners looking for something a little more challenging.
Wetsuits for Beginners
You cannot be serious about learning to surf in the UK unless you consider buying a wetsuit. Even in the summer months in many parts of the UK, you cannot spend hours in the water unless you have a protective suit on to keep you warm when spending long periods of time in most UK water that is at best lukewarm. Surfing wetsuits are designed to have increased mobility around the shoulder and hip/leg area so that surfers can manoeuvre as they are supposed to without being restricted.
When purchasing wetsuits, it is important that you consider the suit’s thickness. The thicker the suit, the warmer it will it will be a little less flexible as a result. The measurement format (for example 4/3mm) indicates the thickness of the torso and then of the material covering the limbs. For example, a 4/3mm wetsuit has a 4mm thickness on the body and 3mm on the legs; this means increased flexibility for the legs but a little less protection, though 1mm is negligible. For UK waters, a 4/3mm wetsuit will be ideal, though at colder times it is well worth considering increased thicknesses and purchasing boots and a hood as well.
The above link offers wetsuits for men, women, and children at the thickness of 4mm. The website also offers different thicknesses but 4mm is a standard recommendation for those surfing in slightly colder waters. The Billabong wetsuits on offer here are around £140 (though there are cheaper ones on the Wetsuitoutlet website) which may be on the expensive side for those just starting off but if you are serious about surfing in UK waters, this kind of long-length wetsuit is an absolute must.
Ripcurl 2mm Shorty Wetsuit – £54.99
Surfdome offers a great variety of wetsuits but this shorty 2mm from Ripcurl is a fantastic wetsuit for surfing in warmer climates which may still surprise you with a little bit of cooler weather on long surfing days. The short leg sections mean increased mobility in the lower extremities and the 2mm thickness means you will have a layer of warmth while still being as flexible as possible all round.
These are necessary only for the colder climates or for extra protection when you are surfing near/over reefs which are likely to cut your feet to shreds if you do not take the proper precautions.
O’Neill 3mm Round Toe Booties – $44.95
As far as quality goes, it doesn’t get better than O’Neill. This particular toe boot is a best seller at many different outlets, particularly the one which the above link takes you to. These are an ideal thickness for any climate you are likely to need boots for.
Gloves and Hoods
These are again for the colder climates only and there isn’t a particular make that one should immediately go for. Check out the Wetsuit Warehouse Boots Gloves Hoods section and choose a thickness that is right for you.
We’re getting into the top-end of the beginner territory and into the intermediate waters now, but Surfboard Wax is an essential component of any surfer’s arsenal, provided the surfer has a board with a hard deck. Wax cannot and should not be applied to foam boards but anyone with a hard board who is serious about surfing will want to purchase some because it allows for maximum grip n the surf board to prevent slipping and sliding in the water.