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Foam vs. Fiberglass When Learning to Surf

A Not So Gentle Look at the Pros of Each Board and the Objective Truth

Since the dawn of the infamous “wavestorm era,”1 beginner surfers have seen the luxury of the foam board becoming the surefire way to learn how to surf. However, some surfing purists and Youtubers2 have urged beginners  to skip the foamie for a few valid reasons. But I’m going to spill the beans in the interest of those who can’t be bothered to read past the first paragraph – and for some, they’re gonna be some hard beans to swallow. Foam boards are the best way to learn how to surf.

Now hold on local older salty white man riding a mid-length! Before you go post an anti-foam rant on a Facebook group in all caps, keep reading because the whole picture is a little more complicated than it seems. While learning on a foam board is more practical, there are perks and other reasons to learn surfing on a hard board3… And what screams “Educated in the USA in the 90s” louder than a Pros & Cons list to organize our ideas before we make a claim or informed decision?

Let’s take a quick look at some of the pros of learning on a foam board first…

  • Easier to paddle/catch waves 
  • More stable to stand up on
  • Virtually Indestructible
  • Less likely to injure you 
  • Affordable 
  • Still turnable 
  • Versatile

Some of these pros are more well known than others. The common person looking to start surfing will likely know that foam boards are cheaper, easier, and safer; making them an obvious choice for anyone with little ocean experience and knowledge. It’s some of the unknown pros that are commonly forgotten by some of the gnarliest “snowboarders”4 who are looking to surf like Kelly their first time out. Well Mr. Slater, here’s a couple of cold hard facts about the first time you surf. Balancing on your stomach on a surfboard isn’t that easy, paddling a surfboard is also not that easy, duck diving a surfboard is difficult (not to mention violent, disorienting, and only possible on small boards), paddling for and catching a wave at the right time is very difficult, standing up on the surfboard while it moves is not easy, SURFING IS HARD. That said, using a hard surfboard will not help with any of the facts just mentioned. Oh, a couple more things, you WILL fall and smash yourself into your board, you WILL nosedive, you WILL completely flush your sinuses (and sometimes lungs) with saltwater. Using a foam board allows a beginner surfer to focus on pop-up, stance, and technique without having to worry about breaking the board… or themselves… or (this ones for the purists) other surfers and their boards.

Okeydoke, Let us take a look at some of the Pros to learning on a fiberglass surfboard…

  • More maneuverability
  • Skip a transition step getting used to a hard surfboard

See… there’s some pros… Right?

These are definitely things, but any surfer who isn’t just trying sound right knows that foam boards are also maneuverable5, just not quite as much so; chances are you aren’t going to be doing a whole lot of maneuvering your first few times out anyway.  As far as skipping the transition to a fiberglass board, know this. Learning to surf in general is a transition. At the end of the day, you can ride any board you want, take as many lessons as you want, watch as many youtube vids as you want, practice as many pops ups and balance the indo board as much as you want – But nothing prepares a surfer better for surfing than consistently getting into the ocean and catching waves. Transitioning from a foam board to a fiberglass board is nothing compared to the transition a person must make in their life to become a surfer in general. It’s a commitment to good health, waking up early, studying the ocean, understanding different breaks, learning etiquette, dealing with locals, full sinus flushes, and getting absolutely pounded – and doing it all because it’s fun and it makes you happy.

It doesn’t matter what board you’re riding. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

  1.  In 2006 Costco started selling foam surfboards at rates never seen before. All you needed was 100 bucks and to borrow a friend’s Costco card, and you could be completely set up to surf. Not only did this make surfing more accessible for many people, it also created a much larger market in surfing and brought to light using foam boards to learn. Some of the crustier surfers blame crowded lineups and the decay of surf etiquette on this, which isn’t really what big corpos (or Gerry Lopez for that matter) care about when they’re raking in the big bucks.  
  2.  I actually have not looked too far into this. All I know is a bunch of beginner surfers have come into our shop insisting on using a hard board to learn because Youtube told them too. To which I reply (shoutout to Daniel Stern in Bushwhacked) “If youtube told you to stick your weiner in an electrical socket, would you do it?”
  3.  Anything except foam. There are quite a few different materials hard surfboards can be made of these days. Wood, PU, EPS, XPS (if you have to ask you can’t afford it), Carbon FIber/Kevlar, Composite Poly/Epoxy, etc. All different from the other but accomplish the same goal of making you go fast while standing on water. You want to read more about that, there’s other blogs and youtube vids to check out. 
  4.  If I had a nickel for everytime I’ve heard a person say “I snowboard so I should be alright” and a dime  for them coming out of the water and saying “wow that’s harder than I thought” I would have an equal amount of nickels and dimes because saying that shows just how little someone knows about surfing. First off, EVERYONE SNOWBOARDS! In that time you’ve been snowboarding have you happened to notice surfboards don’t have bindings, or edges, go on different surfaces, require hard work and core strength just to make it to the actual riding part. In my experience doing both (you know because EVERYONE SNOWBOARDS) snowboarding has done nothing but create bad habits in my surfing. I love it, but the bottom line is the skills from surfing transfer over to snowboarding much easier than snow to surf and it’s simply because surfing is harder and requires knowledge and skills besides just the techniques used to do the activity. *PRO TIP – You’re much more likely to sound like you know what you are talking about if you say you body surf and skateboard and/or acknowledge that snowboarding will likely not help you beyond riding with one foot in front of the other.
  5. Jamie O’Brien, albeit a pro at his homebreak, surfs these things at pipe sooo…. Hate JOB too much to convince you? Come watch PBSS instructors surf foamies with their students during lessons or on their lunch breaks and see how much fun they’re not having.

PB Surf Shop | San Diego Surf Lessons

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