In order to catch a wave, you’ll need to paddle about the same speed than that wave you want to catch is travelling, otherwise the wave will pass right under you. This can happen with beginners as well more experienced surfers, and is why dimensions and volume distribution on a surfboard is important!
A minimal surfboard will have a rounded nose, and will carry a similar width through to the tail, as pictured below. This gives the board enough volume in the nose to pick up speed, whilst maintaining the width to give you stability.
A surfboards standard dimensions, as you will see on a the surfboard, in a shop display, or online will have the length x width x thickness is in feet and inches. To give you an example, a standard Triocean Surf 8’0″ Minimal Surfboard will have these dimensions: 8’0″ (Length feet & inches) x 22″ (Width inches) x 3″ (Thickness inches).
With the above in mind it is also important consider that as you lie on a surfboard your body weight will generally sink the board, this will create drag (slow the board down), whilst you’re trying to paddle. So a heavier beginner will benefit from the buoyancy of a bigger, more buoyant surfboard.
So why would you not just start on the biggest most buoyant surfboard as a beginner?
In order to progress your surfing you will want to be able to start making basic turns and manoeuvres such as bottom and top turns , and cutbacks.
When trying to turn a surfboard, you need to be able to “sink the rail” (sinking the back 1/4 rail of your surfboard). In doing this the edge of your surfboard will dig into the water, and any pressure applied by your weight, will push the bottom 1/4 of your board against the water, giving you a mild propulsion. In surfing this is known a ‘DRIVE’. The rail combined with your fins, also pushing against the water, will help you complete turns on the wave as well as generate speed (drive). This action will also act as grip, so your tail doesn’t sliding around.
Although a bigger board will be stable and paddle quickly, therefore catch more waves, what you sacrifice for buoyancy will be manoeuvrability and control. A board that is too thick may carry your weight whilst paddling, however will be much harder to turn. Unless you are the right weight for the board, or have the strength and technique to sink you rail, which most beginners will not have yet.
In-store we would generally recommend that adult male beginners start on an 8’0″ minimal to begin with, whilst ladies and children start on 7’6″ minimals. Other reasons for this recommendation are:
Surfing has a fairly steep learning curve. If you have great balance that’s perfect for when you’re up on your feet; this is where skateboarders and snowboarders can benefit from having good board balance. However before you can utilise that strength, you still need to be able to catch the wave, and then pop up to your feet; only then can you use your strongest asset.
Before you can develop the board riding skills, its important to perfect catching waves and the ‘pop up’. Your learning curve will be cut significantly if you start with the right equipment, and you’ll have a whole lot of fun too. As anyone who surf’s will tell you, it’s great catching waves, lots of waves, and not so fun struggling because your board is too small. You can become frustrated, and it can really knock your confidence.
At any level getting the right board is important, hence why for beginners we will always recommend a board with enough volume to suit the individual. And why I would recommend minimals between 6’10” to 8’0″ as a first board. These also hold their value as a second, third even fourth hand (depending on the condition).