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Beginners Guide to Essential Surfing Equipment

Beginners Guide to Essential Surfing Equipment

Welcome to the Extreme Horizon surf shop guide to essential surfing equipment.   You should find all the information you need to set yourself up with all the right surfing accessories, surf equipment and surf gear....  

There's a huge range of surfing equipment to spend your money on, but not all of it is essential.   The core goal of a surfer is to spend as much time in the water as possible, not to spend as much money as possible on the latest seasons range of mass produced surf wear clothes!

This guide is aimed towards beginners who need an impartial opinion on what surf equipment is needed to get yourself in the ocean.   The needs of the individual are going to vary the world over and are dependent upon a number of variables, so to help you decide you need to determine the following: where are you going to surf, are you surfing year round or just the summer months, will you surf regularly or only 1-2 times a year and what style of surfing is your goal?   We have laid out a range of options based on water temperature and on the assumption that as you are learning then smaller beach break waves in the 2-4ft range will be most suitable.


In the most basic terms there are five types of surfboard:

Shortboard Surfboard Shortboard/Thruster - A Surfboard for ripping size generally 5'8"- 6'10"
Longboard Malibu Surfboard Longboard/Malibu - A Surfboard for cruisin' Mini-Mal, anywhere from 7'2"- 9' and Mals 9' +
Fish Surfboard Fish - Similar to a shortboard but shorter and wider 4'8" - 6'
Gun Surfboard Gun - Big Wave Board 7'10" to over 12'
Stand Up Paddle Board Surfboard Stand Up Paddle board - As the name suggests these are for standing and paddling with a canoe like paddle rather than laying down to catch a wave, sizes 9'-12'

Within these basic types, there unlimited variations, (more of which we have touched on in our surfboard design page), but here we'll concentrate on the essentials.   The type of board you choose shouldn't be determined by what design looks the coolest or by what the top 44 WCT surfers are riding, you need to pick a surfboard that suits you.

Assuming you are a beginner, your weight, age and desired surfing style goal are the most important factors.   The elements you need to consider are:

Length - when beginning the length of the surfboard is one of most critical decisions and generally speaking the longer the better.   A board 1-2ft taller than your own height is a reasonable guideline, but the other factors will come into play.   A longer surfboard should help you to make paddling easier.

Thickness - A thicker board will provide more flotation which allows easier paddling and provide more of a glide when stood up.   You will need to consider a thicker surfboard the heavier you are- a 2.5" to 3" thick surfboard should be suitable.

Width - A wider surfboard will be more forgiving when learning, again being easier to paddle and provide a more stable platform.   Look for width in the nose, centre and tail of the board.

Which board to choose

When it comes to surfboard construction (see our surfboard design page for more info) there are a number of types, but in basic terms there are the custom boards, epoxy, softboards and pop-outs.   If you are going to surf regularly and look to progress then a custom or epoxy board may be the way forward, but if you are only looking to surf during holidays or your board will take a lot of abuse perhaps look at softboard or pop-out.   Mals and mini-mals are ideal beginner surfboards.

Softboard Surfboard Softboard - Softboards or "Foamies" are as the name suggests made of foam and are soft, which allows them to be more forgiving to the novice.  These surfboards are very buoyant, big and stable in the water.
Pop Out Surfboard Pop-outs - These are tough beginners boards with plenty of float.  They are made of a foam core with a thick fiberglass coating and can stand a lot of abuse!  They tend to be a cheaper alternative than a custom surfboard and hold their resale value once you want to trade up to a custom surfboard.


In many parts of the world the water temperature is such that without a wetsuit you just aren't going to be able to get in the water or if you do you won't be able to stay in comfortably for any length of time.   So unless you are one of the lucky ones surfing every day in warm tropical waters a wetsuit is a must.

Wetsuit technology has advanced dramatically over the past few years with new innovations happening all the time so a decent wetsuit, appropriate for your local conditions should allow you to stay in the water for as long as you like, even in mid winter.

Construction - Wetsuits are made of a flexible material called neoprene, a type of rubber which is stitched together in panels for each part of the body.   A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between the rubber and your skin which your body then heats which in turn insulates you.   Wetsuits are measured for the conditions by their thickness, basically the colder the water the thicker the neoprene required. A single wetsuit can have varying thicknesses of neoprene to allow more flexibility and the panels can be vary in type i.e. a chest panel is often a slick rubber which helps reduce windchill.   The stitching of wetsuit panels also varies between flatlocked, blind, taped, and glued stitching.   A winter suit will need to be blind stitched/taped to provide a seal, whereas a cheap wetsuit or summer suit may be flatlocked which will allow water to pass through the seams.   Wetsuits come in a range of thicknesses from 6mm through to 2mm.

Shortie Wetsuit              Steamer Wetsuit Types - There are a few types of wetsuits: a full wetsuit or "steamer" with full length arms and legs- standard thicknesses are 6/4 or 5/3mm for winter or 3/2 for summer.   A Convertible- which has full length arms and legs but the arms are detachable if the suns starts to shine!- usually a 3/2.   A Shortie which is for spring/summer and has short arms/legs and can be 3/2 or 2/1mm.

Wetsuit sizes - When buying a wetsuit you need to ensure a good fit.   The wetsuit will need to be a snug fit but not tight.   Also if it's too loose it will be prone to flushing which is where the water floods in through the neck or arms which can be a chilly experience!

Rash Vest - A must have item, which is made of a soft neoprene and nylon mix, worn under a wetsuit to protect the skin from irritation especially under the arms when paddling.   A Rash vest can also add an extra layer of insulation in cold water and can be bought with a thermal lining for extra warmth.   On the other end of the scale a rash vest can also be worn in semi/tropical regions where the water is warm enough to forget about a wetsuit.   It's advisable to wear a rash vest in the tropics to help protect from the sun as the vest will have a high UV protection rating.

Boots, Gloves, Hood - If your local breaks fall into areas of high Northern or low Southern latitudes or is influenced by cold ocean currents and you want to surf year round chances are you're going to need these:
Surfing Boots Boots - Similar to wetsuits, boots come in different thicknesses. Essential as the cold sets in and to protect feet.
Surfing Gloves Gloves - These gloves lessen the whole surfing experience but your fingers will thank you!
Surfing Hoods Hood - When you see penguins in the line up get a hood!

Surf Wax or Traction Pad

A brand new surfboard will have a slick upper surface that won't provide any grip when trying to stand on it in the water, so to provide traction you will either need, surf wax or traction pads.   When deciding which to use its down to preference but wax is more for the purist surfer and traction pads lean towards shortboard use- but there are no rules!

Surf Wax - There's a huge range of surf wax out there with lots of colours and great smells, but don't let that be your first reason when buying, as surf wax also comes in bars suitable for different water temperatures; cold, warm and tropical which speaks for itself and also in organic biodegradable wax.   When applying wax rub ON TOP of the surfboard in small circular movements until small bumps of wax appear.   Apply the surf wax to most or all of the surfboard surface, depending on surfboard type.   Once you've applied a few layers of wax, try using a wax comb which roughs up the old wax and improves grip.   Eventually though once there's too much wax it will need removing either with a surfboard wax removing solution and the bevelled edge of a wax comb or by leaving the surfboard in the sun and again scrape off the wax with the edge of a wax comb or old credit card.  

Surfboard Wax Comb    Surfboard Wax

Traction Pad or Deck grip - Traction pads deck grip serves the same purpose as surf wax and stops you slipping off the surfboard.   These tend to be used mainly on shortboards and mainly for the back foot but can also be used for the front foot.   There's a huge range of designs, styles and colours so choice is all down to personal preference.

Leg ropes or Leashes

Surfboard Leashes are designed to be attached to your surfboard at one end to a plug fixed within the top side of your surfboard at the tail and attached to your backfoot ankle with a velcro strap at the other.   This ensures that when you fall off your surfboard stays with you and doesn't fly off into other surfers or end up back on the beach.   It's an essential piece of kit which makes surfing easier and safer.   Leg Ropes come in varying designs, thicknesses and lengths depending upon the size of your board and the size of waves you are riding, but as a general rule you need a leash that's at least the same length as your surfboard or longer.

Surfboard Leash

Essential equipment summary list


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