THE SUREST WAY to catch a perfect ride is to choose the right board size and shape for your skill level and local break. With surfboards, thicker means better flotation, wider equals more stability, and greater length translates into increased paddling speedvital for catching a wave. The second consideration is materials: Most boards either are made of shaped foam cores covered in fiberglass or they're machine-molded foam sandwiches wrapped in an epoxy laminate. Traditional foam-and-glass boards tend to be more affordable and thus more popular, while molded boards are lighter yet more durable. We picked five user-friendly sticks that'll get you up and ripping.
Instead of starting with a longboard, smaller-framed or fitter surfers should try a "fun shape" or "funboard," like the seven-foot-six-inch foam-and-fiberglass Blue Mini Longboard . Funboards are usually between seven and nine feet long, are as stable, thick, and almost as fast as longboards. But they're much easier to maneuver and will perform admirably when you're ready to start tackling bottom turns and off-the-lips. $425; 7'2", 8'6"; www.globalsurfindustries.com
The nine-foot-six-inch Surftech Robert August What I Ride , from venerable board shaper and The Endless Summer star Robert August, is a wide, stable platform that provides all the float and paddling speed necessary to get beginners up and riding. Seasoned surfers will appreciate this one as a sweet, lazy cruiser and nimble noserider. Beneath its natty wood veneer is a high-tech molded combination of foams and epoxy-and-fiberglass laminate that's lighter and 40 percent more durable than standard foam-and-glass options. $965; 8'4"10'; www.surftech.com
Fish boards are typically stubby, sub-six-footers with twin fins and split tails that turn on a dimean attribute that lets riders make the most of slight, sloppy surf. But its smaller size does make a fish hard to ride. For performance benefits without the frustration, hop on the larger six-foot-six-inch Lost Round Nose Fish . This foam-and-glass beauty paddles like a much bigger fun shape but will let you pull off whiplash-inducing turns. $560; 5'4"6'8"; www.lostenterprises.com
The next step up from a funboard is a hybrid like the WRV FunFish . Nearly three inches of foam inside this seven-foot foam-and-glass stick make for a better float, while the relatively flat bottom provides more stability in waist-high crumblers. The WRV's sharply upturned nose lets you make steeper, and therefore faster, drops into the waveand a swallowtail on the back end produces quicker turns. All of which translates into superior handling. $490; 6'6"8'6"; www.waveridingvehicles.com
If you had to pick just one board to ride every day and in all conditions, the Channel Islands M-13 would be it. This eight-foot-long hybrid paddles and catches waves as easily as a longboard, but the shortboard-style nose and the concave shape stick steeper drops, while the pintail smooths turns and holds a tight line in large surf. The M-13 is made of lightweight SurfTech TufLite, molded layers of foam surrounded by an epoxy-and-fiberglass laminate that protects the shape from dings that can damage less durable foam-and-fiberglass boards. $685; 7'8'; www.cisurfboards.com