In the Store: Custom-shaped boards aren't necessarily more expensive. But you'll have to wait while they get made. » The general rule for beginners: The bigger the board, the better. When in doubt, ask to demo a boardmost larger shops have a demo or rental fleet. » Your leash should be as long as your board.
In the Field: If you ding your board, get out of the water and have it patched immediately. » Wax job: If it's hot out, rub wax on in the shade, not in direct sunlight. » Your wax will last longer if you first apply a base coat and then the appropriate wax for the water temp where you'll be surfing (i.e., cold, cool, warm, or tropical). » If you don't have a bar of wax but you need to rough up your traction on the existing wax, use a wax comb or grab a handful of wet sand from near the tide line and rub it onto the deck.
At Home: Store your board in the shade. Even better, use a board bag or sock to protect your stick from getting nicked. » If you're heading for Panama, invest in a padded travel bag.