When starting surfing, getting a board that suits your level can go a long way to helping you learn.
Getting the wrong board for you early on can be a major problem and really take the fun out of surfing.
In recent years, lots of foam soft top surfboards have come onto the market but it is not always sure whether these are right to get started on. So, the key question to answer is as follows:
Are soft top surfboards easier? Yes, soft top surfboards are probably the easiest kind of surfboard to use when starting or learning. They are a good option for learners but there are a couple of caveats to using them that will be explained below.
What is a soft top surfboard?
Just to be 100% sure, a soft-top surfboard is a surfboard that has a spongey foam top and a hard plastic bottom. The top and bottom are glued together and they usually have soft plastic fins.
These surfboards are used by surf schools all over the world and often have lots of bright colors and designs on them.
Some people online search for ‘foam surfboard’ which is the same as a soft top. The only distinction to make is between a soft top foam surfboard and other surfboards is that fiberglass surfboards, which have a hard outer coating, also have a polyurethan (PU) foam core inside them, so that’s one thing to avoid confusion with.
Ease of Surfing a Foam Soft Top Board
There are quite a few reasons why I would recommend these kinds of surfboards to beginners, as we’ll look at now.
The first reason being that soft top surfboards are by far the safest option when it comes to learning.
This is for two main reasons:
- Safer for you when you fall off
- Safer for others when you fall off!
When you fall off your surfboard, having a soft top provides a soft landing for you. This might sound strange but it is actually quite hard to learn to fall off your surfboard without hurting yourself in early stages of learning. I know I found myself hitting the board quite hard, landing on the deck and just not doing myself any favors in the early days!
In this case, if you have a foam soft top surfboard, landing on it will not hurt so much, making it definitely easier for learners in this way.
By that same token, if you fall off cleanly and the board is thrashing around in the whitewater, a soft top board will not hurt so much if it does hit you at any point. This can happen and, with learners often riding waves in shallow water, it can actually be a bit trickier to avoid the board as there is less water to dive into and get out of the way!
Of course, when you fall, your surfboard can still hit other people in the water, too. Having a soft top surfboard here will save them from getting as badly hurt as having a harder fiberglass board would, so it makes sense all round.
Soft top surfboards are mostly designed for beginner surfers. This means that they have a generous template with a wide nose and a wide tail.
These kinds of designs allow soft top riders to catch lots of waves quickly and paddle their boards with ease.
Doing both of the above will mean much faster progression and lots of fun, two great advantages of having a foam soft top surfboard!
On the back of the design points, soft top surfboards also float riders extremely well. The material and construction they use appears to be more buoyant than standard surfboards, although this might also be because of the added thickness in their design.
Something that you will find with foam soft top surfboards is that they usually have very generous volume. This is a good indication of how much float you will get out of a surfboard. The more volume, the more float or buoyancy your board will have.
That said, one caveat here is that, if going for a board with a huge amount of volume, you might find this hard to carry down the beach given the added weight. Similarly, boards with lots of volume can be hard to turn and feel ‘boaty’ when on a wave, so called because they are hard to turn quickly, just like a boat! Even so, keep an eye on the volume and shoot for a soft top board that has a good amount of height and a generous template and the volume should not be a major concern.
Boards that float you better will again help you to catch waves and also be more stable when you stand up on them, so another good reason to get a soft top.
These kinds of boards are also extremely easy to take care of. Given how fragile traditional fiberglass surfboards are, foam soft tops are a great alternative.
Soft tops won’t crack or break in the same way that a fiberglass surfboard will. This means that you can drop them, bump into things without worrying too much about them getting damaged.
Of course, they are not indestructible! The hard plastic bottom can sometimes separate from the foam top if dropped and banged too hard too many times, but this will generally be from big impacts, so just try to avoid them as best you can.
Repairing these kinds of boards can be done with a special kind of glue, but it’s not that easy so prevention is definitely better than cure here!
Soft top boards are also perhaps the most fun surfboards on the market. They are soft and playful yet full of volume to help you catch lots of waves and make riding that much easier.
Despite having been surfing for over 20 years, I actually have an 8’0” soft top that I use all the time for that reason: it’s just so darn fun!
In recent years, there has been a trend for some high performance soft top surfboards, with brands like Catch Surf and Softech leading the way. This is because even professional surfers have a lot of fun on these kinds of boards, something you can see all over YouTube and social media. You can see a clip below of retired pro surfer, Kalani Robb, and friends having a blast on these boards in California:
Should I buy a soft top surfboard?
In short, I would strongly recommend a soft top surfboard for anyone from an absolute beginner to even advanced surfers looking for some small wave fun. This is for all the reasons mentioned above around safety, design and fun, as well as their cost.
Soft top surfboards are actually some of the best budget surfboards on the market. This is because their construction and design means that they can be mass produced at lower cost than most other kinds of surfboards, keeping costs down.
If you want a board that will go well in all kinds of smaller, fun conditions then a soft-top is the answer!
If you want a more detailed rundown, check out my mega guide to buying your first beginner surfboard!
How tall should your surfboard be? As a learner, get a surfboard that is about 2 feet taller than you are. Provided that you are medium weight for your height, this should help you. If you are considered above average weight for your height then you might want to add on a few inches on top of that.
The other thing to consider is the volume of a surfboard since boards with more volume are designed for learner surfers, so combine the length of your surfboard with volume given in the product description.