One of the great things about trying out surfing or bodyboarding is that you really don’t need much to get started. Many people have their first surfing experience on holiday, whether it be in Bali, Hawaii or in the home of British surfing, Cornwall. Before taking to the waves, it’s a good idea to start with a surfing lesson with a trained professional. You’ll go out with a group, some will be beginners, and some may have been surfing before. But one thing’s for sure, you’ll have fun learning the basics, and if you’re feeling confident enough you might even be able to stand up in your first lesson. 

A good surf school will provide all the equipment you need, including the all important surfboard or bodyboard and a wetsuit. And if you fancy trying surfing in the winter, they’ll usually supply boots, gloves and a hood for extra protection. You can always get some equipment of your own once you have a few lessons under your belt. But first, let’s look at the differences between surfing and bodyboarding.

What are the different types of surfboards?

Surfboards come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many things to consider when choosing a board. A beginner will need a different board compared to an advanced surfer. You’ll also need to take into account your fitness level, your weight and height, and what type of waves you’re going to be surfing, as all these factors will determine which surfboard is best for you. 

A good size surfboard for a beginning surfer would be around 7 feet long, 22 inches wide and 3 inches thick. It does depend on your size, so make sure you can comfortably carry the board and move it around easily in the water. Just choose a surfboard that’s at least a foot taller than you. A soft top board is a good option for a beginner as they provide lots of float and stability.

There are five main types of surfboard: 

  • Shortboards: are highly maneuverable and suitable for fast, steep waves. They range from 5 to 7 feet. They usually have a nose rocker, a pointy nose and thinner rails. Shortboards are not ideal for beginners as they’re not as stable as other types of board, and you’ll need to be a strong paddler and know exactly where to take off on a wave. A shortboard works best in larger waves that are waist high to double overhead.
  • Fish Boards: are usually shorter, wider and flatter than shortboards. They also surf more smoothly, and go faster in slower breaking waves. They paddle well, and they’re good for beginners as they’re easier to balance on. Fish work best in thigh high to overhead waves.
  • Longboards: are the original surfboards in the surfing world. They are 8 to 11 feet long and are easy to paddle and catch waves on, making it great for beginners. A single fin requires less rider input (more glide), but because of the length they are more awkward to maneuver. Longboards are best in ankle high to waves that are just overhead.
  • Funboards: are perfect for beginners as they are wide and stable. And suitable for heavier surfers too. They are easier to maneuver than longboards and are usually 7 to 9 feet long. A Funboard can work in waves from knee high to well overhead.
  • Gun: is a board built for speed and the intensity of a big wave surf. It has a narrow tail and nose which is specially designed for experienced surfers. Guns are for waves double overhead and up.

How can I choose the right bodyboard?

When choosing a bodyboard, it’s important to buy the most suitable one for your height, weight and experience. The right size board should come to belly button height when standing on the floor. The shorter the board the more your legs will be dragging in the water behind you, slowing you down.

The two main types of core material used in bodyboards are dow polyethylene foam (PE) and polypropylene foam (PP). Dow has been used in bodyboard cores for decades, and although slightly heavier, offers good flex, excellent projection and solid all-round performance when the water is colder. PP boards are naturally lighter and stiffer, but can be too stiff in cold water. Newer 3D cores incorporate both PE and PP foams in sandwiched layers.

Fins are also an essential part of bodyboarding, not only because they play a significant propulsive role in getting into the wave fast, but also while riding the wave. They can also be considered a life-saving piece of equipment that will keep you out of trouble in case you get caught by a rip current or are dragged out to sea. 

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What is the ‘Glossary of Surfing’?

If you’re doing your research on surfing, you’re probably coming across lots of words and thinking - huh? That’s because surfing seems to have a whole language of its own. There is an ever growing list of surfing terminology, but here are just some of them so you too can learn the lingo:

360

A surf move consisting of turning the surfboard at a 360-degree angle while on the face of a wave

Aerial

Riding the board briefly into the air above the wave

A-frame

A perfect shaped wave, shaped like an “A”

Bailing

Jumping off your board into the water in order to avoid a bad encounter

Barrel

The effect when a big wave rolls over to create a tube

Beach break

Waves that break over sandbars

Blown out

When the wind makes a wave too choppy to surf

Bogging

When a surfer's weight is too far back, and the surfboard nose lifts up

Bomb

A huge wave

Bottom turn

When a surfer turns at the bottom of the wave


Break

When the swell of the water breaks, turning into waves and white water

Carve

A sharp turn on the wave face

Cutback

A turn cutting back towards the breaking part of the wave

Double up

When one large wave is closely followed by a smaller one

Duck Diving

Ducking your body and surfboard under a breaking wave

Eskimo roll

A surf move that gets the surfer through a large or broken wave without being washed to shore

Fade

When a surfer puts themselves into the most powerful part of the wave

Floater

A surf move where the surfer rides the top of the wave, then drops back into the main part of the wave

Overhead

When a wave is higher than an average surfer

Pop-up

Going from lying on the board to standing, all in one jump

Riptide

A stretch of water that is particularly turbulent

Swell

A series of waves that have travelled from their source in a distant storm

Wipe out

Falling off the surfboard when riding a wave

And here are the names for the different parts of a surfboard:

Blank

The block of foam from which a surfboard is made from

Deck

The upper surface of the board

Fin

A mounted tail on the underside of the board that enables it to be steered

Leash

A cord that is attached to the back of the board, which straps around the surfer's ankle

Nose

The forward tip of the board

Quiver

A surfer's collection of boards for different kinds of waves

Rails

The side edges of the surfboard

Stringer

The line of wood that runs down the centre of a board to hold its rigidity and add strength

Tail

The back end of the board