When you’ve got a few surfing lessons under your belt and you are hooked then your thoughts will probably start turning towards getting your own surfboard and wetsuit.
Head into a surf shop and you will likely be met with a bewildering array of surf gear but if you ask for advice most are willing to oblige.
And if they don’t head to one that will. If the surf shop has been there for a few years then they will most likely be able to offer excellent advice and steer you in the right direction but here are a few pointers to get you started.
Choosing the right wetsuit will depend almost entirely on the climate at the surf where you will predominantly be surfing. Unless you live in the tropics you will be surfing in a wetsuit at some point during the year. For water that is 15-19℃ then a 3/2mm thickness wetsuit will be ideal. For 10-14℃ then a 5/4mm thickness wetsuit will be comfortable. Below 10℃ and 6/4 thickness is what you will using.
As a rough guide you can expect to be wearing neoprene booties as well as a wetsuit in temperatures of less than 15℃ with neoprene hoods and gloves making it more bearable below 12℃. Of course there are some surfers who swear that you won’t need booties unless its at least 8℃ and that a hood is only for when there are chunks of ice in the water. To a degree you will have to make up your own mind but, in Britain for example, it’s not very often that you hear someone complain that it’s too hot.
The main thing to consider is that for every extra bit of neoprene that you wear there will be a drop off in performance – do you want to surf in booties or do you prefer to feel the surfboard underneath your feet (but numb toes)? Only you can decide that.
A key point in deciding on a wetsuit is the ‘fit’ or ‘cut’ of it. Try not to get sucked (or rushed) into buying the latest or most fashionable brand and instead go for the one that fits the best as this will be the warmest – and who knows, it may even be the cheapest. Cut will vary to some extent from brand to brand. For example Xcel tend to fit stockier people better, while O’Neill are often a good choice for those with a more slender physique.
Any little ripple or fold of neoprene when you try it on in the shop will just fill with water in the sea and make you more cumbersome and colder. The wetsuit that fits you like a second skin and follows all of your body contours from ankles to wrist to neck will be the warmest and most comfortable.
Unless it’s too tight of course. And you will know if it is, you won’t need anyone to tell you.
So you’ve got a shiny new wetsuit that fits beautifully and is as warm as toast. Time to go on a surfboard hunt.
When you are starting out remember – Foam is your friend (foam is the stuff at the core of every surfboard).
You want to make everything as easy as possible for those first few sessions and nothing ruins a surf like not being to catch enough waves or a surfboard that’s not buoyant enough to stand up on. That sleek looking surfboard that you’ve spotted on eBay might be cheap and look pretty but unless it’s big, wide and buoyant it will be a nightmare to learn on.
For adult women then 7’6″ to 8ft is recommended. For adult guys then 8ft to 9ft is the way to go. In both cases they should be at least 20” wide, preferably over 22”.
Kids don’t have to be quite as discerning as they have youth, flexibility and agility on their side. Somewhere between 6ft and 7’6” depending on their size should be ample. Again the boards should be around 20” wide or more.
Consider learning on a 100% foam soft surfboard (often called a softboard) before moving onto to a traditional construction fibreglass surfboard as you feel more confident. It is, of course, possible to learn on a fibreglass surfboard but on the rare occasions that a surfboard knocks into you then a soft board, for obvious reasons, is far less painful.
Hopefully this has given you a few pointers on what to look for when choosing your first surfboard and wetsuit but remember to ask for advice wherever you end up buying them. Most people who work in a surf shop live and breathe surfing and will be only too happy to help.