When to stop riding a soft-top surfboard and upgrade to a better board?
Are you interested in swapping out your soft-top surfboard for a regular board? Here's everything you need to know before upgrading your board.
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The Full Guide
Foamies, foam surfboards, soft top surfboards, whatever you call them, they are great and there’s been a revival of them over the last decade or so. However, there is still this stigma around these surfboards, that with any new surfer trying to improve their surfing, they are desperate to get off of them, like there is some unspoken graduation when you stop riding them or a secret shame for still riding them.
Or that all of a sudden surfing will change when you get off them.
This guide is going to walk through everything you need to know about riding a foam surfboard, when to upgrade, if you should still ride them after upgrading and if you aren’t a beginner, how you can use them to help work on some technique.
Why ride a foam surfboard as a beginner
Half the reason for the bad stigma of foam surfboards is the learn-to-surf schools, that they are just for those first few lessons and the idea you want to get off them asap.
The reason they are used for surf schools and recommended to continue riding them as a beginner is the stability they provide.
Foam surfboards are wider and thicker than standard surfboards, generally around a 23-inch width or more and around 3 inches thick. Combined with being around 7’6” to 9’0” long, these boards are easy to paddle, easy to catch a wave, very stable and easy to control, on top of being soft and unlikely to hurt you.
The extra width and thickness of these boards give you that extra stability which is what you want when trying to master your pop-up on an unstable surface.
With no major risk of hurting yourself, a foam surfboard drops the mental barrier, fear, stress and anxiety are much less with one less thing to worry about. These are great boards and everything is designed for a beginner to make everything you will be doing easy.
This is not just a board for riding whitewash, you can paddle out the back and catch unbroken waves on these boards, with no problem.
When to stop riding a foam surfboard
The reason you will want to start surfing a new surfboard will be because you want to do more in your surfing, you want to start turning and having more feeling and response from the boards you ride.
All that extra width and thickness in a soft top surfboard is eventually what you will want to step down on. Most beginners think it’s the length but you can change up to a similar length surfboard but with just less width and thickness and this will ride differently.
The average beginner surfboards run around 20 to high 22-inch widths and 3 inches and under typically.
By reducing that width and thickness it will have slightly less stability and this will help the board feel more responsive and help you to start learning to turn. However, that reduced stability will impact your pop-up as you have to now adapt to more movement and challenge during the take-off.
The trick or trap in this is you don’t want to make too drastic of a change when you are starting out. Reducing to a much shorter board with much less width and thickness as well will give a board with much less stability for the pop-up. If you want to rush to a shorter board, go for it, but accept the challenge and know that you will get worse before you get better as you learn to adapt to that new board.
An overlooked feature of foam boards is their rails. The rails are the edge/side of the surfboard. Foam boards have a unique rail due to how they are constructed, they have a hard edge on the underside and then curve up after that until it reaches the top side of the surfboard. This rail is different to standard surfboards which usually have a rounded rail with no hard edge to it, except around the tail of the board.
This changes how those boards turn and function and is something to remember when you want to turn your board, a regular surfboard is designed to turn more than a foamie.
When you feel stuck, stagnate in your surfing and want to start doing more in your surfing is when you want to start riding a different board.
Why do you want to continue to ride a soft top surfboard as you progress
Despite the design elements of a foam surfboard that might not seem for turning or for improving your surfing, there is a lot you can learn from them to improve your surfing, regardless if you are a beginner or not.
How to turn a foamie and continue improving your surfing
The first thing to understand with turning a foamie is their design features are designed more for stability than turning and being a longer board, it will turn slower.
Think of turning a bus compared to turning a small car.
You want to work with the board and not against it. Have patience and learn to draw out your turns.
The board won’t suddenly respond, it’s a slow response and you need to control your body movement to match how slow it will turn.
For most beginners, it’s about learning to turn, and this needs to be done on a good foundation of stance and coordination.
The easiest way to learn to turn is to find your neutral stance, get comfortable and when you want to turn, begin by starting to look in the direction you want to turn to and point the hands as well at your target.
Be aware your target may not be in front of you, don’t suddenly twist or snap to it. Factor in how slowly the board will turn and continue to twist and move with the board until you can see your target.
This means you will scan through the turn, looking for your target with your hands always pointing where you are looking.
To keep the stance balanced, you will also want to have both knees roughly pointing towards the target to ensure the upper and lower body are in sync and coordinated together.
This is a basic and slow turn, if you stick with it, it will begin to turn the board and follow where you are looking and pointing.
Practising turns as an intermediate surfer
As an intermediate, you will want a foundation of good technique, and not flailing or out-of-sync movements or movements that send mixed signals to your board.
The technique is the same as normal or as you would do on your other boards, the change comes in working with the board and how it turns slower.
Most average surfers don’t hold their turns, they don’t look at where they want to go or flow with the movement. Everything is typically sudden and not much happens.
This will help break those bad habits and force you to work with the board and learn to hold a turn and keep holding the turn until you get to where you want to go.
This will also help with not overcooking your turns, and by this I mean you not moving your board, where you lean way too much, the board barely moves and you end up face planting or any similar mistake where you go one-way and the board doesn’t follow.
The key is to slow down, breathe and work with the limitations of the board to work on your turns. If you can turn a foamie to do a cutback and start hitting the foam for a lazy rebound on a foamie, you will have a good foundation for applying this on another board..
Should you ever get back on a foam surfboard?
Yes! Soft-top surfboards are great and you’ll find a mix of them out there.
The hidden benefit of a soft top surfboard is usually surfers have no expectations of the board or surf before they paddle out.
This is huge in ensuring you have a fun surf, it hasn’t been set up where fun is distinguished by doing a certain turn or anything like that. Most surfers just paddle out and forget the rest, focusing on having fun.
If you surf a very crowded spot, a foam surfboard can help you navigate the line-up, and not worry about hurting yourself or anyone else, and this can cut the stress. There are notoriously popular beaches like Bondi Beach where you can only ride foam surfboards for the safety of swimmers and surfers.
As I mentioned earlier, a foamie can be great for working on technique in your turns, helping you to draw out your turns and move with the board and not flail or destroy your style.
If you are guilty of quick, short turns that don’t really look like turns or are stuck rushing everything in your surfing, a foamie can help you slow it all down. Count your turns out and slowly pull the board around as it takes longer to turn.
Riding a foamie to work on these parts of your technique can become a pattern interrupter to help break the bad habits in your surfing easier.
If you can apply the good technique on a foamie to do a turn and make that consistent, when you get back to your other boards, it can help you break those bad habits and remind you to apply a proper technique.
Foamies are the ideal beginner board, giving you a more stable board to nail your pop-up but as you progress, the design functions that give you that stability might get in the way of wanting to feel more in your surfing and try new things.
Try surfing a new board when you feel your surfing has stagnated and you are ready for the next challenge. Don’t rush into that, wait to feel like you are ready and nail your pop-up and catch unbroken waves. You can paddle out the back on these boards and they are fun to ride in a variety of conditions.
If you change, don’t make a major leap unless you want to accept you will suck before you get good. A massive drop in length, width and thickness will make the board more challenging at the beginning and can feel frustrating like you feel your surfing has gone backwards. Sometimes all you need is a board of similar length and just not as wide and thick to help you start learning to turn.
If you want to start turning the board as a beginner, look and point towards your target, work with the board and remember it will turn slowly. The board will follow your body language and where you look and point, teaching you the foundations of basic turning that you will carry on throughout your surfing.
As an intermediate, you can use the foam surfboard to work on drawing out the turns and coordinating to move with the board and apply good, fluid technique. When you go back to a regular board, you will find if you can do a decent turn on a foamie, it will help apply the good technique on the other board. Use this as a pattern interrupter if you have bad habits.
Don’t rule out a foamie, jump back on them anytime! These are fun boards, it’s hard not to smile when riding a foamie. Use them to drop expectations and just have fun or to navigate big crowds or work on breaking those bad habits and improving technique.
Do you ride a foam surfboard? Do you love it or hate it?
Are you just waiting to upgrade to a new board or have you made the change and loved it or hate it?
Has this inspired you to stick with a soft top surfboard or jump back on one to work on some technique?
I’d love to know, you can reach out anytime, message me in the app or send an email to email@example.com anytime.
Next week I am going to cover the positioning of your hands during the pop-up and where they should be for an easy pop-up.