If you're teaching your kids how to surf, you'll need a basic understanding of kids' surfboards to start them on their wave-riding journey. And as this journey expands, as do their surfing abilities, the need for more advanced equipment arises.
So where do you begin, and where do you go when navigating your grom's first and future shred sticks?
Welcome to lesson 4 of our surf kids series, where I'll tell you everything there is to know about kids' surfboards. By the end, you'll have all the surfboard knowledge needed to pick and choose accordingly, and much of this information will apply to your own board choice.
If you're new here, make sure to hit up "Surf Kids Lesson 1: Introduction to Teaching Kids How to Surf" for the entire run down, and if you're eager to hit the water, how about we drop right into things?
You Just Can't Beat a Soft-Top Surfboard…
I want to keep this as simple as possible. Until your grom is a total ripper, which will require some solid water time, there's no need to complicate surfboards for kids. Snag yourself a soft top surfboard, and you're totally covered.
What is a Soft Top Surfboard?
Pops Rockin' Our Seashell Dreaming Men's Boardshort, Featuring a Classic Soft Top Surfbaord
Also called a foamie, a soft-top surfboard is really what the name implies. It's a type of surfboard made from an EPS foam core, which is super similar to that bubbly foam found on those white styrofoam coolers. However, where standard, high-performance shortboards are coated in either epoxy or polyurethane covering (which makes the surfboard deck hard to the touch), soft tops are not!
Instead, the EPS foam is wrapped in a clear Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate sheet. Essentially, this waterproofs the foam and increases its durability while keeping the board soft and bouncy to the touch.
Why are Soft Tops Good for Kids?
Soft tops make for some of the best kids' surfboards due to the fact that:
1. They're Not Scary!!
Because foamies are soft to the touch, they aren't as scary as your standard epoxy/PU surfboards. This is especially helpful for groms, as the surfboard can be one of the most intimidating aspects of learning how to surf.
Actually, that's often the most common concern of every new surfer, so tops are perfect for all beginners!
Taking away the thought of being bonked on the head by the board hugely boosts confidence levels in the water. And if a bonk does happen, you'll walk away with a smile, as a soft-top doesn't hurt. Plus, this is safer for other surfers in the water as your grom develops board control
2. They Have Tons of Volume
In layman's terms, volume is the total amount of a surfboard's area, measured in liters, equating to the board's total water displacement. Basically, surfboard volume determines how well the surfboard will float. When you start looking at advanced surfboards, volume will really start to matter, and you'll need to pick boards with volumes conducive to your size/weight & desired board performance.
But for now, all you need to know is that soft tops have tons of volume, which means they float really, really well. This float will allow your grom to catch minuscule waves perfect for learning while keeping the board nice and stable as they ride.
3. They're Durable
The cool thing about soft tops is that despite their lack of epoxy/PU coating, they are still durable as all heck. You can transport them with ease, your soft top will last forever, and you can rest easy knowing you can surf the inside, shallow sandbars without fear of dinging up the board.
4. The Right Foamie Allows for Progression
When you choose the right foamie (I'll get into this more), this kid's surfboard will allow for plenty of progressions into the intermediate stage of surfing, meaning you'll get a lot of time out of this board before needing to invest in one with more performance, helping to lower the initial cost of surfing.
Not only does a foamie cover the learning stage, but your grom can also learn the basics of riding down the line and initiating small directional changes on the face.
5. Everyone Loves a Foamy
Soft tops aren't just the perfect surfboard for kids. Everyone in the family can ride a soft top, and that's why it's more common than not to see one in a quiver! Even the most talented surfers love to ride a soft top, as they work great in sub-par conditions and are extremely versatile.
The Best Surfboard for Kids
When opting for the foamie route, there will still be plenty of sizing and shape options to choose from.
I define the best surfboard for kids as one that will not only help them learn how to surf but that they can continue riding to advance their skill levels into the intermediate range of grom surfing.
Kids SurfBoard Length & Dimensions
The Ideal Length for a Kids' Surfboard
Because groms grow like weeds, I like to consider this growth into the surfboard choice. Thus, finding a soft top with a length measuring around 1 meter above your child's height is ideal.
This length provides plenty of foam (and therefore volume!) for a grom to float exceptionally well on small, weak waves. And the board is still plenty stable under their balancing, bare feet.
But it's also small enough to give them room to improve, maneuverable enough, and light enough to allow for their first directional changes on the face.
This will help advance them from riding the whitewash straight to the shore to riding left or right down the open face.
Any longer than this, and the board becomes extremely difficult to control. Yes, a longboard is amazing for the initial stages of their pop-up, but a smaller, mid-length soft top-up to a meter longer than their height grants far more room for advancement.
Also, a smaller soft top will have a smaller width, which is good. Try to find a kids' surfboard that your grom can fit their arms around to paddle the surfboard themselves.
Don't worry too much about other dimensions (thickness/volume) until you begin messing around with performance shortboards and need to customize to ability + wave size accordingly.
Surfboard Shapes for Kids
The shape of your surfboard hugely impacts the way that it rides. But again, we're talking about kids here, and unless they are a total prodigy, they probably won't be throwing buckets out the back in their first year of surfing.
With this, don't worry too much about the shape of your kids' surfboard if the length and width fit their size well.
To give you some ideas, however, the tail of your surfboard is one of the leading factors in determining its shape.
For beginners and kid surfers, we want a stable tail shape that helps lock into waves early while promoting stability.
A Fish Tail, a Square Tail, and a Pintail
For this purpose, I really enjoy:
- Big square tails
- Fish Tails
Square tails are extra stable, and fish tails give the tail a nice point to pivot off when learning how to turn the board, both beneficial attributes when teaching kids surfing.
Lucky enough, most all soft tops are typically this tail shape anyways, and the nose/rest of the board is shaped to a beginner & kid's liking. Floaty, stable, and easy to paddle.
Advanced Kid's Surfboards
Jackson Dorian Showing Us Just What Kids Can Do. Riding an Advanced, Performance Grom Surfboard
So what about the groms that totally rip? If your kid has shown some serious prowess on the board, how do you know when it's time for them to progress onto a more advanced, high-performance shape?
First, can your grom paddle their soft-top surfboard fairly well on their own? And do note, paddling is one of the things that actually becomes easier on a custom, performance shape. Their arms will fit better around the surfboard deck, as these will not feature the same width as soft tops.
Second, can they paddle into waves and pop up on their own, without the need for you to push them in?
And third, are they a comfortable surfer? If they can pop up with ease, turn the board down the line, and ride up and down the face, then it might be time to stick them on a performance shortboard to work towards advancing their surfing!
Grom shortboards will require an even greater understanding of how to properly size surfboard dimensions and what shapes work best for various conditions and abilities.
If you're planning on purchasing a grom shortboard, I suggest talking to a local shaper to get it right. Shapers know exactly what they're doing, and they'll be able to talk you through the entire buying/shaping process from start to finish. This will result in a surfboard that is, quite literally, perfect for your kid.
There are plenty of pre-made boards to choose from, as well. When going this route, do plenty of research on the particular surfboard model to understand its ideal wave conditions and which sizing is best for your grom's height and weight.
Read reviews, watch videos, and learn more about how the surfboard's shape affects surfing to ensure you get a board that will enhance your kid's surfing while allowing plenty of room to grow.
I suggest trying to find a hybrid grom surfboard for the first option. A hybrid surfboard is ideal for smaller, mushy waves and those with a little more punch, giving your grom a surfboard they can use in the broadest range of conditions.
And yes, please do prepare yourself. There's a high chance your surfer kid will develop quite the surfboard addition…
But you know what? I'm totally cool with that!!
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- Ash, Dev & The Salty Shreds Fam.