Best Soft Surfboards

Updated May 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
18 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
131 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best soft surfboards

For many, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of riding a wave, but getting up that first time can be quite a challenge! Soft surfboards were introduced to make learning to surf easier. They’re lighter and more buoyant, and beginner’s models have more volume, which means they’re wider and have greater stability. All of these benefits add up to a surfboard that’s easier to ride.

While early models were criticized for their lack of maneuverability, soft surfboards are no longer just for those getting started in the sport. Many experts, including world champions, add one to their collection, and all of the big-name producers offer them.

The challenge then becomes picking the right model for your surfing abilities. We’re here to help with a range of recommendations covering the full gamut of performance and price alternatives and a buying guide that thoroughly explores soft surfboard materials and specifications.

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The main difference between soft surfboards and traditional models is the foam top surface. It’s where they get the nickname “foamies.”

Key considerations

Materials

The term “soft” doesn’t mean there’s anything particularly flexible about these surfboards, or that they are inflatable. Flex generally isn’t good for control, and while inflatable surfboards can be a bit of fun, they aren’t something for those who want to develop full-on surfing skills.

What soft actually refers to is the upper surface, or deck, of the surfboard. Instead of a hard fiberglass or resin surface (which needs constant waxing to keep you from sliding off), a soft surfboard has a pliable sheet of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam. This gives more grip, often without the need for any wax at all, and it may also have molded ridges or textures for even greater foot traction.

Construction

Entry-level soft surfboards have an expanded polystyrene (EPS) core with a synthetic cover. Often this is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), though sometimes it’s irradiated cross-linked polyethylene (IXPE) on high-quality boards. It has a higher density, creates a tougher skin, and is more water-resistant. 

The drawback with this construction is that it’s not very rigid, so stringers — plastic or wooden strips — run the length of the board to add stiffness. On better quality models, plastic mesh may be added to help protect the structure from impact. The soft foam sheet is then bonded to the top. Additional grip areas may also be added to the rear of the board for greater foot control.

Beginner’s boards tend to be of high volume, in other words, fairly long, wider than a traditional board, and quite thick. This makes them very stable, so the whole learning process is easier. The inherent lightness is also appealing to more advanced riders, and all kinds of sculpting of the underside is used to increase speed and maneuverability. Soft surfboards haven’t replaced traditional hard models and never will, but these days short versions can provide a challenge for even the best riders.

Safety

The other consideration with a soft surfboard is the safety aspect, both for fellow surfers and other water users. The boards are lighter and velocities often slower, so while there’s still a danger of injury, it’s often less severe.

With the increased focus on the impact humans are having on the oceans, look for a surfboard made from materials like EVA foam, which can be recycled.

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Features

Size

Sizing is always a big question, and we look at that in the FAQ section below. The weight the board can support is also important. Boards for young people are generally rated for 100 pounds or so. Adult boards can be up to 260 pounds, though care is needed because they vary a lot and quite a few are under 200 pounds.

Fins

Fins help with directional stability and control, particularly as your skill increases and you use your body weight more. A finless surfboard skates across the surface of the water, whereas fins carve in. 

Traditional surfboard fins may be built in during construction and are therefore fixed. Soft surfboards use either bolt-through fins (which manufacturers claim are easier to fit) or fin “boxes” on the underside. The fin then slots in and is held by stainless steel screws.

Most soft surfboards offer between one and three fins (though boards with four and five fins also exist). While opinions differ, in general, experts recommend three fins as the best compromise between maneuverability and straight-line stability for beginners. However, fin shape can have a major impact on performance when fitted to shorter models, and dozens of different designs are available for those who want to fine-tune their surfboard.

Leash

Finally, check the leash. Sometimes the quality is not up to the standard of the rest of the board, which will be frustrating if it keeps breaking or detaching. Owner feedback will often tell you if it’s a consistent problem with a particular board.

Length isn’t critical, but you don’t want the leash to be so short that it impairs your movement or so long that it drags in the water. For a youth board, you want about 6 feet of cord. Adults should have 8 or 9 feet.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Occasional dings are inevitable, but as long as it’s not severe damage, you should be able to repair your soft surfboard yourself. Gorilla Glue and hot-melt glue are popular products, and there are many helpful videos online.
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Accessories

Helmet: Vihir Adult Watersports Helmet
Built to the European safety standard for white-water rafting and canoeing and also complying with United States child safety regulations, this is a light but tough all-rounder with an ABS shell and EVA interior for impact absorption. It’s a very popular and affordable solution. 

Roof rack: Dorsal Aero Roof Rack Pads
If you already have roof bars fitted to your vehicle, this is a low-cost idea made from tough 600-denier nylon with anti-ultraviolet coating. The pads have a high-density foam core for protection and a nonslip upper surface. Tie-downs are extra but not expensive.

Soft surfboard prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest soft surfboards start at around $150, though $200 is perhaps a better entry point. For that money, you’ll get a leash and fins included. For the absolute beginner, it’s an affordable place to start.

Mid-range: Quality boards for keen learners and intermediate surfers run from $250 to $450. You’ll get stiffer and better-contoured boards that give you the additional control you’ll be looking for as your skills develop.

Expensive: Advanced riders choose a shorter soft surfboard, and hybrids from leading brands now rival traditional boards for performance. Prices for these advanced composites can be up to $850.

If you’re moving from beginner to intermediate level, there is a recommended surfboard volume (surface area x thickness) based on your weight that can help you pick the appropriate size. You can find charts and volume calculators online.

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Tips

Just because your surfboard is “soft” doesn’t mean you need to treat it with kid gloves! It’s still pretty rugged. However, a few precautions and a little care will keep it in top condition longer.

  • Rinse your surfboard. While it’s obviously designed to be used at sea, salt will attack just about every material eventually, so give your board a good rinse as soon as you can after leaving the water. Then wipe it down with a towel. Don’t worry about some water being absorbed; that’s natural with soft surfboards. It will drain off fairly quickly.
  • Dry the surfboard in a cool, shaded area. Don’t leave it in direct sunlight.
  • Never use solvents on your surfboard. If you need to clean off dirty marks, try a glass cleaner.
  • Don’t leave your surfboard in a hot vehicle. Temperatures inside a car or van parked in full sun can exceed 150°F, and that’s going to cause damage to your surfboard. A proper surfboard roof rack is fine (a board sock is a good idea, too).
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Many soft surfboards are advertised as wax-free. While they have more grip than traditional boards, they can get slippery when wet. Some experts still like to apply wax for extra grip.

FAQ

Q. What size soft surfboard should I get?

A. Most beginners start with a board, often called a “funboard,” that’s around 7 or 8 feet long and 22 to 24 inches wide. It gives you plenty of volume, which equates to high flotation and good stability. Anything under 6.5 feet is likely to be challenging to start with. As you gain experience, you may want to move to a shorter board for more speed and maneuverability.

Q. Should I wear a helmet when surfing?

A. One leading surfing website tells us that around 40% of surfing injuries are to the head, and most are from board collisions. It’s a personal decision — at the time of writing there are no regulations in place that we know of — but in crowded lineups (lots of surfers trying to catch a wave) it’s definitely a good idea.

Q. Can I put a foil on a soft surfboard?

A. Is it technically possible? Apparently so. Several people on online surfing forums have adapted their boards to take a hydrofoil. As for premade foil-ready soft surfboards, we only know of one at the moment, made by leading manufacturer Naish. However, with the continued growth of hybrid paddle, surf, and foil boards, we suspect it’s only a matter of time before more become available.

 

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