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Surf Essentials

Hop in our lineup of the best boards, wetsuits, foils, and more gear that made waves in our office.

Favorable conditions are even better when your gear matches the waves’ energy. These top picks and Gearhead® recs have swell times in mind, so whether you’re just paddling in or you’re a seasoned rider, there’s something for every surfer here.

What You'll Need To Go Surfing

The earliest accounts of surfing depict wave-chasers wearing nothing but boardshorts and riding loosely sculpted logs. As time floats by, modern advancements are making surfing in more places and on more waves more accessible. But surfing’s essence remains the same: experience the simple joy that a break in water brings.


This guide dives beneath the wave of options to connect you with the best surf gear. Find recommendations for the latest surfboards, from reliable classic shapes to beginner-friendly rides, and scroll further to get some wetsuit advice and info on more essentials that let you tap into that simple but addictive love for the sport, and ultimately, catch a break.


Common Surfboard Shapes To Know

  1. Soft tops are surfboards with a soft foam deck instead of the traditional hard fiberglass deck. These boards typically come in longer lengths and are designed to be more forgiving and safer for beginners, making them an ideal choice for entry-level riders.
  2. Longboards (as the name implies) are longer and wider than shortboards, typically ranging from 8'0" to 11'0" in length. They have a rounded nose and a rounded or squared-off tail. Longboards provide stability and glide, making them well-suited for small, mushy waves and for beginners learning to surf. They are also favored by surfers who enjoy classic, graceful maneuvers like noseriding.
  3. Funboard (or hybrids/mini Malibus/mini mals) are a mix between a longboard and a shortboard, typically ranging from 7'0" to 8'6" in length. They combine the stability and paddle power of a longboard with the maneuverability of a shortboard. Funboards are versatile and suitable for a wide range of wave conditions and surfing abilities.
  4. Shortboards are the most common type of surfboard, characterized by their relatively short length (typically between 5'6" and 7'0") and pointed nose. They are designed for maneuverability and are ideal for quick turns, aerial maneuvers, and surfing in steeper, more powerful waves.
  5. Fish surfboards are shorter and wider than traditional shortboards and have a swallowtail shape. They typically range from 5'4" to 6'6" in length. Fish boards offer excellent speed and maneuverability in smaller, mushier waves due to their increased volume and wider outline.
  6. Gun boards are long and narrow surfboards designed for riding the biggest and fastest waves the ocean creates. They typically range from 7ft to 11ft in length, and feature a pointed nose, narrow tail, and foot straps. Guns are typically reserved for tow-in situations and provide stability and control at high speeds.


How We Choose An Entry-Level Surfboard

Surfing is a learning process that unfolds gradually. It’s imperative that your board matches your ability to ensure your time spent in the water is enjoyable—and finding a board that matches the break and waves you’re looking to surf is essential. Generally speaking, shortboards are high-performance shapes made for steeper, gnarlier breaks, while longboards are more beginner-friendly, and designed to give stability and buoyancy on shorter waves.


If you’re buying your first board, it’s best to start with a soft top, soft board, or “foamie.” They’re more stable and buoyant, making the foundation for paddling, wave-catching, and skill-honing more forgiving. A softboard around 8 or 9ft long is ideal. Your own weight and height plays into how much board you should opt for, too. If you’re on the lighter or shorter side, you can opt for something a little smaller. Conversely, think about sizing your board up if you are taller or heavier.


If you’re buying your first hardboard

(made with fiberglass or epoxy), wider boards will always play nicer because of the added stability. Still, buoyancy is key for catching your first few waves and mastering the basics, so volume is also paramount, and bigger is better. For this reason, we recommend longboards (or boards about 8 to 10ft in length) for new-ish riders.


If you have shortboard goals, we recommend starting on a 7 or 8ft funboard, aka a mini-mal or a hybrid board, since they offer a healthy balance of stability and maneuverability that’ll set you up for shortboard success.


Best Entry-Level Surfboard

Modern Retro PU Longboard

All about glide and flow, this well-rounded, high-volume board is ideal for old-school-style nose riding. The Retro is incredibly wide and stable, making it a great platform for honing your longboard form and standing (or walking) on the board. The single-fin setup helps provide the OG loose and cruisy flow beneath your feet. The Retro’s moderately flat rocker also offers a beginner-friendly blend of paddling ease and speed down the line, while its rail shape combines stability with enough turn capacity to make the opportunity for longboard mastery limitless.


Get The Retro Longboard

Gearhead® Top Picks

More progression-fostering shapes.

Key Factors For Choosing A Surfboard

Surfboard shapes are as varied as every riders’ unique style, so we’ve outlined the most important factors below to arm you with the knowledge you need to paddle out with a board that matches your experience, style, and the types of waves you’re keen on riding.


Length & Width: These factors significantly influence the speed, stability, maneuverability, wave compatibility, and paddle efficiency of the board.

  • Speed: Longer boards will typically glide faster across the water, making them advantageous for surfing smaller or slower waves, while the inverse is true for shorter boards.
  • Stability: Longer, wider boards are more stable, while short, narrow boards are more nimble, responsive, and maneuverable.
  • Paddle Efficiency: Longer boards offer more paddling efficiency and energy preservation, and allow riders to catch waves earlier, while shorter boards require more energy and skill to paddle since they have less volume and buoyancy.


Volume: Volume and buoyancy go hand-in-hand.

  • Higher-volume boards will float higher on the water and make paddling, wave catching, and speed maintenance easier, especially in choppy conditions.
  • Low-volume boards place more emphasis on control, performance, and maneuverability in steeper, more powerful waves.


Rocker: The rocker of a surfboard refers to the curvature or the degree of curvature from nose to tail along the bottom of the board when viewed from the side.

  • Flat rocker boards or boards with minimal rocker are generally predictable, fast, and allow for long, stable turns. Boards with less rocker are better suited for smaller, slower waves where speed and glide are essential for generating momentum and maintaining flow across the wave.
  • Boards with more rocker are generally more maneuverable, and allow for tighter turns and transitions between turns. They excel in steep, hollow waves where quick and precise maneuvers are required to navigate the wave's technical sections.


Rails: The shape of the edges or sides of the board play a key role in a board’s maneuverability and ride feel. Rail types live on a spectrum of hard and soft rails.

  • Soft rails are rounder, and more beginner-friendly. They offer more volume, and are more forgiving in smaller, gutless surf.
  • Hard rails
    are sharper, and more performance-oriented. They offer more hold that’s suitable for bigger, barreling waves.


Fins: A small but mighty piece of a surfboard’s performance and feel, fins come in a variety of setups with different advantages.

  • Single fins, commonly found on longboards and beginner softboards, offer stability and control, aiding in balancing and enabling straight-line charges and large turns. However, they limit sharp, quick movements. They thrive in small to medium waves or medium to big, weak waves.
  • Twin fin setups, commonly found on smaller, thicker surfboards like fishes, offer excellent maneuverability and speed, particularly in small waves. Twin fins are best suited for small to medium surf.
  • Thruster setups feature an additional fin in the middle of the tail compared to a twin fin setup, offering increased stability and maneuverability, driving the evolution of high-performance surfing and enabling radical maneuvers. Thrusters excel in various wave types, including steep, powerful waves and barrels.
  • Quad-fin setups offer speed without the drag of a center fin and provide increased hold, especially in larger surf. When positioned closer to the rails, they enhance speed generation and enable quick turns, making them suitable for small waves as well. Like thrusters, quads excel in clean, powerful conditions.


Best Single-Quiver Surfboard

Solid Surf Shuttle

A multi-tool of boards, the Shuttle is a versatile ride that can find a way into any surfer’s arsenal, or serve as their single weapon of choice. It performs exceptionally well in both clean, glassy waves, and choppy surf thanks to its well-balanced knack for stable yet responsive riding. This quad-fin setup is optimized for speed and control, blending a wide board platform with an aggressive-leaning style of riding. We could see it having a blast anywhere from Lake Superior to the Hawaiian Islands—which is no small feat for a shaper to achieve.


Gearhead® Top Picks

More outstanding shapes that are worth a closer look.

Most Innovative Surfboard

Lib Technologies Lost Micks Tape

A tri-fin collaboration from Lost Surfboards and Lib Technologies, this high-volume fish-alternative thrives when driving down small to medium waves. It’s pretty wide all the way through with a shallow tail that’ll carry speed. Just ahead of the fins, the rails pinch hard with the goal of keeping you in the pocket with adequate finesse on low-energy waves, and letting you drive hard into turns without losing speed. But all that volume on the front of the board lets this thing paddle with ease and keeps a forgiving edge down the line.


Gearhead® Top Picks

More cutting-edge tech that’s making waves.

How To Choose A Wetsuit

Wetsuits provide warmth through thermal insulation. Designed to let you enjoy the water all year long, they’re typically made from neoprene (although more environmentally responsible materials are entering the scene), a synthetic rubber material that traps a thin layer of water between the suit and the wearer's skin. This layer of water is then heated by the body, creating a thermal barrier that helps to keep the wearer warm in cold water.


When choosing a wetsuit, think about where you’ll be riding and the temperature of the water you’ll be riding in. Some areas are warm all year, and you may only need a wetsuit top or a short-sleeve wetsuit to stay warm. Other, colder areas may require a hooded wetsuit, or neoprene gloves and boots, too.


Neoprene is a problematic material because it’s non-biodegradable, is has a massive carbon footprint, and it’s derived from non-renewable resources. Thankfully, there are a few brands making waves in the clean materials game (and their wetsuits are just as technically capable as neoprene). Choosing to buy more environmentally responsible wetsuits helps create demand for more products like these.

  • Manera makes suites that aren’t neoprene-free—more like neoprene-retrieved. They blend recycled neoprene and would-be-wasted tires to lessen their wetsuits’ impact.
  • Patagonia’s Yulex® Rubber is a plant-based fabric made from natural rubber. Yulex uses ten times less water, reduces energy consumption, and cuts a wetsuit’s overall carbon footprint by 80% compared to traditional suits.
  • Billabong’s CiCLO® enzyme technology lets wetsuit fibers biodegrade after the suit has had its final ride, thus reducing landfill waste.
  • Picture Organic’s NaturalPrene is made entirely from plant matter. It’s 100% natural, and their cleanest wetsuit tech.


Wetsuit thickness is the primary factor to consider as it directly corresponds to the water temperature. The thickness of a wetsuit is usually listed as one to three numbers, each separated by a slash. The first number refers to the thickness of the torso, and the second and third number correspond to thickness in the arms and legs.

  • Wetsuits with a thickness of 2mm to 3/2mm are optimal for water temperatures ranging from 62°F to 68°F.
  • Wetsuits with a thickness of 3/2mm to 4/3mm are optimal for water temperatures ranging from 58°F to 63°F. We recommend wearing boots as well in water this cold.
  • Wetsuits with a thickness of 4/3mm to 5/4/3mm are optimal for water temperatures ranging from 52°F to 58°F. We recommend wearing boots, gloves, and a hood as well in water this cold or colder.
  • Wetsuits with a thickness of 5/4mm to 5/4/3mm
    are optimal for water temperatures ranging from 43°F to 52°F.


Zippers are another key factor to consider with wetsuits.

  • Back-zip wetsuits are not quite as easy to put on and take off and may allow water to enter through the zipper.
  • Chest-zip wetsuits are easier to put on and take off, offer better insulation, and minimize water entry, making them suitable for colder conditions and high-performance surfing.


Best Men’s Wetsuit

Manera X10D Wetsuit

The 3/2mm thickness of the X10D strikes the perfect balance between warmth and flexibility, allowing for unrestricted movement while providing excellent insulation against cooler waters. Its front-zip design provides easy entry and exit, while reinforcements in all the right places ensure it’ll be of use for plenty of seasons to come. From zipper-to-seams, it’s durable, reliable, and eager to embrace the water in comfort—with recycled materials that lessen its environmental impact, too.


Gearhead® Top Picks

More men’s picks that seal the deal.

Best Women’s Wetsuit

Roxy Elite Wetsuit

Suitable in a variety of conditions, Elite’s 3/2mm thickness can easily keep you warm but mobile throughout spring and fall in many places. We’ve found its front-zipper to be hassle-free and watertight, while the rest of its construction feels equally thoughtful. Snug but flexible, and rounded out with a majority of recycled materials, the Elite reduces its impact on the water without sacrificing your experience in it.


Gearhead® Top Picks

More women’s picks we’re paddling out in.


Hydrofoiling, also referred to as foil surfing, foilboarding, or foiling, is relatively new to the surf scene. It involves riding a board equipped with a hydrofoil. A hydrofoil consists of a long mast with a hydrodynamic wing attached. The attached wing dips beneath the surface of the water, and as the surfer gains speed, hydrodynamic lift is generated, bringing the board (and rider) out of the water and reducing drag.


The surfer stands on the board as usual, but instead of riding on the surface of the water, they are lifted above it by the hydrofoil. With significantly reduced friction and an incredibly smooth ride, this creates a sensation of flying over the water.


Foil surfing opens up new possibilities for riding waves, allowing surfers to catch smaller waves and ride them for longer distances. It can be done on wave, with a wing to generate speed and momentum from the wing, behind a boat, or—with enough gusto—on flatwater.


Key Factors For Choosing A Hydrofoil

When buying a hydrofoil, your weight, skill level, and the foil size, shape, mast length all play a key role in landing a ride that’s right for you.


  • Weight: Your weight determines the surface area of the foil you’ll need. Heavier riders will require a greater surface area than lighter riders.
  • Foil Size & Shape: The size and shape of the foil (the mast/wing beneath the board) significantly impact the behavior of the hydrofoil. Larger foils offer more stability and lift, making them suitable for beginners and riding in smaller waves. Smaller foils provide increased maneuverability and speed, ideal for experienced riders and high-performance surfing.
  • Mast Length: The length of the mast affects the ride height and stability of the hydrofoil. Longer masts provide more clearance from the water, allowing for sharper turns and reduced drag. Shorter masts offer stability and easier control, making them suitable for beginners and riding in shallow water.
  • Skill Level: Beginners should opt for a larger and more stable foil that provides easier control, while advanced riders may prefer smaller and more responsive foils for high-performance maneuvers.


Best Foil Complete Setup

Liquid Force LF Nebula + Horizon Foil Set

An out-of-this-world design, Nebula’s lightweight construction and ample volume make it incredibly stable, forgiving, and perfect for both beginners and experienced foilers alike. The deck pad provides excellent grip, ensuring confidence-inspiring control even in choppy conditions. Pairing the board with the Horizon foil fosters an unmatched combination of speed, stability, and maneuverability. Its sleek design slices effortlessly through the water, and we love how the adjustable wing positions allow for customization based on rider preference and conditions.


Foil Board Top Picks

The best boards, bought on their own.

Foil Top Picks

The best masts + wings for hydrofoiling.

Wing Top Picks

The best wings for kiteboarding.

Swimwear, Accessories & Travel Gear

Days at the shore don’t always require wetsuits, so we dropped our top swimwear, as well as our favorite leashes, board wax, fins, and other essentials that make for even better days on the water. Plus, everything you need to transport, store, and protect your board when you’re on-the-go.


Men’s Swimwear

Gearhead® Top Picks

Women’s Swimwear

Gearhead® Top Picks

Surf Accessory Top Picks

Wax, leashes, traction pads, and more.

Board Bag & Travel Pack Top Picks

Ways to keep it all safe when you’re on the go.

More Surf Essentials