Saltrock's Guide To Boards

SALTROCK AMBASSADOR + BIG WAVE SURFERAndrew 'Cotty' Cotton's Quiver Review

Make sure you check out big wave surfer & Saltrock ambassador, Andrew Cotton’s quiver review. We caught up with Cotty at his local beach in Croyde, North Devon to find out which surfboard he rides in different waves + conditions.


Make sure you check out British Longboard Champion & Saltrock ambassador, Clarie Smail’s quiver review. We caught up with Claire behind the scenes on our summer shoot at her local beach in Woolacombe, North Devon to find out which longboard she loves to ride in different waves + conditions.


There are a number of different types of board, but to sum it up there are custom boards, softboards and pop-outs.


A custom board has been shaped lovingly by hand from foam and coated in resin by a shaper, and is the traditional and original method of surfboard construction.  As custom boards are made individually they are all, in some way, unique.  Most people at some point invest in a custom board, and the longer you’ve been surfing the more you’ll want to look for the perfect board which can cater to your unique surfing style.  You will grow to love your board for its individual characteristics like your favourite pair of jeans, and most surfers would buy nothing else.  But for beginners there are a couple of other options.


Softboards, “softdecks” or “foamies” are, as the name suggests, soft.  A spongy foam layer covers the board, meaning it hurts less if it hits you or anyone else.  Softboards also feel big and steady in the water and are therefore great to learn on – surf schools almost always use softboards. The downside to buying a softboard is that you will hopefully improve quickly and may soon outgrow your board.  The upside is that they hold their value well, and if you take care of it you should be able to sell it on without too much trouble. Here at Saltrock we've got some great softboards designed specifically for beginners and intermediate surfers.


Pop-outs are durable, mass-produced boards, and where up until a couple of years ago a pop-out was a poor mans surfboard, scoffed at in most circles, in recent years the shapes available and the quality of the boards have improved dramatically.  Two molded fibreglass halves are sealed together and the centre is filled with polyurethane foam.  This light foam core with a thick fiberglass coating makes pop-outs very buoyant, and they can take rougher treatment than a custom board – both features great for learning.  Never touched by a human hand in construction, they lack the character of a custom board but they do tend to be a cheaper option, have developed a growing following and claim to be a better option environmentally.


Generally speaking, when you’re learning bigger is better because size gives you more stability and more buoyancy.  But its not quite that simple and getting this right can make your learning curve all that much steeper.


A longer surfboard will make paddling easier, so generally speaking when learning to surf the longer the better.  But boards can go up past 13 foot long, and no sane person would send you out to learn on one of these monsters.  You need to be in control of your board at all times, so it important to feel comfortable with its size, and confident that you will soon get the hang of controlling it.  A board roughly 2ft taller than your height is a reasonable guideline, but read on for more features you should look for.

Our Saltrock boards are 6ft and 7ft, designed with beginners and intermediate surfers in mind, and the heights have been chosen to make sure paddling is made easy.


A thick board will help you learn, as the thickness will provide flotation, and flotation will help you to paddle and to stand.  The thicker your board the higher you will float in the water and the quicker you will improve.  Again, don’t try to go super-size crazy – a surfboard around 2.5” thick should be perfect.  But do remember – the thicker the board the harder it is to duckdive it.

Our Saltrock surboards are 2.5" thick - this improves your ability to float and also your stability, making learning to surf a little easier!


If you want to progress quickly, go for width – in the nose, middle and tail of the board.  Avoid pointy noses at all costs.  The beauty of a wide surfboard is its forgiving nature – paddling and balancing will be much easier when your board has a large surface, and when you‘re ready to stand a wide board will give you a second chance to get upright.  A huge part of surfing is confidence, and when you start catching and riding waves instead of consistently being dumped into the water your confidence, and therefore your ability, will skyrocket.  Getting yourself a good, wide board which forgives you your minor mistakes will help massively.

However, you must be able to sit astride it, paddle it and carry it under your arm comfortably – you don’t want to be relying on help to get to and from the ocean all the time and you certainly don’t want to drag it along in the sand behind you!  Pick up the board – if you can tuck it under your arm comfortably, success.  This means you should be able to reach enough of your arm over the sides to paddle it.
Longer, thicker, wider

Sounds like an advert for toilet rolls, but size is important and we can’t stress strongly enough the importance of getting it right.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – board shops are always happy to help.  When you know the questions to ask you should be able to find the one that feels right for you.


The shape of a custom board varies massively, and whole books have been written on the subject.  Shaping a surfboard is a science, and shapers are skilled artists.  A small adjustment in contour will affect the whole performance of the board.  At the beginning this won’t matter too much, you just need to know what you are looking for.
Avoid boards with anything narrow or pointy – this will make stability, balance and paddling a nightmare.  A big, wide nose will help you paddle into waves, and when you are just building up your paddling strength, you will find this a great help.  As you improve you will probably more to a shorter, narrower board with a more pointed nose (a shortboard) which will give a higher performance and make duck-diving possible (see Duck-Diving) but when you begin, this will just make your life more difficult.  Surfing‘s fun, and actually catching waves is infinitely more fun than trying to look cool but never catching a thing.
Generally speaking, a board which is wide in the nose, middle and tail is perfect to learn on.  Known as a ‘Mal’ – short for Malibu, which is a longboard – or a ‘Mini-Mal’ – a longboard shape in a shorter, more user-friendly length, these are the shapes you should be looking for.
Also, a surfboard with a flat bottom is a good board to start on.  Boards have what’s called rocker – the more rocker on a board, the more the bottom is shaped like a banana.  Rocker helps you pull into fast, hollow waves, but to slide smoothly into your first wave face, a flat bottom with little rocker will help you glide with less paddling effort and give you more time to get to your feet.


Shortboards are designed for high performance surfing. They are normally between 5’5 and 7’0 long and 16″ to 19″ wide. They allow advanced surfers the ability to change direction quickly and perform advanced maneuvers. Their small shape and narrow outline make them unstable and difficult to paddle so unsuitable for beginners. What they lack in paddling power and stability, they make up for with superb performance and maneuverability.

Mini Mal

Generally between 7’2” and 8’6”, the mini mal is the all rounder and is perfect to learn on.  Mini mals have rounded noses and are wide in the body making them stable, easy to paddle and giving you every chance to catch waves.  They are difficult to find second hand as everyone has room for a mini mal as they are reliable and handle so predictably, and they are rarely sold on.
Our 7ft board is a fun mini mal, designed for everyone to learn on due to its bouyancy, stability and ease to use.


A variation of a shortboard. These boards are usually a couple of inches shorter than a person’s usual shortboard but are wider and fatter, increasing paddle power. Fish have swallow tails which increases its wave-catching ability and provides a looser board. Fish perform well when the surf is small as they still allow high performance maneuvers.
Our 6ft board is a fish shape, designed like this so that beginners can start to learn on the smaller surf, and also catch waves more easily.


The term ‘gun’ was invented back in the 50s and 60s in Hawaii, when the now legendary pioneers were hunting for new bigger and badder waves to ride.  Originally the ‘elephant gun’, the name developed from being used for hunting the biggest waves.  The pioneers realised they needed longer, narrower, more pointy boards to slice effectively through the chop on the face of huge waves to increase their chances of survival.
Guns are still used by big wave riders when the waves are powerful and steep. In Hawaii, guns are generally brought out when wave faces of the North Shore surf are over 15 feet.  These boards are normally between 7’2 and 8’6, are very pointy and narrow with a pin-tail.  Guns provide enough length for paddling power and ability to hold their line on extremely steep waves.  If you’re a beginner a gun is something to be admired but left well alone.


Funboards range from about 6’6 to 7’2 in length and are 20″ to 22″ wide.  They are designed to have the best of both worlds – the maneuvering ability of a shortboard with the paddle power of a mini-mal, and so are shortboard length with mini-mal shape.  These boards perform well in all conditions and are much more forgiving to less experienced surfers.

Longboard/ Malibu

Longboards have been used since surfing began.  It was only in the 60s that the shortboard shape emerged and began to take over as surfers wanted snappier, more thrusting maneuvers, but for centuries Hawaiians and Polynesians have been riding enormous boards up to 15’0 long.  Anything over 9’0 is generally regarded as a longboard nowadays, and longboarding is currently enjoying something of a popularity revival.  The graceful, swooping style of longboarding means there is no need for boards to be sharp and pointy – they are very wide, extremely stable and enable surfers to catch anything from 1 ft to double-over-head.

TAIL DESIGNWider tails provide more planing surface, meaning waves are easier to catch. Narrower tails offer more control and maneuverability in larger waves and the ability to hold the water in steep and hollow conditions.

Rounded Square

This is the most popular shape and is a safe bet as it performs well in all conditions.  This shape produces strong turns, drive, and good maneuverability.


The round tail has a smaller planing surface than a rounded square which requires more turning from the rails, but makes the board slightly more maneuverable.


This more pointed shape is used on big wave boards as it creates good drive and it holds the water in steep and hollow waves.


This unmistakable shape produces an effect similar to the rounded square, but a the larger surface area produces a looser board and more paddling power.