Roaming the globe with a surfboard and a laptop, crafting digital stories that ride the wave of surfing culture.
Whether you are looking for your first board or your next board, the biggest choice you’ll have to make is whether you want to get a fiberglass or a soft top. Both have their pros and cons, but we’ll look at some of the major differences so that you can decide for yourself which type of board construction is best for you. The main thing to remember is that whatever you decide, you can surf on both types of boards and have a blast on either kind of construction.
Like their name suggests, the biggest feature of a soft top board is the soft material covering the rails and deck of the board. These boards are typically made from a type of EPS foam that doesn’t need to have a resin glass over it to be watertight and buoyant. Foamies have resurfaced with a growing demand in recent years and there are now many companies that only build soft top surfboards like Catch Surf, South Bay Board Co. and Wavestorm.
Soft tops are generally cheaper than their fiberglass counterparts. Not only are they cheaper, but they often last longer as well. Since they have a soft outer shell, they are less likely to ding or crack when hit with objects like your elbow or the sand.
Soft top surfboards are easier to learn on than fiberglass boards. Since they are often thicker, they float a lot more than fiberglass boards which makes the board more stable. More flotation and stability means you’ll have an easier time standing up and surfing on one of these!
Not only are soft tops great for learning, but they are usually safer than fiberglass boards. Fiberglass boards can be hard and can have sharp edges, especially the fins. Soft tops usually have flexible fins along with rounded rails and a soft deck all around. This makes the board less likely to lead to injury if you fall on it or if it hits you in the white water. There is a great guide by Center for Surf Research on getting started with your first foam surfboard.
Soft tops are great in shorebreak. In waves that break in shallow water, or extremely close to the shore, soft tops are often a better choice because they are more durable. Also, their noses have less rocker than fiberglass board so they are less likely to snap off if your board hits the sand at an awkward angle.
Soft tops are less maneuverable than fiberglass boards. The extra volume and soft fins can make soft top boards difficult to turn on the wave if you want to shred. You’ll find it difficult to connect cutbacks to snaps on a soft top.
Soft tops can be harder to paddle out to the line up. Some waves require you to paddle through large waves and white water by duck diving. Due to the extra buoyancy, soft tops can be difficult to make it out to the line up on bigger days.
Soft tops can be difficult to make steep drops on since they often have a flatter rocker. The flat rocker is great for paddling and picking up speed once you’re on the wave. But, the flatter rocker can make it difficult to get used to steep takeoffs even if you are a skilled surfer.
Sometimes called traditional surfboards, fiberglass boards are typically shaped out of polyurethane foam and glassed over with fiberglass. These boards are more delicate than soft tops, but will go faster on the wave face and feel much more responsive. Fiberglass boards are often geared towards the intermediate or expert surfer to help do maneuvers on the face of a wave.
Fiberglass boards are very responsive when you are riding the wave. If you want to do turns, snaps, or cut backs, you will find that a fiberglass board will respond better when you shift your weight around.
It’s easier to get a personalized fiberglassed board. There are many shapers out there who do custom boards so that you can get a board made specifically for you. Whether you want to ride a specific kind of wave or are at a certain skill level, it is easier to find a suitable fiberglass board or have one made than it is for a soft top board.
Going along with the customization, you will find that many fiberglass boards have a higher level of craftsmanship to them. Shapers work to finish sanding the foam before glassing a fiberglass board.
Fiberglass boards are much lighter than a soft top board. Typically, this is because they are smaller, but you will find that a fiberglass board is lighter than a soft top of similar size.
You have to wax a fiberglass board and maintain your wax. Soft tops usually don’t need to be waxed, but if you don’t wax a fiberglass board, you’ll slip right off.
Fiberglass boards are expensive. We’ve mentioned the level of craftsmanship that goes into making a fiberglass board. It can make a great product, but it means that the cost of your board will be high.
Fiberglass boards are also delicate. They are prone to dinging or breaking. If you drop them they can crack. If the nose runs into the sand, part of the glass can either buckle or even snap off. Since they are more delicate, fiberglass boards often won’t last as long as a soft top.
Hopefully you have a better idea of the major differences between soft tops and fiberglass surfboards now so you can start building your perfect quiver. This guide only scratches the surface though. There are many different shapes and sizes when it comes to soft tops and fiberglass boards that can help you ride waves that match your skill level and wave selection. So go out there and have fun surfing your new board!