Surfing enables us to connect with nature while experiencing the incredible feeling of being moved, literally, by the water under our feet. At the heart of this experience is the surfboard, a tool that has evolved significantly from its ancient Polynesian origins to the precision-crafted instruments of today.

There are many different types of surfboards, and choosing the one that best suits your skill level and preferred wave conditions is one of the most critical decisions. This can significantly impact your surfing experience and enjoyment of the sport. A good board will keep you engaged for years to come, while a poorly matched board can cause frustration and slow down your progression. Learning about the differences between soft- and hard-top surfboards will help you choose the board that’s right for you.

Performance and Maneuverability

When it comes to performance, the differences are clear. Hard-tops are famous for their speed and agility, allowing for sharper turns and more precise control. Their rigid yet responsive construction translates to better performance in larger, more challenging waves. On the other hand, soft-tops are more buoyant, making them easier to paddle and great for catching smaller waves. Thankfully, with surfboards, it doesn’t have to be an “either or” decision: due to the affordability of soft-top boards, it’s become common for even the most advanced surfers to carry a soft-top or two among their “quiver”. The key is to pick the right instrument for your surfing style and the expected conditions of each session.

Safety and Comfort

The soft-top surfboard is the best option for beginners due to its built-in safety mechanisms. The forgiving foam reduces the risk of injury from falling on the board, something which happens frequently for learners. Next, the softer exterior surface offers a more comfortable ride, which really pays off over long sessions in the water. Their lightweight materials and soft, cushy exterior means they are less likely to cause serious harm if a surfer or other nearby surfer collides with the board.

Durability and Construction

When comparing soft-top vs. hard-top boards, it’s interesting to note that the core of nearly every modern surfboard is made of foam. The core comprises over 80% of the board’s volume and is reinforced by “stringers”: long strips of wood or alternative materials which are inserted at the time the shape is formed. For soft-top surfboards, the most frequently used foam core is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). Hard-top core are generally made of either Polyurethane or EPS, but EPS has become the overwhelming favorite in recent years. The difference between between soft-top vs. hard-top surfboards is most clearly seen in the final ¼” to ½” of the board’s surface. Soft-tops, aka “foamies”, are called this because they are built almost entirely of foam, from the core to the top layers (the exterior skins in the top layers are made of various types of polyethylene). On the other hand, the exterior construction of hard-tops is a combination of several materials: fiberglass, cloth, composite materials and resin. This creates a very rigid, smooth and responsive surface, however, dings are more labor-intensive to fix and can compromise the entire board if not addressed quickly.

Price and Accessibility

When considering the cost, soft-top surfboards generally present a more budget-friendly option, making them an attractive choice if you are new to the sport or not looking to make a substantial investment in pursuing the sport of surfing yet. With their advanced materials and construction, hard-tops come at a higher price point but can be a worthwhile investment for dedicated surfers seeking enhanced performance.

Maintenance and Care

The maintenance and care of soft-top vs. hard-top surfboards is similar in terms of post-session care but different when it comes to more significant repairs. Soft-tops require minimal maintenance for dings or scrapes and can generally be fixed with a small amount of Gorilla Glue. Hard-top boards, on the other hand, demand either extreme patience or paying an expert to fix dings.

Whether you prefer the forgiving nature of a soft-top or the high performance of a hard-top, your choice will shape your surfing experience. Visiting a top-notch surfboard supply shop and discussing your individual needs with experienced pros can provide invaluable insights to help make the best decision. Additionally, online surf shops often provide digital tools such as charts and calculators to help ease the difficult choice of which size and shape to buy. The best surfboard is the one that most closely aligns with your skill level, goals and expected local wave conditions.

May 29, 2024 — Brent Wellington

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