The sustained rise in the popularity of foam surfboards has been driven by a variety of factors, which we will explore below. Beginning from humble origins, much like the fiberglass surfboard did many decades ago, foam surfboards can now be found on nearly every beach with a good surf break.

In 2024, foam surfboards will continue to be the highest-selling type of surfboard, sustained by advancements in materials and design that enhance their performance and durability. This ultimate guide to foam surfboards in 2024 will explore their history, development, and what makes them the go-to choice for many surfers.

The Rise of Foam Surfboards

Foam surfboards, often referred to as “foamies” or soft tops, have undergone a remarkable evolution from their humble beginnings. When soft tops first started hitting the lineups over 25 years ago, they were met with stiff resistance from expert surfers, who scoffed at their thicker construction and soft exteriors (without question, riders of wooden surfboards similarly disdained the first fiberglass surfboards). Over time, the quality and performance of foam surfboards increased substantially, to the point where more advanced surfers began taking them out in the water to see what they could do. And the boards passed the test with flying colors: year after year, more foamies started appearing in the lineup, at bigger and more challenging breaks. Still, the most hardcore surfers struggled to embrace them. Several cultural movements ended up changing this dynamic, however, enabling foam surfboards to reach a level of acceptance once thought impossible. First, a number of all-comers surf events, some tongue in cheek, others not, were organized to break the ice (or just for some fun brand PR): surf contests featuring only foam surfboards and “takeovers,” where an entire break is “taken over” by foam board riders. These events started to chip away at the final holdouts of foamie resistance. Secondly, the rise of YouTube and other social media outlets, combined with the heightened safety factor of foam surfboards, created a platform for various surf influencers to push the limits of what could be accomplished on a soft top board. These factors combined to gradually make foam surfboards the overwhelming ride of choice for beginners, a solid backup option for more experienced surfers and a tool of experimentation for experts. Today, foam surfboards are the highest-selling type of surfboard on the market and blend in on the beach just like a beach towel and umbrella.

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024

Understanding Foam Technology

The innovative combination of high-performance materials has been the driving force of the foam surfboard revolution. The most common core material, expanded polystyrene (EPS), is both lightweight and strong. It’s easy to take these factors for granted but their impact cannot be underestimated: if a surfboard core is strong but heavy, it can get too dense and won’t provide sufficient buoyancy to float the rider. The lightweight nature of EPS enables the higher volumes of foam boards, which gives them their thick, wide, and highly buoyant shapes. The need for strength is clear: if the core isn’t strong enough, it can snap under the weight of a surfer. For these reasons, EPS has become the most widely used core material for both soft and hard top surfboards. Next, the external layers, also called the “laminated layers,” are what differentiate between a hard top surfboard and a soft top/foam surfboard. The external layers of a foam surfboard are typically made of various grades of polyethylene (PE) or ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA or “foam rubber”) materials, which are of course known for being soft, but they also provide excellent water resistance and have “memory” to retain their original shape after being compressed by the weight of a surfer. The highest grades of PE and most EVA material grades are able to be surfed completely without wax, while the lowest grades of PE need regular heavy waxing to prevent constant slipping.

As we’ve discussed here, the revolution in surfboard manufacturing to combine a lightweight, strong core with soft, water-resistant, and memory-retaining external layers is what makes foam surfboards so appealing for riders of all levels. These boards create a host of benefits, which we will discuss in the next section.

The Benefits of Foam Surfboards

The lightweight yet strong EPS core enables foam surfboards to be designed with additional volume, which makes wave catching easier. Both beginning and advanced surfers benefit from this. Beginners need this added buoyancy to learn, while advanced riders find that on weak swell days, foam surfboards give them the extra volume needed to catch when the wave isn’t providing a ton of energy. Secondly, the soft exterior of foam boards protects surfers of all levels and the others around them from more serious injury. Take our word for it: every single member of the Aventuras team has been on the receiving end of a “hard knock” from a flying hard top surfboard, and we can attest to how painful it can be! Foam surfboards are the ideal option for safety at packed breaks in shallow water with many beginning surfers, as the impact factor is dramatically lower and can be the difference between staying in the water or calling it a day. This is especially important for beginning surfers who need to build the confidence to keep coming out in the water regularly.

How To Choose the Right Foam Surfboard

Because of the many different options available with foam surfboards, you’ll need to consider a variety of factors to choose the right one for you. Read on to learn the factors that should guide your selection process.

Size and Volume

Choosing the right size and volume of board is critical for ensuring success in the water. For beginning surfers, having extra length, width, and volume is very important to achieve the stability and ease of wave-catching needed to learn the basics of surfing. For more experienced riders, however, larger boards can be more frustrating to ride, as they lack the maneuverability of smaller boards, which enable surfers to drop in to faster-breaking waves and make sharper turns. As a result, as your ability level increases, the decision-making process gets more complicated; there are no rules involved for advanced surfers, just personal preferences. To make the decision-making process easier for beginners, we’ve created a series of tools, including our sizing chart and board finder. We’ve also covered the sizing topic in greater detail in this article.

Shape

The shape of the foam surfboard also plays a significant role in its performance. Boards designed with a wider nose are more stable and easier for catching waves. Those with a pointed nose and a narrow tail are a good option for advanced surfers looking to perform sharp maneuvers and quick turns.

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024

Fish: This shortboard shape has a pointed nose and a “swallow” tail that, when turned sideways, looks like the silhouette of a fish mouth. The pointed nose provides maneuverability, and the swallow tail gives the board a nice combination of projection/stability for smaller waves with some “sink” to bite into the waves more for aggressive carving.

Modern Shortboard: The most popular shape used by shortboarders today. Combining a pointed nose and squash tail, this board provides extra projection/stability for small waves via the squash tail, and the pointed nose enables sharp turns and cutbacks.

Hybrid: With a pointed nose, extra length, and a less pronounced, modern swallow tail, the hybrid board seeks to marry the best aspects of a fish and modern shortboard, while enabling easier wave-catching because of its added length.

Funboard: This concept is popular for mid-length boards and bridges the gap between a shortboard and longboard. With its larger size, more rounded nose, and a pin tail or round tail, this shape offers the stability and buoyancy of a larger board, while enabling the tail to sink into larger waves and make easier turns. This board can get into a lot of different waves and gives the rider a lot of creative freedom, hence the name “funboard.”

Log: This shape is reserved for longboards and is built for stability, projection and slow but smooth turning. With its large size, rounded nose, and squash tail, the longboard is the first shape most people learn to surf on. This shape is great for both small, crumbly waves and larger, clean, slow-rolling waves.

Fin Setup

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024
Fixed/Bolt-Thru Fin System

Removable Fin System

 

The subject of fin setup is different from that of the specific fin shape and materials. When buying a foam surfboard, or any surfboard for that matter, the fin setup is crucial. There are two subtopics within this area: 1) fin system and 2) configuration. The fin system refers to the specifics of how the fins are attached to the board. Fin systems can be either fixed (not easily changeable) or interchangeable/removable. Fixed fin systems are also called bolt-thru fins, and they are the most commonly used system on foam surfboards. Bolt-thrus are considered fixed systems because both the fin and the bolts that secure the fin to the body have to be removed in order to change the fin on the bottom. Fins can be changed on bolt-thru systems, but it’s more time-consuming, and there aren’t many fin options available for them. Interchangeable/removable systems, however, allow for the fins to be removed without removing the entire fin setup. The fins are secured to “fin boxes” at the bottom of the board. These fin boxes are either secured to the board by bolts (similar to fixed systems) or “welded” into the body of the board through various methods, making them integral parts of the board, similar to fin boxes glassed in to a hard top surfboard. The advantage of the integral slot box is that no bolts are needed on the top skin of the board, which is preferred by some riders because of the clean surface free of potential snags. The disadvantage of integral slot boxes, however, is that if the boxes get cracked or damaged somehow, they are not long-term replaceable, as even the best DIY fix cannot prevent the eventual compromising of the waterproof seal.

The next consideration within fin systems is the method of securing the fin to the slot box. These methods fall into two camps: 1) traditional systems based on set screws and hex keys to hold the fin in place and 2) next generation, “quick-release” systems based on an innovative groove system. Traditional systems are slower to change out, but they are generally fail-proof and can be fixed/replaced if secured to the board by a bolt-thru system. Quick-release systems are faster to change out, but at times the grooves can wear out. We’ve seen numerous boards at the beach over the years with older quick-release systems with the fins glued into place as a fix, which defeats their original purpose. The ideal solution for interchangeable fins would be a quick release system that is also easily replaceable.

Now that we’ve covered fin systems, it’s time to discuss configuration, which refers to the number of fin slots and the types of fins the slots will accept. Most foam surfboards come in a “thruster” configuration, with three fin slots: one at the bottom of the board in the middle and two fins above it, placed at the sides near the rails. Within thruster configurations, there are two types: a traditional three-fin thruster system where all three fin slots are the same size and a “2+1” setup, which enables the rider to surf with either one, two, or three fins by offering two smaller slots at the top and one large slot at the bottom to fit a larger single fin. These 2+1 setups also create more speed than a single fin, which we cover below. Although less common for foam boards, some brands offer a simple twin fin setup, which slows the board down a little bit by reducing the drive out of the water but loosens up the turning, for longer, more drawn-out turns. Others come with a single fin setup, which is popular for longboards, as the single center fin creates drive/lift out of the water while loosening up the turning a bit. A single fin will turn significantly easier than a thruster setup, but the turning isn’t considered “loose” by any means, since single fins are often very large at 7.5" and higher.

Once the fin system and configuration are chosen, fin shape and material is the final consideration. This is a huge, deep topic with many different opinions and perspectives. For more depth on this subtopic, we encourage you to check fin manufacturer websites as there is a lot of quality material in that arena.

Carry Handles

Many foam surfboards available today come with carry handles. These can be a lifesaver when carrying the biggest sizes of longboards out to the beach. A good carry handle can allow the rider to comfortably carry their board in one hand and their towel or a beach bag in the other. Although foam surfboards are not extremely heavy, their long and wide shapes can make them cumbersome to handle.

Durability and Manufacturing Quality

While the materials used by different foam board manufacturers are similar, the best manufacturers can increase the performance of the base materials through additional processes, adding longevity to the board. For example, some manufacturers add high-performing UV inhibitors to the base materials and can do so while ensuring high consistency and durability. The difference is that the best boards hold their color and top graphics for the long-term, while cheaper boards have weak UV resistance and show color fading, which makes them look older, losing most of their top skin graphics within months. This problem is commonly found in the lowest-priced foam surfboards on the market.

Another often overlooked area of quality for a foam surfboard is the quality of the engineering design. For example, the best quality foam boards have been precision-engineered in the fin area to ensure a water-tight and durable seal between the fins and the board. This serves two purposes: 1) to reduce the likelihood of the fins falling off in the water (commonly seen in the least expensive boards on the market) and 2) to reduce the likelihood of water penetration into the core of the board, which creates waterlogging and the eventual need to replace the board.

To paraphrase a popular refrain, “the initial thrill of a cheap price is fast outweighed by the cost of poor quality.” Like everything in life, you get what you pay for. It is difficult to sort through the various marketing claims and social media posts out there to decide which board is the best made. We highly recommend to read the details of verified customer reviews (ones made by verified purchasers) and to talk with experienced surfer friends to see which foam boards have the best longevity.

Tail Design

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024
Squash Tail
The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024
Swallow Tail

Round Tail

 

The most popular tail style for a foam surfboard is the squash tail. This tail increases buoyancy and therefore projection of the board out of the water, which enables easier pop-ups and more waves caught, especially for beginners. The trade-off with squash tails is that they are less maneuverable. The next most popular is a swallow tail, which forms a V-shape at the bottom of the board. These tails offer a good combination of projection out of the water in small surf and maneuverability. Other tail styles such as round tail and pin tail can be found on foam surfboards, but they are less common. Round tails sink into the water more than squash tails and are designed for high-performance surfing. Pin tails are similar in shape to round tails, but the angles are sharper and pointed, giving the board more bite/hold in larger waves.

Price

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024

Foam surfboards generally offer excellent value, but prices can vary based on size, design, and brand. While it's tempting to go for the least expensive option, investing in a board that meets your specific needs will enhance your surfing experience and progression.

Whether you're a beginner looking to catch your first waves or an experienced surfer exploring the versatility of foam surfboards, choosing the right board is a step toward enjoying the waves to their fullest.

Maintenance and Care for Your Foam Board

Proper maintenance and care are essential for ensuring the longevity and performance of your foam surfboard. It’s important to rinse with fresh water after using it in salty water, avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, regularly check for damage, and store it in a cool, dry place. To step your board care up a notch, we highly recommend to place your board into a board sock or board bag immediately after rinsing it off, to limit its exposure to UV rays and to protect against minor dings from other boards during transport.

In case your board gets damaged, refer to the Board Care section of our store. By following these maintenance and care tips, your foam surfboard can remain in optimal condition for years, providing countless hours of fun and progression in your surfing journey.

Future Trends in Foam Surfboard Design

The future of foam surfboard design revolves around innovation, sustainability, and performance enhancement. As the demand for eco-friendly and high-performing surfboards continues to rise, manufacturers are turning to advanced materials and technologies to meet these needs. One emerging trend is the use of recycled or plant-based materials in the construction of foam surfboards.

An ongoing trend with foam surfboards is the constant innovation of materials to push the boundaries of durability, water resistance and surfing performance. These efforts are constantly in motion across the foam surfboard industry.

This guide to foam surfboards provides an overview of how these boards have come to be widely accepted across the surf industry, the benefits they provide to surfers, how to choose the best one for your needs, and the future trends we’re seeing across the industry. If you want to go further with us on any of these topics, contact us anytime. We’re glad to help you choose the right board to start or continue your journey with surfing.

The Ultimate Guide to Foam Surfboards in 2024
July 01, 2024 — Brent Wellington

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