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What Gear do I Need to Start Surfing?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

When it comes to surfing gear it can be as simple as a board and wax, or as complex as you’d like. I’ve been surfing for about a year and a half (at the time I’m writing this), and I’m going to share some things I’ve found helpful to have when I surf. I’ll put them in two categories: need and nice to have, and you can decide what would be most helpful to you!

Essential gear when you start surfing

So here’s my list of must-haves to get you started on your surf journey.

You’ll need a Surfboard

To get started, you’ll need a surfboard. Now we’ll get into types of boards in another post; longboards, mid-lengths, shortboards, and all the variations you could dream of. But here’s the basics. There are soft tops and hard tops (or traditional surfboards) to get started. And you’ll most likely want to start with a soft top! Why? Well, it’s honestly about catching as many waves as you can, as easily as you can, and soft tops are great at that!

So, what is volume? Well, it’s essentially how buoyant your surfboard is. And volume is measured in liters, the more volume, the more buoyant your board. A higher-volume surfboard is easier to paddle, which makes it easier to catch waves. And when you get started, having a board that helps you catch waves is key!

You can find a variety of soft tops at your local surf store, or online. Here are a few we love:

  • Odysea Boards from Catch Surf. These boards are really beautiful and fun

  • Surftech Softops | I started on an 8’ surftech and I freaking love that board.

  • Wave Storm | This board is known as the quintessential beginners' board

As a general rule (yes, you can break them for sure) a 7’-9’ soft top is a great place to start for a beginner. We love this little cheat sheet for figuring out the right volume for you. It’s an added bonus if you can go into a local surf shop and get some help finding the right board, and hopefully, this post gives you some of the language you need to find what you’re looking for.

Now, keep in mind this is a general overview of how to start. Some people grab a short board and go for it, others start on a 9’ long board, and do just fine! It’s up to you.

But you don’t always have to buy a surfboard to get started

In our local area, there’s an awesome surf club that offers a monthly membership called The Board Club. Members can try as many surfboards as they like. There’s an added bonus of their knowledgeable staff who answer any and all questions and provide access to great surf instructors along with a vibrant surf community and surf events. Clubs like this are a great place to start both to find the gear you need and friends to surf with.

You’ll need a leash for your surfboard

Why do you need a leash? We’ve all seen those magical longboard riders, dancing their way up and down the board with no leash in sight. Let’s just say they’ve earned that right. As a beginner, it’s pretty important to wear a leash for a variety of reasons but we’ll just keep it pretty simple and say safety.

  1. Your safety: If you’re just learning to surf and you lose your board, a leash provides an easy way to get it right back to you. This is especially helpful if you’re further out or the waves are rough and it’s a little harder to paddle in.

  2. Everyone else's safety: When a board goes flying it can easily hit someone. It can get in the way of other surfers, hit other surfers, or even hit swimmers or people playing in the water.

When it comes to choosing a leash, we’d always recommend spending a little more and getting a quality leash. You don’t want it to snap on you in the middle of a large set! And when it comes to length, you never want your leash to be shorter than your board, so as a general rule use a leash that measures as equally long or just slightly longer than your surfboard.

Oh, and if you want to nerd out on the history of surfboard leashes, this is a great little article with some fun facts about how we started using leashes!

So, I’ve only used one leash, and that’s the one I’ll link to, but there are a lot of great ones out there. Be sure to add your favorite in the comments.

  • Dakine | I have this leash, and it costs a little more but I’ve been using the same one for a year and a half and it’s great!

You’ll need a little wax

If you’re wondering why you apply wax to your board… it’s for the grip! So ya don’t slip. You’ll need a base coat and the right top coat to get started. And if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, you can read this cute little blog post I wrote all about how to wax your surfboard.

You’ll probably need a wetsuit, depending on where you’re surfing

So, I’m adding a wetsuit to the list of essentials, but if you’re surfing in a tropical climate where it’s above 80 in the water, by all means, trunk it (surf speak for go out in your swimsuit)!

For the rest of us here’s the basic breakdown when it comes to wetsuits. There’s so much I could say about wetsuits, but my goal is to give you enough info, so you can find what you need to get started. Great things to research include sustainability and quality as you start the search for the right suit for you. Our friend Kim, at @movefatgirl also a lot of information about size-inclusive surf gear, so we recommend giving her a follow!

We love this little guide to navigate which wetsuit you need for which water temperature. Here’s the gist of wetsuits:

  • Spring Suit

  • 2mm

  • 3/2

  • 4/3

  • 5/4

Different brands have different ways of grading their suits, but the above is pretty standard. I mistakenly said “I need a 2/2” but really I just needed a 2mm, because it’s 2mm thick on the top and the bottom. A 3/2 means there is 3mm on the top and 2mm on the bottom, so the colder the temperature, the higher the numbers will be (generally). Quicksilver put together this great guide to help explain wetsuit thickness and how it corresponds to water temperature.

Here are a few brands we love:

  • Dakine | This one is an investment, but these will last for years. They do have great sales.

  • Patagonia | They use Yulex Natural Rubber, and are Neoprene-Free.

  • Billabong | A little more affordable, and a classic

  • Roxy | Another classic

  • Seea | We love this brand for summer when the water warms up a bit! This woman-owned company designs awesome swimsuits for surfing! And we can’t get enough!

  • Janga | And if you don’t mind spending $$$ and want a fun color, this brand has some rad colors and prints!

Okay, so last note on wetsuits. The first time I tried one on was at Jack’s Surfboards in Huntington Bach. I remember texting my friend in a panic and saying, “I think I’m stuck in the wetsuit, how do I get out?” And she said, “Nope, that’s how it's supposed to feel!” So, don’t panic. And also know it’s like…. A lot of shimmy-ing and gymnastics to get into the suit.

Oh right, don’t forget a swimsuit

When I started surfing, I was like, “Are we all going naked under the wetsuits or do we wear a swimsuit, what are the rules.” And by all means you can do whatever you want! But generally, guys don’t wear anything under their wetsuits and girls typically wear swimsuits underneath. Why? Well… It’s easier to change at the beach? Aside from that, I don’t really know why. Does anyone else know?

Jolyn has great sports-friendly swimsuits that don’t have all the extras. I bought one last year and use it almost every day and it still looks like new. So it’s a little $$, but it lasts!

And, always wear sunscreen!

Everyone has their favorite. But for face sunscreen, I absolutely love Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer. I use it almost every day and one tin lasts around 6 months. Again, a little more $$, but it lasts a long time, is better for the ocean, and works so well! And of course, if you’re wearing a spring suit, etc. be sure to lather on the sunscreen before you head out!

This is a photo of Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer

Nice to have gear when you start surfing

I typically drive to my surf spot in the morning before work. I then skedaddle home shower and change before work. Based on this little ritual here are some nice to-haves that I’ve found when I surf.

Roof racks to transport your surfboard

Okay, I’m not going to recommend any. I’ll just say, that if your board doesn’t fit in your car, consider investing in a good roof rack setup.

Where my bikers at?

If you bike to the beach, you’ll want to get a surfboard bike rack. Leave your favorite set up in the comments!

Straps to tie down your board

I do have opinions about these. Make sure you learn how to secure your board safely. Get a fellow surfer, or a YouTube video to show you how to tie down your board so it is secure. Also, to avoid looking like a kook, make sure your board is on your car, fins to the front, facing up, like in the photo below. Don't forget rack pads to protect your board from rubbing on your roof racks.

Surfboard on top of a car, with the fin facing up, showing you how to place it on your car.

These are the ties I use, and they are solid. Again, I spend a little more but it’s a safety thing! You want them to keep your board secured in place.

Photo of the tie downs I use on my car.

Car Door Step to help load surfboard

I freaking love this little gem. When I’m loading boards by myself, this car door step allows me to reach over and secure them in place. Love love love! And if you solo surf and aren’t super tall, such a good investment.

A way to store your keys while you surf

So if you’re driving to a beach and locking your car, a key storage solution is great. Some wetsuits have little key pockets, but I’d worry the whole time that my key would fall out. (Many of my friends use this solution so you can for sure do it!). Then there’s the old, leave it on the beach in a bag. Cheap and effective. But if you want a little more secure option, I love this lockbox.

If your car has a push-button start, you will need a special type of lockbox that includes a Faraday bag. I highly recommend this lockbox with a Faraday bag, and it's cheaper. Fellow surfer Kait says this lockbox has been an absolute lifesaver for her BMW fob.

Photo of a lockbox on a car tire, showing how to store key safely when you surf

Hair Protection for your hair, while surfing

I have long, bleached blonde hair. We’ll do a whole post on how to care for your hair when you surf one of these days, but for now, I’ll share one product I’ve found that I love. Again, it’s $$ but one tin lasted 6 months of me using it almost every day. It’s Surf Soap’s Rehab Balm, and I freaking love it. Share your hair care secret in the comments below.

A hairbrush

This is a great hair brush for detangling wet hair if you need to give your hair a quick brush before heading out. A nice to have, but def not necessary.

A changing poncho

So, it came to me. I know why a lot of women choose to wear swimsuits. When you take off your wetsuit, if you’re not wearing anything underneath, you’ll be flashing the whole beach (which is totally fine if that’s your vibe.) It’s awkward to put your pancho on and then shimmy out of your wetsuit under it. Mystery solved. Okay back to the poncho.

You can get changed out of your wetsuit, into a towel. I have not yet attempted this because, well. It’s a lot of logistics. A changing poncho is a great way to get out of your wetsuit into your clothes, without mooning everyone in the parking lot. There are so many great panchos out there. Depending on the temp you may want a warmer or a lighter one.

Changing mat and bag

This is really nice to have. When you’re changing in the parking lot, a changing mat will keep your suit from getting dirty and damaged. The added benefit of it being a bag allows you to slip your wetsuit off, and store it in the bag until you get it home to dry.

Another really cheap alternative for a changing mat that works like a charm is a single square from a puzzle exercise mat. There are lots of different options, but the goal of a changing mat is to keep your wetsuit safe.

Photo of a puzzle exercise mat used for changing at the beach

Surf Booties and Surf gloves

As it gets colder you may need to add these to your wardrobe. I’m still on the hunt for the right booties and gloves, but I’ve linked a few options to get you started. Certain beaches like San Onofre State Beach have a rocky bottom and booties can seriously save your life.

Surf brush

Okay, so this one is a little extra. And I probably wouldn’t get it, but we have one and I do actually use it quite a bit to brush off sand from my board, or the changing mat. So, totally up to you, but a surf brush does help with sand.

Wetsuit drying and cleaning

Once you get your wetsuit home, it’s nice to have a place to hang it to dry outside. We have this drying rack, and it fits on our patio. We love it. Just make sure to dry your wetsuits in the shade and not the direct sun!

Wetsuits can get a little stinky if they remain wet too long (or you pee in your wetsuit, no judgments here). Our group has recommended both of these all-natural wet suit cleaners:

Now, go surf!

Okay, I don’t want you to walk away thinking you need a ton of gear to surf. The beauty is that you can go to the beach with your wetsuit, board, leash, and wax, and have a great time. You can keep it simple. I’m just sharing some things I’ve added to my routine that have been helpful! What are your “nice to haves” when you surf?

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214 views4 comments


Unknown member
Sep 20, 2023

This was SO SO helpful. I immediately went to links and bought some of what you recommended. I realized I was without it, and things felt uncared for post-surf. Great!

Unknown member
Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

This made my day! I'm so happy it was helpful. Would love to hear what you ended up getting. And if you get any ideas of what else could help, would love to hear!


Unknown member
Sep 20, 2023

that's an amazing article!! thank you, Rachelle! <3

Unknown member
Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

Oh my gosh stop it! Thanks so much Julia! Can't wait to surf soon!

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