Dispatch onto a soft surfboard, belly-down floating amongst cerulean waters—the same waters home to curious sea turtles who show up for dawn patrol with you to check out the golden sunrise, or the playful dolphins appearing like holograms in a barreling tube. There’s really nothing comparable to it. Hence why surfing reaps rewards as boundless as the waves we chase, like a game of cheeky tag.
Seriously though, it’s science. Research has shown that a surfer’s physique and psyche has a personal and emotional relationship with water, known as “Blue Mind”. Surfing provides deep-seated health impacts on our individual livelihoods, including physical, mental and spiritual wellness gains.
Whether you’re gracefully hanging ten on a nine-foot soft surfboard, or fiercely bottom turning a fishtail—even if you score a killer ride and nobody else is around to see or snap it—it’s worth it.
Entering the World of Soft Surf
If you’re vying to inject yourself into the world of surf, a soft surfboard may be right up your alley. Soft surfboards are continuing to become a staple in lineups around the world.
Comparably inexpensive and virtually indestructible, they’re being put to use by both newbies and pros alike. Even Pipeline surfer Jamie O’Brien can be seen having fun with a foam quiver in his Hawaiian backyard. On the other end of the spectrum, soft surfboards are the preferred board at surf schools, such as the Rincon Surf School & Resort in Puerto Rico.
Surf Coach at the Rincon Surf School, Whit Arnold is an avid advocate for soft top surfboards for his beginner students. “Most people immediately become very humbled once they realize how demanding surfing really is,” he says.
“I always tell my students that standing on a wave is only the bonus—it’s everything else leading up to that moment on your surfboard which is surfing. All the hard work that’s required in order to get into a good position to turn and paddle for a wave makes it that much more of an accomplishment.”
Sarasota, Florida board shaper Juan Rodriguez has been “making dust” since 1968. Rodriguez was totally dedicated to playing baseball as a kid, up until ’63, when he got his hands on his first magazine. SURFER mag’s palpable pages showed him something he had never yet seen before.
Throwing his baseball bat to the wind, Juan immediately found a soft surfboard to borrow, skipped down to the beach and ate shit a bunch of times. “Finally, I caught one, stood up and rode it straight in,” he describes. “Eventually I was able to grab a bit of an angle and go down the line. I was hooked—I knew I needed to get my own surfboard.” Now, he’s got five decades centered around a passion for surfing and the sinuous build of surfboards.
Finding Your 1st Soft Surfboard
If you’re on the search for your first surfboard and eager to get started on your journey, soft top surfboards are the perfect vanguards to stoke your inner surfer and embrace an active lifestyle on the water, wherever in the world that may be.
Among the best foam surfboards on the market, Vanhunks’ are designed, crafted and tested in South Africa, but reach ubiquitous bandwidth by distributing to retailers and buyers worldwide.
For eager beginners and young groms, the EVA Soft Deck and XPE Soft Surfboard are designed to catch you your first wave with ease. The EVA and XPE both have wide centre areas and a super stable rocker line that will help you paddle through flat water, pop up and take-off on a wave easily.
From whitewater rollers to playful peaks out the back, the stability these surfboards capitalize on make starting out and standing up a breeze.
These entry-level surfboards have a unique combo of advanced materials and construction, which ultimately create a surfboard that hits the trifecta:
- Hella Durable
- Tensile Strong
These puppies are able to take on rough landings and water turbulence like a champ. Of the three foams used to make soft top surfboards, EPS’s high-density foam and soft buoyant nature prove less likely to deteriorate over time.
And with rounded, soft rails and more forgiving fins, it’s harder for somebody that’s just learning to hurt themselves. The design features of being a soft foam top means the deck area will provide superior grip and maneuvering, while the smooth bottom and flex fins provide safety to the rider and other surfers in the water.
And aside from the enjoyable optimal performance, soft surfboards are especially affordable as well. As production technology progresses and the demand to learn transcends globally, soft surfboards remain the most affordable to attain, which is an added perk for those just getting their feet wet (pun intended).
Not to mention, soft surfboards are also extremely durable and next to impossible to ding like traditional fiberglass boards.
Soft Surfboard Physical Health
It’s important to note that anybody and everybody really can become a surfer- the young and old, the skinny and hefty, the man and woman. However, it does take endurance and stamina to make it through sessions while conditions are supreme.
For those wanting to immerse themselves in surfing, be prepared for constant adaptations to the waves in motion. Ballerina-esque balance, technique and cardiovascular fitness invite the body to repeatedly adjust to movements in all axis—providing as many physical health benefits as Home Depot does paint colors.
“I don’t know a more physically demanding workout than surfing,” states Juan. “You’ve got to work through hours of paddling and building the muscles in your neck from holding your head up and the lats in your back from pulling through the water.”
While copious paddling is the name of the game, your shoulder and back muscles strengthen from thrusting forward, and “cobraing” past the break on your soft surfboard. Arms aid in gripping the rails, while your core becomes your strongest ally in the pop-up and take-off, and legs become powerful anchors to keep you upright and sturdy racing the whitewash.
As you gain muscle memory, your rides will progress in longer, more fanciful moments, fine-tuning your balance and ability to dance down the line, like pro longboarder Kelia Moniz.
“You also have to hold your breath and change your heart beat,” Juan explains. “When you eat it on a big wave and hit the bottom, you get tumbled, rolled and dragged underwater for what seems like a half hour (but probably only 15 seconds). Even still, you have to be able to relax and embrace the pounding you’re taking because there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re completely at the mercy of the ocean and what’s going on around you, so eventually, you learn to enjoy the ride.”
If you’re trying to up your surf game, yoga and swimming will certainly help in improving endurance, flexibility and speed. Yoga will stretch and shape those important muscle groups, and underwater laps are excellent for building lung capacity, which you’ll need for very big hold downs and repeated duck dives. Treading water for as long as you can build lower body strength and stamina—useful when separated from your surfboard’s leash or fighting a rip current.
Ultimately, staying healthy and strong is a necessary vanguard to become/stay a frothy warrior, so the fuel you put in your body before and after a session could mean the difference between pouring high-octane supreme gas in your performance vehicle and just dumping moonshine in your tank. Adopt a nutritious and wholesome diet, along with a regular fitness regimen that’ll get you from a prolific cruiser on a soft surfboard, to airs and tricks on a short board sled.
Soft Surfboard Mental Health
Grooming yourself with the go-getter mindset means strapping your sizeable soft surfboard to the car, taking a drive to see if there is waves to be had, then lugging your rig up into your armpit and escorting it down to the beach, can seem like a lot of work. For the always-keen adventurers though, it’s not a question of if, but when and how.
“It’s an individual sport, passion, endeavor—whatever you want to call it—you’re not counting on anyone else but you.” Juan says. “You don’t have a team to back you up, so you have to always be mentally in it. Even while you’re waiting for waves to come your way, you’re looking at the ones you can’t catch peel off in the distance. Mentally, you’re surfing waves just by watching them.”
The dedication also, to enter unchartered or unfavorable waters is the kind of internal challenge fervent surfers welcome. Some take chances to brush elbows with the gray men in suits preying on fatty seals nearby. Others slip into a 6/5 mm thick wetsuit, boots and gloves, just to submerge themselves in Titanic-temp waters.
“For me, surfing is everything,” shares Whit. “I’m addicted to the fear and excitement of that which you cannot control, the patience and adaptability that’s required. More often than not, conditions are different from the time you enter the water to the time you exit the water, and all you can do is work with it. The water sets the pace.”
Sure, you may tumble around like an unmatched sock in a washing machine of whitewash for the better half of a minute, flailing to catch a breath from the topside. You may even hobble out from the reef with a sea urchin in the foot or a deep fin cut on the eyebrow. Bruised muscles often match a bruised ego, because not every session is going to be your best foot forward.
Psychologically though, what doesn’t kill you, kicks your ass, humbles you and makes you stronger for next time. Because no session is ever the same, nor can they be calculated and expected to be achieved. Rather than sulking out of the water with your tail between your legs, which even the most talented and sponsored pros do, remember it’s a game of poker and the ocean’s always going to have the upper hand.
You’ll have days where all the stars align—conditions are soft, glassy peelers and you’re on top of your game—riding face after face and leaving the beach with a sneaky royal flush. Surfers take the good with the bad—they know if they can make it through the lashings, there is treasure awaiting.
Soft Surfboard Spiritual Health
Simply spending quality time outdoors with your surfboard, immersed in the natural environment, remains an outlet for alleviating stress and tension. The spiritual wellness of being out in the sunshine and fresh, open air is that boost of Vitamin D that breathes serotonin into your brain and absorbs calcium into your body (don’t forget to lather in zinc first though!) Allowing the saltwater to heal any literal or figurative wounds you may have, provides an illuminating sense of place—especially compared to the alternatives of rush hour traffic or sitting at the dining room table with in-laws.
“It’s very difficult to describe the feeling that you get out there,” says Juan. “And that feeling doesn’t always have to come from a successful ride, or even a ride at all. There’s all these little magical vignettes that really give you a spiritual buzz for just being out in the water, and an uplifting thankfulness for being a surfer.”
It happens when the wind is blowing perfectly offshore—causing a spindrift spray to come off every wave and rainbows to jut out across the nose of your surfboard. It happens early, early, early in the morning, when it’s still kind of dark. When there is absolutely no wind, and the water is the soft color of lead because the sun isn’t up yet to turn it effervescent blue.
And as you paddle out, your hand reaches out for the stroke, but not before you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the placid glass as your hand dips in to propel it away. “If you’re standing on the beach, you don’t get to see any of that sh*t.”
Sometimes however, vexation can grow during flat periods between sets that seem to drag like microwave minutes as your sit upright, eyes peeled, straddling your surfboard with impatient keenness. Waiting for those pearly lips to rise and fall can wear on even the eternally stoked folk’s forbearance. As you await those peeling nugs to roll in, dad’s words ring aloud that, “patience is a virtue.”
But the more you spend time on your surfboard, the more you come to sense those calm lulls are ample opportunities to take in the surrounding beauty and majesty of what lies beyond your field of vision and past the horizon. In those moments, you realize you’re doing something that makes you feel so fragile and vulnerable, yet alive and invincible.
You experience insurmountable stillness and silence in the serenity—perhaps introspectively conceiving the meaning of life (or contemplating what you’ll scarf down later for lunch).
It’s a place to X out of too many tabs open in your brain and simply be. Surfing can help clear your head, maybe sort through the chaos his life. It could be a perfect time to briefly escape from adulting, and simply live in the moment.
Soft Surfing Gone Global
From the exotic archipelago of Sumatra and hippy paradise of Byron Bay, to Cape Town, Patagonia, Montauk, Malibu and the remote island of Tofino, as the popularity and universality of learning to surf burgeons to great numbers, so does the travel to the world’s best breaks. These days it pretty much expands to every geographical nook and cranny—at least wherever there is an undulating oscillation of alkali-flavored H2O.
So, whether you’re a ripe grom or a seasoned vet, it’s vital to:
Remain cognizant of your surroundings
Be prepared for the conditions
Abide by the local beach rules
Remember surf wetiquette
It sounds like a lot, but really, it’s not.
Surfing shouldn’t feel intimidating. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember we all started surfing because it reeks of fun. And if you look at the soft surfboard craze in that respect, it’s easy to understand why they’re so wildly popular—they’re downright fun to cruise around and ride.
“Surfing to me, is really just a great way to waste your time,” says Juan. “When you or one of your friends get a good ride, you cheer each other on. And when you or they wipe out and eat it, you’re all still coming up laughing.”
Unlike other hobbies, the perks of surfing fire on all cylinders—bringing both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits to a person’s well-being. You may be entertaining your brain with virtual video games, but can attest that hunching over in gamer position, thumbs pressed to the jolt sticks has been the secret to those toned glutes of yours? Or maybe you’re off the coach, inflating your biceps with dumbbell weights at a 24 Hour Fitness, but can you really test your adrenaline and challenge your fears inside a selfie-fueled, sweaty gym?
“In this day and age, where people are constantly on their phones, I like that surfing still doesn’t allow for that,” Whit says. “It requires so much physical and mental concentration already—it’s best to leave any other problems and distractions on shore.”
And having the dedication really makes it a healthful lifestyle across the board—from the diet and exercise, to forcing yourself vertical at the butt crack of dawn to snag untouched goodies before they’re stolen by encroaching crowds.
Squeezing time and energy out of your hectic schedule (no hung-over excuses) is the type of commitment that many of us Millennials are scaredy cats of. Dude puts it in perspective though, “Those who surf have chosen to do so,” Juan states. And you’ll only regret not going.
Catch you at the peak friends!