By Randy Redmon
How did soft-top surfboards enter the world scene of surfing?
Let’s flash back to 2006. Soft-top surfboards first became available at Costco and were manufactured out of Taiwan by a company called AGIT Global. Even at the approximate retail price of $120 USD, Costco’s soft-top brand, called Wavestorm, was not exactly flying off the shelves. Why? Back then, soft-top surfboards were considered only for “newbie” beginners and kooks! In ten years, however, Costco had sold over half a million Wavestorms, was set to sell over 100,000 in 2015, and anticipated ever-increasing sales.
Jamie O’Brien is responsible for that! Jamie O’Brien is a popular professional free surfer from the North Shore of Hawaii. Side point … the North Shore is very respected in the “surf world” for its incredible and dangerous wave, the Banzai Pipeline. So what did this very experienced, well known and respected Pro Surfer do? Well, on one episode of his 19-season YouTuber video series, Who is JOB, O’Brien actually goes to a Costco and buys a Wavestorm soft-top surfboard as a joke. He asked the cashier, who didn’t recognize him as a professional surfer, that if he broke the board would he able to bring it back for a refund. Being Costco, she replied, “Yes, as long as you have the receipt.” Off went O’Brien with this cheap beginner board to the world-famous Banzai pipeline to surf!
It was unreal! O’Brien’s performance was awesome and he fell in love with that soft top surfboard. Those who watched him at the pipeline, as well as the viewers of his video series, were convinced. and the soft-top surfboard’s popularity was born! Wavestorms did indeed fly off the shelves at every Costco in America – and the price jumped from $120 USD to $250 USD.
To meet the demand and to capitalize on the massive popularity of soft-top surfboards, new manufacturers started springing up. One such manufacturer, Catch Surf, is now a Jamie O’Brien sponsor and even has a special “Jamie O’Brien Collection.”
So now you know the history of the soft-top surfboard – what does that mean to you?
The soft-top surfboard is an excellent, and recommended, choice for all beginner surfers. I personally believe it has sharply reduced the number of injuries for both beginner surfers, as well as other surfers who may be hit by a wayward board while a beginner is learning. As a very experienced surfer, with over 50 years of experience, I feel that anyone who wants to learn to surf should start on a soft-top surfboard. This will help them to comfortably and safely learn the basics of surfing, as well as the etiquette of surfing.
There is, however, a word of caution. You will find it hard to gain respect in the world of surfing, and be accepted as a common surfer, if you stay on a soft top surfboard. Why? It is too easy to get comfortable and stay comfortable on a soft-top. The soft-top makes it much easier to get waves.
Does that mean Pro Surfers don’t use soft-top surfboards? The answer is that they do, but often it’s a novelty for them, almost tongue-in-cheek, as well being entertaining for them. It is never their go-to choice for surfboard.
On to the Hard-Top Surfboard, or Hardboard
After you have learned the basics of surfing and have caught your share of bluewater waves, it is time to move to a hardboard surfboard. What’s the difference? Soft-top surfboards are made with an EPS foam core wrapped in either fiberglass or a synthetic wrap with a soft, dentable ethylene-vinyl acetate sheet on top. In contrast, hardboards are generally constructed of a Styrofoam blank with a wood stringer and fiberglass overlay.
So what’s the advantage of a hardboard surfboard? First, there is no better feeling than catching a wave on a hardboard surfboard … this is basically how it should be, as that is the original way to surf. Second, this type of surfing will take you to another level and challenge your abilities as a surfer!
The Long and the Short of It
The next decision you need to make is whether you want to surf on a longboard or a short board. There’s no right or wrong decision. Whether you choose a classic longboard style of surfing, or the more radical, high-performance world of short boarding, either will be an expression of your own personal surfing style and what you enjoy. No one style is better than another, it’s a matter of preference.
At the end of the day, soft-top surfboards will always have place in the world of surfing. They have opened up this incredible sport and made it accessible to a much wider audience than ever before. So thank you, Jamie O’Brien, for having the guts to pull off one of the greatest jokes in surfing history – it has 100% changed the surfing landscape.
Are you interested in surfing or do you still consider yourself a beginner? I encourage you to come down to the Huatulco Surf Company shop in Tangolunda, Huatulco. Our very knowledgable and experienced team would love to support you in your surfing journey!