Learning how to surf can be one of the most rewarding experiences, yet it can also be extremely frustrating and difficult to get right. The surfboard you learn on can greatly impact your learning curve. Is a mini-malibu a good choice?
A mini-mal can be a good choice for a beginner because it’s very easy to paddle and has good floatation for easier balancing. A mini-mal is more maneuverable than a longboard, but paddles slower and requires more effort to get into a wave. Mini-mals are also not as safe as soft-tops for impact.
Let’s put the classic mini-mal surfboard up against some other common beginner boards and see how they fare for a learning surfer.
What are mini-mal surfboards?
Ranging between 7’ and 8’, the mini-mal is similar to a longboard in shape but shorter. Longboards generally start at 8 feet in length.
With a thick rounded nose and tail, mini-mals have great float and volume ideal for beginner surfers.
Mini-mals have a lower rocker, similar to longboards, which makes for easy and quick paddling as well as stability and balance, without risking catching an edge or digging the nose too easily.
While these boards have adequate balance and volume for learning how to surf, their shorter size also allows for more maneuverability and agility compared to a full-size longboard.
Is a mini-mal suitable for a beginner?
With added volume and float at the nose, a mini-mal is easy to paddle without much effort, and easy to ride and balance on for a beginner when riding the wave.
Mini-mals are not perfect, however. Some feel they are not long enough to paddle into waves early, yet too large for late takeoffs and for faster waves over 5 feet.
Due to their voluminous nose, mini-mals are difficult to duck dive, especially for learners. Duck diving is generally necessary in waves larger than 2 feet.
If you’re unable to duck dive under a wave, you’ll end up spending tons of energy and time swimming and getting hit by swell surges.
On the plus side, mini-mals offer the flowy and cruisey feel of a longboard without the heavy stiffness and are much more maneuverable for learning surfers.
Mini-mals are often conveniently sized, relatively lightweight and easy to carry around. Some mini-mals can fit inside a normal size car.
What size mini-mal should you choose as a beginner?
As with any surfboard, which mini-mal size is best for you generally depends on your weight and height but also your fitness level, learning level, and the conditions you will ride in.
The following table shows some general indications for the mini-mal surfboard size based on rider weight:
|Surfer weight||Mini-mal surfboard size|
|Up to 155lbs||7′ – 7’2”|
|Up to 176lbs||7’2” – 7’6”|
|Up to 187lbs||7’6” – 8’6”|
However, these indications must be adjusted somewhat for a beginner.
For example, while an intermediate smaller surfer (e.g. 5’10 / 150 lb) might go for a 7′ mini-mal, that may be too small for a beginner initially.
A mini-mal between 7’5 and 8′ will generally be a better choice for this average size beginner surfer. For example, 7’6 x 21 3/4 is a popular choice.
Generally speaking, a shorter mini-mal surfboard will require stronger paddling to get into the wave, and consequently will force you to get closer to the breaking lip of the wave – something a beginner may not be ready for.
A larger board will allow you to paddle in earlier including on the shoulder, allowing for a more mellow and less stressful session.
Beginners with low core strength may even feel uncomfortable and unstable paddling on a 7’10 mini-mal, even on a lightweight one with good volume (e.g. 7’10 x 21 1/2″ x 3″).
For these learners, a 9′ longboard in small waves might be a better option for initially getting familiar with paddling and catching wave. You may then switch to a mini-mal after a few weeks of paddling.
Besides length, the width and thickness of the mini-mal are also important factors. Mini-mals with more volume are more beginner-friendly.
Mini-mal vs longboard for a beginner
Longboards have great volume and paddling power, allowing you to cruise into waves with ease, and are one of the most popular board options in the water for their chilled-out style and fun technique.
Longboards can be enjoyed by all realms of surfers, across many conditions. Advanced longboarders can ride critical waves and do technical turns, yet this board is also suitable for beginners learning how to surf on small waves.
- Better paddling power and easy to get into waves, regardless of your fitness.
- The float and drive will allow you to ride on smaller waves, and ride further on the wave.
- Easy to do a turtle roll to avoid breaking waves.
- Heavy to carry around and needs to be strapped on top of your vehicle.
- Not ideal for fast beach-breaks where you need to take off at a critical angle.
- Difficult to turn, especially for lightweights.
- Very maneuverable and agile, yet also stable. Easier to turn.
- If your mini-mal is small enough, or you are fit enough, you might be able to duck dive under breaking waves.
- Small and easy to carry and can fit inside your vehicle.
- More opportunity to advance if you are aiming to eventually progress onto shorter performance boards.
- Doesn’t have the glide feeling of a bigger board.
- Harder to paddle and unable to race to the backline between sets.
Mini-mal vs soft-top for a beginner
Soft-tops are designed specifically for beginner surfers, and with a foam-topped surface, are the safest option for children as well as adults who don’t have natural coordination when in water.
The length and width of soft-tops are designed to maximize stability for a beginner surfer, making it both easy to paddle and stand up on.
However, once you get the hang of standing on a wave, you’ll quickly grow out of a soft-top, which has limited turning power and maneuverability due to soft flexing fins and heavy weight.
- The bigger the board, the easier it is to learn the absolute basics (paddling and standing up).
- Volume and floatation make for easy paddling and stability when standing up.
- Can go ‘all-in’ without fear of knocking your head on a fiber-glass board.
- Little room for progression once you have learned how to stand up.
- Difficult to maneuver and turn. These boards are made for riding straight on foam waves.
- Easier to duck dive than a soft top (though still challenging)
- Easier to transport and carry around.
- More stable for doing turns. While soft-tops are stable for standing up, as soon as you try to turn them in one direction, they often catch an edge and topple over.
- Not as buoyant as a soft top.
- Can injure you if your board hits your head. Sharper fins are also more dangerous.
Mini-mal vs funboard for a beginner
Funboards boast a wide shape and thick dimensions which typically range from 5 to 7 feet. They are so versatile that they can be ridden by beginners and advanced surfers.
The added width in the board helps with balance while allowing the surfer to put more power into turning the board.
While funboards aren’t ideal for learning the basics of surfing, they are best suited to progressing beginners who are planning to spend a lot of time in the water.
It’s a great transitional board for surfers who are looking to downsize from a larger mini-mal or longboard while maintaining solid stability, balance, and ease of paddling.
- Great as a transition board for upper-level beginners. Ideal for those who have conquered standing up and paddling and want to start riding clean face waves and turning.
- Easy to paddle and duck dive.
- Opens up more opportunity to surf different spots and conditions.
- Less buoyant and voluminous making it difficult to learn the basics.
- More stability for learning how to turn the board.
- Easy to paddle.
- Harder to catch an edge while riding.
- Depending on the size of your board and body weight, mini-mals are harder to duck dive and on larger days, you might find yourself caught inside the impact-zone more than if you were riding a smaller funboard.
Can you duck-dive on a mini-mal?
Duck diving is an essential part of surfing. Without learning this technique, you’ll struggle to progress into bigger and faster waves.
While it’s possible to duck dive on a mini-mal for more advanced surfers, pushing the wide nose down under the wave is hard. Only surfers with strong core and stamina may possess enough arm power to push the nose under water.
Surfers with more technique can also push the mini-mal down sideways into the water, digging the rail and then pushing the rest of the board under with their whole body, almost standing on the board while pushing to add weight.
As a result, learning how to duck dive on a mini-mal surfboard is quite difficult, if not impossible due to the sheer volume and wide nose and tail.
An easier option for getting through turbulent white-water on a mini-mal is to learn the turtle roll.
By anchoring your body to the surface of the board and flipping over onto your back, you can let the white-water rush over the underside of the board without causing you to wash around too much.
Technically speaking, a mini-mal is a great option for a beginner surfer of average weight and fitness to learn on.
However, extra-large beginners, children, and those who have little water sport coordination could benefit from learning on a forgiving soft-top surfboard, or a longboard.
Funboards are great transitional boards and can be enjoyed across the spectrum, from upper-level beginners to advanced surfers.