We analyse dispersion and attenuation of surface waves at free surfaces of possible vacuum/poroelastic media: permeable-'open pore', impermeable-'closed pore' and partially permeable boundaries, which have not been previously reported in detail by researchers, under different surface-permeable, viscous-damping, elastic and fluid-flowing conditions. Our discussion is focused on their characteristics in the exploration-seismic frequency band (a few through 200 Hz) for near-surface applications. We find two surface-wave modes exist, R1 waves for all conditions, and R2 waves for closed-pore and partially permeable conditions. For R1 waves, velocities disperse most under partially permeable conditions and least under the open-pore condition. High-coupling damping coefficients move the main dispersion frequency range to high frequencies. There is an f1 frequency dependence as a constant-Q model for attenuation at high frequencies. R1 waves for the open pore are most sensitive to elastic modulus variation, but least sensitive to tortuosities variation. R1 waves for partially permeable surface radiate as non-physical waves (Im(k) < 0) at low frequencies. For R2 waves, velocities are slightly lower than the bulk slow P2 waves. At low frequencies, both velocity and attenuation are diffusive of f1/2 frequency dependence, as P2 waves. It is found that for partially permeable surfaces, the attenuation displays -f1 frequency dependence as frequency increasing. High surface permeability, low-coupling damping coefficients, low Poisson's ratios, and low tortuosities increase the slope of the -f1 dependence. When the attenuation coefficients reach 0, R2 waves for partially permeable surface begin to radiate as non-physical waves. ?? 2011 The Authors Geophysical Journal International ?? 2011 RAS.