Thinking about moving to a shortboard surfboard?
Making the transition from longboarding to shortboarding can be one of the most frustrating parts of a surfers progression
But it doesn’t have to be.
On a surf trip in Mexico, I in was longboard heaven, cross stepping and nose rides for days. The waves were knee to chest high and gently peeled for 300 yards. And after a week, I was bored to death. The style of surfing just wasn’t bringing me the same rush as it used to.
It was time to try something new.
I was working my way down the coast of Mexico, and my next surf next destination was a beach break outside Acapulco. It was heavy. A-frame peaks and barrels. Head high to double overhead. I was forced to stay for two weeks because my car needed repairs. I had purchased a shortboard for the trip, my first one ever, and this was my first opportunity to use it.
It was two weeks of pure frustration and beatdowns! I distinctly remember throwing my board in the sand after exiting the water in tears and exclaiming, “I hate surfing!”.
After weeks of agonizing sessions on a surfboard that I wasn’t ready to ride, in conditions I wasn’t prepared to surf in, I felt defeated. Like I sucked at surfing and at life.
The transition from longboarding to shortboarding likely won’t be easy and there will be frustrating days. You will have to push through mental blocks as you drop in at a more critical angle, physical blocks as your body becomes accustomed to less volume, and also be ok with having a much lower wave count than you are used to. At least when you are starting out.
But it doesn’t have to be all frustration. There are several things you can do to aid the process.
Here are a few tips to help you make a smooth and enjoyable transition from longboarding to shortboarding.
#1 Learn good style
This is important to do before you make the transition from longboarding to shortboarding. Work on a smooth drop, flowing turns, proper stance, correct placement of the arms and hands, and using your eyes to guide you where you want to go. These things all become more important as the size of the board shrinks. Small errors in body position might not affect your performance too much on a 9’2” log, but once you get on a 5’8”high-performance shortboard, those same errors could make it impossible to surf.
Whenever possible get film/photos of yourself and compare the position of your feet, arms, and legs to those of your favorite surfers. Give yourself the advantage of a more user-friendly surfboard while working out the kinks.
#2 Gain wave knowledge and confidence
Learn to take steep take-offs in the more critical part of the wave. By far the hardest thing for many surfers when transitioning to a shortboard, is locating the correct take off zone.
On a longboard, it is often easiest (and least intimidation) take off wide on a wave, on the shoulder, away from the part of the wave that is breaking. The smaller the surfboard, the closer you will need to be to the breaking part of the wave (the power source). This is often very scary at first. In order to make your transition to a short board smooth, you can practice taking more and more critical drops, closer to the breaking part of the wave. This will do wonders for your confidence when it comes time to try a smaller board.
#3 Don’t go too small, too fast
Don’t let your friends, other surfers, or an overly eager sales clerk, talk you into going too small too fast. It seems like everybody makes the mistake, at least once, of going way too short, way too fast. Generally, a little bigger than you think you need is a good choice. But it’s not just about length, width and thickness are important too. The last thing you want is a board that frustrates the heck out of you and makes you feel like a beginner again. How are you supposed to get better at surfing if you are not able to catch the waves? Here is an excellent guide where a surf coach breaks down how to select the right surfboard for your skill level.
#4 Surf more critical waves
Although it is not always true, generally we longboard in softer, smaller, gentle waves. A longboard is more appropriate in these conditions than a shortboard as you can catch more waves easily and more waves mean more fun! If you bring a shortboard to a mellow, mushy longboard wave, you might not catch many waves and may not enjoy yourself. To prepare for the optimum waves for shortboarding, try getting comfortable with your big board in heavier conditions.
Obviously, there is some upper limit here, where too much surfboard becomes inappropriate for the conditions, and once again limits your fun. But the idea is to increase your comfort zone so that when you are on new equipment in heavier waves, it won’t be your first time in such conditions. Sometimes it is hard to tell when to push your comfort zone and when it’s just too far above your skill level. Check out this handy article to help you if you are having trouble making that call.
#5 Go back to “Old Faithful”
It’s a good idea to go back to your longboard every now and then. Especially after a particularly frustrating session. If you just don’t feel successful on your smaller board, take out “Old Faithful” for a cruisy session. Catch a ton of waves and re-stoke your fire. You could even go every other session, longboard then shortboard. This is a great way to gain confidence without burning yourself out.
#6 Practice duck dives
Duck diving is a game changer on a shortboard. You will save a ton of energy by duck diving properly. You will also gain a ton of confidence as the consequences of a wipe out are greatly reduced when you can duck dive your way back to the line up, verses getting dragged each time you ditch your big board or lose it in a turtle roll.
#7 Don’t force anything
Ride equipment that is appropriate for the waves. Ride equipment or surf locations that are appropriate for your skill level. Surfing is for fun. If it’s not fun, try an equipment change.
Check out our surf guide section for inspiration on where to find great waves.
Always keep in mind the reasons we surf: to have fun, to get out in nature, and to experience the greatness of the ocean. The later two can be done with or without a board. So if you are not having fun, make an equipment change, maybe a little bigger or a little smaller. There is no goal sized board to arrive at one day. The idea is to enjoy the process. What we love about interviewing all the pros is that they keep it fresh with mixing their boards up. You should too. This interview we did with shortboarder now turned big wave rider, Felicity Palmateer is a great reminder of the fun to be had with trying something new.