When I first learned to surf, there weren’t very many surfboards to chose from.
Today, there are so many different brands & styles, with everything from short boards to long boards, designed for beginner surfers.
Every time I have a friend learning to surf and we go and look at rental boards, they always gravitate to the smaller boards and ask, “Can I just learn to surf on a short board?”
This post is a longer, more researched version of the answer I usually provide.
A common recommendation in the surfing world is for beginner surfers to learn on big, wide, stable surfboards because it is “easier”.
Because short boards are under 7 feet long, with a pointed nose, and are designed for performance based surfing, they are made to sound extremely difficult for beginners.
Today, many beginner surfers are discouraged from starting out on a smaller board because of the additional time it may take to stand up and catch a wave.
Some of the recommendations come from surf schools that want to help people catch waves and achieve success quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because surfing is a challenging sport and people are more likely to stick with it if they can see some success early.
That being said, all of the above philosophies ignore the fact that most young kids around the world learn to surf on body boards, which are just really small surf boards without fins.
In many third world countries, kids learn to surf on anything that floats, including broken surfboards left by travelling surfers.
When I first started surfing, I bought an 8 foot long surfboard. I took that board everywhere, surfed in many different surf spots and learned all about surfing on that board. It was the only board that I had at the time and I still have it stored under my house today.
The recommendation to surf on a longer board is a dated philosophy that comes from a time when there wasn’t a lot of surfboard choice. In the 1990’s, short boards were narrower, thinner and had less volume than the boards today.
Surfboard design has a come a long way. Today, short boards are wider, thicker and have more volume, which provides more float and allows for faster paddling. There are many great beginner friendly short boards on the market today.
There is something to be said for sticking with the same equipment day after day and session after session. Riding the same board has its advantages as surfers develop an intimate knowledge of their equipment and what it takes to make it work.
Because you are learning to surf and there are so many changing variables and different things to learn, don’t change your board. Over time, you will start to adjust your body and find the sweet spot of the board.
Twenty years ago, I brought a 6’8 Santa Cruz short board on a 3 month trip to Mexico and surfed it everyday. If I got a ding, I just patched it with a sun activated fiberglass repair kit (Surfco Quick Fix) and I was back in the ocean.
It’s funny because I didn’t even think about trying other boards. I just rode the board I had.
Surfing takes time to learn. The more you surf, the faster you will improve and the better you will get. Wave count, which is the number of waves you catch (or attempt to catch) in a session should be your number one goal when learning to surf.
Set a goal for the number of waves you want to catch (or attempt to catch) in a session and work towards that goal. Don’t worry about quality, focus on quantity. As long as you aren’t getting in the way of other surfers, don’t be discouraged by the number of times you fall or the waves you miss.
I have a little game I challenge myself with when I show up at the beach and the wave conditions are poor or I am lacking motivation.
I set a goal of how many waves I want to catch, or attempt to catch and then I work towards that goal without self judgement. If I set a goal of 20 waves, I will go out try and catch 20 waves, counting every wave attempted, whether I missed the wave, fell down or rode it successfully.
That way, as along as I hit my wave count, I have achieved success. It ends up turning a challenging session into a fun game.
Learning to surf on a short board requires more strength, flexibility and endurance than a long board. Short boards are designed to help surfers catch waves right before they break and power and speed are a critical component to ensure success.
You will have to rely on superior fitness and an ability to paddle faster and get to your feet quicker in order to catch waves.
Riding a short board reduces the margin of error and you will need to rely on balance and coordination from strong legs, core and upper body.
A very simple exercise routine to improve overall strength is to complete the following everyday:
100 push ups
100 body weight squats
Feel free to do more, add some cardio or modify as required but 100/100/100 should be the minimum exercise threshold everyday.
We all dream about our best day surfing, which is usually a sunny day, with off shore breezes and perfect waves rolling into the beach. In reality, there are a lot of days that are windy, cold and have super small waves that are difficult to catch.
But when you are learning to surf, you should go out in all conditions as long as it is safe to do so. You should embrace the less desirable surfing conditions, because it is usually less crowded and you may get more opportunities to catch waves.
I have had some of the best sessions when you paddle out thinking that the conditions aren’t that great only to find out that the waves are better than expected.
Standing around on the beach with the rest of the surfers and waiting for the conditions to improve is a missed opportunity for you to improve!
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