Surfing is the most fantastic sport and lifestyle and it’s great to become a surfer. However there’s often a big difference between what you imagine starting surfing to be like, to what it actually is like.
In this second part of our article we check what’s involved, the best gear and approach, for your surfing to progress.
To go to the first part of our Surfing article click here
Step Six – Are You a Longboarder or Shortboarder?
Once you’re competent on your softboard you can decide, do you want to go on the longboard path, above? Or the shortboard path, below?
Once you are competently getting to your feet and surfing on your softboard, the next step is to upgrade your board. Here comes another fork in the road, where you have to make a decision.
How Do You See Yourself Surfing?
Do you see yourself as a longboard surfer cruising on long rolling walls? Or as a shortboard surfer, carving up the wave, smashing sections? There are big differences involved in riding longboards and shortboards. They are two different paths.
A longboard surfs similar to a softboard doing longer drawn out turns. Until you become very proficient on a longboard you are typically going along the wave and turning in longer arcs. The longboard path is less demanding and will yield faster results.
Going on the shortboard path and taking the step of downsizing you are aiming to do short arc and more dynamic turns. The shortboard path is physically demanding. To surf like a Pro, or just to be competent on a shortboard will take a lot of commitment.
How do you see yourself? What style is your surfing? Longboard or shortboard?
Longboard Path – Board Upgrade
Several longboards that will help you rapidly progress after your softboard
On the longboard path your next step is to get a fibreglass longboard. This will be an easy transition from your softboard.
Both your softboard and longboard may be similar in size and volume. The fibreglass longboard though will paddle better and glide better on the waves. So your whole surfing experience will step up a notch without any effort.
Shortboard Path – Board Upgrade
A mini-mal, on the left, might not be seen as a shortboard but it’s what you can use in your transition to a shortboard. The other option is a hybrid board. This is a shorter full volumed board, looking more like a shortboard & giving you more turning ability
Unlike on a longboard where you can take one step from a softboard to a longboard, to transition to a shortboard requires more intermediary steps.
From your softboard you can go to a fibreglass board that is shorter. A mini-mal will give you a gradual transition. This is a board with a similar shape to a longboard, with a full nose, but it’s not as long and doesn’t have as much volume.
If you want a transition board that looks more like a shortboard, then check out a hybrid or fish surfboard.
Hybrid & Fish Boards
Compared to the mini-mal in the image above, a shortboard looking alternative is the hybrid and a fish style board. These boards have a nose that is more similar to a shortboard but it’s still full giving easier paddling and wave catching. They are wider through the middle so you get good flotation and speed. On the hyrbid the narrower tail helps with more turning
Once you are competent on a mini-mal, the shortboard path is to continue to downsize, you can progress to a shorter fibreglass board. This can be a hybrid or fish style board. Both these style boards have a more drawn in nose than a mini-mal, starting to look more like a shortboard.
Surfing on a mini-mal, hyrbid or fish becomes more dynamic than on a longboard. Note the surfer above is riding a shorter board with a full nose
These boards will still give you good paddling and wave catching and be easier to turn than a mini-mal. The reason you don’t go straight to a shortboard like the Pros ride is that these transition boards are still much easier to get around on in the surf and you will still be having fun.
Step Seven – Competency & Approach
If you’re on the longboard path and are competent on your existing longboard, try other longboards
If you’re on the longboard path then there’s not much more you need to do in this step. The more proficient you become the more you can determine your personal style on your longboard.
You may like the old school style where the board is heavy, gets momentum and cruises down the line. Alternatively there’s lightweight designs that give you speed and sensitivity for more precise carves. There’s boards designed for nose riding too so plenty to try and experience.
You can have several longboards in your quiver.
On the shortboard route we stopped at the hybrid and fish. This style board will allow you to do shorter arc turns. This style board still has volume so paddling and wave catching is easier.
However short boarding surfing diverges greatly from longboarding, not just in your board, but your approach in the water, your approach to the wave.
Check where Sebastian Zietz is catching this wave on his shortboard. This is an extreme example but shows that the wave is being caught under the lip. The wave is just about to break. The position is critical. Going down the shorboard path means a whole new approach to wave catching and riding. It’s not just riding a shorter board
Progressing in your shortboard surfing means going to shorter more manoeuvrable shortboards. On these style boards the whole wave catching equation starts to change.
It’s not just that the shorter board becomes harder to paddle hence harder to get waves.
Shortboard surfing requires a different approach. It’s about catching the wave on the peak, on the steep part of the wave. Where the wave is pitching.
To do this requires a whole new level of skill.
It needs greater ability to read the wave so you know where the best position to catch the wave is. It needs greater wave catching ability to be able to paddle to the right position, at the right time, to catch the wave.
If you like where you are in your shortboarding, there’s non reason you have to continue on the performance path. You can stick with the hdybrid and fish style boards that will still give you shortboard style performance. These are two models from Greg Clough and Greg Webber, two of the world’s best shapers. Both these boards are super fun and will give you great performance beyond your level of skill
Your physical abilities and surf fitness, your balance, need to be at a high level to make this work. At the same time this shorter shortboard has less length and less volume. It is hard to paddle and inherently unstable so as to aid quick turns.
Going to a shortboard is demanding. So if you continue on the shortboard path you’ll need to start working on this type of more critical surfing approach.
Step Eight – Surf a Lot
Whether on the longboard or shortboard path make sure you surf as much as you can
This stage may sound like the easiest stage but getting into the surf, surfing a lot, can take commitment and planning. It means getting up early, or surfing late. Whether it’s sunny or rainy, whether the waves are good or not so good. Do your best to surf a lot.
If you haven’t already, at this stage whether on the longboard or shortboard, you should upgrade your wetsuit. If you’re surfing a lot, early mornings before sunrise or late afternoons onto dark you need to be comfortable and to perform.
The basic back zip suit can be upgraded to a wetsuit giving you greater comfort for early, late, and a lot of surfs. You also get performance from a more flexible neoprene construction so you can paddle easier and do bigger moves
If you’ve got to Stage Eight then a high quality wetsuit will give you greater performance with lighter more flexible neoprene construction. You also get great comfort and warmth.
Step Nine – Enjoy & Progress
Longboarding is all about enjoying yourself. You should be competent. Let your own style express itself. Try different boards. Surf different breaks
If you’ve chosen the longboard path this can be the ideal stage. You’re surfing, you’ve got good longboards. Surfing can all be about letting your personal style, your personal expression come through.
Longboard Mix It Up
Don’t let your surfing stagnate. Even if you’re happy how you’re surfing, and especially if you’re not, try more boards.
Performance longboards, above, may look like other longboards but their construction and design are high performance. These shapes are by master longboard shaper Steve O’Donnell, below
For a longboarder, there’s advanced longboards. These look like other longboards. However they’re constructed with lighter foam and lighter fibreglass. They have volume distribution and a bottom curve that makes them super responsive. It’s worthwhile if you’ve gone the longboard path to try a performance longboard.
Shortboard Stick With It
If you’ve chosen the shortboard path, it’s time to find a good shortboard design and stick with it. Don’t go changing things too much. Even though fins are changeable you want to keep the way your board feels consistent so aiding your progression.
Build up your confidence and competence so you can surf without having to think about where you are and what you’re doing. Work on your critical approach to the waves.
Refine your shortboard. Work with one board model with only slight changes. For example reducing volume to determine what works best for you. Reductions in volume will increase sensitivity, increasing your performance
For a shortboarder this step involves refining your shortboard. Try to find and work with a shaper. This is someone who should hopefully be able to see you surf. Or at a minimum understand how you surf.
Find yourself a shaper. Someone you can talk to who will understand your level of surfing and can shape you an ongoing evolution of boards to help you progress. Above is Greg Webber, one of the greatest shapers holding a piece of foam he’s crafted into a magic board
The shaper can then shape boards specifically for you on a consistent theme. Not just a board, but boards. As you progress you will get boards that are magic, that you perform great on. Others boards may not be so good. So make sure you hang on to boards that work for you.
If you’re a longboarder or shortboarder, at this stage you should be surfing everyday or as much as you can. Surfing everyday means learning to mast whatever the waves and the ocean are doing. You’ll learn to surf small and big waves, smooth and sloppy waves. You’ll be a real surfer.
Enjoy your surfing.
Step Ten – To Compete?
Have you thought of surfing competitively? There’s plenty of competitions for longboarders and shortboarders. Competition, individually or as a team brings out a lot of great characteristics in your surfing. Competitive surfing can be organised at your local beach or as the pic below indicates with Surfing Australia
At this stage, longboarder or shortboarder, you can decide if you want to match your skill among other surfers.
This could be joining your local boardriders club and competing in organised competitions trying to out-surf your peeps. Most boardriders clubs have age groups and skill divisions catering for all surfers. There’s also clubs for longboarders and shortboarders.
Be aware, competing brings a whole new vibe to your surfing.
There’s pressures in competitive surfing
If you go too hard into competition, on one side it can change your enjoyment of riding waves. Part of competition is to be able to repeat manoeuvres whenever required. So when you’re surfing you’re constantly thinking how you could have done a manoeuvre better. If the waves don’t allow you to practice and perform, because they’re too small or sloppy, this can lead to surfing frustration.
Competitive surfing can be extremely frustrating in itself as luck seems to play a big part. In a set timeframe you may just not get the waves you need to demonstrate your skill and so not get a result, after putting in no matter how many hours of practice.
Surfing competitively helps your free surfing. When a perfect wave comes you know how to handle it, how to perform the best on it. How not to waste it
On the positive side, competition teaches you to value a wave. If you think about it, how often do you see a perfect, or close to perfect wave? So competition teaches you to do your best with it.
There’s lots of great competition drills, practice routines, that help you get more out of your surfing. One great competition guide is not to paddle for a wave you don’t want or can’t catch. How often have you half-paddled for a wave only to turn around and miss an even better one that was coming behind?
If a wave’s closing out, there’s still manoeuvres you can perform to utilise the most of the wave
Competition also opens you up to understand all the different manoeuvres and how they fit together in riding a wave. For example if a wave is closing out in front of you, you can do a floater to go over it, a bottom turn to go around it, or smack it, instead of just falling off.
World Champion John John Florence. A World Champion gets started somewhere
If you do well in your local competitions there’s a whole world of surfing out there, including the World Qualifying Series and World Surf League. Who knows you could become the next World Champion.
They all started somewhere!