Everything Surf Skates
The full guide on how to get into surf skating, which skateboard to go for, where to practice and how not to introduce bad habits into your skating.
The pandemic and the subsequent period of self-quarantine were especially hard on surfers. Most of us were landlocked, so we couldn’t possibly surf, which is the thing that gives us the most joy.
Luckily, though, some of us have garages where we could build skate ramps. We tried our best to avoid getting rusty despite the conditions. Developing surfers continued to exercise their balance and their turns, experienced surfers did everything to stay in shape on surf skateboards.
As a result, surf skating gained more popularity than it probably ever had before. With factories also closed due to the pandemic, there was also a shortage of skateboards given the skyrocketing demand from the public.
Naturally, this growing interest brings about many questions about surf skating in general. As it’s also a part of our Accelerated Surf Program at OMBE, we thought that answering everything about it is a good idea, so let’s get into it.
Which Skateboard Should You Get?
Needless to say, you need a skateboard for surf skating, but there are so many options on the market at the moment that you might feel at a loss about the right one. If you want to exercise for surfing, the decision is even harder since it’s difficult to tell which skateboard would be akin to a surfboard.
After all, the average length of a skateboard is 2 feet whereas surfboards can go up to 7, and this difference results in incompatibilities in terms of speed and turning when you get the wrong board. Below, we’re going to explain how these differences play a role in the efficiency of your surf skating practices and answer other frequently asked questions.
So, before going online and picking up a random, good-looking skateboard, first you need to know how the surfboards react to you and the waves. In this sense, one of the first things that come to mind is the ability to handle and control speed. You can’t expect a short and lightweight board to handle speed as well as a big surfboard does.
In the live show of this episode, Clayton and Anthony showed a surfing performance by John John Florence where he rides down a wave at magnificent speed. If you go down a hill on a skateboard with that kind of speed, you’d probably lose balance quickly and fall over.
With skateboards, this particular problem is surpassed by tight trucks. If you get a board with loose trucks, you’ll get all wobbly on it once you gain speed. However, if its trucks are tight, you’ll be able to practice all the twists and leans you need for speed control without losing balance. Even if you lose balance, you’ll be able to straighten out more quickly.
The other important aspect is how the board turns. In surfing, the flow and aesthetics of a ride are mostly due to the slowness and smoothness of turns. That’s especially the case with long boards since you can’t expect them to handle quick rotations.
When you look at John John’s turns, for example, you see how he engages the rail, how long he holds the turn, and how much spray he makes. Especially the moment he leans into a bottom turn by putting the board on the rail; it’s quite telling as to how a surfboard can handle being on the rail.
However, a skateboard is mostly used for making abrupt turns with little or no use of rail. In other words, it’s quite flat, and a wrong choice might lead you to develop a technique unbecoming for a surfer. Skateboards with the ability to imitate a surfer’s slow turn are rare, but those are the ones you should be looking for.
The Differences Between an Expensive Skateboard and a Cheap One
Carver’s skateboards are among our favorites, but they’re quite expensive considering the average price of a skateboard. So, when you want to purchase one, one of the first questions you ask is probably this: are they worth it? Well, the answer is yet another question: how serious are you in your endeavor?
An expensive skateboard like a 400$ Carver has great wheels and bearings. It’s made from Canadian maple, so it has a softer, more rubbery feeling. When you jump on it, it feels smooth, yet you also know that it’s quite solid. Moreover, Carver has developed a unique truck system over the years, and as a result, their boards mimic a surfboard more closely.
If it’s too expensive, then there’s a local shop called Sideways Surf here on the Gold Coast, and they have a 150$ board. It’s not as soft as the Carver’s and its wheels are quite squeaky, which is something you don’t want to hear when going fast because it feels like they might come off anytime. Surely, there’s a local shop that produces decent boards with moderate prices in your area, too, and in our experience, nothing suggests that their features will differ a lot from that of Sideways’.
So, no squeaking plus the truck system of the Carver will certainly lead to a surfing-like experience. A Sideways board, on the other hand, won’t provide you with the same comfort and safety levels, which will affect the efficiency of your training session negatively.
Let’s reiterate our answer disguised as a question for dramatic effect: just how serious are you in your endeavor?
The Appeal and Danger of SmoothStar Skateboards
SmoothStar is one of the most popular brands out there, and with good reason. Their boards feature a patented thruster technology that allows them to accomplish turns more quickly and tightly. Moreover, their boards have a looser spring in comparison to others, which further helps with radical turns.
Simply put, that’s why they’re so appealing. But, there’s danger in that appeal. A quick and radical turn might sound like a good move on paper, but it also means that you lose all your speed since your direction changes 180 degrees all of a sudden.
If you look at how John John is turning, on the other hand, you see that he’s not losing any speed since he’s taking very wide turns. Of course, there’s the moment when he does a vertical turn as well, which needs to be done really quickly, but the beauty of vertical turns is that the wave gives you the speed for your way back.
Except for that, though, a good surfer mostly sets the rail while going towards the shoulder and carves back to the pocket in a wide radius. That enables you to maintain your speed throughout the ride without spending any energy to accelerate.
Doing a radical turn on a flat surface with a board like SmoothStar means you need to use your energy to generate speed. To that end, you twist, lean, and wiggle on your flat board. Then, generating speed by wiggling becomes a habit, which you take to the water and your surfboard. It’s that danger that drives surf coaches like Clayton Nienaber crazy on the shore.
The Best Surf Skateboards for Beginners and Intermediates
For beginner surfers, there are a few things to consider when choosing a skateboard. One of them is finding a board with high trucks.
If your board doesn’t have trucks that are high enough for twists and leans, its wheels are probably going to catch the deck. As a result, you’re going to get what we call a “wheel bite” and fall off the board. So, having a bit of space between the wheels and deck is crucial. However, with boards like that, you won’t be able to pull off essential skating moves like ollies.
That being said, our first recommendation for beginners is the Carver Taylor Knox Quill CX. It might be a bit on the expensive side of beginner boards, but it’s ideal for exercising surfing moves. It’s quite solid and has a soft top, so it can handle speed while also providing you with a sense of safety and comfort. Its CX trucks are designed with surfing moves in mind, so it can manage long drawn-out turns as well as sharp rotations.
One note, though—you should never wiggle on a Carver. If somebody wiggling on a Carver doesn’t hurt Clayton’s eyes, it’s probably because they’ve already hurt their knees while wiggling.
If you’re on a tight budget, on the other hand, we can also recommend Sideways’ Chosen One as a cheaper alternative. Of course, it’s not going to provide the same levels of safety, comfort, or maneuverability as the Carver, but it’s going to do a decent job in the least.
Where and How Not to Surf Skate
Let’s say the top-end skateboard you purchased just arrived and you jumped on it. Where do you go? The tendency of many learning surfers (and skaters) is just rolling down a flat street while, well, wiggling as we criticized above. But, that’s no way to learn surfing since surfing is not a one-dimensional sport.
To improve your surfing, there are a couple of other dimensions you need to understand. For example, riding flat is only good when learning how to balance yourself on the board. However, once you learn that aspect, you need to learn how to un-balance yourself because when you face big waves, a flatly balanced ride will do you no good. In surfing, the more on the rail you are, the lighter you feel. The lighter you feel, the less friction there will be between the board and the wave, which provides you with more speed.
In addition to that, wiggling means you’re trying to maintain your course with constant twists and leans like you’re on the dancefloor rather than in a flow. In surfing, on the other hand, you need to use your centrifugal force in order to maintain your course, speed, or to accomplish turns. It means that you need to compress and extend to change your center of gravity and to distribute your weight better on the board.
When you fully grasp all those points, you can feel profound joy while riding the waves. In turn, when you feel that joy (in other words, the surfer feeling), your performance will be appealing to those watching you.
In that sense, surf skating flatly on streets or on flat surfaces isn’t going to help you improve as a surfer. On the contrary, once you get used to being flat, it’ll affect your technique adversely, and Clayton Nienaber will definitely avert his gaze or roll his eyes when he sees you on the water.
Where and How to Surf Skate
What can you do instead of rolling down the street flatly?
Well, for one, if you still want to be on the street, you can set up some cones on the road and skate between them. That way, you’ll need to do turns, and these turns won’t be quick rotations. They’ll be longer, which will force you to compress and extend repeatedly.
The better or even ideal exercise would be going to a small skate bowl that doesn’t have too much space. That way, you won’t be able to build speed. You’ll just roll down, go up on the other side, and do a turn. And repeat.
It’s the best skating exercise for improving your turns and cutbacks. It’s also the closest you can get to a surfing simulation. Since you don’t have enough space to generate speed or skate non-stop, you’ll be forced to repeat the same action over and over, which is the only way you can get the hang of it.
In the end, though, where you should surf skate is entirely up to you. What aspect of your surfing do you think needs fixing? If it’s just compressing and extending, you can go skate to parks with long sections so that you can go down and up. If you want to fix different aspects of your surfing at the same time, there are skate parks with lots of curves everywhere.
The important bit is that you diagnose what you need to work on and work on improving it.
How to Generate Speed Without Wiggling
One of the main reasons why you shouldn’t skate in flats is that there are actually no flats in the ocean; that’s at least the case for a good surfer. Even if there’s the shoulder of the wave, it’s the exact place where you shouldn’t be lurking since surfing takes place in the pocket of the wave.
Since you have no reason to be in flats in the ocean, you don’t need to be on a straight street while surf skating, either. Just see the Mick Fanning video Clayton and Anthony showed during the live show.
Although he’s wiggling at the beginning of that video, you can see that there’s a slope shaping up behind him in the form of a wave. He quickly jolts out of that funny wiggle, gets real, and goes up to the lip of the wave while also compressing. As he’s coming down, on the other hand, he’s just extending.
You don’t need any other move to generate speed in the water, so find spaces that are suitable for practicing compression and extension. When you compress and extend while riding up and down in a skate bowl like Mick Fanning does on water, you might even actually feel like you’re surfing.
If you end up wiggling no matter what, you can try counteracting it by unweighting your front foot and lifting your arms as in the Cardboard Slide. Remember that your front foot has to be locked in. Once you “unweight” it and push off the back foot, you’ll have all the thrust and drive you want.
Whether to Drop Into Ramps and Bowls or Roll In
Even if you own a high-quality, sturdy, and smooth skateboard, dropping in ramps might scare you a bit. No matter the build of the board, the trucks need to be a little loose to give you a certain level of freedom for maneuvering, and that loose feeling is not exactly a source of safety.
Therefore, we recommend you pick the boards that are made for rolling in. In our experience, they are better and safer. Even if you have a drop-in type of board, you can still roll in on them, too.
However, if you’re intent on dropping in, you ought to do it right. First, soften your knees so that they can absorb the impact of the drop more easily. Imagine jumping off from a table and landing on a hard surface with straight knees. They’ll most likely suffer a shock.
Similarly, if you drop with knees turned sideways, your back will end up bending, and even if it doesn’t cause any serious injuries, you’ll just lose balance and your board will start wobbling. To prevent that, you need to soften your knees and point them in the direction of your ride so that your board can just project forward.
Moreover, put your weight on the front foot and lock it on the front of your board as you should on a surfboard as well. If your weight is on your back foot when you’re dropping, you’ll probably lift the front of the board and find yourself rolling down the ramp.
Mind that the point above doesn’t at all mean that you need to ride on your back foot. You shouldn’t do that specifically while riding down because you’ll risk losing balance and falling down in painful ways like Cris Mills does as shown in the live episode.
When to Slide the Tail and When to Draw Out the Turn
When it comes to turning, sliding the tail and drawing out are at the two opposite ends of the spectrum. However, choosing one over another is not a matter of surfing knowledge, technique, or style. Both are useful as long as you know when to do them.
Sliding the tail means pushing the back foot so that the front of the board changes direction with a quick rotation. If you do that while you’re on flat water or while you’re getting away from the pocket and riding toward the shoulder, you’ll lose speed due to the abrupt change of momentum. Since you’re away from the pocket, you’ll be away from the energy of the wave, too, so you won’t be able to generate speed easily.
Therefore, drawing out the turn on the rail is the best option if you’re riding laterally. You’ll have less weight since you’re kind of sideways and it’ll cause less friction between the board and the water. As a result, you’ll be maintaining your speed throughout the turn.
However, if you slide the tail after going up on the lip of the wave vertically, the change of direction won’t cause you to lose speed. Since you’re going to come down with the energy of the wave, you’ll have the speed necessary for the rest of your ride.
Do You Need a Surf Skate to Learn How to Do Airs?
Airs might seem complicated, but training for them has only a couple of basic elements: keeping your back straight, bringing your knees up, and landing. The purpose of the first two is to create some lift and lightness. The landing part is obviously a must because nobody has ever managed to stay in the air once they pulled an air. And none of the three elements require you to be on a surf skate.
If you’re on land and you own just a regular skateboard, you can start by doing ollies in the flats. Once you learn how to land, you can start practicing in the water with a surfboard. In the end, if you can land a skateboard, you can land a surfboard as well.
Surf skates are better for learning how to carve, turn, and compress and extend when you’re on the rail, but airs don’t require any of these. They can be done in the flats as they are basically flat themselves. You’re just moving vertically by going straight up and coming straight down.
Here, we encounter surfers from all levels with different skill sets and shortcomings. One way of assessing how they are doing and diagnosing why they fail is by watching them from the shore. However, the presence of a coach judging them albeit from a distance affects the performance of learning surfers. They get even more nervous and make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make in different circumstances.
Another way of assessing them is sending them to the waves by themselves and asking them to self-diagnose. When they return and rest a bit, you ask them what they think they need to work on so that we can fix it in the skate ramp. The 18th episode of Surf Hacks and this article based on that conversation between Clay and Ant summarizes what you need to know before self-assessing your shortcomings on the water and going out into the skate ramp.
If you read this and found it helpful or at least interesting, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more. And keep surfing on our website in which you’ll definitely find a program that’ll improve you as a surfer.