how to surf a shortboard
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The OMBE Guide on How to Surf a Shortboard

Transitioning from a longboard to a shortboard requires you to adapt to new circumstances. Here are a few tips to help you adapt better.

surfer on the wave

When you’re just a novice, you only know longboards, and not any kind of longboards either, certainly not a high-performance one or a nose-rider. The longboards you ride as a rookie are specific: soft tops. That’s within reason, too: they have quite the paddling power and volume, they are great at catching waves, they’re stable on the water, and they’re not responsive, so mastering a balanced stance on them is easy. To top it all off, they’re buoyant, so you don’t have to do too much to accelerate down the line.

In short, they ease you into surfing, and you’ve no trouble learning all the surfing fundamentals. That being said, they’re great if your surfing aspirations only pertain to recreational purposes. Yet, if you want to have a surfing career, such close acquaintance with longboards in the early stages means that you’ll be somehow shocked once you move on to the intermediate stages and have to ride a smaller board.

A smaller board means that everything you knew about the surfboards based on your experience with longboards should be forgotten. You even need to adapt to different circumstances when it comes to basics such as your pop up or stance. 

Moreover, the specifics of shortboarding will require more physical prowess. You’ll need to work on your upper body more, have more control over your back foot, and so on.

Despite all the confusion such a transition might produce, the OMBE crew is here, and we’ve put together a guide for you to learn how to surf a shortboard. If you follow all the pieces of advice presented below, you’ll become a better shortboard surfer and will be riding waves with more gusto in no time.

How to Surf a Short Surfboard: Five Very Useful Tips

As we hinted above, many aspects of surfing a shortboard are different from surfing a longboard, and that’s what confuses many beginner surfers, driving some to lose their confidence and, ultimately, passion and motivation for improvement.

To prevent that, the OMBE crew has some tips to share with you.

Tip #1: Get the Right Board

surfboards on a rack

No matter how strong you are, no matter what a promising young novice you might be, and no matter how much money you have to spend on a surfboard, getting a board on a whim will just not work.

You need to sit down and assess your needs and skills, what types of waves you’re going to ride, and, in accordance with these, what you’re expecting from your new board. To that end, it’s better to seek advice from those who know better.

For instance, our program, Get the Right Board, was designed for the purpose of letting novices interpret the feedback they’re getting from their board. Should you enroll in that program, you’ll have an easier time assessing your board choices and your own body and mind.

Tip #2: How to Paddle on a Shortboard

paddling surfer

Longboards are voluminous and buoyant, so they have the paddling power to carry you towards the waves without you straining yourself too much. That’s not the case with shortboards. Also, considering that you probably want to ride unbroken waves with a shortboard, it means that you need to paddle more in terms of distance.

So, how do you paddle more with a board that lacks paddling power? The answer that immediately comes to mind might urge you to go straight to the gym and work on your fitness and endurance. Although that would be great for you in the long run, be it for surfing or updating your dating app profile, that’s not how you paddle on a shortboard. Rather, you need to be smart about it.

In our tutorial on how to take your pop up from slow to pro, OMBE head coach Clayton Nienaber analyzes the paddling of surfing greats Kelly Slater, John John Florence, and Mason Ho. The conclusion is that none of them paddle too much, no matter how big a wave they’re going to catch. Instead, they know where in the ocean the wave will reach its peak, and they paddle towards that power zone effortlessly.

If you paddle too much and too frantically in fear of missing your wave, the chances are that you’re going to run out of breath, lose your whereabouts, and eventually realize your fear of missing the wave. In short, paddling on a shortboard requires a certain level of Ocean IQ

Luckily, you’re in the right place as we have Waterman and Surf Science programs to help you acquire the ocean knowledge necessary for you to surf on a shortboard with competence and confidence.

Tip #3: How to Pop Up on a Shortboard

shortboard surfer

Popping up on a bigger board is easier. Unless you’re a giant, your whole body fits on the board. However, a shortboard cannot accommodate your whole body. More often than not, an average-sized human finds their feet hanging down from the tail of their board. 

Yet, to pop up to good effect, they need to end up on the board somehow, and that’s what mainly confuses those who just made the transition from a longboard to shortboard: how to get your balance foot forward without throwing the board off balance.

The answer is the chicken wing technique. You need to move your back knee forward in the chicken wing position on the rail of your board to have an anchor point while also making sure that there’s enough space for your front foot to tuck in between your upper body and back leg. 

Then, drawing power from only your shoulders, you need to raise your upper body and move the front leg to its place on the board.

If you want to learn more about how to achieve an accomplished pop up, you can head to our detailed guide. That being established, there are certain things you need to keep in mind:

  • Don’t over-paddle. As we said above, over-paddling will run you out of breath and cause you to lose your whereabouts. Make sure you paddle efficiently.
  • Always look where you want to go. A good surfer is one who’s always aware of their surroundings. Looking where you want to go is one of the imperative aspects of such awareness.
  • Don’t stick to the flats of the wave. If you want to have a good up, you’ll need to channel the energy of the wave to your board. If you stick to the flat parts of the wave, you won’t be able to do that. Stay in the pocket, and you’ll get an Oreo Biscuit as a reward.
  • Feel the lift of the wave. Shortboards are much more responsive compared to longboards, so you’ll have no problem feeling the lift of the wave. Feeling and rechannelling it to your pop up is key for a good surf, and that’s what sets the tone of your session.

Tip #4: How to Catch Waves on a Shortboard

surfers on a big wave

Before you move onto a shortboard, you’ve probably been riding white foam that spills out of a breaking wave. So, catching them didn’t take much effort; most of it was done by your board anyway. However, shortboards won’t help you catch waves effortlessly and won’t be any good on whitewater waves either.

This time, you’ll be catching green, unbroken waves, which requires you to do a lot, and unsurprisingly, it all starts with wave knowledge. Once you know where the waves are going to break and how, you’ll be able to paddle more efficiently, know where to go once you’re in the ocean, and position yourself perfectly to angle your takeoff.

Then, you need to know how to wait. Surfing is not like how it seems on the screen of your TV set. When you’re in the water, it’s mostly paddling and waiting for a small period of joy dedicated to riding a wave. So, you need to be patient, you need to bide your time, and you need to have the mental strength to do those.

When the time comes for you to take off, you should remember what we said about popping up above. Make sure you’re in line with the energy of the wave and feel its lift by interpreting your board’s movement correctly. If you want to have a more detailed tutorial on how to catch green waves, esteemed surfing coach Clayton Nienaber is always here for you.

Tip #5: Work On Your Duck Dive

duckdiving surfer

Since longboards have a great tendency to float, duck dives are almost impossible with them. And you don’t need to duck dive much when you’re on small and mushy waves anyway. However, that’s not the case with bigger, more unpredictable waves that might entertain more crowded lineups and might require impeccable timing.

Duck diving is one of those surfing tricks that’s unlocked once you progress through the stages of surfing, and it comes in handy when you decide that you cannot ride the oncoming wave. In that case, duck diving under the wave properly prevents you from being dragged back to the shore and wasting all that effort you put into paddling.

Once the wave passes over you, you’ll resurface behind it and wait for your turn on the next wave. Of course, it’s not an easy skill to master. Our coaching experience so far indicates that it takes rather a long time to achieve a level of duck diving dexterity. Yet, you need not worry since we have the very tutorial for that as well.

Common Mistakes You Might Make When You’re New to Shortboarding

Human beings are creatures of habit, no matter how intelligent we are, and when the circumstances change (as they tend to do), sticking to our habits is what causes us to make mistakes. That’s also the case when transitioning from a longboard to a shortboard.

Below are some common mistakes:

  • Positioning too far back on the board: When riding longboards, you get used to having a big chunk of board in front of you as you stand near the tail of the board. On shortboards, the piece of board in front of you will be much less. You need to adapt to this new reality.
  • Not listening to the board: Soft top longboards don’t transmit much as they’re big and thick. Shortboards are not like that; they’re like that high school friend of yours who just likes to gossip about anything. A good shortboard will tell you everything the wave’s doing. So, you need to listen, interpret, and act on what it’s telling you.
  • Surfing flatly: Unlike soft tops, shortboards are designed with high performance in mind, and that high performance can only be achieved when you’re on the rail. Trying to surf flatly on a shortboard will mostly mean that you’re a flailing candle on some kid’s birthday cake.

Wrapping Up…

Shortboards require you to forget what you learned about surfing on longboards, and that’s in line with the main template of the only technical principle there’s in surfing: as you progress, you need to forget what you’ve learned in the previous stages.

You need to adapt to new circumstances that pertain to all that OMBE contains: the ocean, the mind, the body, and the equipment. Of course, that might not be easy, but that’s why we have a special program called Surfer Assessment that you can enroll in for free. In that program, you will find a lesson: “Waves of Progression,” which will inform you on what to expect in your journey.

Moreover, our Surf Psychology program is always here to guide you.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching