Can you learn to surf on a shortboard? There’s a belief that adult beginner surfers should start on a 8+ board. The longer the board – the better to learn. But what if you know that shortboarding is more for you? Looking back at my own journey from beginner to where I am now, I would have done things differently. Here’s my view on shortboard vs longboard for beginner or intermediate surfers. Based on my own experience.
Longboard vs shortboard 😉
Confession: I was too eager to get on a shortboard.
I don’t regret jumping to a shortboard while I still was learning to surf. It gave me a good timing in hollow waves, it made me a very good duck diver and the barrier to go to the beach was low because the board was easy to carry around.
What I do regret is that I tried to surf my short board in conditions that it didn’t make sense. On the small waves or on the windy afternoons, more foam would have allowed me to have more fun surfing.
Maybe this story will inspire ambitious surfers like my 19 year old self to try out a wider board with more volume. You will be able to practice more take-offs, go up and down the line, maybe a little floater here and there… This will all help your shortboard performance for those sessions when the waves get glassy and powerful.
Here is my story
See, I live in a place that get’s decent waves. My crew would say shitty but I disagree. I love my hometown. It’s on the coast of the North Sea and the water looks greyish – on a good day. When it’s cloudy the sea is just straight brown. But we get decent waves.
Winter can get magical. On a good day you might get head high steep hollow wedges with only 5 other people out. On moments like this, a shortboard or a fast fish is your friend.
However, those 5 days of epic waves in winter leave like 50 days of mediocre surf throughout the year. Choppy, inconsistent wind swells. Wrong tide powerless SUP waves. Summertime ankle biters. Doesn’t sound too appealing, I know. The Portuguese, Spanish and Frenchies are laughing at us, I am well aware. I remember this Dutch guy posted a video on Youtube of one of the swells of the year. For us it really was a big deal: the surf had been great. He’d named the video ‘Big Wednesday’ or something along that line. One of the comments reads: “Living in SoCal I’m kinda jealous of places like Hawaii and the Mentawais for getting better, more consistent surf – but when I saw “Big Sunday” made me appreciate that I live in a place that has fairly decent surf. Big Sunday there looks like a pretty poor day of surf here in California.” Ouch!!
But what can I say…I am addicted to surfing. So I deal with the fact that we don’t have world class waves 365 days a year and I make the most of it. And one way to do that, I thought, was to get a board with more volume.
The standard thing we do when there’s waves but they are really tiny is we take out a longboard. I think the majority of the surfers from my city do not adhere to a label ‘shortboarder’ or ‘longboarder’. They have fun on a 9’0 log on small summer days and ride their shortboards if the sea allows it.
It’s common to speak in terms of ‘shortboard days’ and ‘longboard days’.
So that’s what I used to do too. In tiny waves, you longboard.
But after a few years it dawned on me that I really am not a longboard kind of person. A longboard is just so…clunky. It’s messing with my pop-up, it’s messing with my bottom turn and every time I wanted to turn I had to walk back on the deck.
I know that some people have crafted their log dancing to perfection and I really respect that, but it’s just not for me. I am too eager to get better at snaps, cutbacks and stylish ways to ride out of a closeout. I didn’t want to ‘waste’ my muscle memory walking across a 9 foot piece of plastic.
A few months ago I was on a business trip on a small island in Europe. Totally unexpectedly there were waves! Small and with closeout sections, but still surfable. I rented a 9’0 soft top and paddled out, rushed by the stoke. However, after a few rides the earlier mentioned frustration kicked in. Just going down the line and doing pirouettes isn’t really my thing. I ran back to the surf rental and asked the 14 year old manning the store if he had a smaller board, maybe like a 7’6. The only smaller one that they had was an Olaian 5’8 kids foam board. I thought Oh why the hell not and grabbed the softtop and ran to the pleasantly warm and grey sea.
Just going down the line and doing pirouettes isn’t really my thing.
I had so much fun that afternoon. The tiny but voluminous foamie allowed me to skate on the small summer swell and take off on bumps that definitely wouldn’t have worked on my shortboard.
I decided that day that I never would have to longboard again when the waves are small
I decided that from now on, in order for me to get better at turns and snaps, I would only surf small wide boards. And if I could extend my quiver to a meaty foam board the amount of ‘shortboard days’ would suddenly double. And thus began my quest for the perfect foamie.
The perfect soft top
My hometown beach has 3 surf rentals. One has a deal with Olaian, the other with Catch Surf and the third offers Indio, a Pukas sub-brand. In de spring of 2018 I tried out 6 different softtops. The differences between the models and sizes was bigger than I expected. Trying out Indio, Olaian and Catch Surf boards definitely helped me decide on what softtop worked well for my shape and size. If you want to know what foamie I ended up buying, you can read that here.
This wasn’t my first time on a softtop. Years ago, I was an assistant instructor in a surf camp in the Alentejo, Portugal. I loved riding the 8’0 school foamies. Hell, I even got my first almost barrel on that softtop! I had brought a narrow 6’0 short board to Portugal that I ended up barely using that summer. It was a very good looking shape but honestly, it was limiting me in catching waves. Looking back, I switched to a shortboard too soon when I was learning to surf. I liked the look of short swallow tail and eggshaped shortboards and I was eager to learn manoeuvres. Also, the fact that they were easy to muscle through big waves was an advantage. The less volume, the easier it is to duckdive a surf board.
For years I surfed shortboards and for years I probably missed out on a lot of waves. Sure, in 1 meter glassy waves the feeling of surfing a skatey board down the line is the best! However, in all those other sessions when the waves were not 1 meter and glassy I didn’t catch much. I could have caught many more waves on a board with more volume. And there’s only one way to get better at surfing and that is to catch more waves.
There’s a belief that adult beginner surfers should start on a 8+ board. When I started surfing, a BIC or a NSP was the go to beginner board. Heavy, plastic boards with no concave or rails. The problem is that these boards don’t respond well to your body’s movement. Basically they just want to go straight.
Secondly, a take-off on a longboard is entirely different from a shortboard take-off. On a longboard you can use your feet to catapult you up. On a shortboard, your feet are hanging over the board and you have to ‘climb’ your board. These beliefs led me to skip the BIC/NSP phase and jump straight on a hand-shaped egg.
I don’t regret jumping to a shortboard while I still was learning to surf. It gave me a good sense of timing in hollow waves, it made me a very good duck diver and the board was easy to carry around. What I do regret is that I tried to surf my short board in conditions that it didn’t make sense. On the small waves or on the windy afternoons, more foam would have allowed me to have more fun surfing. I hope this story will inspire ambitious surfers like my 19 year old self to try out a wider board with more volume. You will be able to practice more take-offs, go up and down the line, maybe a little floater here and there… This will all help your shortboard performance for those sessions when the waves get glassy and powerful.