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Ultimate Guide to Step Up Surfboards

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Everything you Need to Know

It's a simple truth- if you want to shred bigger waves of consequence, then you need the right equipment, so it's time to snag your step up surfboard.

Step Up Shortboards are perfectly designed for pumping, hollow waves. More foam under the chest gives you a little extra paddle power for safer, earlier take offs, and adds to the durability of the surfboard.

The right step up board under your feet is the ticket to achieving the delicate balance of stability and maneuverability required to surf powerful faces. If you're ready to chase these types of waves, then we're here to help you find the magic stick.

step-up surfboard faded2.0 Step-ups are for that extra bit of confidence on the bigger days. Balaram Stack riding the Chilli Faded 2.0 Photo: @tai_vandyke.

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What is a Step Up Surfboard?

When the allure of testing your limits in more significant conditions begins to call, you have to adjust your board choice accordingly.

However, we're not talking about BIG, XL-XXL waves that require a gun or even a mini gun. We are simply talking about those days where it is a little heavier or a little bigger than your average conditions, and you just need a little extra board to get you into the waves easier while still being able to perform.

And a good Step Up surfboard will do just that.

A step up surfboard is defined as a surfboard that is a few inches longer than your standard shortboard, usually 2-4 inches, and that is generally meant for waves over 6 feet.

The added length is essential to help match your paddle power with the power of larger waves.

With so much power behind the wave, you aren't worried about staying afloat on top of the wave. Instead, what you do need is something that will help you get into the wave easier or earlier, and a board that will help you manage a hollow wave face with more power.

Because of this, surfers often choose a step up board that mimics the shape of their favorite shortboard, usually with the same width and only a slight increase in thickness, somewhere around ⅛ of an inch.

One significant difference between a shortboard and a step up worth noting is the amount of glass used.

Step up surfboards are glassed extra heavy to add to their durability and longevity surfing powerful conditions. A standard shortboard is typically glassed with two layers of 4 oz on the deck and one on the bottom (4+4×4). A fish or single fin, normally a little heavier like 4oz plus 6oz on the deck and either a 4 or 6 on the bottom (4+6×4, 4+6×6).

For your step up, you are going to want it glassed heavier. Something like 4+6×6 for a high performance style board and maybe 6+6×6 for a single fin or fish style.

It is important to note that a step up surfboard will, as most surfboards are, be relative and personalized to yourself, the conditions you surf, and your talents. Where one surfer may surf a small-wave groveler due to consistently small conditions, a step up surfboard to them might be a standard high-performance shortboard. And for a surfer who is used to head/overhead high pipe, their step up will lean more towards the realm of 6'0ft+, closing in on being deemed a mini gun.

Step up surfboards are not always thrusters. There are plenty of quads, single fins, and even twin fins that still fall under the definition of a step up, so having a baseline understanding of shortboards and what type of shortboard you perform well on is a critical aspect of choosing a step up.

step-up surfboard Craig Anderson sliding in on the Hayden Shapes Cannon in a 6'10. Photo Left: John Respondek and Righ: @lincoln_james

The Types of Step Up Surfboards

You're going to be riding bigger waves, so volume and buoyancy aren't a huge deal, as you aren't going to be fighting to make up for the weakness of weak, mushy waves. Instead, you will be fighting to match the wave power, not compensate for it, and specific board shapes simply do better than others at achieving this.

Instead of keeping you afloat and helping you make it through soft sections, as the wave has plenty of power to share, the characteristics of these board shapes are designed to complement your ability to control the board and perform maneuvers

Let's get into a few of the styles and shapes that will best suit your step up.

Tail Shape

Tail shapes of a step up vary, but there are a few go-to's out there that professional surfers and weekend warriors alike have come to love in big waves.

A majority of step up surfboards will feature a pintail or rounded pintail. There's no need to compensate for buoyancy and speed with a wider, thicker tail shape, and pintails are the best for holding in steep, powerful conditions. The narrow nature of these tails fits the best into barrels, and the thinned-out shape allows the water to slowly react to the rails as it moves towards the tail for control.

This slower and more subtle reaction of water bouncing off your board creates a much-needed hold in the types of conditions where a step up is generally needed.

Because step up surfboards aren't quite guns or mini guns, there's still the chance to snag a few progressive turns on these large waves faces, so a rounded pintail is often a better choice than a straight up pintail. A rounded pin will promote more maneuverability of the surfboard during hacks and carves while still holding onto steep faces.

Swallowtail and fishtail shapes are becoming increasingly popular as step up board shapes as well. These tail shapes provide two different points of hold within the water for stability, acting like a pintail for whichever rail you have positioned in the face.

surfboard tail shapes

Step Up Fin Configurations

We mentioned that you could find step up boards with single or twin fins, but those are rarer than a classic thruster or quad. A tri and quad fin set up is the usual choice of fins for step up surfboards, and quads are especially loved for their added hold and speed to get through fast, barreling sections.

One of the best ways to determine what type of fin setup you prefer in a step up is first to understand how different fin configurations feel in smaller surf.

Five fin boxes in your step up is the perfect way to allow for choice and change, and make it so that you can switch your configurations according to the conditions and personal preference.

If the wave is heavy and requires down-the-line speed, you can consider changing out your fins to a bigger, more upright fin for more drive and down-the-line control. Otherwise, you will still want maneuverability and performance, so sticking with the fins you usually surf is often a good idea.

Some talented surfers even like going with smaller fins on their step up, so you really just need experience and experimentation to help nail down the best step up shortboards fin configurations.

Step Up Surfboard Rocker

Having a little additional rocker to your step up board is never a bad idea.

Remember, the waves you surf on a step up already have plenty of power, so having that flat/fast board is unnecessary. It could actually hurt the way you surf the wave as you may end up going too fast and have a difficult time wiping off the speed.

A little performance is still needed, as there is no need to outrun the wave. Having more rocker will not only help stick late drops or re-entries off steep sections, but it'll also loosen up the board allowing you to carve a little tighter when needed.

surfboard rocker

Step Up Surfboard Bottom Contours

The bottom contours of your board will play with how well you can get up to speed and on a plane, keeping your rail in the water, and the transition from rail to rail. The trusty single to double concave with a little vee out the tail goes a long way for your step up. This works extremely well for your thrusters and quads and shouldn't have to be that much different than what your normal shorty has going on.

Here is an example of The Cannon by Haydenshapes Surfboards with some Vee entry to single concave to Vee out the tail, helping this low rockered single fin stick steep drops and roll from rail to rail with ease.

With a single fin or a step up fish, you might consider adding a bit more vee to help with the transition from rail to rail.

Also, adding a bit of vee in the nose would certainly be handy since those boards generally have a little less rocker than a traditional thruster. That nose vee will help displace the water and keep it from pearling (nose diving) when taking late drops or coming out of turns on steeper sections.

Read our previous article for more info about surfboard bottom contours.

Step Up Surfboard Buyers Guide- The Best Step Up Surfboards

When looking to buy a step up board, you have more than enough options to choose from.

Start with your standard shortboard. If you love the way it rides, then often, the best idea is to try and find a step up that mimics this shape. So if you're a single fin shredder, go for a single fin step up, and if you love a classic rounded pintail, then riding the same shape in larger conditions is a great idea as it promotes comfortability and board control.

Then, think into the waves you plan to surf. If you're going to spend most of your time in a beachbreak lineup, then you might want to add even a few extra inches to your step up as you'll spend a lot of time paddling around for the perfect peak and positioning.

Something like the Golden Gun by Haydenshapes or the Destroyer by Album shaped 3-4 inches above your standard shortboard size would feel incredible under your feet in this instance.

If you're riding your step up at a point or a reef, then you can get away with a little bit shorter as you won't need to paddle around as much and will benefit from a little extra maneuverability.

Consider the DHD Sweet Spot 2.0 or the Chem Zenagain by Chemistry Surfboards for a nice mixture of hold and maneuverability.

If you're going to test your limits on larger, deeper water waves, you'll want a tad more length and volume, so look no further than the Judah by Chemistry Surfboards.

And remember, for the smaller of big waves, a squash or rounded squash tail will do okay, but for the larger of big waves, a good ol' pintail or rounded pintail is preferred.

You can browse our entire range of step up surfboards, and make sure to utilize our patent-pending board engine to dial down the perfect dimensions, but here are a few of our favorites/most popular step up boards:

The Step Up Surfboard- A Wrap Up

By now, we hope you can see exactly where and why a step up surfboard fits into a quiver and what kinds of surfers and waves this style of board is ideal for.

Not all surfers reach the point of wishing to ride big, hollow waves, but if you do find yourself in this position, you don't want to go into it with the wrong equipment.

The larger the waves, the higher the consequence, and ensuring that everything is ready for the conditions at hand is essential, especially your surfboard.

If you're browsing for a step up surfboard, then you probably have surfing in your blood by now, and the investment will always be well worth it.

It might take some time for the ideal waves to come through that require a step up, but man, you will be glad you have one ready to go when they do!

Make sure you check out the Board Engine to find a range of boards, all made in America by professional shapers at the top of their crafts, and feel free to email [email protected] with your details for a detailed report of board recommendations for you.