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How to Surf a Shortboard

Need some tips on how to surf a shortboard? It isn't the easiest of journeys to ensue, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be ripping down the line and smacking the lip in no time.

What are Shortboards Used For?

Shortboards are a category of surfboards used for high-performance surfing. Their smaller size allows the rider to perform the progressive maneuvers we now see today, such as hitting the lip, swift carves, airs, and, of course, getting absolutely pitted in a barrel. They are the reasoning behind such progress in wave riding prowess and have granted surfers the ability to really push the limits on what is possible on a wave.

To summarize, a shortboard is used for advanced surfing and for riding waves of higher consequence. Think you're ready?

When to Transition to a Shortboard

Most likely, you've been spending your time on a longboard or a funshape as you master the basics. So how do you know when it's time to transition to a smaller stick?

Some of the signs that you are ready to ride include:

  • You've gained an understanding of the mechanics of waves and can read the conditions accordingly, such as: knowing where to paddle out, how to navigate a lineup, where to sit in the lineup, reading wave directions (lefts, rights, and A-frames), a knowledge of the different kind of breaks (beach, reef, and point), and overall, you just feel comfortable in the ocean.
  • You can paddle with ease, both out into the lineup and also into the waves, and you don't find yourself missing many wave opportunities due to a lack of paddle ability.
  • Your pop-up is smooth and one motion, avoiding the bad habit of using your knees to help you up.
  • You can ride down the face of the wave, angling your board and timing your drop-in correctly.
  • You have solid control over your surfboard and can initiate direction changes on the face.

If you're nodding your head along as you read this, and if you have the desire to take your surfing to the next level on a higher performance board, then this is a good sign you are ready to learn how to surf a shortboard.

How to Surf a Shortboard for Beginners

There's a lot that goes into the proper approach of how to surf a shortboard for beginners, so take it slow, get ready for a journey that requires time, patience, and experience, and overall, just have a good time in this process!

Board Choice

If you've only been riding longboards, then start by practicing on a fun shape/midlength anywhere from 12-24" inches longer than your height. These boards still maintain ample volume and stability but are a little shorter to improve maneuverability on a wave face, and will help you get a feel for the balance required to keep steady on a smaller stick.

Really, in the early stages of learning how to surf a shortboard, it's always better to go bigger than it is too small. Shortboards have specific measurements depending on what type of waves they are meant for, and many shortboards are meant to measure smaller/equal to your height. For our circumstances, however, try playing around with a board that's 3-6" in longer than your height, and use our patented Board Engine as a way to lock in the perfect dimensions.

You want a board with a decent bit of volume to promote buoyancy and easy paddling, just a touch of rocker to again keep the paddling smooth and effortless, and a wider nose/tail.

Put it this way- it's always easier to transition to a smaller board after you've mastered a larger one. Riding a board that is too small will result in a much longer and more difficult learning curve, so choose a shortboard that is in line with your beginner shortboard abilities.

Take the time to learn about surfboards to the fullest extent to help with this choice. For more information regarding surfboard shapes, dimensions, and fins, and more, visit our articles:

Paddling Out

Paddling out a shorty is a whole different game than a longboard. You'll immediately notice how the board feels less floaty and somewhat wobbly underneath as you paddle. Take some time paddling around in a flat area to find the sweet spot on your board as you paddle- not too far up the nose and not too far down on the tail.

With shortboards, you'll now be able to duck dive underneath breaking waves to get past the impact zone.

Duck diving is an art. As a wave comes your way, paddle towards it as powerfully as possible. When the whitewash is just a few feet away, grab the sides of the rails, push the board and your body down under the wave, and then use your foot to adjust the angle upwards as you come out the other side.

Assuming that you have the pop-up dialed in, visit our article "Paddling Out, Duck Diving, and The Pop Up" for a more in-depth explanation of these required skill sets.

Catching a Wave

Because they are less buoyant and slower to paddle than longer shapes, you're going to have to sit much closer to the peak of the waves, dropping into steeper and more intimidating sections. As you paddle into an almost breaking wave, you want the wave to pick you so that you reach the lip just as it begins to break. Watch other shortboarders in the lineup to visualize how and where they take off.

As you drop in, slightly angle the board in the direction you plan to ride so that you do not get stuck behind the whitewash.

Be as fast and as swift as possible with your pop-up, and keep those knees nice and bent over the surfboard to promote stability and balance. When learning how to surf a shortboard, many beginner surfers lean too far back on the tail, as this is a common response to the fear of dropping into steep sections.

Position your back foot on the tail pad, and do keep some weight on this foot, but don't lean all the way into the face. Instead, position your front shoulder in the direction that you ride, and maintain a nice equilibrium over the center of the board. Leaning forward will help to drive speed down the line, but it is also possible to lean too far forward, so the best way to achieve perfection is with practice, practice, and more practice.


The second you stand up on your shortboard, you want to begin pumping down the line, as you often have to create your speed on these smaller shapes. Pumping is the act of transitioning the surfboard to varying points of the wave to gain speed, and neglecting to pump will have you stuck in the whitewash in no time.

Surfing is an extreme sport, and it requires effort and work, so keep this in mind as you pop up and immediately begin pumping by initiating the bodily motions required for such an act. For more information on how to pump, take a peek at "How to Generate Speed on a Surfboard" to really get the hang of this crucial aspect of learning how to surf a shortboard.

How to Be a Better Shortboard Surfer

It's going to take time and a hell of a lot of bails before you catch your first waves, so prepare yourself for quite the journey. Stick to waves that are large and powerful enough to shortboard but that aren't out of your comfort zone, and a little bit of mush is always a friend. Steep, barreling waves are harder to surf, so use the conditions to your advantage.

Work on practicing both backside and frontside surfing, as each is unique in the way that they feel and the possibilities of maneuvers presented. Don't let yourself gain too much comfort in only one direction!

But once you can pop up and pump down the open face of a wave on a shortboard, and feel comfortable going left and right, what's next?

Now it's all about the turns! A good place to start is with more aggressive directional adjustments on the face. As you pump towards the lip and reach the top of the wave, point the nose more towards the lip (versus staying horizontal), and angle your board back down the face with more intent, placing more weight on the tail pad. Stay low and keep your balance, and use the fins to draw the board back down the face. As you gain comfortability, you will then be able to do this with more power and more intense board angles.

If you don't have a good bottom turn, then you're going to need one, so work on drawing your board even further down towards the trough to transition the vertical energy gained by dropping down the wave face into horizontal energy back towards the lip, essential for nearly all off the lip maneuvers.

Another great starting turn to focus on is the cutback. As you reach the shoulder, which is the weaker, non-breaking portion of the wave, dig your weight into the tail and lean in the direction of your turn. Use your head and look with your eyes in this direction, and lead your board with your body by using your front shoulder to direct this motion. Your board loves to follow the movement of your front shoulder.

Once the board has carved back towards the breaking wave, bring your body weight over the surfboard to regain balance and speed now that you are back in the pocket of the wave.

For other maneuvers to begin working on for how to be a better shortboard surfer, try experimenting with:

  • Floaters
  • Foam Climbs
  • Carves
  • Hacks
  • Off the Lips
  • Roundhouse cutbacks

As you continue progressing, you'll be able to work towards even smaller and more progressive shortboard shapes to really bring out the best in what is possible on a wave. To surf longer and with more power, it is always beneficial to practice surfing fitness in conjunction with what you do in the water to further cater to the entirety of the ecosystem of surfing.

And remember, surfing is a non-stop process of learning, and none of this will happen quickly, so think of things like a pyramid. You have to build a base before working towards the top, and a weak base will lead to a weak structure, so always try and surf to your abilities. Basically, don't go trying airs if you don't know how to hack!

Take it slow, work towards riding larger and more powerful waves, and eventually, you might even score yourself an elusive barrel or a front air off the lip. But for now, keep it simple, folks, and remember to stay stoked, be respectful of other surfers, and always look out for our oceans in any way you can.