There are a ton of applicable tips for intermediate surfers out there, but one of the most important aspects of better surfing lies in your board/equipment choice, which is precisely what we are going to focus on today. If you don't know where to go next in terms of your board choice or how different conditions require different shapes and styles of surfboards based on the waves at hand, we're here to help piece together the journey of how to transition surfboards.
You'll be amazed at just how much your board and fin choice will affect your surfing, and it is essential that you take the time to learn these valuable characteristics to adjust your board choice depending on the conditions for the most success.
Most surfers begin their surfing journey by learning on a longboard, as these boards provide ample amounts of volume to promote easy paddling and stability as you hone in on the basics of surfing.
Once comfortable with the basics, the next board in the series of progression is a funshape, as these boards allow you to ride slightly larger, steeper waves than their longboard counterparts. Funshapes are more maneuverable, helping you transition from the basic pop-ups and face rides to learning your first fundamentals turns, including the bottom turn, small lip hacks, cutbacks, S-turns, and pumping.
After the funshape, it's time for a shortboard, the most maneuverable and rippable of all surfboards. Any level of high-performance surfing you see today results from surfing equipment allowing for extreme progression, and shortboards are to thank for this. Of all tips for intermediate surfers, learning what shortboards work best in varying conditions is one of the most important.
With that being said, you won't spend every day on a shortboard, as sometimes the waves are just too weak, mushy, or disorganized, and you'll bust out your trusty log instead to focus on some noserides and mellow cruising! So how do you know when this is the case and how to adjust your board choice accordingly? Stick around to find out.
Longboards are ideal for learning how to surf and for mastering the much-needed fundamentals. They are the perfect surfboard to enjoy the simple side of surfing, and beginner to intermediate to experienced surfers alike enjoy the mellow, old-school style of surfing provided by these shapes.
Once comfortable on a longboard, you can then transition to a funshape, but always keep a longboard in the quiver for conditions that call for this style of surfing.
Longboards are generally broken down into three categories: Noserider, hybrid, and performance logs.
A noserider longboard will allow for extreme amounts of stability and hold on a wave, granting surfers the ability to cross-step up and down the deck of the board to hang 5 and hang 10 on the nose.
Best For: Intermediate to experienced surfers looking to become a better longboarder.
For Beginners: A good choice for learning how to pop up and ride the whitewash of small waves, but limited in progression due to the difficulty in controlling and turning such a large board.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Small to medium size, mushy waves. Difficult on fast, steep, and barreling conditions.
Maneuvers: If you want to become a better longboarder, going from beginner to intermediate, the significant tricks to focus on include trimming, drop-knee cutbacks, and learning how to noseride.
Fin Setup: Generally a large single fin, increasing speed by decreasing drag and increasing hold during noserides and steeper wave sections.
A hybrid longboard creates the perfect balance of stability and also maneuverability, slightly more progressive than noseriders and more versatile for varying conditions.
Best For: Beginner to intermediate and advanced surfers.
For Beginners: A perfect surfboard for learning the basics of surfing and advancing into proper board control, face rides, noseriding, and drawn-out turns. Often the best starting point in beginner surfboards.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Small to medium size, mushier waves. Better for steeper conditions than a noserider but difficult to control when the waves are large and barreling.
Maneuvers: Hybrid longboards cater to many possible maneuvers. From trimming, cutbacks, floaters, and noseriding, hybrids are ideal for smooth, slow, and drawn-out turns through a mixture of stability and maneuverability.
Fin Setup: Hybrid longboards work great with a single fin when the conditions are slightly steeper and require more hold. For mushier waves, they are often shaped with the ability to add two side bytes for increased maneuverability on smaller, weaker waves.
Performance longboards allow for short-board-like performance on smaller waves.
Best For: Intermediate to experienced surfers.
For Beginners: Beginners can still ride a performance longboard, but these won't be as stable and easy to ride as a hybrid. A better longboard to advance to once you have mastered the fundamentals.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Performance longs are great for a variety of waves, small to medium. They add buoyancy to promote turning in smaller, mushier waves and are also a great choice for longboarding larger, steeper conditions.
Maneuvers: Performance longboards are meant to replicate shortboard-like turns on a big board. These surfboards can cutback, hack, and turn more aggressively than other longboards, and some rippers have even thrown airs on these shapes! You can still noseride performance logs, but this will be more difficult than a stable noserider or hybrid, so this is best for experienced longboarders.
Fin Setup: Generally, surfers ride a smaller single fin with two side bytes to increase the performance of the shape.
As a beginner to intermediate surfer, you'll most likely spend a majority of time on a funshape as you work to advance your surfing. Funshapes are far more maneuverable than longboards but still offer the stability and buoyancy necessary to surf small waves and hone in on the basics. You can think of a funshape as a way to breach the gap from a larger surfboard to a shortboard.
Funshapes are shaped with a range of tails, rails, and noses, and we suggest reading our article "Surfboard Tails, Rails, and Noses" to better learn how these optional characteristics will affect your surfing.
Once you feel really comfortable on a funshape, maintain high levels of board control, and have managed to dial in your ability to carve and turn, the intermediate surfer can then advance into performance-oriented shortboards.
Best For: Beginner to intermediate surfers.
For Beginners: More difficult to learn how to pop up on than a longboard, but more maneuverable. The ideal time to transition from a longboard to a funshape is when you have your pop-up mastered and can ride down the open face.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Funshapes can surf nearly any wave ranging from thigh to head high, but it depends on the specific wave qualities. For larger waves, you ideally want them to be mushy and slow, as funshapes can be difficult on extremely fast, steep, and barreling waves. For smaller waves, possibilities range from anything clean and peeling to choppy and disorganized. In general, a funshape is the right surfboard to catch more waves on smaller and weaker conditions that a shortboard would otherwise struggle to catch.
Maneuvers: Funshapes are the way to go when learning any of your first maneuvers. They provide an easier time understanding the required body and board movements for any range of turns and offer you a baseline understanding of how to move a surfboard around on the open face and how to hit the lip. If you can carve, cutback, and hit the lip on a funshape, then you're probably ready for a more advanced shortboard!
Fin Setup: Funshapes generally work best with a smaller single fin and two side bytes or also a standard tri and quad set up. For more hold, opt for the single fin and side bytes; for more performance, a tri-fin, and for more speed, go for a quad.
So, are you ready to ride a shortboard? If you can turn a funshape with ease and if you are ready to advance your surfing, keep in mind these tips for intermediate surfers in choosing the right shortboard depending on the conditions at hand, as there are endless combos in terms of shortboard dimensions, shapes, and fin setups to choose from.
A beginner shortboard will feature a slightly wider deck, beefed-up rails, and a more rounded nose than high-performance shortboards. All of these characteristics are designed to make waves easier to catch through this increase in volume, promoting stability on a shorter shape while still allowing for the style of surfing synonymous with shortboards. For a beginner shortboard, determine your ideal volume and size of standard shortboard by using our board engine, and simply go for a slightly larger board than the dimensions provided.
Best For: Intermediate surfers introducing themselves to a shortboard for the first time. The most stable of all shortboards.
For Beginners: Not an ideal board shape. These are reserved for surfers with a decent amount of experience who are ready to progress past funshapes.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Best for waist to head high waves. Ideal on slightly mushier waves and long period groundswells but can handle steep sections if you know how to ride—also a good choice of surfboard for a short period, choppier windswell.
Maneuvers: An excellent board to begin learning your first progressive maneuvers and hacks, but not ideal for airs.
Fin Setup: Generally a tri-fin setup.
Hybrid shortboards cater to smaller wave performance surfing. A mixture of slightly more volume and slightly less rocker than a high-performance shortboard, if you feel comfortable ripping on a beginner shortboard, a hybrid shortboard is your next upgrade.
Best For: Intermediate to advanced surfers.
For Beginners: Not ideal unless you are fully comfortable on a beginner shortboard.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Hybrid shortboards are your go-to choice to rip smaller waves. From choppy to mushy to small and barreling, a hybrid can handle it all. If the conditions are on the small side, but you still want to throw some progressive turns in there, opt for your hybrid to compensate for the wave size and quality and catch more waves.
Maneuvers: A hybrid can do it all. Big hacks on small waves, floaters, cutbacks, you name it. Hybrid surfboards are great for throwing small airs and will also do well in some mini-barrels.
Fin Setup: The fin setup you choose will depend on how you want to surf. A tri-fin hybrid will offer performance matched with slightly more hold, and a quad fin will help increase speed on fast-breaking waves and barrels.
Performance shortboards are the epitome of all performance-oriented surfboards. With thin rails, a narrow deck, aggressive rockers, and pointed noses, these surfboards are the go-to for most experienced surfers when the conditions are right. To ensure that you get the best performance shortboard possible, visit our board engine to determine the ideal shape and dimensions based on your skill level, height, weight, and average wave conditions.
Ideal For: Intermediate surfers who feel comfortable on a hybrid and who are looking to advance their shortboarding, and best for experienced rippers.
For Beginners: If you are learning how to transition surfboards, then stick to a beginner shortboard or a hybrid before progressing into a performance shortboard.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Shoulder to overhead waves call for performance shortboards. These boards do okay in choppy conditions, as long as there is enough power despite the weaker, more surface-level power of wind swells, and are best on powerful groundswells and clean conditions. If the waves are steep or barreling, the rocker of performance shortboards helps you avoid pearling when dropping in. These surfboards generate a ton of speed when pumping and are great for fast, peeling waves. Generally, if the waves look 'good', this is when you snag the performance shortboard from the quiver and get at it! Mushier, smaller waves call for a more hybrid surfboard approach.
Maneuvers: The best board for nearly any high-performance maneuver. Cutbacks, big hacks, laybacks, floaters, barrels, and, of course, big airs are all accomplished when riding a board that caters to the needs of progressive surfing. We suggest learning the basics to these turns on a more stable shape before going advanced.
Fin Setup: A tri-fin performance shortboard will add a little extra hold during big turns and caters to the broadest range of attainable performance. A quad fin setup will add a bit of speed, and a 'looser' feel to your turns, good for barrels (4 fins increasing hold) and outrunning the whitewash of fast waves. A five-fin setup is best as this allows you to change your fin set up according to the conditions at hand.
A fish shortboard is a specific type of hybrid surfboard, deemed a performance board for small and weak waves, and characterized by a fish or swallowtail shape. Fish surfboards are quick and stylish yet highly maneuverable. Their compact volume and mellow rocker allow you to catch and ride small waves whilst never hindering your ability to carve and turn on weak conditions. Of all our tips for intermediate surfers, making sure you have a fish in the quiver is a must for those small summer peelers!
Ideal For: Intermediate to advanced surfers.
For Beginners: Stick to a fish longboard or funshape.
Ideal Wave Conditions: Small, mushy, and weaker waves are always best for a fish. You can surely rip a fish in slightly larger conditions, but they are difficult to drop into steep sections due to a lack of rocker and might feel 'slippery' on a powerful wave. Hard to control in large barrels.
Maneuvers: Fish surfboards make it where you can still have shortboard-like fun on smaller waves and add a stylish approach to progressive surfing. For a middle-ground of performance, wave size, and style through your turns, a fish makes it happen. You'll often see surfers quickly smacking the lip, doing floaters, and big, drawn-out cutbacks and roundhouse cutbacks on a fish, but airs aren't out of the picture entirely!
Fin Setup: Almost all fish surfboards are shaped with a twin fin or quad fin set up. For a loose, skateboard-like feel, go for the twin, and for a little more speed and hold, a quad is the ticket.
As well as knowing how to transition surfboards, you should also learn how to transition fins depending on the conditions. We learned that:
But there's more to fins than just that!
Larger fins will have more hold and are best for bigger conditions. Smaller fins will feel a lot more loose, resulting in less drag and help with smaller wave performance. These same rules also apply to the fin depth, which is how far away a fin extends from the bottom of the board: more depth, more hold, less depth, more performance.
A stiff fin will also help with control and hold in more powerful waves, whereas a flexible fin promotes a loose and skatey feel.
To really dig into the characteristics of fins and how to transition surfboards, visit our article "The Definitive Surfboard Fin Guide" to gain every ounce of information needed to adjust your fin choice according to your board, your surfing, and the waves at hand.
In the end, learning how to transition surfboards will just take time, and experience surfing on different surfboards and fin shapes. We are all unique in our body types and surfing, and what works perfectly for some might not work for others. Practice patience in your pursuit of finding the right boards, ask questions when you have them, watch other surfers, and most of all: Surf as much as you can!
Eventually, you will learn the ins and outs of your quiver and will know exactly what board to ride based on how the waves are working on a particular day.