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High Performance Surfboards, The Pros and Cons

Is the High Performance Shortboard Right For You?

Stamps surfboard almost finished production
Some lucky son-of-a-gun is about to get a highly shreddable stick from Stamps Surfboards.

For the majority of you, when you hear the word “surfboard” we imagine a high performance shortboard. Unless of course your style of surfing is more directed towards longboarding, retro fish’s, etc… but the vast majority of surfers on the planet primarily surf shortboards. It is also known that the majority of surfboards produced globally are shortboards.

When you first start out surfing, going shorter and more performance focused seems cool and in-line with what the good surfers are doing. No one wants to be walking around with a 9ft foam top when the surf is firing. The iconic images of pro surfers pulling into stand up barrels on tiny 6’2″ shortboards is the image that resonates with surfers globally.

With a number of Boardcave articles written about surfing alternative surf craft, like How to Keep Your Surfing Fun and a few on design principles such as looking at Surfboard Outlines, it is now time for us to focus more on the iconic shortboard.

So, is the shortboard the right kind of board for you?

We want to take a look at the pro’s and cons of surfing high-performance shortboards for the everyday surfer and see if that is the best option for you.

The Pro’s

The pros are lucky enough to travel in search of good waves and catch enough of them to be able to surf most boards in most conditions. That is why for a majority of professional surfers around the world, the shortboard is their weapon of choice. This holds true for competition surfers and free surfers alike. Sure there are a lot of professional free surfers who surf alternative equipment like longboards, fishes, mini simmons, etc…and most of those surfers are not really prone to surfing one style of board.

Julian Wilson surfing a DHD surfboard
The DHD 99 Stab In The Dark getting tested by Julian Wilson.

But there are a lot more professional free surfers who surf high performance shortboards almost exclusively. And rightly so. These guys are pushing the boundaries of performance both on the wave and above the lip. Air’s are getting crazier, turns are getting more radical and the waves these guys are surfing are getting bigger, hollower and more critical. You can rip on a fish, but not in the same way or to the same level as you can on a high performance shortboard.

So, should the high performance shortboard be reserved for surfers who surf at a higher level? Absolutely not. How do you think these guys got to the level they are at?

The High Performance Shortboard (HPSB) has had refinements over the years to allow them to perform better. More critical detail in rails, bottom contours, rockers, etc. allow these board to be ultra sensitive under foot, allowing you to lay it on rail harder, drive off the bottom faster, boost higher and just react a lot better in general.

A simple quiver of 3 boards can sort you out for the majority of waves you will surf with only slight refinements such as adjusting the width, rocker, thickness and wide point…all while keeping the board on the high performance side of designs as opposed to a hybrid style shape.

Because of the refined nature of these boards, you can pull off maneuvers or handle situations a little better than you could on other equipment. Late drops on steep waves and hard tight turns in the pocket become easier and more manageable, allowing you to push your surfing ability to the next level.

John John Florence high performance surfing
John John Florence gets critical on his high performance Pyzel Surfboard.

These boards like to be surfed hard, you have to push them more than wider alternate shapes like your modern fish or hybrid shapes. Pumping down the line to generate speed instead of sitting in the sweet spot for example.

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They are not for everyone though. We are actually big proponents of surfing lots of different styles of boards. Sure your progression can really take off given the properly sized HPSB, but there is a lot to say about surfing other boards that help you read waves a little differently or help you to draw new lines you would otherwise not think of.

So if you are only surfing HPSB’s, what are the cons?

The Cons

The number one thing that pop’s into mind when thinking of the cons of only riding a HPSB is that you are limiting the amount of waves and fun you can have surfing. We are not saying the HPSB is not fun…it definitely is, but that’ll depend on the mood you feel when going for a surf, your abilities and even the type of waves you have access to or surf most often.

Trimming and noseriding at sunset
Trimming and riding the nose of a log is a feeling you can’t get from your shortboard.

Some of us (especially as we get older) still want to rip, but don’t or can’t put in as much effort to “working” the board. You may need a little more natural glide or trim speed instead of having to pump the board to generate speed, but you still want to be able to lay that board over on rail with ease. That’s essentially where hybrid shapes stem from. They pack more volume, handle a wider variety of waves, but can still be surfed at a relatively high level.

Because the shortboard has become so refined, they usually have less volume which may equate to having to paddle a little harder to catch that wave. Sure they can take late drops way better, but that doesn’t help the older, slower surfers who aren’t as quick and nimble as they used to be.

They may also end up limiting the waves you are motivated to go out and surf, unless you build your quiver appropriately. A high performance shortboard is a lot more fun in good quality waves. You can surf them in the slop, but they definitely shine when the waves are good.

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We guarantee you that if your quiver was more varied with a selection of HPSB’s, hybrid’s, fish’s or even a log or a mal, that less than ideal morning surf check is going to be way more appealing as you simply have more options to handle whatever the day brings.

They could become stagnant too. A lot of average surfers you see who only surf HPSB’s end up trying the same maneuvers over and over again. It is hard to “learn tricks” surfing since no wave is ever the same. You have to learn how to surf in a reactive way to what the wave offers. Unless you are an exceptional surfer, chances are when a section comes at you, you are going to try the same maneuver you usually do given a similar section. Surfing alternative equipment is great to break that habit and get you in the mind set of reading waves differently, even when you go to hop back on your shortboard.

Hayden Cox browsing his haydenshapes collection
Hayden Cox browsing his range of surf craft from Haydenshapes.


At the end of the day, it is all about what you are looking for out of surfing. You can build a quiver of HPSB’s suited to handle all conditions, you can also build a varied quiver of different boards. It comes down to what you are into personally. There is no right or wrong way to surf, but there is having the wrong equipment. So if you are dead set on only having high performance shortboards, make sure they are sized appropriately for yourself and your abilities. You will enjoy surfing a lot more and progress a lot faster.

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