How To Rip In Small Surf

A simple guide to shredding the small stuff–not sweating it.

Let’s face it–if you surf, more often than not you surf small waves. For the most part, all over the world, waves are puny more often than they’re large. But like herpes, relationships, and hangnails–even though it’s a fact of life, small-wave surfing is something we’d all rather not talk about.

This article will help you learn how to shred little waves. If you look at a swell map, you’ll realize that you most likely surf waist-high waves ten times more than you surf overhead waves.

The following are five simple steps to follow in your quest for small-wave supremacy. Sure, if you’re already a ripper, some of these steps may seem elementary, but ask yourself this–do I rip tiny waves for real? If the answer is at all doubtful, read and learn.–Chris Coté

Attitude Is Everything

You’re up early, all your gear’s in the car, and you’re ready to rip. The only problem is that “big south swell” never came and the waves are two-foot wind-blown slop. Your first reaction is to get pissed off and drive home with a shitty pouty face. Don’t do this. You need to realize that you’re never going to get better if you don’t use mind-power to overcome the negative thoughts in your head. Tell yourself, “I’m gonna go out there and f–king shred this place!” Think about a summer in Florida, when the waves rarely get over a foot and they’d be out there ripping it. Yes, Floridians are the masters of small-wave surfing for good reason. Floridians are thankful for what they get. No matter where you are in the world, if you have a good attitude, you can have a good session.

Choose Wisely

There is some debate about what kind of board to ride in small surf. Simply stated, boards with more volume will perform better when there’s a lack of surf. A lot of guys like to pick boards that suit the conditions. Rob Machado rides all kinds of boards to help him have fun in small stuff. There’re so many different combinations for boards that you can really have fun in any size waves no matter how puny. The right longboard can make a one-foot wave awesome. Fun is the key to surfing and when the waves are shit, ride a different board to make them seem better. When it comes to ripping in small waves on a normal shortboard, Taj Burrow offers this advice from his Book Of Hot Surfing: “To make standard boards go in tiny waves I’ve got two secrets: You want to come from behind the peak so you get down-the-line projection. Move your whole stance forword going down the line, then shuffle back when you want to do a turn.” Keeping your weight centered on your board gives your board more surface area to help plane across flat spots and weak waves.

Big guys are obviously at a disadvantage. Your best bet would be to get a board that has more volume in the tail and through the middle than your standard board.

All The Right Moves

When the waves are undersized, you can’t expect to be doing the same big hacks and carves that you usually do (yeah, right). Tiny surf is really unforgiving when it comes to turning. A one- or two-foot wave is usually good for one, maybe two turns. Pick your section wisely, as you may only get one chance to turn–don’t blow that chance. “On a tiny wave, a big move is likely to be your last,” says Taj Burrow. “So make sure you’ve chosen the right spot for it.”

It’s not a crime to waste ten small waves practicing airs, but wasting perfect waves is. Foam-bounces, tailslides, 360s, chop-hops, floaters–these are all moves you can perfect in little waves, so do it. Most of the air-masters practice in small waves all the time. Do you think Aaron Cormican learned the Gorkinn Flip on a ten-foot day? No, it was a two-foot day in San Clemente. You need to work on a surfing strategy that fits with the wave you’re riding.

Work It

One thing you’ll notice when surfing small waves is how much harder you have to work. When paddling for bigger waves, the wave does most of the work. In small waves, you do the work. One thing you should do if you want to rip small waves is cardio-vascular training. Either run, bike, swim, or whatever you do to get your heart rate going. You’ll notice how tiresome paddling super hard in insignificant surf can be. When you catch the wave (if you do), you soon realize that again, you’re doing most of the work. Pumping and trying to get speed on a one-footer is a daunting task. It takes a lot of leg work and body tweaks to gain speed and keep it. Sunny Garcia trains for small surf by pumping on the wake behind a motorboat. He’ll pump on a one-foot boat wake for a half-hour or until his legs burn. His small-wave act has improved tenfold. A major key to surfing weak little waves better is trying to be light on your feet. “Study Rob Machado,” says Tim Curran when asked how to surf small waves. “I remember being a kid, watching Rob surf contests in small waves and studying him. He’s amazing all around, but in small waves he’s crazy. The way he uses his weight is incredible.”

Stay on your toes and try not to dig your heels. If you’re too heavy on your feet, you’ll bog and dig rail.

Don’t Give Up

Small-wave surfing can be as frustrating as trying to get little Betty Sweetheart’s bra undone on prom night, but don’t give up. Keep practicing, and you’ll get better and better. Nobody loves to surf in mini-waves, but when you have a good attitude and keep at it, you can be the next little wave wizard. Dinky wave sessions can also help you in more ways than you’ll ever know. You’ll be in better shape, you’ll be doing better turns when the waves get bigger, you’ll paddle faster, and you’ll be able to smash people in contests because they thought they were too rad to surf when the waves were small.

Rob Machado is hands-down the best small-wave surfer in the world. Of course he’s also a Pipe Master and can rip any size wave as well. Here’re a few more tips from the wave wizard himself:

“The thing that will make or break any session is your board, especially in small-waves. In tiny waves, I ride a five-nine flyer with boxy rails. It’s a perfect small-wave board because it fits in tight pockets so well. The key to gliding through flat spots and connecting waves is having enough foam under your feet. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” Rob laughs. “Attitude is also a major factor in the small stuff. Most people look at small waves and are over it. It helps if you have friends who are amped. My friends Ronnie and Rusty are always amped, and it helps get me motivated. They’ll call when the waves are super small and be like, ‘Rob, you gotta get here–it’s perfect!’

Then again, it all goes back to the board, if you have a good board, you’ll be motivated. When I’m in a contest I’ll ride the flyer, but if I’m just surfing for fun and the waves are tiny, I’ll ride an old single fin, a longboard, a twin fin, anything with a lot of foam. The more foam, the more fun.”