Surf Science: Too Short?

Too Short?
A New Era Of Shrinking Shortboards

Eli Mirandon
Photo: Bielmann

What size shortboard do you ride? It's a simple question, but the answer for many people—and especially the top pros—has been slowly shrinking over the last five or so years. Many surfers who rode, say, a 6'3" a few years back have slowly transitioned into ordering 6'0"s or even smaller. And we're not talking about fish or retro-type shapes, but high-performance shortboards. So why? "Rockers and hull contours have been refined, so you don't have to rely so much on the length for speed," says Todd Proctor of Proctor Surfboards. "This also has a side benefit of working better in the pocket. "

If you take a peek at modern WCT-level surfing, it's clear the top guys are surfing closer than ever to the pocket and arcing their turns tighter as well. "People are surfing in or as close to the pocket as possible," says Cole Simler of Cole Surfboards, "and the shorter boards work better in the hook."

"Some of the styles and maneuvers have changed," agrees Steve Boysen of SB Surfboards. "Guys want to do flicks and tailslides in between their carves, and a shorter board makes that easier."

Our friend Atta rocking his 5’6″.

Of course, it's not just a matter of changing one dimension. Boysen and other designers explained that when the length alone was brought down, surfers found the boards to be too squirrelly. The general response has been to experiment with keeping the volume of foam the same, but dispersing it in different places. For instance, developing new rockers, adding specific concaves, and sometimes thicker rails or wider nose and tail dimensions to keep basically the same amount of foam in the board while trimming down the length. "Last year, Shane Beschen was riding a 6'2" and now I'm shaping him some 6'1/2"s. Guys like Mike Todd have gone down an inch, and so have Andy and Bruce Irons. Guys aren't afraid to go a little wider and thicker, and that allows the boards to be shortened without feeling too loose."

Does this mean if you've been riding the same sized shortboard for the last five or more years, you should rush to the nearest shop to trade it in for something three inches smaller? Definitely not—that is, unless you dial in the rest of the dimensions, like width and thickness to compensate for the drop in length. But ultimately, it's more complicated than simply shaving a few inches off the length and adding a quarter inch to the width, to say nothing of an individual surfer's ability or what you want to do on a wave. Consider trying a smaller board for the sake of creative experimentation, but remember, not everyone can be like Joel Parkinson (who's 6'0" and 185 pounds) and ride a 6'1".

Originally published in the December, 2006 issue of Transworld SURF.