Tips for transitioning from a longboard to a shortboard

You learned how to surf on a longboard and now you’ve got this thing wired. You can paddle out, sit up on the board and catch waves on your own. You’ve gained that general awareness of those around you and (most of the time) you put your leash on the correct ankle.

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But now you’re thinking that you’d like to step it up. You want to make your own speed, do some top turns and maybe wrap a cutback that doesn’t take nine minutes. Here’s some handy advice for transitioning from that big log to a rip stick.

The key is to move down gradually. It’s a slow process, but hey, it’s still surfing, not a Russian work camp. Photo: Courtesy of Del Mar Surf Camp/Flickr

It’s possible that the act of surfing the shortboard itself isn’t the trickiest part of this transition. But you can’t ride one unless you can get actually get out there and catch waves on it.

“Going from a longboard to a shortboard is ridiculously hard. People think they’re going to just jump to a shortboard,” Christian Marcher, coach and owner of Progressive Surf Academy in San Diego County, California, tells GrindTV. “For adults, they’re probably riding a big, fat, 10-foot longboard. What I do with my students is progress them down, so the first thing we do is let them play around on a 9’0″ board and then maybe a beefy 7’8″ fun shape.”

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Marcher was a pro surfer from Florida and lived in Hawaii before settling in Southern California, where he shares his experience with clients. Progressive Surf Academy has every kind of board for them to ride.

Every board has its day. Photo: Courtesy of Palbritton/Flickr

“I tell people that they really need four basic boards: a longboard, a mid-length, a shortboard and a fish,” Marcher shares.

If all you’ve ever ridden is that big tank you picked up used at a yard sale, let’s go over that real quick.

Longboard: The first widely produced surfboards in the 1960s were longboards. They were simply called “surfboards” until the famous Shortboard Revolution of the ’70s whittled boards down for high performance. But longboards made a comeback in the ’80s (and are enjoying another today), and besides modern weights and fin setups, they’re pretty similar to what was being produced 50 years ago.

Running about 8 feet or bigger, they are generally used by experienced surfers in small waves, and whether they have a soft foam or hard fiberglass top, they are also the go-to board for beginners.

Mid-length: “Mid-length” is another (and somewhat nicer) way of saying “fun shape.” It comprises boards in the 7- and 8-foot range. While they’re similar in size, fun shapes are made for beginners and mid-lengths are more progressive shapes for experienced surfers looking for a different type of ride.

Shortboard: Shortboards are designed for progressive riding, usually 5’5″ to 6’5″ (bigger or smaller, depending on the size of the surfer and the size of the waves) and lighter than longboards and mid-lengths. They’re commonly set up as thrusters or quads.

Fish: The fish was developed in the 1970s, but came back in a big way in the ’90s, ridden a few inches shorter than a surfer’s shortboard. Common traits are the wide point of the board being forward, added width and thickness and a swallowtail. Today, classic fish (commonly twin-fins) are ridden to make speed in small waves or for a looser, retro style of surfing.

The key to going from a longboard to a shortboard is slowly going through a progression of less length and foam. Photo: Courtesy of Elkhiki/Flickr

“You can’t rush it. It’s a slow process,” says Marcher. “But I have some students who come out two to three times a week and I eventually get them down to a shortboard.”

While getting a smaller board out to the lineup may actually be easier as you learn to duck-dive, catching waves will be the challenge. Less board means less paddle speed, which means you won’t catch the wave as early. Now you’re trying to pop up on a much steeper, more difficult part of the wave.

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The best way to do that is by doing it — over and over. If you have the opportunity, scale down 1 foot at a time. Most surf shops have used boards. You could realistically keep selling boards and buying used ones until you arrive at the size you want. You can also hold onto the longer boards and build your quiver.

As you progress, you may seek different waves. The slow, mushy rollers you may have learned to ride a longboard on will feel much slower on a shortboard, and that’s if you can catch them at all.

Somewhere on the road from longboard to shortboard, you may search for different waves. This one would be nice. Photo: Courtesy of Paraisopics/Flickr

It will be a challenge. It may be frustrating, and even intimidating, but you may start looking for waves that break harder. That means finding spots and surfing days that aren’t necessarily bigger, but steeper. It also means you may find yourself among a pack of rippers, so be conscious and give them room.

And remember, a board that looks cool on your roof rack or in the back of your truck may not catch waves. Whatever you see the best surfers riding, you want something thicker and wider. Let them have that Mila Kunis of a surfboard. You stick to your Peter Griffin.