This story was originally published on SUP magazine. Words by Jack Haworth.
It’s a fact: Downsizing your board can take your SUP surfing to the next level.
That said, a downgraded volume does not equal upgraded skills. Learning to surf well on a smaller board is a process with great wipeouts and better rewards. Because a few tips can go a long way, here’s some advice for taking on some of the major challenges to riding a slimmer sled.
Getting through whitewater
Before you can even worry about catching and riding waves, you need to be able to get through them. Paddling out through whitewater is easier said than done, especially on a smaller board.
The first step is to give yourself a solid base. When paddling out, you’ll want to stagger your feet in a position that’s a combination of your surf stance and your parallel or ski stance. This position will give you stability not only side to side, but also front and back.
If the whitewater coming toward you is under head-high, your best option is to paddle through it. When the whitewater is nearing your board, switch to your regular surf stance, shift your weight back to elevate the nose and take a few hard strokes. Stay low with your knees bent and keep the nose perpendicular to the whitewater. As your board rides up and over the whitewater, take another hard stroke to brace through the turbulence on the backside of the wave.
If the waves or whitewater are taller than you, you’ll need to shoot the board up and over the whitewater while simultaneously falling back into the water. This is done by shifting your weight to the tail and then kicking the board up ahead of you just prior to the whitewater hitting the nose. Focus on elevating the nose so it goes over the whitewash and do your best to sink deep and away from your board as you fall gracefully into the trough ahead of the wave.
These maneuvers don’t come overnight. Start practicing these techniques in smaller surf before using them in waves of greater consequence.
Maintaining your balance in the lineup and choosing the right waves is arguably the most difficult part of riding a low-volume board. While the board sinking in the water feels unnatural at first, eventually you will come to find it makes for a smoother experience.
The key is to relax and stay loose while maintaining even weight distribution to prevent any side of the board from popping up. Keeping momentum by continuously paddling is also a helpful. Your paddle is your third leg, so to speak, and using it constantly to brace is also key for riding low-volume.
When selecting waves, remember that just like in traditional surfing, a shorter board needs a steeper face. Waves you caught on a bigger board will be much tougher to paddle into, a common frustration when you’re first starting out. Smaller boards call for more-precise positioning and wave selection, so instead of going frantic for every wave, be patient, selective and focus on putting yourself in the perfect spot.
While riding shorter boards is undoubtedly more work, you’ll find it can be well worth it once you start catching waves.
When a wave is approaching, get yourself in position and pay attention to the nose of your board. As with riding bigger boards, the threat of digging your nose in and pearling requires careful attention, but if you’re too far back on your board, the wave can pass underneath you. Best to err on the side of not pearling, and with a smaller board you can work yourself into a wave by pumping your front foot to the rhythm of solid strokes for added speed.
Once in the wave, you’ll feel the board is much looser and sensitive on the rails. Where a longboard SUP turns with a flatter base and pivots on the fin, a smaller board requires weight shifted over the rail and driving into turns with pressure on your back foot. Keep your knees bent to use the energy from the coiled stance to extend through turns and practice shifting from your heels to the balls of your feet to get the board on rail.
The golden rule here is to keep practicing. Keep your expectations in check and remember the first few times are likely to be challenging. Once it clicks, whole new possibilities will open up and your abilities (and stoke level) will grow exponentially.
See you in the lineup.
More from SUP Magazine
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!