How To Learn to Surf on a Shortboard: 10 Amazing Tips

When I first learned to surf, there weren’t very many surfboards to chose from.

Today, there are so many different brands & styles, with everything from short boards to long boards, designed for beginner surfers.

Every time I have a friend learning to surf and we go and look at rental boards, they always gravitate to the smaller boards and ask, “Can I just learn to surf on a short board?”

This post is a longer, more researched version of the answer I usually provide.

Learning to surf on a short board will be more challenging than learning to surf on a longboard because shortboards aren’t as stable. But learning can be made easier by picking a beginner friendly short board, focusing on skill development and ignoring people that don’t think you can do it!

Although some beginner surfers may find it easier to learn on a bigger board, there is no need to worry if you are learning to surf on a short board; it is not as difficult as some would have you think.

Keep reading for the 10 Amazing Tips for Learning to Surf on a Short Board.

1. How to Choose a Beginner Friendly Short Board

When I first started surfing, I bought an 8 foot long surfboard. I took that board everywhere, surfed in many different surf spots and learned all about surfing on that board. It was the only board that I had at the time and I still have it stored under my house today.

The recommendation to surf on a longer board is a dated philosophy that comes from a time when there wasn’t a lot of surfboard choice. In the 1990’s, short boards were narrower, thinner and had less volume than the boards today.

Surfboard design has a come a long way. Today, short boards are wider, thicker and have more volume, which provides more float and allows for faster paddling. There are many great beginner friendly short boards on the market today.

Consider the following tips when choosing a beginner friendly short board:

1. Don’t learn to surf on surfboards made for Professional Surfers

Professional surfers ride cool looking surfboards with radical airbrush art and sleek looking designs. But remember that you are trying to learn to surf, not trying to look cool. Most of the surfboards designed for professional/expert surfers are very finely tuned boards that are impossible to ride for someone learning to surf.

2. What is a Small Wave Shortboard?

Every short board is designed for a different type of wave. If you are learning to surf on a short board, you should chose a board that is designed for small waves.

Short boards that are designed for small waves will be faster when riding down the line and will help you get into waves easier, both of which will help when learning to surf.

3. How to Choose a Bigger Shortboard

Don’t be afraid to pick a longer, wider board than you think you need. There are many short boards offered in lengths between 6’4″ – 6’10” feet long that will have a volume in the 40-50 litre range, which will help while you are learning.

Go bigger than you think when you are starting out because it is still a short board at the end of the day and you want every extra advantage.

See the video below for a review of a short board inspired design that comes in a bigger template.

2. Don’t Listen to comments like, “You Can’t Learn Surfing on a Shortboard”

A common recommendation in the surfing world is for beginner surfers to learn on big, wide, stable surfboards because it is “easier”.

Because short boards are under 7 feet long, with a pointed nose, and are designed for performance based surfing, they are made to sound extremely difficult for beginners.

Today, many beginner surfers are discouraged from starting out on a smaller board because of the additional time it may take to stand up and catch a wave.

Some of the recommendations come from surf schools that want to help people catch waves and achieve success quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because surfing is a challenging sport and people are more likely to stick with it if they can see some success early.

That being said, all of the above philosophies ignore the fact that most young kids around the world learn to surf on body boards, which are just really small surf boards without fins.

In many third world countries, kids learn to surf on anything that floats, including broken surfboards left by travelling surfers.

Check out the following episode of Weird Waves on YouTube in Nigeria. Do you notice anyone learning on a long board?

3. Riding the Same Surfboard can Help Beginner Surfers Progress Quickly

There is something to be said for sticking with the same equipment day after day and session after session. Riding the same board has its advantages as surfers develop an intimate knowledge of their equipment and what it takes to make it work.

Because you are learning to surf and there are so many changing variables and different things to learn, don’t change your board. Over time, you will start to adjust your body and find the sweet spot of the board.

Twenty years ago, I brought a 6’8 Santa Cruz short board on a 3 month trip to Mexico and surfed it everyday. If I got a ding, I just patched it with a sun activated fiberglass repair kit (Surfco Quick Fix) and I was back in the ocean.

It’s funny because I didn’t even think about trying other boards. I just rode the board I had.

4. Beginner Surfers Should Surf a Lot

Surfing takes time to learn. The more you surf, the faster you will improve and the better you will get. Wave count, which is the number of waves you catch (or attempt to catch) in a session should be your number one goal when learning to surf.

Set a goal for the number of waves you want to catch (or attempt to catch) in a session and work towards that goal. Don’t worry about quality, focus on quantity. As long as you aren’t getting in the way of other surfers, don’t be discouraged by the number of times you fall or the waves you miss.

I have a little game I challenge myself with when I show up at the beach and the wave conditions are poor or I am lacking motivation.

I set a goal of how many waves I want to catch, or attempt to catch and then I work towards that goal without self judgement. If I set a goal of 20 waves, I will go out try and catch 20 waves, counting every wave attempted, whether I missed the wave, fell down or rode it successfully.

That way, as along as I hit my wave count, I have achieved success. It ends up turning a challenging session into a fun game.

5. Surf Training: 100 air squats, 100 Push ups, 100 Sit Ups Everyday

Learning to surf on a short board requires more strength, flexibility and endurance than a long board. Short boards are designed to help surfers catch waves right before they break and power and speed are a critical component to ensure success.

You will have to rely on superior fitness and an ability to paddle faster and get to your feet quicker in order to catch waves.

Riding a short board reduces the margin of error and you will need to rely on balance and coordination from strong legs, core and upper body.

A very simple exercise routine to improve overall strength is to complete the following everyday:

  • 100 push ups
  • 100 crunches
  • 100 body weight squats

Feel free to do more, add some cardio or modify as required but 100/100/100 should be the minimum exercise threshold everyday.

6. The Benefit of Surfing in All Conditions

We all dream about our best day surfing, which is usually a sunny day, with off shore breezes and perfect waves rolling into the beach. In reality, there are a lot of days that are windy, cold and have super small waves that are difficult to catch.

But when you are learning to surf, you should go out in all conditions as long as it is safe to do so. You should embrace the less desirable surfing conditions, because it is usually less crowded and you may get more opportunities to catch waves.

I have had some of the best sessions when you paddle out thinking that the conditions aren’t that great only to find out that the waves are better than expected.

Standing around on the beach with the rest of the surfers and waiting for the conditions to improve is a missed opportunity for you to improve!

7. Bodyboarding will Make Your Surfing Better

If you want to learn to surf on a short board, you should paddle, catch and ride waves in the prone position often. The prone position is lying on your board like body boarding.

This might seem like a funny suggestion because it makes sense that beginner surfers should be trying to stand up not practicing lying down.

Even riding waves while kneeling on your surfboard can be fun and will help you find the sweet spot on your surfboard, which is the ideal spot for efficient weight distribution.

The main purpose of catching waves in the prone position is to help inform how the surfboard performs, how the fins engage and how the board feels when it is fully up to speed.

8. Practicing the Surfing Pop Up

The pop up movement, which is the transition from lying down to standing up on your surfboard, is one of the most challenging movements in surfing.

The pop up movement on a short board is even more challenging because it needs to happen faster than on a long board. On a short board, waves are caught before they break which means the board will be descending (or starting to fall away) as you are getting to your feet.

An important tip is to practice the basic pop up movement in advance of arriving at the beach. The pop up can be practiced at home by removing the fins and placing your surfboard on a yoga mat or fitness mat (or a carpet) and practicing the transition from the prone position to standing up.

See the YouTube video below for tips on the short board pop up and how you can practice at home.

9. Practice Your Surfboard Paddling Technique

Learning to surf on a short board requires considerable paddling ability. Because short boards have less glide than long boards, surfers need to use their arms to generate enough speed to catch waves.

Beginner surfers often underestimate the amount of paddling required during a typical surf session. Although strong paddling strokes are important at certain times, paddling efficiently is more important to ensure a sustainable level of effort.

I have certain mental reminders that I utilize to help myself stay more streamlined and efficient when I am paddling my surfboard. I’ll sometimes remind myself to have “quiet hands” when I am getting tired so that I don’t slap the water every time by hand breaks the surface of the water.

Watch the YouTube Video below to avoid common paddling technique mistakes.

10. Surfing & Yoga – A Match Made in Heaven

If you want to learn to surf on a short board, do more Yoga! It’s not that yoga is a required activity if you want to be a competent surfer but it sure helps.

Yoga is so good for developing strength, balance and flexibility that the correlation between a consistent yoga practice and success when surfing is pretty astounding.

If you have ever done a sun salutation, which is a flow/series of movements, you have probably realized how similar it is to the surfing movements.

I realize that attending a yoga class can be a little intimidating and time consuming. I make excuses all the time for why I don’t go to yoga very often. No more excuses; yoga is available online for free!

The video below is one of my favourites for helping to keep limber between surf sessions.

Final Thoughts

I totally understand if you want to learn to surf on a short board. Most of my friends that came from other related board sports (ex. snowboarding/skateboarding) have no interest in learning on a long board.

They want to ride a small board because it is more similar to the size of boar they are comfortable with.

Whatever your reason, stay positive, stay committed and you will have success!

Also consider reading a related blog post, titled, Surfing is Hard to Learn: 11 Reasons Why


I am the person behind Surfers Footprint. Thank you for taking the time to read through the post! If you want to know more about our story, scroll down and click on ABOUT SURFERS FOOTPRINT at the bottom of the HomePage.

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