How to switch from a longboard to a shortboard
Depending on the swell type, Playa Guiones has many moods, and suits a wide variety of surfing ability. Consequently, it’s popular with both longboarders and shortboarders. Short boarding is a fast paced, more energetic style of surfing which allows for far greater speed and manoeuvrability. For beginners, the lack of volume makes a shortboard more difficult to paddle, ride, and control. In fact, other than carrying it, fitting it in your car, and duckdiving, just about every aspect of shortboarding is more difficult than longboarding. Therein, however, lies the rewards.
Longboarding is generally a slower, more relaxed style of surfing, and uses boards that are much more forgiving than shortboards. This is precisely why they are the weapon of choice for beginners. They are also easier, and much faster to paddle, which translates to less physical effort when catching waves. However, longboards are awkward, heavy, practically impossible to duckdive, harder to surf in bigger, faster waves, and much tougher to turn.
When all is said and done, unless you are a complete beginner, and have to ride a longboard out of necessity, then the list of pros and cons of shortboarding vs longboarding is long, and above all, entirely subjective.
That said, one of the most frequently asked questions, is what it takes to transition from a longboard to a shortboard, particularly from beginners looking to turn tighter, drop in deeper, and generally take their surfing up a notch. The answer is as simple as it is complex: practice!
Going from a shortboard to a longboard can be a tricky, complex process which can only be acheived over time. First, ask yourself the following questions. If the answer is no, keep surfing your longboard until the answer becomes yes.
Can you take off and find a line? If your skillset extends only to riding straight handers directly to the sand, then you still have work to do.
Can you catch green waves? This is essential. If you can’t do this on a longboard then you’re not ready for the switch.
Can take-off at an angle? If you can’t enter a wave at a 45-degree angle, continue practicing with the longboard.
If the answer to these is yes, and you think you’re ready to take your surfing to the next level, here are some useful, practical tips to help you progress.
If you think transitioning from an 11 foot foam board to a 5’8 glass slipper in a single session will be easy, you’re in for a surprise. In practice, it might take a while to feel comfortable riding a board even a few inches shorter. However, this slow, gradual transition is likely the optimum method from transitioning from a longboard to a shortboard. The best advice is to try shaving off 3-5 inches at a time. If you’re in the water with good friends, one of whom is riding a shorter board you think may suit your ability, ask to borrow it. Alternatively, hit up the local surf shops for rentals and ride as many boards as you can. Remember that just because a board may look suitable does’nt mean it is. Take your time sizing down, and ride your chosen board for a few sessions to see how it feels under your feet, and crucially, when taking off.
Wait for good waves
Downsizing your surfboard often means losing buoyancy, which means you’ll lose the increased momentum of a longboard. Unless you’re an expert at pumping the board for speed, and know precisely how to stay in the pocket of the wave, any short board you ride will require more wave power than you’re familiar with. You may be able to take off in knee high, gutless surf, however you probably won’t get too far before you lose speed, sink, and watch the wave break ahead of you. This doesn’t mean the waves have to be big. Even small days at Playa Guiones can carry enough power to keep you moving, particularly at low tide. However, if you’re uncomfortable with waves with this type of speed, and lack the skill in trying ride them the best advice is to stick with the longboard until you progress.
Take off positioning
Again this comes down to buoyancy, and the simple fact that a 25 liter short board contains significantly less of it than a 70 liter longboard. This means more physical effort to acheive a slower paddling speed than on a longboard, which is a huge factor when taking off on a wave. Reduced paddling power means you’ll have to pay much more attention to both your position in the line up, and where the incoming waves are likely to break. If you’re too far out, you’ll miss a wave that you would have caught on your longboard with ease. The same applies if you’re too far along the shoulder. Taking off on a wave is about gravity, and thus, speed. Riding a shortboard reduces your options for when, where, and which part of the wave face you can take off from. In this respect, longboards are much more forgiving, which is precisely why riding a shortboard is a sure way to make you a more attentive and ultimately, much more skilled surfer.
The first thing you’ll notice on your shorter board is that your balance has shifted significantly, and that’s before you even stand up. The increased surface are of a longboard means seating position options are a lot more varied. On a shortboard, you either sit in the middle, with your spine and torso in line with the stringer or you fall off. This will improve with time. To speed things along, repeat the act of paddling and then sitting up straight.
When you start dropping into waves, you’ll again find the balance dynamic has shifted significantly. Shortboards may be easy to carry and easier to duck dive, but when you’re up and riding you may have to totally rethink what you know about foot position, hip and shoulder position, and bent knees, and that’s jsut going in a straight line. At this stage, expect to wipe out frequently. When carving turns, cutbacks, and re-entries begin to enter your repertoire, hopefully you’ll have prgressed enough to understand the balance basics necessary to sustain your ride.
There’s a reason shortboards have a far more pronounced rocker area. They need it to prevent the lack of front end volume resulting in a nose dive. That said, avoiding a nose dive still requires conscious input from the rider, particulary in the beginning stages. You may notice that the position short board riders adopt when paddling into a wave involves an arched back, with head and neck facing upwards. They’re doing this to place as much weight at the back of the board as possible. The more weight that is on the front, the greater the chance of nose diving. Move this weight down the board, and the chances of burying your nose during take off is greatly reduced. Paddle for the wave as soon as you see it approaching, and try to get to your feet while keeping your board as horizontal as possible.
Keep at it
At first, you may feel like you’re trying to ride an ironing board. This is where sustained practice comes in. Don’t be put off by this. It will get easier, and begin to feel more natural over time. Stay motivated by surfing with friends, preferably those that are better than you, and push you to charge harder.
In conclusion, if you have the time, confidence, patience, and desire to ride faster, more powerful waves then a shortboard is the way to go. If you can’t decide, there’s zero reason that you can’t do both.