Shortboard designs are great to ride when the conditions are clean and they are what most surfers on the pro tour compete on. They are great for riding vertically, hitting the lip and pulling aerial maneuvers. They are the most common type of surfboard nowadays, but that doesn’t mean everyone should be riding them. There are a few characteristics that might make you think about leaving them to the pros.
Because of the large amount of rocker on a shortboard, they lose speed unless you are turning. They need to be ridden rail to rail, spending a lot of time in steeper “sweet spot” of the wave. They are also typically glassed thinner to allow for better performance which means they can ding easily. On a really big day at a good break you might just see a few of them wash up in two pieces. Shortboards are the best boards to ride for talented surfers in epic conditions, but if you are just starting, you might want to hold off for a bit until you get the hang of things a little more.
1. It Is 5ft+ & Pitching: Wave conditions are one of the best reasons to shortboard. The waves you have access to might be steep, fast and powerful. You might surf somewhere on the North Shore of Hawaii, at a local reef break or a A-frame. These sorts of waves work best with a board that is fast, maneuverable and that can make use of the pocket and critical zone of the wave. Because these waves are steep, you don't need a lot of paddle power to catch them and so a shorter board can suffice, but make sure you have plenty of rocker as flatter boards tend to pearl in these conditions. Though many types of boards like these conditions, the shortboard, with its curved rail outline, dramatic rocker and shorter length, can work wonders when dropping into a nice head high wave.
You might see some guys on bigger boards out there catching waves earlier, but they will probably be surfing more towards the shoulder of the wave and not making use of the the steep curl section which is where the majority of a waves power comes from. That steep section allows you to build potential energy which you then convert into kinetic energy. Or in non science terms, you turn height into speed. On a day when the waves pack a punch, make use of what nature offers by riding a board that can tap into that energy.
2. Barrels: Shortboards work well inside of barrels. Yes you can head dip on a longboard. Yes you can tuck in on a fish. Yes you can get shacked on a single fin. But the performance shortboard was born for the barrel. If you want to get deep, long barrels & make a home inside the green room, then riding a shortbaord would be a good decision.
3. Greater Diversity Of Maneuvers: Shortboarders have a versatile arsenal of tricks and riding styles. Some shortboarders like to bust airs above the wave. Others like to surf with power, digging deep into the wave and sending spray everywhere. Some shortboarders draw long smooth lines, doing figure eights while others do fast snaps and make quick pumps on the face of the wave.
A large part of the reason there are so many ways to ride shortboards has to do with their ability to function well on a large part of a wave's face. Every board works best on a certain part of the wave, but shortboards are quick enough to jet off to other sections before coming back to their ideal spot in the pocket. If you want to open yourself up to new surfing experiences, shortboarding is a great way to do so. You might have a lazy back-footed day where you cruise the wave, slowly pumping the line, but you can turn that around on the same board and surf off of your front foot, slapping the lip repeatedly.
Every surfboard offers a new style and the shortboard offers a few, so if you're looking to mix up your style, try one out.
4. Shortboarding Is Competitive: Some of us just like to compete. We like to find challenges that give us a way to push ourselves. By competing against worthy opponents, we can push ourselves further than we thought possible, reach new heights and experience a level of stoke and satisfaction only available through conquering a challenge.
Shortboarding is one part of surfing that really opens itself up to competition. As you paddle out you'll see other surfers drop buckets and float sections. You'll return the favor as they paddle back out and watching each other will inspire and drive each of you further. You might grab a burrito afterward or just talk in the lineup, giving them tips on where they can improve and getting the same. For some of us, there is no greater joy.
Of course it comes with frustration at points, but without the lows, would the high be as great? Look at Mick Fanning & Joel Parkinson, two great competitors fighting against each other since they were boys, but now, two of the best performance shortboarders in the world. For some of us, this makes sense, and that is part of why we shortboard.
5. Shortboards Are Lighter/Smaller/More Manageable: Made for high performance surfing, shortboards typically are built with lightness in mind. The board has less foam and less glass used in the construction process. By using less resin, the board is lighter which offers you a range of benefits.
In the water, you will be able to put yourself in some gnarly situations without worrying as much about your board. The fact that there is less foam means you can push the board under easier which will come in handy for duck diving set waves. Riding closeouts is also a lot of fun on a shortboard because whenever you're ready to get off the wave, all you have to do is grab rail and lean into the wave, you will pull the board through the water easily, which isn't an option on bigger board.
On land, the shortboard is easier to store, maneuver and transport. Its not hard to find a nice corner to lean 5 or 6 thrusters, but if you've ever had big boards, you know that sometimes its a project finding a place to keep them, especially if you live in a rented apartment.
Part of being smaller is that shortboards are less expensive. There is less material used and so there are lower costs to the shaper. You might pay $600 for a shortboard where as a longboard could cost $900 or more. That might not be a major factor, but it is something to keep in mind.
1. It Is 2ft & Rolling: Sometimes the waves you have access to are small, slow and long. If, most of your sessions happen at San O, Waikiki or at a small point break in Western Oz where the waves don't pack a punch, a shortboard might not be the best bet for you. The fact is, small waves like big boards. The extra flotation and paddle power that come with a big board make it easier to catch them, the extra weight helps you to carry your momentum as you glide and the lower rocker lets you plane even when going in a straight line. For small waves, shortboards aren't your best option, something thicker, wider and longer will work much better and there are a number of board options which provide that.
Of course, you will see people out on shortboards when its small. They will struggle to catch waves, once they're up they'll have to pump around furiously and rock back and forth to stay on the wave and they will most likely end up frustrated. Wouldn't you rather make the best use of the waves and have a good session on a slightly different board?
2. You Are Getting Old: There comes a time in every surfers life when the limitations of age force them to think about new board options. As you age, your metabolism slows down, you stay sore for days after a good surf and your range of motion decreases and you become more prone to injury. None of these things is a plus for high performance shortboarding.
Shortboards are maneuverable, but they require maneuverability from you. There is a lot of bending, squatting, leaning and explosive movements. As you get older this won't be as easy for you anymore. You will have to leave the shortboards, airs and hot surfing to the groms. Once you reach the age of 30 (varies for each surfer), it is a good idea to add a few inches to the length of your board every 5 years or so. That doesn't mean you can't still ride a maneuverable board, but a hybrid might be a better option.
Of course, some guys keep in shape and age well. In 2009 we saw Curren & Occy ripping J-Bay like it was 20 years ago. If you have kept in good shape, maintain muscle range through stretching or yoga and haven't put on too much weight, by all means keep your shortboard. Just keep in mind its not a bad thing to move up to a slightly bigger board, it just makes you distinguished.
3. Less Riding Time: Time on wave. That is what its all about. After loading everything into the car, scouring for parking, climbing into a damp wetsuit, paddling through a barrage of waves, waiting for sets, fighting for the peak and finally getting a wave... that wave better be good.
To go surfing, you have to make time by sacrificing from something else you could be doing. A surf session that lasts 2 hours could take up 4 hours of your day from door to door. In 2 hours a beginner to intermediate surfer might get 6-10 waves. At 5-10 seconds a pop you're looking at a minute of total surfing time for the 4 hours you could have been sleeping in or watching the game. You have to ask yourself if it was worth it.
Bigger boards catch waves easier, the rides are longer and it is even possible to share a wave as more of the face becomes rideable. Watch old footage of Malibu, they used to stack guys on those waves and everyone was having fun. On a bigger board with more paddle power and float, you'll end up making the same sacrifices to find surfing time, but you might spend 5-10 times a long actually surfing.
4. Shortboarders Can Get Aggressive: The word that we use is aggro. Shortboarders tend to fight over waves. They paddle battle, drop in and sometimes end up taking it to the beach. Its well known that surfing has a history spotted with localism, aggression and fights, but this tends to be isolated incidents at a few highly competitive spots. These also tend to be the spots that shortboarders like to surf. Not every spot is bad and not every surfer is like that, but it is common to see shortboarders dropping in on each other and paying less attention to the other surfers around them.
The source of this problem has to do with a few things. Shortboarding tends to be more high adrenaline and so it attracts a different crowd but most of the aggression in the water has to do with limited take off spots. Though the ocean is big, shortboarding spots have specific take off zones which can get pretty small. When you have a lot of people competing for a limited resource, it is only natural for tensions to rise. If you keep this in mind, you can keep a cool head, but some people just prefer to avoid it.
If you look at surfing as a time to relax and unwind, it tends to be easier to do so at a spot with less people and a more relaxed environment. The spots that open themselves up to these types of environments more often tend to have smaller waves and a larger take off area. Depending on what you're looking for, a relaxing day at a nice longboarding spot may be more your style, in which case the experience you desire might partially dictate the board you should ride.
5. Shortboards Ding/Break Easier: There is nothing you can do about it, a good high performance shortboard is light and it gets that way by using less material. The board has less foam and less glass used in the construction process. By using less resin, the board is lighter but at the same time it will ding more easily and can snap as well.
A board with a slighly thicker glass job will be more resistant to pressure dings, gashes and possible breaks, but this board will also be heavier. You might see a few options in your local surf shop, some which are so thin and light you can feel the glass job flex under a tight squeeze from your thumb and others which just feel a bit heftier. If you aren't yet going vertical, getting air or surfing in a way which necessitates the thinner board, it is not worth it to sacrifice that strength for a benefit you will not use.
Shortboarders can go through 2-3 boards per year and a pro might go through a dozen boards a month. For a surfer just getting into the sport, who might be a bit clumsier with the board on land and in water, a good way to protect against dings is by getting a sturdier, thicker board. You can always drop down once you are more comfortable.