How to step it up: Sizing up for winter

September 23, 2014

If global warming is sending us these late season southern hemi hurricane swells, at least there's finally a benefit from climate change. Cabo just got SLAMMED with new hurricane swell. We got the best run of legit I've seen in San Diego in years. My own home break broke bigger than I'd ever seen it... and I've been surfing that wave for over 15 years. 

So what happens when you're undergunned on the swell of the season? It's time to find a bigger board. Here's why...

As wave energy moves through the water, towards land, the larger the energy, the faster it moves. If you don't have enough board, the wave will either pass you by without asking if you need a lift, or, it'll steamroll you regardless of how hard you scratch for it. If you can't match the speed of the wave well enough to gain quick forward momentum down the face, you'll get caught up in the lip and get a free trip to Davey Jones' locker.

How does a bigger board help you catch bigger waves? Planing speed. A larger board lifts you up and out of the water improving your paddle speed. To add, laying higher reduces the range of motion needed to get a good paddle stroke. Less work, more plane, faster paddling. More paddle speed means you can improve your forward momentum which will place you in the sweet spot of the wave when that bomb set marches in from the horizon.

Cool... well what's the right size board for you? Let's cover this along the spectrum of surfing skill: Beginner, intermediate, advanced. Let's also address the right kind of wave to gun for for each skill level.


  • If you're just getting through the opening stages of surfing and the summer waves have left you feeling strong in the shoulders and easy breezy on your feet, you're ready to trim a little volume off that longboard or funboard and start your journey into intermediate surfing. 
  • The goal behind the beginner step-up - You're actually downsizing in this case. The beginner step-up is is the only board where you'll go shorter than what you're used to riding. Sure, you can still find a way to tackle a few beasts on a longboard, but, let's upgrade your surfing and start working in some full turns. To do this, you'll need a shorter board arc to fit into the face of the wave. Sometimes winter waves are a bit too steep for a full length longboard. A long flat nose can get hung up in a fast moving wave. You're going to want to slightly increase your rocker, pull the nose in, and bring your volume in under your chest.

The perfect beginner step-up: 6'10-7'2 Poacher

  • Why? If you're coming down from a longboard (8-9'6ft) you're not ready to sit nipple deep in the lineup; you'll go nowhere with your paddling if you go pick a big name surfer model surfboard off the rack. Take what you're used to and just trim it up a bit. If you're 140-175lbs, go with the 6'10. If you're above that, go with the 7'2. The Poacher has a front end that's user friendly and carries a ton of handy volume under your chest. Once you're up and going, the tail is a pulled in rounded pin and let's you really grip and rip beefy turns you wouldn't expect an egg to lay down. The rocker is light but is a constant clean curve which lets you glide over the water with ease while allowing for some sketchy drops when the waves pick up.


    Intermediate Surfers

    • You're in the deep end of the pool now, You've been laying down clean figure eights, committed top and bottom turns and you're working on your vertical game. Chances are, your daily go-to is either a fuller volume shortboard or a zippy little fish or stubbie shape of some sort. You've already got the day to day covered, but you're ready to start charging waves you used to avoid like the plague. Your goal this winter... your first barrel. 

    • The right board for this task is going to be a slightly leaner, stretched version of what you already like with a little touch of extra flip in the nose and tail. A little more rocker allows a longer board to fit into the power pocket of the wave and keeps you from digging a nose rail on a hairy drop. 

    The perfect step-up for the intermediate surfer: 6'4 - 7'6 Jack

    • It all depends on your height and weight. Generally, size up 4-12 inches over your height; 4-6" if you're a lean machine; 6-12" if you're a beefcake, or eating too much cake for that matter. For example. I'm an athletic 5'11 215... I think I drank too much milk as a kid. I'm on the better end of intermediate surfing. I ride a beefed up 6'0 X 20 1/2 X 2 3/4 custom jack. If I built a perfect step-up. I'd take my same shape, and stretch it out. 6'6 X 19 3/4 X 2 1/2. That'd be my board for a 7ft+ day. However, a guy that's the same size as me on the lesser end of intermediate, they'd ride something closer to 6'8-7ft. Somebody about mid-intermediate level at 5'8 150lbs would typically ride a 5'9"- 5'11" shortboard or a 5'4"-5'6" fish. Their step-up would be 6'0"-6'5" depending on the conditions.


    Advanced Surfers...... you already know what you want. CUSTOM. 

    Your goal with a step up is to obliterate anything above head high with so much spray it's almost annoying to other surfers. Once it hits double overhead, you're barrel hunting for hours on end. A step up is different than a gun; you're just looking for that extra bit of board to handle blistering highlines, giant roundhouse cutbacks and most of all, a roll in ---bottom turn --- speed check ---hand drag ---piiiiittted. YEW! A little extra board is going to lengthen your turns, cut through the bumps and give you heaps of speed once you're locked in on a drainer.

    • Sizing: 1-3 ft overhead: add 2-4 inches to your shortboard, reduce your width by 1/8-1/4 inches and thickness by 1/16-1/8". You're a strong paddler so you're just stretching out your volume with a touch more float. You're not looking for too much lift, you want your rails nice and low for quick response.

    • 3ft-double overhead: 6-8 inches over your shortboard, add at least a 1/2 inch in width and 1/8 inch, this wave is stupid fast, the extra float is going to get you up to speed, you're gonna need it!

    Final Notes

    These measurements are based on general suggestions and typical boards that are ridden for the array of skill levels. You may ride something completely different. For step-ups, you can swap "above shortboard length" for "your height" and adjust based on your body type. 

    Once you hit the intermediate level, your surfing is going to progress the best by getting boards specifically built for you with the expertise of a veteran shaper. Repeat customers are generous with their input allowing the shaper to make adjustments and fine tune their ability to size customers up appropriately. 

    Shoot us a call at the shop if you'd like to talk surfboards, I'll go aaaall day! 858-693-3692

    That said, Bill Minard is a frickin' genie. It will be your magic carpet.

    ...Come rub the lamp...


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