Longboard surfing is an immensely popular surfing discipline that follows a different “rule set” to regular surfboarding. If you’re considering taking up the art of longboard surfing, this article provides some great tips for mastering this classic style.
Longboard surfing is the oldest form of surfing, and although it’s experienced several changes over the millennia, the “heart” is the same. Longboarding lacks the aerial displays of other surfing but requires excellent balance, patience, practice, and a healthy respect for the ocean.
Longboard surfboards often have a stigma of beginners’ boards; however, the unique discipline is immensely popular amongst new and experienced surfers alike. These boards allow you to surf in water other surfers can’t while looking elegant and stylish on the waves. Below we’ll look at how to perfect your techniques for longboard surfing to show short-boarders what it’s all about.
Table of Contents
What Is Longboard Surfing?
Although longboarding and regular surfing share many similarities, longboarding has a deep-set history and an entirely different “feel.” The movements are elegant, the pace is slow, the tricks involve less flipping and zigzagging around the wave and more fancy footwork, and the image is immaculate.
Longboard surfing (as the name implies) involves riding waves on a longer and (usually) wider surfboard than those used in competitions.
Longboards are surfboards over 8′, but most longboards start at 9′ and reach 12′. However, there are some 14′ boards. Longboards usually have rounded noses.
One of the best ways to explain longboard surfing to a newcomer is that it’s like dancing with the waves (as opposed to other surfing, which is like attacking the waves).
Unlike shortboard surfers, longboarders are at home in gentle swells (between 1 and 3′), in water that is ankle-deep to the swells at the back.
Why Would You Use A Longboard Surfboard?
Longboarding focuses on a sustained ride, gracefully gliding along the wave. At the same time, shorter surfboards (like thrusters and fish) are better suited to quick turns, higher speeds, flips, and other aerial maneuvers.
Thanks to their length, longboards are easier to paddle and balance on, making them ideal for beginner surfers trying to learn the tricks of the trade.
However, longboard surfing is not limited to beginners. Many riders who prefer the “soul surfing” experience stick with longboarding, which has its surfing subculture.
Longboards are also ideal for calm water conditions when the swell is too small for shorter boards.
How to Choose the Right Longboard Surfboard
The first step to becoming a longboard surfer is to select the correct board.
An important value when choosing a surfboard is its volume (measured in liters) which is a product of the board’s length, width, and height (i.e., if you filled up the board, how much liquid it could hold). Longboards are usually in the range of 50 to 100 L.
Aside from the physical dimensions, there are different longboard types on the market, each designed to meet a specific goal, and choosing can be tricky as they don’t perform in the same way.
The Different Longboard Surfboard Types
There are two main types of longboard surfboards, the nose rider/classic longboard and the performance longboard (there are also a couple of hybrid surfboards).
The type of longboard you choose depends on what you want to surf, the conditions you are most often faced with, your physical build, and your experience level.
Classic, Single Fin Longboards
These are the traditional longboards. They are ideal for calmer water, where the swell is small to average-sized. These boards are fantastic for all skill levels, and while you won’t perform any aerial maneuvers, you’ll cross-step, nose-ride, hang, and “dance” across the board.
They are incredibly stable and are the easiest boards to catch waves on, thanks to their rounded nose, wider bodies, flatter curves (rocker), rounded rails, and greater volume. The single-fin design is ideal for holding your course and “riding out” a wave.
These boards are also called ”noserider longboards,” thanks to the technique of walking to the front and standing on the surfboard’s nose.
Performance longboards differ from their traditional counterparts in their fin setup.
While traditional logs (longboards) have a single fin, performance longboards have a “thruster” setup where three fins are arranged in a triangle “pointing” to the rear of the board (two lateral fins and a central fin further back).
The thruster setup is the most commonly used fin arrangement because of its effectiveness and all-purpose use. These setups are ideal for maximizing balance, control, and speed.
Alternatively, performance longboards may have quad fins (two lateral fins on either side, one pair outside, the other slightly further back and inside) or a 2+1 setup (like a thruster, but the lateral fins are shorter).
These longboards are narrower than nose riders and have a sharper curve (rocker).
These boards are better suited to larger swells and steeper and faster waves thanks to their design. These boards cater to experienced surfers, as beginners will find them more challenging to ride.
A hybrid surfboard borrows elements from other boards. Some examples of hybrid longboards include:
The gun is a surfboard adaptation with a pointed nose and a narrower body than traditional longboards. Between 6 and 10′, these boards are for catching large waves (giving them the name “elephant gun” – the surfboard for hunting large waves).
These boards require more skill than a traditional longboard but are faster, more maneuverable, and work better in bigger water. Most surfers won’t fully appreciate a gun’s potential, as they were designed to face the biggest waves.
These boards are ideal for brave/crazy, experienced surfers who enjoy pushing themselves to the limit.
The funboard is a hybrid between a long and a shortboard. These boards have fantastic maneuverability, good balance and are easy to paddle.
They are between 6’5” and 8’5” (just big enough to be considered longboards). Most have a rounded nose, a wide body, rounded square tails, and a thruster fin setup. These boards are slightly wider than the “gun.”
Funboards are ideal for small to medium waves. Although they are tricker for beginners to master, they are significantly easier to learn on than regular shortboards. They work best for surfers who can catch and ride a wave.
Beginners should aim for an 8’2” to 8’5” board, while more experienced riders benefit from smaller boards.
These boards are usually better suited to larger waves than longboards.
Other Considerations When Choosing A Longboard
Ensuring your longboard is the correct fit is equally essential.
While wood was the original material for the longboards (and is still used), modern boards are made of various synthetic materials, including:
- Expanded polystyrene (EPS) and epoxy resin – lighter material that makes catching waves easier.
- Polyurethane (PU) and fiberglass with a polyester resin – slightly heavier material making them slightly more difficult to handle.
A more buoyant material makes it easier to learn to surf. While wood is the best (it has the least environmental impact), it’s usually expensive and not recommended for beginners.
Your Level Of Experience
While longer boards catch waves better, exceeding longboards are more difficult to control (like paddling through the whitewash and swells) and benefit more experienced longboard surfers.
The best boards for beginners are 9’ or 9’6” long and 23” wide, nose-rider longboards with a single fin. Try aiming for a 15 to 17-lb board. However, the longboard you should choose allows you to easily paddle out and catch a wave.
As your skill increases and you want to chase bigger waves, other shapes and lengths become more applicable.
Experienced riders benefit from boards 9’6″ upwards (ideally around 9’8″ or 9’10”). The longer board lets you get the most surfing out of smaller swells thanks to its improved buoyancy.
Essential Longboard Surfing Techniques
While longboard surfing lacks the aerial flips and high-speed maneuvers of shortboards, the style is not devoid of “fun,” in fact, there are several techniques that experienced longboarders perform while gliding gracefully along the wave.
Your creativity is the only limiting factor (except maybe for balance). While many popular techniques and maneuvers exist on a longboard, we’ll focus on some of the most commonly used ones.
Trimming On A Longboard
Trimming down the line is an integral technique that allows longboards to perform other advanced techniques. Trimming happens once you’ve caught the wave, popped up (standing), and now you’re moving down the line (riding across the wave face away from where the wave is breaking).
Trimming down the line allows surfers to ride a wave for as long as possible without nose-diving or going over the back of the wave. Trimming requires pressing down on the side of the board and producing a slow turn into or away from the wave (moving up or down the wave).
Tips For Effectively Trimming Down The Line
- When trimming, positioning is essential. Too far ahead of the breaking wave, you’ll ride on the shoulder (a low-power section). Too close, and the white water will catch you.
- The best position is slightly ahead of the white water, where the wave has enough power to push you along.
- The more you lean into the wave, the higher up you go. The goal is to stay above the wave’s midline.
- If you want to move down a wave, don’t try and step on that side of the board (the side furthest from the wave); instead, lean less on the side whose rail is in the wave (inside rail).
Cross-Stepping On A Longboard
Cross-stepping is another incredible technique that improves a longboard’s performance and opens up more advanced techniques.
Cross-stepping involves walking from the back to the front of your longboard (and back again). While standing, you bring your back foot in front and past your front foot, crossing your legs. Next, you’ll uncross your legs by bringing your back foot forward again.
Repeat this pattern until you reach your destination! When moving backward, you’ll take the front foot, move it behind the backfoot (crossing your legs), and repeat the steps.
Tips For Effectively Cross-Stepping
- Once you’re standing, keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight and upright.
- Ensure your weight is on the back leg, which keeps the nose up (prevent nose-diving).
- Keep your feet positioned on the centerline of the surfboard as much as possible.
- Match the size of your steps to the wave and how large your board is (so you don’t overbalance or nose-dive).
Nose-Riding On A Longboard
Nose-riding requires cross-stepping to the front of the longboard, where you’ll keep weight on the back foot to prevent a nose-dive, and surfing in this position.
Once you’re on the front of the board, you have the option of either:
- Hang five – a great option for beginners, you place one foot on the nose of the board so your five toes peek over the side.
- Hang ten – if you’re an experienced surfer, a hang ten is a step (literally) forward from a hang five, where you’ll stick both feet on the board’s nose and poke your toes over the front.
Tips For Effective Nose-Riding
- If you’re moving too fast, try stalling your longboard (stepping on the back of the board so the front lifts) to slow down, but be careful not to stall it completely.
- Once slow enough, position your board down the line of the wave face (getting the most distance out of the wave).
- Expect to move back and forth along your board often (practice cross-stepping!).
Drop-Knee Turns On A Longboard
One issue with longboards is that they are more difficult to turn than shorter surfboards. However, a drop-knee turn helps correct that.
By shifting the back foot backward and bending the back knee toward the board, longboarders push the rear of the board into the water, giving them a tighter turning circle.
Tips For Effective Drop-Knee Turns
- Positioning and stance are essential. Ensure your front foot is across the stinger (wood in the center of the board) while your back foot turns so the toes and heel are along the stinger.
- A wider stance is critical for effective weight shifting backward. Forward-facing hips are essential for this technique.
- Move your back foot before shifting your weight onto it, allowing you to increase your weight incrementally.
- You can lean backward to increase weight (best for beginners) or push down with your back foot.
- Leaning into the rail is a fundamental part of the turn; otherwise, you will stall the board.
Tandem Surfing On A Longboard
One of the best parts about longboarding is having enough space to bring a partner! Tandem surfing is an advanced technique that requires balance, coordination, and a great deal of skill.
Tandem surfing usually involves a male surfer who lifts a female partner onto his shoulders. The pair perform various acrobatic stunts while trying not to topple over.
The most important thing to remember about tandem surfing is that you shouldn’t try it if you’re a beginner. You or your partner could be severely injured during a fall.
The technique works best with a strong, fit male lifter and a light and acrobatic female partner. Tandem surfing requires the thickest, widest, and longest longboards to accommodate two people.
Longboard Surfing Etiquette
While longboard surfers are a different breed from “competitive” surfers, they also follow a “code of conduct” to ensure safety (and a good time).
- The number one rule in longboard surf etiquette is to be respectful. Even if you’re a new surfer/new to the area, if you treat others respectfully, they’ll (most often) offer it back.
- Once you paddle out to where other longboards are surfing, make sure you enter the lineup from the back. Surfers don’t like when others cut in front of them on a wave (who doesn’t get annoyed when they are cut off).
- Don’t drop in on someone else’s wave (that’s why there is a line). Unless you’re with friends and agreed upon sharing waves, don’t try and share, it’s dangerous, and surfers get angry.
- The person closest to the peak (where the waves start breaking) usually has the right of way, so let them take their turn, and they’ll let you take yours too.
- The best approach is to watch before heading out into the water what the other surfers do, and once you’re out with them, sit out of the surfing lineup for a bit and observe what they’re doing.
- Don’t go into the middle of the pack when paddling out; swim around the side or through a waveless channel to avoid injuries. If a surfer is approaching on a wave, paddle in the opposite direction to where they’re going.
Tips for Improving Your Longboard Surfing
While you learn more in practice than theory could ever teach, below are some useful tips to consider before heading out.
Observe The Surf Before Paddling Out
Whether you’re a grommet (young), kook/Barney (inexperienced), or an experienced surfer, you’ll hardly rush into the lineup as soon as you get to the beach.
Instead, stand on the beach, breathe, stretch, and observe what the swell is doing. How many sets (waves in a group), how frequent, where the surfers are grouped, where the reefs are, where the breaks are, etc.
For new and inexperienced surfers, standing watching for a few minutes can help you avoid many issues (like getting in another surfer’s way while paddling out).
Build On The Knowledge And Experience Of Other Longboard Surfers
The wonderful part about longboarding is that you won’t be the first to try it out there.
Longboarding has been around for thousands of years (and at least 100 in the Western context), so seek out experienced surfers and pester them with questions. If you have the capacity for it, try and find a surfing coach to train you in the ways of the waves.
A coach is a shortcut to learning the proper posture and technique for surfing a longboard. They can also teach you what to look out for (good and bad) when surfing, which part of what waves to surf, and what to do in a bad situation.
Join a group of longboard surfers who meet together regularly. While learning how to ride a log, you’ll also begin understanding the language used in surfing articles!
Pick Your Waves Carefully When Longboard Surfing
Some waves facilitate longboarding, while others cause plenty of issues.
Ideally, you want a gentle wave, with few other surfers on it, that carries for a long distance before breaking. Avoid those that break quickly and hard (dumpers).
The best waves for inexperienced longboarders break around 110 yards from the shore.
Other Keys To Mastering Longboard Surfing Techniques
While we’re at it, remember:
Your Stance And Position Are Essential
Contrary to what you might think, a wider stance does not mean better balance on a longboard. A wider stance equals less hip movement (essential for applying pressure to your board).
A smaller stance puts your weight in one area, making it easier to turn the board.
Where you stand on the board is as important as how you’re standing. Your proximity to the back of the longboard results in quicker turns (thanks to your weight making the board “dig in”).
Don’t Look At Your Longboard While Turning
If you’ve ever ridden a motor (or regular) bike, you’ll know you end up where you’re looking while turning. The same goes for turning when you turn on a longboard.
Don’t look down at your board! Look where you want to be on the wave.
Set Achievable Goals
Staying motivated is essential for learning new skills.
Most of us are motivated best when we set goals. Whether it’s learning a new maneuver in a certain time, being able to surf a particular type of wave, or entering a competition, set a reachable goal and work toward it.
However, don’t overestimate your abilities. It’s better to master a “basic” maneuver before moving on to more complicated things.
The three “Ps:”
- Practice – No one gets onto a board and is a master (unless maybe you can walk on water). The best only became that way after hours of practice. The key to practice is getting out on the water and not being afraid to try new things.
- Patience – Being patient with yourself and your shortcomings is essential. Mistakes will happen, so don’t get upset and quit.
- Perseverance – Never give up. While it might be tough, stick it out; longboarding is worth it!
Longboard Surfing Gear and Accessories
While all you need is the board for longboard surfing, several accessories add significant value to surfing and maintaining your equipment.
Longboard Surfboard Accessories
- Longboard Wax – waxing your board is essential to your performance. Without wax, you won’t stay on your board for long. While most wax is a mixture of beeswax and paraffin, some differences exist.
Cold water surfing requires a tacky wax, while warmer water needs a harder wax.
- Longboard leashes – a leash is essential for not losing your board and accidentally hurting other wave goers. When (not if) you bail, you and your board separate. However, thanks to a leash, the separation isn’t permanent.
Your leash should be the same length (or slightly longer) as your board. Beginners benefit from leashes up to 1’ longer than the board. 7mm leashes are a nice thickness.
- Fins – if your board doesn’t have fins, you’ll need to get some. Although the setup varies, most longboards have a single fin. Try choosing a fin the same length in inches as your board is in feet (for single fins).
- Longboard board bags – one downside is that longboards need a bigger bag. However, bags are critical for protecting your board from damage, dust, sunlight (UV), etc.
A good quality bag ensures your board stays in good condition for longer. Be certain it’s the correct size for your board when purchasing a bag.
- Ding tape/repair- damages are inevitable; however, they don’t need to spell the end of a session. Several products are great for temporarily fixing your board so you can get back out into the surf. However, severe damages require professional attention.
Surfer Accessories For Longboard Surfing
- Wetsuit – although spending the day in warm water is not an issue, cold water quickly puts a damper on surfing. A wetsuit makes all the difference by increasing your time in the water. Booties, gloves, and a hood are helpful when surfing in cold water.
How thick and what size depends on your body type, where you live, and your preferences.
- Body protector/rashguard – rashes and friction burns are not uncommon for those who spend the day on their boards but are a personal choice.
- Sunscreen – A given, use liberally and according to the correct SPF/UV protection
- Ear protection – Ear plugs are useful in protecting yourself from the wind and cold water, which can lead to “surfer’s ear” (where the ear canal narrows due to prolonged exposure).
Longboard Surfing Locations and Culture
Longboarding is popular globally.
While you can surf most small to medium waves, some areas lend themselves to longboarding thanks to the surf and the surf culture.
The table below examines some of the best places for longboarding.
|Australia||Coolangatta, The Gold Coast||Point breaks. Consistent waves. Some of the longest waves.|
|Bali||Medewi Beach||Great weather year-round. Consistent waves. Reef breaks. The longest wave in Bali.|
|Costa Rica||Playa Naranjo/Witch’s Rock||Excellent point break. Consistent swell. Relatively uncrowded.|
|East Java||The Point, Batu Karas||Reef breaks. Consistent swells. Long breaking waves.|
|Indonesia||Telo Island Lodge, Sumatra||Consistent waves. Reef break. Conveniently next to a lodge.|
|Maldives||Various Atolls||A wide selection of different Atolls and different conditions.|
|South Africa||Ansteys, Durban||Warmer water (compared to the rest of South Africa). Consistent waves.|
|Sri Lanka||Weligama||Less powerful swells than what Indonesia receives. 1.24 miles of shoreline.|
|Taiwan||Jialeshui||Beach break. Black sand (tourist attraction).|
|US||Cardiff, California||Consistent waves.|
|Oahu, Hawaii||Immense selection of waves for longboarding. Home to Waikiki.|
|First Point, Malibu, Los Angeles||Reef point. Three take-off zones.|
Longboarding Surf Culture
Longboarders are often called “soul surfers” thanks to their relaxed style, calm pace, and surfing enjoyment. Longboarders often risk being branded as “anti-establishment, counterculture, or hipsters” (even if the titles are completely incorrect).
While less fast-paced than shortboards, longboarders appreciate most swells and make the most of what the water is doing. Longboarders are often less characterized by the competitiveness shortboard surfing produces.
The history of longboard surfing is integral to its surf culture.
The History Of Longboarding
The history of longboarding is the history of surfing (the first types of surfboards were longboards).
Although the dates are heavily debated, longboarding originated in the Polynesian Islands sometime in the 12th Century (according to cave paintings), where it was mostly limited to the ruling class who would demonstrate their skills on the waves.
From these islands surfing spread to the Hawaiian Islands (sometime between 1000 and 1200 AD), soon becoming part of the culture and religion. While everyone participated, there were restrictions on board sizes and surfing locations.
Longer boards (called olo boards) were between 15 and 24′ and were used primarily by chiefs. Commoners used shorter boards (7 to 14′) known as “Alaia.”
These long, narrow boards required tremendous skill and were ideally suited for gentle waves with gradual slopes (“mushy waves”).
Skip forward a few thousand years, and surfing spread to the US (thanks to Duke Kahanamoku and several others). Surfing began growing in popularity during the early 20th Century, and longboards were at many Californian beaches.
By the 1950s, shorter boards began gaining popularity, but longboards remained thanks to their different style of wave sliding.
Although longboard surfing experienced significant changes since its Polynesian beginnings, the “heart” of the sport remains relatively the same, the reverence that the ancient surfers held for the ocean was a common thread that remains in surfing culture today.
Longboarding is the earliest form of surfing. From its roots, it involved a dance with the ocean, and today’s practitioners share the same reverence the founders had. A critical component of longboarding is selecting the correct type of board and surfing in the correct conditions.
Although easier than shortboard surfing, many high-level techniques require hours of practice to perfect.
The only way to master longboard surfing is to get out on the water, make mistakes, ask for help, and try again. With time you’ll master the basics, and eventually (after putting in the hard work), you’ll bring honor to the Hawaiian and Polynesian founders of longboarding.
Torsten Bird is a talented and adventurous waterman from Western Australia, passionate about surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, hydrofoiling, skimboarding, snowboarding and skateboarding. Torsten has spent countless hours mastering his skills and his dream is to one day represent Australia as an Olympic athlete. Follow Torsten’s adventures on Instagram.