Everything You Need To Know About Surfing Small Waves

The Truth About Surfing Small Waves 

Let’s face it — surfing small waves is inevitable if you’re a surfer. 

As much as you’d like your local surf spots to be firing all the time, they don’t. In fact, most surf destinations across the United States only receive a couple of big swells a year. This leaves you with endless days of surfing small waves … I think it’s time to plan a surf trip to Indo.

Today, I’m going to discuss how to master the art of surfing small waves when you can’t expect a large swell to roll in. This article will touch upon everything from the best small wave surfboards to small wave surfing techniques. Before I go on, please remember this: surfing small waves can be just as fun as surfing big waves, you just need the right mindset and equipment.

Below, I will walk you through the step-by-step process you’ll want to follow to have a blast surfing small waves regardless of where you live.

small wave mini longboard

Step 1: Choose The Right Surfboard

Choosing the right surfboard when the surf conditions are small is mandatory for the success of your surf session. If you choose the wrong surfboard before paddling out on a small day, you probably won’t end up catching many waves. And even worse, you will get super frustrated and ruin the wonderful day you were planning. Let’s try to avoid this at all costs

Whether you classify yourself as a shortboarder or a longboarder, the perfect small wave surfboard is waiting for you to enjoy on those small days.

square or squash surfboard tail

The Best Small Wave Shortboards

If longboards aren’t your cup of tea, you will have to find a shortboard that works well in small waves. Finding a small wave shortboard tends to be more difficult because shortboards aren’t usually designed for small waves. Generally, shortboards are designed to perform well when the waves are bigger and more powerful. So, the key to finding an ideal small wave shortboard is to understand what surfboard dimensions will work best in a weaker swell. FYI, small wave shortboards are also called “grovelers.” 

Groveler shortboards are 3-4 inches shorter, have 30-35 L (liters) of volume, and have a low rocker (flatter bottom curve). Shortboards with this range of volume and low rocker will help give you the paddle power/drive you need to make the most out of small waves. A wide nose and a chunkier tail will also help you generate speed when paddling and pumping down the line. 

isle longboards

Luckily for you, there are a plethora of small wave shortboards designed and shaped by some of the world’s greatest. Over the last decade, surfers (even pros) have taken an interest in surfing shorter and chunkier shortboards that give them the power and drive needed to rip tiny waves. When you go into your local surf shop, there will be no shortage of small shortboards (grovelers). If you’re still unsure, don’t be afraid to ask an employee to point you in the right direction.

small wave longboard

The Best Small Wave Longboards

Longboards of all lengths were specifically designed for small waves. Ideally, you want to surf a longboard instead of a shortboard when the waves are small. Longboards excel in small waves because of their extra volume, length, and low rocker. 

Compared to shortboards, longboards are extremely stable, easy to ride, and great for learning the basic techniques of surfing. However, longboarding is not only for beginners. Many amazing surfers still enjoy riding longboards when the conditions ask for it. This allows them to enjoy surfing as much as possible. Do yourself a favor and get a longboard for the smaller days. You will not regret it. If a shiny new longboard is too expensive for your budget, get a foam board and have the time of your life.

Step 2: Learn How To Gain Speed

Small waves are hard to generate speed on with a shortboard. To effectively gain speed on a small wave with your shortboard, you will first need to paddle with a purpose. This means paddling into waves as hard as you can until you feel your board has caught the wave.

Once you feel that you’ve caught the wave, it’s important that you angle your board in the direction the wave is going to break to avoid losing speed. If you take off going straight toward the beach on a small wave, you will potentially lose all of your speed and ruin the wave. When you have successfully angled your surfboard and are standing up with the perfect surf stance, immediately start pumping with your legs as hard as you can. Pumping down the line will give you the speed you need to do maneuvers like turns, floaters, or possibly throw an air. 

How to gain speed on a wave with a shortboard:

  1. Paddle with a purpose 
  2. Angle your board in the direction the wave is going to break
  3. Stand up with the perfect surf stance
  4. Start pumping as hard as you can
longboards for small waves

Step 3: Be Patient 

If you want to have a memorable small wave surf session, patience will be your best friend. On those 1-2 or 2-3-foot days, there will be bigger sets. If you’re patient enough, you will be the one shredding every set wave. So please, hold off on trying to surf anything and everything that comes your way. Save your energy for the good waves. Paddling for every little wave that comes through will make you tired, and if you’re too tired, it will be more difficult for you to catch and shred the wave of the day.

Step 4: Have Fun

When you have the correct surfboard and learn the techniques of surfing small waves, you can enjoy the time of your life in the weaker swells. You will be surprised to find that some of the smaller days are the most fun. Get stoked and surf your heart out. Remember that the smaller days will be less crowded and will offer more waves for you to enjoy, making you forget about big surf altogether.

surfing small waves

Wrapping Up

Surfing small waves can still be super fun if you have the right board under your chest and know the proper small wave techniques. Small wave shortboards are usually 3-4 inches shorter, have 30-35L of volume, and feature a low rocker. There are plenty of options when it comes to finding a small wave shortboard online or at local surf shops. Longboards are the best surfboard type for surfing small waves because of their increased length, volume, and flat rockers. If you want to make the most out of smaller days at your favorite surf spot, a longboard is your best friend in the water.

funboards vs longboards
Posted in Surf News
Douglas Robichaud - Doug is a content writer at ISLE Surf & SUP who has been surfing and paddle boarding for over 10 years. With a degree in English/Journalism, Doug has been an outdoor adventure content writer for over four years. Since joining the ISLE team, he has become a paddle board expert in all topics ranging from products, basic tutorials, tips and tricks, SUP safety, and new trends.