Getting the right board for your skill level and type of surfing you want to do makes all the difference. Choosing a surfing sup takes some research and trial and error. Read on to hopefully save you some time in finding the right board.

There’s 2 solutions to this problem –

1. Learn how to balance using in rough water. See my last post – 5 Tips for Better Balance on a SUP
2. Get a longer/wider board.
*Fin selection can also affect balance

How do beginning paddler surfers end up with short boards?

1. Those new to surfing a SUP sometimes think it’s cool to have a short board so they can rip it up on waves.
2. Or a less skilled paddler went to a shop which not knowing his/her ability, recommended a short board.

Long board (small waves) vs Short board (bigger waves)..

Traditionally, regular (non sup) surfers carry two boards with them. A longboard for small waves and a short board for big waves.  On small days (waist to chest high) they’d use their long board.

Generally, longer is faster. Which is why we prefer to race a 14′ board vs a 11′ board. Smaller waves typically have less power than bigger waves so you need a faster board to get enough hull speed to drop in (catch) a wave to successfully surf it. And sometimes larger waves may have current or wind going against thus slowing the waves down. They may look bigger but will be harder to catch. Again a long board will get you better results.

This was the case last weekend, the marine forecast called for a 10′ west swell. So everyone showed up with their short boards. But the waves were chest high and ‘soft’ or had less power than we’d hoped for. So those on short boards were really struggling to catch waves, whereas I was catching more waves resulting in long rides using my faster 14′ downwind board.

For larger or steep fast moving waves, a shorter board is preferred. But good surfers can rip using a short board on small waves, so there are exceptions which usually come with more time on the water.

“I was told my board isn’t for surfing”
Beware of board manufacturer marketing – Often I hear ‘I just bought at surfing sup’ or ‘that board isn’t good for surfing.’  Truth is, all boards surf. It’s a matter of what surfing means to you. If you want to do be Laird Hamilton or Kai Lenny and rip 360’s on head high sets, then you need a short board.

But if you’re not interested in 360’s and just want nice easy rides down a wave face or straight towards the beach then you’ll be fine on a 10′ or longer surf style /all rounder or displacement nose board. I surf a 14′ and 18′ all the time. In time if you work at it, you can learn to surf your 11′-6″ board like a short board. I’ve surfed 12-6 displacement boards, 14′ race boards and touring boards all with good results. And when the surf gets too small to surf, you can use that board to tour around or find waves further from the parking lot and sometimes get it all to yourself!

Yesterday I got a 2 minute ride on my Imagine Connector 14′ which started with a chest high peeler. This ‘downwind’ board has enough nose rocker than I rarely pearl (nose digs in) and can actually do some great mellow turns on wave faces. The 18′ just goes straight but surfs everything you can’t catch on the 8′ or 14′ board. Note – Experienced surfers can pull 360’s with longer sups. But this blog post is intended for beginners in the surf. 

In Summary…

If you want to do this..  
Kai Lenny (

Get a (6′-9′) ‘short’ surf SUP.  But you might want to start out on a longer board (10′-12′) first to get your basic skills down. Learning to surf on a short sup can be frustrating and may take you longer to get to where you want to be.  Once you get there, use the longer sup for small wave days where an 8′ board won’t catch a wave.

If you would rather be doing this, then start with a 10′ to 14′ long board.
John Kapatocky on right, father of SUP,

Safety tip for beginner surfers –

Stay away from other surfers. Unless you can turn your board quickly with full control then you need your own wave away from others so you don’t run into them. In wipe-outs, a 12′ board becomes 24′ with fully extended leash out of control while you’re getting worked by the whitewater. If others are around, don’t take a wave with others paddling out towards you unless you know you can 100% stay clear of them.

Learn Surfer’s Etiquette

to help keep you and others safe (collisions can get pretty gnarly).

Order Surf Survival, a great book on surfing safer and smarter.   

Always wear your leash!

Wanna surf better? Consider taking a lesson. Whether in Maui, southern California, the UK or elsewhere, a reputable SUP surf (or traditional surf) instructor can save you tons of time figuring it out.  If in the Pacific Northwest, I teach SUP surfing as 1 day courses and as 2 and 4 day Surf Camps.

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle – Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips