Common surf skate mistakes and how to fix them
By: Richard Doobinson
I used to think surf skates were useless. A gimmick. A fad. Whatever you want to call it. Another annoying craft kids could use in their quest for skatepark domination.
But then something changed.
Surf skate manufacturers YOW, Carver and Smoothstar started collaborating with professional surfers like Gabrial Medina, Taylor Knox and Felipe Toledo who were demonstrating the benefits of training surfing on land. Meanwhile, influential online surf coaches including Kale Brock, Cris Mills and Clayton Nienaber released videos about how surf skates could actually improve your surfing.
I took a long, hard look in the mirror.
Looking myself in the eyes, I lamented, “Rich, don’t let yourself be swayed by flimsy marketing ploys and product collaborations. Besides, How To Rip were probably endorsed to make that YouTube video. The Broc would never stoop that low, would he?”
It was around that time that my girlfriend insisted we buy a surf skate. I protested, naturally, told her I’d never do such a thing. And after much discussion, we compromised and bought a surf skate.
Why have surf skates become so popular?
Let’s rewind a second and talk about why surf skates exist in the first place.
When Californian surfers Neil Carver and Greg Falk grew tired of having no waves to surf during the summer, they went about designing a one-of-a-kind skateboard truck that would accurately recreate the mechanics and feel of surfing on land. After experimenting with countless designs and prototypes, Neil and Greg created the first fully-functional surf skate truck and eventually founded Carver Skateboards in 1996.
Numerous competitors have spawned since, with the likes of YOW, SwellTech, Curfboard and Slide entering the market with their own version of the surf skate truck.
If nothing else, this rapid growth suggests surf skates are in high demand. But why?
The answer lies in the nature of surfing itself—it is without a doubt one of the most difficult sports to learn. That’s because to get better at any sport, we need to develop specific motor patterns through repetition.
The problem with surfing is we don’t get many opportunities to repeat. In an ideal scenario, you might spend eight seconds actually riding a wave. If you’re in the water for two hours and you catch 10 waves (well done), that gives you just 120 seconds of wave-riding goodness.
Surf skates, then, allow you to recreate movement patterns on land, refine them gradually and assign them to muscle memory. When you enter the water, the mechanics will feel more familiar and you’ll surf better. That’s the idea.
This is why you might destroy your surfing by your surf skate practice
The key thing to remember when practising on your surf skate is that you’re developing muscle memory through the repetition of movement patterns. Whenever you step onto your surf skate, every movement you make is an attempt at recreating specific surfing motions. Thus, It suffices to say, bad habits formed on your surf skate result in bad habits in the water.
While observing beginner surf-skaters from the sidelines of my local skatepark, I’ve witnessed countless mistakes being made. Because bad habits are so difficult to undo, it’s best to correct these errors as quickly as possible. I mean, surfing’s hard enough as it is without counter-intuitive surf skating slowing you down.
Mistake #1: Incorrect speed-generation technique
By far the most common mistake I’ve seen is incorrect speed generation. This is bad for a number of reasons. Not only does it look horrible but you’re also spending hours refining a technique that’ll be of no use to you in the water. Let’s fix that.
We’ll call the incorrect technique the “poo-man wiggle,” because that’s exactly how it looks; arms extended to the sides, knees pointed outwards, propelled by a rigid, lateral wiggle of the hips. This is an ineffective way of making speed and won’t translate to surfing.
When you make speed on a wave, you’re working with the physics of a moving surface and your body needs to respond accordingly. Speed generation on a wave is a sequence of movements that add weight to the surfboard when travelling down the face and release weight while travelling upward towards the lip.
Your shoulders and arms should face forwards and your knees should be bent with the back knee facing inward. In this position, you’re better able to compress and extend while maintaining your centre of gravity over the board.
Mistake #2: Poor foot position
Surfing is nuanced. The variability of the waves makes it extremely difficult for the body to print tried-and-tested motor patterns. Think about putting a key in the ignition of your car, for example. You’re able to place a thin piece of metal into a 3mm slot without looking. That’s muscle memory in full force.
Now imagine trying to put that same key in a 3mm slot if it was in a different position each time…
When you’re practising movements on your surf skate, you need to replicate the act of riding a wave as closely as possible. One of the things you can recreate on your surf skate is your foot position, which will help you translate the skills you learn more effectively to the water.
Before you buy a surf skate, make sure the length of the board is suitable for your height. As a general rule, taller surfers will need a longer surf skate than shorter surfers. The following table demonstrates the recommended surf skate length according to your height and weight:
|under 155cm||25kg – 55kg||under 30″|
|150cm – 170cm (5”0` – 5”7`)||40kg – 75kg||27 – 31”|
|160cm – 181cm (5”3` – 5”11`)||50kg – 85kg||30 – 32”|
|165cm – 187cm (5”4` – 6”2`)||60kg – 90kg||31”- 33”|
|175cm – 193cm (5″7` – 6”4`)||70kg – 100kg||32”- 35”|
|182cm – 203cm (6”0`- 6”8`)||85kg – 120kg||34”- 39”|
Once you’ve found the right surf skate for you, it’s time to perfect your foot placement. There are two common mistakes I’ve witnessed while silently spectating from the sidelines.
The most common mistake I see is skating with the front foot too far forward, way over the front truck. Too much pressure over the nose of the board causes it to tip over, especially when performing tight-radius turns. This is why it’s so important to buy a board that’s long enough for you, so you’re able to maintain your natural surfing stance without placing your front foot too far forward.
The second mistake I see is skating with the back foot too far forward. The back foot should be positioned right on the kicker, behind the rear truck. This provides significantly more control and enables you to push off harder with the back foot when pumping (generating speed).
Learn to surf skate at Surfana
Of course, surfing is always preferable to skating on dry land. However, there are inevitably days when the waves aren’t suitable for surfing. Because we’re committed to helping you improve, we’ve invested in a large selection of Slide surf skates so you can continue refining your surfing technique with guidance from our resident surf instructors.
Ready to learn to surf? Make sure you’ll join us in the water for a session! And if there are no waves, you might find yourself on a surf skate and practice your skills with our skilled teachers.