How To Surf Small Waves

A few little adjustments will see you having fun in the micro surf.

People taking pictures of surfers.
WSL

It was Mark Richards who once said that the secret to riding small waves is all in your head. While things like the right equipment and the correct accessories do help, if you have the right mental approach then you’re already almost home.

Mentally, you need to condition yourself before a micro surf session, by telling yourself:

  1. You are going out there with one thing in mind and that is to go as fast as you can.
  2. You’re going to have fun.

Speed Is the Key

Small waves generally don’t give you much speed because there is less energy available. To get speed on a small wave you need to paddle as hard as you possibly can, take off sideways to avoid losing speed off the bottom and start pumping as hard as you can from the get-go. If you get speed from the take-off your wave is set. If you have speed you can do turns. Even if it is a close-out turn, one floater, a possible air or even a roundhouse cutback (very impressive on a small wave) you should be able to do a turn and throw some spray.

Equipment wise it is the old theory that more board is more functional in smaller surf. So you need more volume. A small-wave board needs to be wider and thicker, with plenty of foam under the chest and a nice chunky tail for getting over flat and dead sections. A wide nose will also help with paddling and catching and should help you generate that speed we spoke about in the beginning. A small wave board should be super-light as well so that you can keep moving rail-to-rail and keep the momentum up even when the wave is weak. There are many boards out there that are particularly made for tiny grovel surf. Channel Islands has a bunch of stock boards made for groveling, and the Firewire range also has some particular boards, like the Dominator and the Potato that are made specifically for tiny waves. Your local shaper will know exactly what to do if your request is to ‘get going in small waves.’

Deeper concaves under the tail will also help you to keep the board on the rail, and thus generating speed as you turn. If the waves are weak, then a four-fin set-up could also help to generate speed when there is none.

Tips for Serious Surfers

If you’re a serious surfer and really want to up your small-wave game, then there are a few other things that you could do. Firstly, you could remove your leash. A leash of any size creates drag, and you will feel the difference surfing without one. Mentally as well, it will make you feel unhindered (unleashed in fact).

If you’re going to surf for a quick small wave session, wear a thinner wet-suit or a short-armed suit. You’ll be a bit lighter and you will paddle that much faster. You can even venture out in board shorts, for a quick twenty-minute surf; you'll be loose and find yourself paddling faster just to keep warm.

Some people believe that polishing their boards will increase their speed. There is a new company called Nanotunes that sells what they call a ’DIY Board Tuning Kit’a basic polishing kit that, as the advert says, ‘creates a super slick hydrophobic (water repellent) coating which cures to your board to dramatically increase the performance of your board.’ 

Choose the Right Board

However, if you’re just in the water to cruise and have fun and get away from the stress of life, then change up your board, and take the longest, fattest board you have. That way you’ll catch all the waves. You won’t be able to turn on them, but you’ll still have fun.

Find the Steepest Part of a Wave

Finally, one of the tricks to surfing small waves is to find the fast sections of the waves. This comes with experience. Look for the steepest part of the wave, even if it is onshore, and utilize that part of the wave as much as you can. A good section on a small wave will give you that little bit of speed that you need to get going.