How Skateboarding Can Make You a Better Surfer
Just because there are no waves doesn't mean you can't surf
Skateboarding has its roots in surfing. Sometime in the 1950s when the waves were flat, surfers began attaching roller skate wheels to wood planks so that they could go “street surfing".
Early skateboards were crude, with wheels made of metal and then clay. As board designs advanced, incorporating urethane wheels and improved trucks, increasingly difficult tricks became possible.
Then skateboarding began to give back to surfing.
In the late 70s, after skateboarders were regularly launching into the air above swimming pools, surfers attempted their first aerials. Pro surfer Christian Fletcher grew up skateboarding and was an early pioneer.
Others, including now 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, quickly followed suit, bringing airborne skate moves to the water. And in 2011, Zoltan Torkos was awarded $10,000 by Volcom for completing the first kickflip in surfing history.
Such advanced tricks aren’t the only things skateboarding has to offer surfing.
While professional surfers like Josh Kerr and John-John Florence use skateboards to hone the difficult contest manoeuvres, surf instructor Barry Green believes skating can also help the typical wave rider.
Green, who runs Making the Drop surf school in Santa Cruz, California, points out that skateboarding mimics the board-body technique and timing of surfing.
He says “the average novice surfer has much to gain from simple flat-ground carving turns, and smooth rail-to-rail transitions, rocking from toe edge to heel edge" on a skateboard.
Significantly, skating also allows for more board time. “Since a small fraction of our time ‘surfing’ is actually up on our feet riding waves on our boards, practicing board-body technique via a skateboard can really help with muscle-memory," says Green.
Out in the ocean, every wave is different and there’s often a long wait between rides due to swell period or crowds.
"Every wave is different in surfing. But in a skatepark, you can hit the same bowl again and again"But in a skatepark or out on the street, you can hit the same bowl or driveway again and again, until you get a manoeuvre down. That muscle memory built on a skateboard can translate to your next surf session.
Green says skating also helps with focusing on subtle techniques for controlling the board that are more elusive on the water, such as toe pressure, ankle flex, and hip-body centre placement.
This practice on land, he observes, “translates into the same awareness and natural response while on your surfboard."
Other skate moves also flow from pavement to water.
For example, tic tacs – small kick turns with a carve to generate forward momentum - imitate the mechanics of "pumping down the line" on a shortboard in surfing.
“Once you get tic-tac-ing quickly, and generating speed, then adding a carving 180-degree turn or tailslide grind imitates pumping down the line on a wave, going into a roundhouse cutback then into an aggressive top turn," Green says.
“Just visualise and play with flowing from one move to the next, generating speed when you need to keep going." And, he notes, it’s good core and leg exercise too.
"My surfing has improved because I skate..."
Sugar Molina, a novice surfer in San Diego, agrees that skateboarding has helped her to surf better.
“As much as I would like to surf everyday, sometimes this is not possible, and this inconsistency interfered with training my balance," she says.
But because Molina is able to skateboard almost daily, she found her balance as well as recovery from falling continued to get better.
“I use the skills I learned on my skateboard when I surf and constantly try to make those connections," she adds. “My surfing has improved because I skate and I have plenty of room for improvement on both."
There are benefits for intermediate surfers too, like Julie-Ann Burkhart, who lives near San Francisco.
She has been surfing for 18 years and skating for 11. She also feels that riding a skateboard advances her skills on the waves.Along with snowboarding, skating “helps with big swooping carves and staying on rail".
While any skateboard will let you practice certain surf skills on land, some are better choices than others. Green recommends riding a longboard skateboard for cruising and flowing; they correspond to mid-length and longboard-style surfing.
But he’s a particular fan of vintage old-school non-twin tip skateboard decks from the 80s. “They are wide enough for the entire foot to be on and work that toe-heel transition technique," he says, and “loosening the trucks and using a soft wheel for good grip on the pavement is my preference as well."
There are several companies making skateboards specifically for surfers that are intended to more closely replicate the surfing experience on land.
The most popular is probably Carver, which was started in 1995 by two California surfers looking to improve the standard skateboard design.
"Skating helps with big swooping carves and staying on rail" To create a “surfskate," they designed a front truck with a dual-axis pivot, allowing the wheels to turn laterally and the skateboard to “carve" like a surfboard.
The current generation of Carver trucks are the C7, with the fluid feel of a single fin surfboard, and the CX, which is snappier like a tri-fin thruster. Because of the special front truck, it’s also possible to “pump" these boards to keep moving on the flats without pushing a foot against the ground.
Pro surfers Josh Kerr and Taylor Knox are Carver skateboard team riders and have lent their names and design ideas to some of the brand’s boards. Molina rides a Carver skateboard, which she loves, and Green likes them for their namesake carving abilities.
Other companies also offer skateboards with a more surfy feel. While the front truck on a SmoothStar skateboard turns more freely than a normal truck, the back truck is fixed to act like the fins on a surfboard.
If you’re a longboard surfer and want to practice cross-stepping, try a skateboard like the Loaded Bhangra.
The original Carveboard has an interesting design which incorporates adjustable pneumatic tires, and the trucks are offset in front of the nose and behind the tail of the skateboard.
No matter which skateboard you choose, when the waves are flat, blown out, overcrowded or just too far away, pick it up and go out street surfing.
Practice your moves repetitively, improve balance and recovery, and build strength and endurance. The next time you hit the water, you may just find your wave-riding has become a little better.