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Why Your Surfboard Sinks When You Stand On It (Avoid This!)

Sometimes I get asked by surfers (especially new surfers) why their boards tend to sink if they try to stand on them. When I was a kid at summer swim camp, I used to try to stand on all kinds of floating objects.

The goal was to see how long I could keep them under my feet. Maybe I was training myself back then to stand up on a surfboard. Who knows, but one thing is clear. If you try to stand on a surfboard without a wave (like in a swimming pool), it will sink.

When this happens while you are trying to catch a wave, it can be really frustrating.

So, why does your surfboard sink when you stand on it? Typically, your surfboard will sink when you stand on it for 1 of 4 reasons:
1. Your technique of “the pop-up” on the surfboard isn’t dialed in.
2. Your surfboard is too small for your body weight.
3. Your surfboard isn’t right for the conditions you are riding in.
4. Your surfboard is damaged.

But how do you know which reason is the problem you are facing?

If you are new to the sport of surfing then the first place to look is how your technique is, and what might be missing or need work.

Dialing in Your Technique so that Your Surfboard Doesn’t Sink When You Stand Up On It.

A common problem that new surfers have in their technique when they are first starting out or when they attempt to surf in slightly too drastically different wave conditions is that they don’t get their timing right when catching a set. Either they don’t get ahead of the wave enough before popping up, or they pop up too early before the wave has developed enough.

If you don’t paddle fast enough to get into the right spot on the face of the wave, you can tend to fall out the back. If your momentum suddenly goes dead after the pop, this is probably your issue.

However, if you are too far ahead of the wave and the nose of your board goes underwater then you may also not be able to sustain standing on the board.

It’s important to understand some of the dynamics of the board as they relate to drag in the water. Have you ever noticed that a surfboard is shaped a bit like a banana? The front of the board comes to a point and is angled slightly upwards. This is to ensure that the board can plane easily.

You may notice that other watercraft have similar features. The reason is that the physics involved that keep your board above the water are the same that reduce drag through the water in general for all vessels.

Have you ever noticed that a boat will nose up as it accelerates and then the nose levels out and the boat remains on plane?  When the boat is in that position, it can travel the easiest and fastest across the top of the water because drag has been reduced.

Surfing is no different except that the time interval is much shorter. The ideas are the same in that your board will nose up (although only slightly) as you accelerate and then will get onto plane so it can reduce drag and give you a smooth, silky ride down the face of the wave.  Of course, in surfing this happens in seconds.

Understanding this concept can help you see what your board is doing when you start sinking.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I have enough speed and acceleration?
  • Did the board nose go under/remain underwater?
  • Was my surfboard able to get up on plane?

Once you can see what is going on, you can start to look at things related to how you are handling the surfboard.

Mastering the “Pop” – Getting Up On Your Board and Staying There

When it comes to surfing techniques, what are the most important things to master is the pop. The pop is essentially your ability to pop up off of your belly on the surfboard into a standing position in order to ride the wave.

During the learning process, it is common to regress, nail it sometimes and miss it other times. So, don’t worry if this is happening to you.

Common Mistakes That Keep Surfers from Progressing

The most common mistakes that keep new surfers from being able to execute a pop correctly are the following:

Your hands are placed in different spots and aren’t even on the board (mismatched hand position): When you are on your belly (before the pop) make sure that your hands are in a push-up position (kind of under your shoulders). You should be able to draw a straight line across the board from one hand to the other. You should not have one hand out further than another.

Your stance is too square: You don’t have one foot far enough in front of the other. Remember that your feet will be facing predominantly to one side of the board rather than straight forward towards the nose.

You tend to stand too tall: You should be crouched over like you are about to get tackled or wrestle. Think fighters stance.

Your surfboard stance has your feet too close together (too narrow): Your feet should be a little further than shoulder distant apart. On this one, think lower than the stance of a fighter.

Your surfboard stance has your feet too far apart (too wide): You don’t want to look like a sumo wrestler out there. Think of having your feet at a comfortable distance apart.

You use your elbows (or forearms) to try to pop: While this might feel more natural at first, it will put your head in the wrong position. Your head may be lower than your hips, which will tend to have you go out the front.

You pop onto your knees or use a knee or both knees instead of popping up immediately onto your feet: Steer clear of this habit, it’s just not going to get you there. The problem is that moving from your knees to your feet causes significant balance shifts, which will make it much harder to stay on your board. It’s the same reason, you should stand up in a canoe.

You tend to release your hands too soon/early: Don’t be afraid to hold on with your hands a couple of moments longer to make sure you are stabilized.

You may be trying to stand when only 1 foot is up: Again, this leads you into a significant shift in your balance. You should wait to stand until both feet are firmly planted on the top of the surfboard.

You aren’t paying attention to the centerline of the board: Remember that half of your body weight should be on one side of the line and the other half should be on the other. The centerline runs from the nose to the middle of the back of the surfboard.

You tend to look down (at your feet for instance) instead of looking ahead in the direction that you want to go: It’s important to remember that your body goes where your head goes. If you are facing downwards, you will tend to fall in that direction. Think: chin up and point your nose in the direction you want to go.

If you know that you have your technique dialed in, there are other things to consider.

Choosing the Surfboard that will Provide You with the Best Scenario to Stand Up Easily

Three critical elements to choosing the right size surfboard for you

  • Design
  • Volume
  • Dimensions

While it is quite common to see surfboards (shortboards, fish, funboards, longboards and stand up paddleboards) that vary in length from 5’10” to 12′ it’s important not to only fixate on the length of a board.

When choosing a board most people get hyperfocused on length. However, this is often a mistake.

What you really should be looking at is the volume of the surfboard in relationship to your ability at the time.

You should ask yourself what type of surf you will be surfing in.

Chances are if you’re having a hard time standing on your board then you are a beginner and are going to be surfing in less powerful surf/waves.

If you are surfing in moderate to low surf conditions, you’re going to want to have a board that has a higher volume.

What is surfboard volume?

Volume is simply the amount of foam in a board minus the weight of the exterior skeleton of the board. Exterior materials of the board are compromised of glues, fiberglass, and other materials.

It is what creates the hard shell.

More affordable boards often will have more weight in the materials used to create the surfboard and so you may have to go with higher volume to offset the weight as compared to more expensive boards.

For instance, if you are a 6 foot man with a medium build, 175 to 185 pounds you most likely will want to have a volume of 35 to 40 L.

If you’re riding in smaller surf, you’re going to need more volume otherwise your surfboard will sink. If you’re riding in moderate surfing conditions, most likely you’re going to be able to get away with a lower volume since you will have more power under you helping you to stand and plane.

This is simply because you have more velocity moving you on the surfboard. At higher speeds, you are going to want a board that is more nimble and gives you greater control to make quicker adjustments.

But there is a limit.

Contrary to what you may think, in larger surf, you may need higher volume again simply because it will be harder to paddle and catch those bigger waves.

Overall if you are just starting out, start thinking In terms of volume rather than the length of the board.

Remember boards can be long and narrow or short and wide. Typically on a surfboard, you’re going to see an indicator of what the volume is for that surfboard.

Keep in mind that longer boards will paddle easier simply because of their longer waterline, but they are not going to be as maneuverable as smaller boards.

Wider boards will give you more glide but in general, will be slower.

How to know if you are sinking because your surfboard is damaged

The final place to look if you can’t seem to stand up on your board and maintain it on plane, is whether your surfboard has been damaged.

If the board is new, most likely this isn’t an issue, but if it has been cracked (dinged) during shipping or is used, you could have a hole in the exterior finish of the board that traps water inside of the board.

The porous foam that is there to help you with your buoyancy can work against you by creating areas where water can gather and increase the weight of the board substantially. (Weight is something to take notice of.)

I had a friend who dealt with a cracked surfboard on the regular. He could get some time on the water before the board would become too heavy to ride, so, he just didn’t deal with the repair needed.

One day he asked me to go grab his board for him. It was picking up a sandbag. It had gotten really heavy from the water infiltration.

While you might be able to get away with this for a bit, you will want to let your board dry out in the sun (warm environment) thoroughly and then address the damage.

Luckily, there are epoxies and other surfboard repair kits available on the market.

If you have a crack in your board and suspect that it has taken on water, you can carefully try to suction the water out of it to verify the damage.

But be careful!

If the fiberglass has been damaged, the edges can be quite sharp. Ehem…Don’t ask me how I know this, wink.

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