Riding a wave on a longboard is far from a passive activity; the size and weight of the surfboard means that the surfer must be dynamic and move their weight around in order to make the most of the wave. Whereas on a shortboard acceleration or stalling and turning can be achieved simply by moving your weight over your front or back foot accordingly, to do so on a longboard requires you to actually move your feet. The best way (by far) to shift your weight whilst surfing on a longboard is to cross-step, and we’re going to take a look at how best to do this.
The cross-stepping technique happens to be the most aesthetically pleasing option, but that’s purely coincidental and for many surfers it’s also the most daunting. The temptation to keep your feet in contact with the deck and shuffle your way along the board is strong, as is the temptation to try to make it all the way to the front of the board for a nose-ride. The aim of cross-stepping is to transition your weight smoothly up and down the length of the board in order to achieve and maintain trim. Noseriding is a whole other lesson! Shuffling along your board can work, but despite feeling more secure you are far more likely to jar the rail out of trim. And finally, before we dig deeper into the technique, cross-stepping is a two-way street; it is a way of moving your weight forwards and backwards along your longboard. The aim is not to blindly walk straight off the front.
There are many different sizes and shape of longboard, as well as many different sizes and shape of surfer, so we are simply going to cover the underlying principles of cross-stepping technique here.
It takes more effort to effect a change in direction when surfing a longboard due to their greater weight and length of the craft. Critical turns are made from the tail of the board with the surfer’s weight over the fin, and when the board is running down the line with a long section of rail engaged in the wave face applying pressure to the rails (which has to be done tentatively) will adjust trim. It is not as simple as applying weight to the front foot for speed or the back foot to turn (as with high performance short boards), and the further a surfer gets towards the nose of their longboard the more they are relying on the physical interaction between the surfboard and the wave to hold in and prevent the board from slipping and spinning out. This is why noseriders have relatively low entry rocker in the nose and quite a lot of tail lift so that the flow of water along the bottom of the board “sucks” the tail down to balance the weight of the surfer at the other end of the board. The rails are also softer and more rounded so that they hold into the wave face and water will actually flow around and across the tail and act as a counterweight.
But, let’s take a look at the cross-stepping technique that will get you to the nose (and back).
There are three scenarios or set-ups that precede a walk along the board. The first is that you have a found yourself taking a highline along a wave that is peeling away from you slightly faster than you are already travelling, necessitating moving your weight forward along the board to accelerate. The second is that you have stalled the board purposefully, stamping back on the tail to scrub off some speed so that you can cross step along the board to build it up again. This second option can facilitate a brief noseride before the surfer usually has to backpedal quickly to avoid nosediving as the surfboard drops to the bottom of the wave. The third, and most impressive, set-up maneuver is to come out of a bottom turn, ideally coming around a section of whitewater, and initiate a cross step as the board climbs the wave face as you exit the turn so that by the time you reach the top of the wave you are a way along the board which effects a sort of top turn and sets you off down the line in (hopefully) perfect trim.
The first step: Start with your weight centered over your back foot, so your head, chest and hips are all directly above your back foot. You need to keep your knees and hips loose. Shift your hips towards your front foot; your upper body will start to follow. You have now transitioned your weight to directly over your front foot. On a shortboard, this would be enough! You now won’t have any weight or pressure on your back foot.
The cross-step, part 1: With your weight over your front foot and your back foot unweighted, you can bring your back leg IN FRONT of your leading leg, keeping your back-leg knee towards the tail of the board. If your knee goes over the top or in front then you will loose control over the weight transfer process. Your back foot, which is now the closes to the nose, will probably land on the outstep rather than flat. As this feeling becomes familiar you can “lock” your knees into each other and surf in this cross-legged position without any problem. Because you haven’t yet transferred any weight to your new front foot you can easily step-back should you need to.
The cross-step, part 2: (the transition): In this cross-legged position, you can now shift your hips forward (again, your upper body will follow)so that they are over your new leading foot.
The cross-step, part 3: Now that your weight has transitioned and is planted over your new front foot, if required and/or desired you can now step your new back foot (which is the leg that you naturally lead with) through, behind, to return to an open (uncrossed) stance. This new leading foot doesn’t need to have any weight applied to it, if you’re up near the nose of your board, and can easily be returned to its original position if you need to move back to adjust trim or slow down. If there is still scope for moving further forwards, then you can again shift your hips forward to move your weight further along the board.
A Walk along the Pier
This cross-step process can be repeated if you are making your way along your longboard with the intention of getting to the nose. You may choose to pause part-way along the board if you have found trim. And, at some point, you will probably want to reverse it to get back towards the tail if you are dropping down the wave or want to turn. Cross-stepping along the board and then shuffling or ‘skipping” back seems like half a job. To return the way you came, simply reverse the steps outlined above of first shifting your hips, followed by your upper body and head, and then when the foot to be moved has unweighted you can carefully cross-step back.
Surfing is notorious for offering few opportunities to practice. A surfer responds to the wave, and doesn’t necessarily catch lots of waves in a session. It’s not like being a golfer and visiting the driving range to practice your drive, thankfully. If you want to practice the cross-stepping process on dry land though, so that when the opportunity arises on a wave you can attempt it with confidence, then a longboard skateboard and a gently sloping empty car park early on a Sunday morning are the best ingredients. Set your skateboard off going across the gradient (as you would ride a wave, not going straight down!) and first practice shifting your weight by moving your hips and upper body. When you are comfortable travelling along with all of your weight over one foot, you can attempt the cross step. Needless to say that concrete is less forgiving than water, so appropriate protective equipment such as a helmet and wrist guards would be a wise idea. If you can get comfortable skating along with your legs crossed, half way though a cross-step, then it’ll make the same situation when travelling down the line on a surfboard, much more comfortable.
But nothing compares to the real thing, so we strongly encourage you to log as much water time as possible in your pursuit of perfect trim. Rather that than the driving range.