Wondering if and how skateboarding will make you a better surfer?
A skateboard or surf skate is a fantastic tool for improving your surfing. It allows you to learn good posture, arms and hands coordination, speed generation, and turns. However, skateboarding can also reinforce your bad habits in the water, so make sure you are practicing the right moves.
I’ve been following the OMBE method for surf training (see my in-depth review) which uses surf skate as an integral part of their surf coaching. Their surf skate courses are an excellent example of how skateboarding can make you a better surfer.
Is skateboarding good cross-training for surfing?
First, let’s briefly go over the obvious stuff. Skateboarding and surfing are closely related, both are board sports with a sideways riding stance (goofy or regular), both require good balance and coordination.
Since waves are constantly moving and changing, it’s hard to practice technique and build muscle memory through repetition in the ocean as no two waves are the same. Skateboarding, on the other hand, lets you practice moves repeatedly in a fixed environment, eliminating the moving parts.
Skateboarding is a great way to build strength and stamina for your core and lower body, essential for surfing. That said, 90% of your surfing time is spent paddling, so upper body endurance is crucial – which skateboarding won’t help you with.
Many skateboarding moves and tricks will port over to surfing, such as pumping and carving, roundhouse turns, tailslides, advanced tricks like 360º and airs.
Now that these basic points are out of the way, let’s look more in-depth at exactly how skateboarding can help your surfing.
See also: 9 best skateboards for surf training
Improve your surf posture
Posture is the foundation of good surfing. Skateboarding helps getting you into good posture, with your chin level, your rear arm up, and your back straight. When riding a surfboard, just like on a skateboard you shouldn’t be looking down.
On a skateboard, it’s important to keep your weight on your front foot, as putting your weight on your back foot while you accelerate will make you fall over backward. This also applies to surfing.
On a surf skate, you need to keep your knees soft and pointing toward your target direction, which helps loosen your hips and direct your skateboard where you want to go.
That’s exactly what you need to do on a surfboard – although many surfers lock themselves in a power posture that prevents them from moving freely.
Seasoned skateboarders (e.g. vert riders) bend their knees and keep their back straight vs bending at the hips. Likewise, in surfing, bending forward at the hips will lock your body and prevent you from turning correctly and generating speed.
Front-on vs side-on riding
Proficient skateboarders ride front-on most of the time, meaning their hips are rotated forward in the direction the board is going, and their shoulders also forward facing – or at a slight angle.
Many non-beginner surfers have the bad habit of riding side-on (aka “crab stance”) forcing them into a squatty position with their hips locked. This prevents them from moving (and seeing) 180º, as they face sideways.
Riding a skateboard at the skatepark forces you to ride front-on with your hips and shoulders forward. Facing forward is a requirement when going into a bowl, ramp, rail, or transition – and getting out safely.
This alone can significantly improve your surfing once in the water.
Arms & hands position
While on a wave, many surfers wave their rear arm in the back trying to gain speed or doing a turn. This mistake is related to our previous “front-on vs sideways” discussion.
One of the pillars of the OMBE method is the “Coffee Cup” analogy: good surfers keep their rear arm in front of them as if holding a coffee cup, avoiding spilling coffee.
When skateboarding in a bowl, you also need to keep your rear arm and hand in front of you to get the right body setup. Here’s a 5-second example from pro skater Omar Hassan:
Omar is keeping his rear arm up and in front, with his hand holding the imaginary “coffee cup”.
The skateboarder also throws his hands up in the top turn and lowers them when going back down the “wave”. Pointing your hands in the direction you’re going is another key aspect in surfing. Your hands should steer as if holding a bicycle handlebar.
Watch this 16-second clip from OMBE illustrating this crucial point once again:
Practicing this in a bowl will result in much more coordinated and effective surfing.
Speed generation for surfing
Another critical aspect of your surfing that you can improve through skateboarding is generating speed.
Many surfers do a lot of left-right twisting on their surfboard to pick up speed by displacing water with the fins.
This works on relatively flat waves but isn’t a good approach on real waves, where you should be leveraging the power of the wave to get speed by compressing and decompressing (up and down motion).
You can more easily practice this technique on a surf skate. When skateboarding on flat ground, many people also tend to wiggle (twisting) to gain speed, just like on a wave. Again, this is a bad habit.
Skating a bowl allows you to work on your up-down vs left-right motion for gaining speed. This is done by pointing your knees forward and lunging (dropping your knee) with you back straight and your hands moving up and down in sync with your knees.
Watch the video above again for a great example of this.
Compressing and extending through lunging is key to generating speed on the wave, and this can be practiced very effectively on a skateboard with a small incline – bowl, skatepark, driveway, etc.
Good surfing requires linking your joints in a fluid manner in turns. Many surfers tend to move their top half independently of their bottom half, e.g. with their shoulders and arms pointing in a different direction than their hips.
Skateboarding can help you make your surf turns much more efficient and coordinated through better joint sequencing. Your turning motion should start with your feet and ankles, then move up to your knees, hips, and shoulders (not the other around).
OMBE often compares the turning motion in surfing to the golf swing, which requires a similar joint sequence.
Skateboarding is a great tool for understanding and improving how your body moves, and the changes you make translate directly into your surfing.
Choosing your surf line
Skateboarding can also make you a more solid surfer by allowing you to work on your surf lines. When surfing, the lines you choose on a wave determine to a large degree the level of your surfing.
The majority of surfers tend to rush to the flat part of the wave away from the power zone, lose speed, and struggle to get speed back.
Advanced surfers, on the other hand, know how to leverage the power of the wave by surfing vertically (up and down) within the power zone. As a result, they move less and surf more effortlessly.
It’s important to think ahead and figure out where you want to go before and after each turn, so as to keep a fluid line in the wave.
The skate bowl is an amazing way to practice these skills. you can test different lines and body inclinations to find the fastest combination a lot more easily than in the water. This teaches to anticipate your moves and direction, keeping your riding flowing as opposed to “start-and-stop”.
Watch the above OMBE video from start to finish for good examples of picking your line in a skateboard bowl.
The OMBE library also has a dedicated Picking the right line course that deeps dive into this aspect of surfing with land, water, and skateboard based drills (just sign up for the free trial to access it).
Skateboarding can definitely help make you a better surfer. However, it can also amplify and perpetuate your bad habits in the water. Make sure you learn the right posture and techniques before jumping on a skateboard and dropping into a bowl.
Namely, learn to generate speed without wiggling, and to pick the right lines. This will translate into a more effective and attractive surfing style.