design forum

How To Order A Step-Up

North Shore shaper Pat Rawson on ordering the perfect winter board

| posted on November 25, 2013
When the conditions call for more foam under your feet, you need be prepared. Ask Tanner Gudauskas. Photo: Glaser

When the conditions call for more foam under your feet, you need be prepared. Ask Tanner Gudauskas. Photo: Glaser

With winter on the horizon, it’s time you start to prepare accordingly. Whether it’s California, Hawaii, or a far-flung reef pass, there will inevitably come a day when your standard shortboard has maxed out and you’ll need a step-up. To ensure that you have the right foam under your feet, we rang up the North Shore’s Pat Rawson for some insight into ordering the perfect step-up board.

First, let’s set the record straight on what exactly constitutes a step-up. As the name suggests, a step-up is a shape that’s slightly bigger than your standard shortboard but is built for waves a touch larger than you’re used to riding. It’s not a mini-gun. If you normally ride a 6‘ 0 in surf up to 6 feet, your step-up should be around 6 4. The general design should actually mimic your standard board, but should be a tad bigger to accommodate for the larger swell. According to Pat Rawson, one of the North Shore’s most iconic shapers, “most good surfers will push their small-wave boards to just over head-high to double head-high waves, depending on their ability level and what wave they’re surfing, before they grab a step up.” To break things down further, Rawson compares the dimensions and specs of his standard shortboard to that of his standard step-up. Before you order your next step-up, consult the table below:

According to Rawson, when you’re ordering a step-up, it’s important to tell your shaper exactly what kind of conditions and what locations you’re looking to surf. “Six-foot Mentawais is a much different animal than 6-foot waves on the North Shore. Especially when you factor in wind, surface conditions, crowds, wave velocity, things like that,” says Rawson. “Teahupoo is another wave that requires a whole different set of rules.” In short, the more details you can give your shaper about the waves you plan on surfing, the better.

The more your shaper knows how you surf, the better your board will be. Rawson cites front-footed surfers and back-footed surfers as a prime example of how your approach in the lineup can affect how your board is shaped. Paddle power and confidence in overhead swells can also play a huge factor. Think of your shaper like a shrink. No one’s judging you here, but you’ll come out all the better if you’re up-front and honest. “I like to ask people ordering a board what their mindset is like regarding larger surf. I want to know if I can fit one of my intended designs into their surfing personality. If a surfer wants to ride a 6’4” in 10-foot Pipe, I’ll have to rethink my approach for that ability range, or more likely than not, that particular surfer may have a little too much optimism for that that 6’4”.

Although there are exceptions to every rule, as the size of the swell increases, most shapers and surfers generally opt to transition to a rounder tail or pin tail. In bigger surf, gaining speed won’t necessarily be an issue, but being able to control it will. With a rounder tail, you’ll have less surface area in the water, which will slow you down a touch and grant you more control over your board.

As a rule of thumb, the actual positioning of your fins shouldn’t change too much on your step-up, just the type of fin you’re using. For the most part, you’ll want to opt for a fin with a little less flex than the fins you’d use on your standard shortboard. Tech-flex and carbon fiber fins like the TP1 are a solid choice. While someone like John John has been known to ride small fins in just about any type of condition, for the rest of us, it’s not a bad idea to step up a fin size as well.

Find your next board in our 2013 Surfboard Buyer’s Guide.

  • Borat Sagdiyev

    What should i do if i want a “step-down” board. The waves have been so fkn flat in CA! I need a board that can handle knee slappers. Maybe an iPad connection so I can read Surfer Mag while I sit out in the lineup waiting for a boat or jet ski to go buy so it can produce a wave to surf.

    • rspkt

      The rule of thumb I use is add a 1/4″ width for every (1) inch in length you drop. The easier method is if you know the volume of foam you like to ride under your standard shortboard then you can tweak the dimensions to something smaller while still keeping the same volume.

      I recommend talking to your custom shaper if you have one… if you don’t, get one! They’ll be able to help you figure out the proper step down for you.

      I typically ride a 6’0″x 18.75″ custom Kazuma Milkman model and my step down is a 5’10″x19.5″ custom Kazuma O’ama. My step up would be about a 6’4″x18.5″ or so. I’m 6’2″ and about 190lbs. but I like my boards small.

    • FredZilch

      Go fish – a fish turns tiny surf into a blast.

    • MR_CPTN

      I’ve been long boarding in small waves, I have a whole new love for surfing again, I feel like a little kid dancing on water and catching everything… though i’ll never stop short boarding.

  • Bob Rogers

    While it’s great to get into technical concepts like “front-footed” surfers and “back-footed” surfers, it would probably be useful to define what these terms actually mean. I’ve heard those terms a lot but I doubt most people even know which category they fit into. I’ve been surfing 40 years and I’m still not sure which I am. Maybe some examples of famous front-footed and back-footed surfers as examples would be helpful. My approach is more like Knox/AI/Occy and less like Slater/Machado/JJF. (And yes, those guys all surf way better than I do. But it helps to have reference points that we all know.) I’m more given to long, powerful, full-rail carves than loose, quick lip snaps. So does that make me a front-footer? But my back foot is so far back that I need a traction pad on the very tip of the tail to keep it from slipping off. So maybe I’m a back-footer?

    • coach ian cairns

      From your description of how you surf, you’re definitely a front footed surfer. Front footed surfers turn off their front foot, more so than they do their back foot. If you were to surf a wave really flicky, completing tail slides, all while pivoting and staying on the tail most of the time then you’d be a back footed surfer.

      • Chris Palmer

        ??? seemed like AI did pretty much everything off his back foot. JJF too.

    • Pat Rawson

      Bob- a simple way to check stance is to look at your foot dents. If your back rail is caved in, and the wide point dents are minimal, you ride more off the tail/back foot. (ala Tom Carroll)

      • ichorousmedia .

        I don’t make any dents in the deck, does that mean I am just light-footed, or a neutral front or back? I would say this depends on what I’m doing on the wave, if it’s a wedge with an easily makeable corner, then backfooted seems to be the game. when I have to pump like hell down the line and do quick check turns off the top to keep down the line speed, that would seem more front footed.

  • Lightly salted

    So basically just talk to your shaper. Not sure this article qualifies as a guideline to order the perfect step up. It could have been reduced to a couple of sentences and gotten the same point across. Thanks though!

  • John Wallace

    I’m 6’2 165 and 53yrs old and still want to some how want to ride a smaller board than my 7’3 fun board what size and thicknes of board would you suggest…. thanks!

  • cyrus

    I’m not sure it’s as cut and dry as front vs back footed surfers. All good surfers use a combination of both feet, in my experience all turns have a little bit of each foot in them, the difference lies in width of stance, section of wave, rail line of board and how the surfer uses their upper body to implement the turn. Lighter surfers can get away with having more weight forward during the transitions between turns while heavier surfers tend to need to keep the board planing by keeping it on rail, thus employing their back foot more often. They also appear to have more stability during turns and can “sit” on their tail longer at higher speeds.

    Another factor of board size is how hard the wave sucks up at the time of take off. I’ve found that a well defined reef will allow you to surf a smaller board because there isn’t as large of a range that the waves can break in (like a beach break that requires hunting down and getting underneath set waves breaking further out). And when the waves do stand up they can have a tighter bottom transition that makes longer step ups more cumbersome. For these types of waves you’re looking to take off under the lip and a shorter pintail works better for me.