Thoughts on Race to the Bottom, Volume and where the industry missed

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
January 12, 2018January 15, 2018

Some updated thoughts on volume, how best to train for stability, and board trends in the industry.

There is a definite relationship between surfing performance and lower v/w ratios.  If you look at any of the top pros they are riding negative ratios, less float than weight.  The majority of good surfers are riding at or below a 1.3 ratio.  So a 150lbs surfer would at or under 88L or 180lbs – 107L.

I hold firm to the belief that if your goal is to be able to surf at a high level on a SUP you should have a target of getting into the 1.3 or lower range.  My experience in coaching the last few years has changed my mind on the correct path to get there for a majority of paddle surfers.  (paddle surfers without an extensive surfing background)

To explain, I need to take a step back.  I came into paddle surfing with a long history of surfing shortboards.  So when I decided to start paddle surfing I wasn’t concerned with wave knowledge, catching waves, or the surfing component.  In evaluating the best paddle surfers it was obvious that small boards were a must, and that small was largely a reflection of volume.  The surfing would take care of itself once I could stand on a board I could surf.  This resonates with anyone coming into standup from the surf world.


It wasn’t until I started to understand how the learning process works with my study of learning and coaching that I discovered the error in pushing volume and learning to surf at the same time.  The mind can only process a few new skills at once, and when you push your limits in one area, other skills that have yet to be internalized revert to old habits/patterns.

I’ll give you an example –  Someone pushing their volume limits riding a 100L board, who is comfortable in waist high surf, will probably be ok (stable) surfing the 100L board in waist high surf, but when you increase the stress of the situation by introducing larger waves, that the surfer isn’t comfortable surfing, focus will shift to the waves and positioning, and balance will become an issue.

I call that increase in stress is called a flow multiplier, and while flow multipliers are great fun once you’ve hit a certain level, they aren’t great at the beginning of the learning process, in fact they retard it.


What I’ve done with my private clients this year is to separate training for volume/stability and surfing skills.  I recommend having at least 2 boards, the comfortable now board (higher volume), and the future stretch board (lower volume).  Then, when the waves are good and focus should be spent on surfing, ride the larger board.  And when focused on training stability, either in lower quality surf or flat water, practice paddling the smaller board.  As you move towards lower volumes the difference in volume will shrink.

The race to the bottom is important, and should be a priority in your training, but should be separated from surfing (at times)  and this will increase the learning curve both for surfing and stability.

Ok, so volume is important, but what are the limits?

That depends on your ability, tolerance to pain, endurance and goals.  The limits for Mo or Gio would be at about a .9 v/w ratio – they are massively talented, 100% focused on performance and the last 1% matters (photos, videos, contests…), have incredible endurance (paddling super small boards is exponentially more work/cardio output) and their goal is to surf their best.

Those might not be your goals, and they aren’t mine anymore.  You get some beautiful moments riding incredibly small boards but at the cost of more work and less waves.  The trick is finding the intersection between surfing performance (lower volume) and wave count/fun (higher volume).  And then, once we’ve found the inflection point dial up or down volume as the situation calls it.


Let’s look at what the industry has done regarding volume in performance paddle surfing.

If we go back 3 years and follow the trends of boards you’ll see most of the SUP surfing shapes starting to go full-on shortboard style.  Lots of rocker, lower volumes, excessive pumping and paddling to get speed, which completely misses the ease of glide and smoothness of longboard/mid-length surfing and folks got frustrated.

The pendulum was bound to swing back, it did, and in the last year we’ve seen the increase of longboard style boards.  9 and 10 foot boards at 27-29 inches wide and still in the lower volume range, aimed at good surfers.  But these shapes completely miss the radical/explosive shortboarding aspect of paddle surfing.  Fun to paddle with a high wave count, but forget about smashing a lip.

If you believe, as I do, that paddle surfing is the perfect blend of the ease of speed and glide of longboarding/mid-length boards and the radical explosiveness of shortboarding then there isn’t anyone who I believed has yet solved the issue.  And it proved a large enough challenge to get me interested.

And if I extrapolate farther, I wish those were the core components of competitive paddle surfing. I was talking to Dave Kalama on an early paddlewoo podcast and he said he didn’t agree with the current path of standup as it would be seen as bad shortboarding, and he suggested a board length minimum.  I don’t agree on regulating board size, but do think changing the criteria would be good for the sport.  Embracing the style elements possible on surfing a larger board would broaden the audience and eventually the market for standup surfing.

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  • colas

    “paddle surfing is the perfect blend of the ease of speed and glide of longboarding/mid-length boards and the radical explosiveness of shortoarding then there isn’t anyone addressing this in the market.”

    I think there are some brands/shapers that are addressing this. For me, I found this holy grail in boards that have a kind of “Tomo” shape in the nose (but not extreme), but with a pulled-in tail. This lengthens the rail line a lot in the mid/front part, and provides ease of takeoff, stability (so you can get down in volume), and glide when you use this rail, but still allow a performance ride with the rear foot on the kickpad more easily than the wide tail of a Tomo shape.

    Some examples are: (there are surely a lot more, these are just the ones I know)
    The Gong Fatal:
    AllWater New Beauty:

    A lot of boards have this combo of wide nose / narrow tail, (such as Jimmy Lewis Super Frank), but the more parallel rails near the front adds quite a welcome glide while keeping the board short compared to a traditional nose shape.

    • Erik Antonson

      Hey Colas, thanks for chiming in. I’ll check out those boards. I like what Tyler’s been doing.

      I don’t like how I worded that for a couple reasons and just changed it a bit, so thanks.

      A few notes. I don’t think that the bigger brands have addressed the issue and when I say market/industry that’s who I’m referring to. Also, I don’t think it’s a problem that has yet been solved, or at least in boards I’ve tested and I’ve tested a lot. We have a long way to go in standup design and I’m a fan of anyone pushing it.

  • Melissa

    Thanks for this article! Is the ideal volume:weight ratio something that scales linearly with ability, or should a small rider (I’m 55 kg/5’5″) be on a proportionately bigger board because of some absolute limits of stability or speed due to the smaller waterline and/or surface area?

    • Erik Antonson

      In my experience volume scales proportionally to weight, but there are a few factors to consider. Height makes a difference. Taller surfers have a higher center of gravity. Surface area of the board makes a difference. I have experimented with boards of the same volume but different surface areas and stability favors more surface area by a good margin. Smaller boards (in the standup world) tend to paddle slower but surf faster. I like being a touch under water to get under the chop, for me it’s more predictable. I’m finding the magic formula is a touch more volume but rails under water. We’re doing this by using a step deck on the portal Barra model. So far feedback has been great on stability. That was a side effect of solving for smaller rails and volume in the center for surfing. Cool that it helped stability.

    • colas

      In my experience in the other end of the scale (heavier rider), your height should dictate the length and width of the board, and your weight the volume. So basically, you should get the same length and width as a 80kg / 5’5″ guy with the same ability. Taller guys will need a tad more length and width.

      I would add that the older you are, the wider your board should be as we have slower reflexes. And as Erik says, a wide nose & tail is MUCH easier to ride with a low volume.

      You should also take into account how much time you can be on the water. Although low volume boards (for you, less than 65l) are actually stabler in chop, they still feel unstable, so you need regular time on the water (at least 2 sessions per week) to overcome the apprehension, otherwise you will be discouraged. And they are tiring!

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