Ideal volume for paddling shortboard into waves

My take on a shortboard catching waves (shoulder to 3/4 ft. overhead) is that there are two ways to do this - first, low volume like the young guys are riding - frequently they are just taking about two strokes and taking off semi-late in the pocket. If you watch them from the side, usually the board is halfway up the face of the wave as they are gettin to their feet. The 2nd way is with more volume and you catch the wave earlier by using the glide of the board to get going before you jump up - an earlier take off. Young guys my size are riding about 25 liter boards with no problem. I can’t do that as I’m older and won’t last nearly as long as I’d like to before I’m worn out for that session. So I’ve gone to more volume - recently about 36 liters. -I’ve found with this volume that I’m very frequently getting hung up in the lip on a later take-off and not really getting in earlier with glide like on a longer semi-gun. I just surfed a 34 liter board and it slid into waves better than the 36 liter board. For some time I’ve suspected that there is an ideal volume for catching waves late, and a different ideal volume for gliding in earlier and the in-between volumes are actually a hinderance to either late or early take-offs. Before anyone starts commenting about other aspects - rocker, rails, foil, fins, outline - etc - I’m aware of all that - I really want to limit the discussion to volume. So I’m wondering if others have experiences and thoughts about this.

​patrick - I have been exploring this facet of design for a couple years now.  I don’t have any definitive answers for you, but I have learned a few things as regards my own boards.  I am not making or riding shortboards, at age 60 I’m past the shortboard stage, even 'tho I know a few people my age who still ride them, and ride them very well.  But I’m riding midlengths, with lots of volume. 

I have gone back and forth a few times on the volume issue, but lately I’ve been riding my high volume boards, and having more fun than ever.  They are an acquired taste, at least for me, it took me a while to learn to handle them, and to appreciate them.  I typically surf crowded competitive so. calif. point / reef waves, with most of the crowd being much younger.  So my boards are designed to get me in early, and to get me around the lineup quickly and easily.  Duck diving is not an issue at a point break, or a reef break, to the same extent it would be at a beach break. 

I have a thread where I discuss a lot of my meandering thoughts on the subject, at  I put the thread in errors and bugs, as it didn’t have much interest in General Discussion, too outside the box from the norm, I suspect.  I also have a couple threads there for some of my high volume boards. and   I have no idea if any of this interests you, or addresses your initial question, so I’ll let you look the threads over and decide for yourself.  Be happy to discuss further if you’d like. 

sincerely, Huck

I don’t get too hung up on volume, and consider it as the fourth dimension. You still have length, width, and thickness.  Planing area, wide point, and foil play a big part overall. 

Phebus - I agree on this point also.  I don’t measure or even consider the volume of my boards in terms of cubic liters.  The volume is where I want it to be as a result of the board’s dimensions.  The o.p. wanted to consider volume alone, separate from other design factors, but of course you can’t do that when designing a surfboard.  All the factors have to work in harmony.  Some of which is planned and designed, and some of which is serendipitous, or not :-)  I’ve been fortunate on my last few boards.

I reckon rocker has a fair bit to do with catching the wave.

In 30+ years of surfing and countless surfboards owned and shaped I couldn’t tell you what the volume in liters is of any of them.  It mostly comes down to technique and fitness as waves get bigger and steeper.  The problem with up-sizing today’s short boards is the thicker rails don’t knife the face the same if you want to take off sideways and taking off going foreward water gets trapped under the larger surface area and concave of the bigger board.   The problem is the short, wide, flat and thick boards with concave that are popular today.  The boards we were riding in the late 80s and real early 90s (just before the Slater potato-chip era) were easier to get in on bigger rounder days.  These boards were longer, narrower, had more rocker and often had V instead of concave.  The guy who today is riding a 5’6 to 5’10 would have been riding a 6’2 or 6’4 in that era.   The volume probably is about the same just today they are stuffing it in a shorter and wider shape.

I still have a beat up board I bought in 1992 that I take out on bigger days.  Its 6’6 x 19 3/4 x 2 1/2.  This was my daily driver in 1992 as I’m 6’1 and 205.  This board still catches waves for me at 46 years old far better when its bigger than any of the other boards in my quiver that have far more foam in them.  This board’s rocker fits the shape of a head high+ hollow wave better than my modern boards.  The board’s narrowness lets me take off sideways easier and if I have to drop strait in the added length, rocker and V makes it easier to stick the drop and control the bottom turn.  The down side is that its lack of foam makes fighting the crowd and current a problem so when I take this board out I generally go to out of the way spots where I won’t have to paddle battle guys half my age.

On the flip side my favorite modern board for waves I can roll into is a 6’5 that is 22 3/4 wide and almost 3" thick.  In waves where there is an easy takeoff this board is a blast but as soon as the takeoff gets critical this board gets stuck at the top just like the OP described and I have to more or less force it into waves by getting up on the nose as I paddle in.

More volume is not necessarily the answer once waves get bigger and rounder.  A narrower shape with more rocker will get in easier.  In small crumbly waves more volume helps an old fart like me create the speed to catch a wave.  Once the waves get bigger they have enough push on their own that volume becomes almost irrelivant and positioning, wave knowlege timing and quickness take over.  In waves that have push the shape takes over in terms of importance and a narrow sleek shape with rocker will work better.  Being an east coaster we mostly see the weaker sort of waves and it is a real treat when we do get a swell where the waves have a lot of push of their own.


Either one of these two boards catch waves that are overhead and round better than my modern style shapes.  (Digging back into the archives a bit.  That Natural Art is so good I’ve copied it 3 times.  This pic was before the hot coat was sanded by the way.)


On the flip side this modern style shape with probably 20% more volume and almost 3" more width than the boards above does not get in as easily in head high plus waves but it blows the doors off the boards above in gutless waist to chest high waves where I would struggle to even get to my feet on the two boards above these days.

good info guys - looking forwards to more. Today it was about head high + - I rode 2 different boards - both 6’6" - first a very thin railed Rusty Predator - 6’6" x 19 x2 1/2 - really fast, great turns, dropped in ok but paddling was tough pretty soon. Next a chunky Wooster 6’6" - not sure of the other dimensions yet - I was tired but it still dropped in really good - so many variables.

I’m 44 and I’m surfing a 5’10" as my main short board and a 6’2" for when it gets a bit more solid. I’ve actually been reducing the thickness of my boards over the last few years, but they’ve also been getting a bit wider so the volume is probably about the same.

A few months ago a friend gave me three old (15 years) blanks that he had stashed in his barn. I compared the rockers of these old blanks to the rocker of a modern blank and the main difference I could see was that the modern blank has a fairly flat section through the middle of the board. The older blanks had a more continous rocker curve. Overall though the total rockers were the same from nose to tail.

 I suppose a flatter rocker through the guts of the board would provide a better planing surface. Coupled with the wider outline I think this is why I’m finding it easy to catch waves on much shorter boards then I would have been riding in the early 90’s. 

A gun is great for catching waves, but if you want to get barelled or turn then you probably want to be riding something shorter. I think the modern rockers and wider, shorter boards are a good way to achieve this. Of course when it gets to the size where all you want to do is make the wave then I’ll be riding one of my guns! 


Some where in a previous thread about volume an experienced Swaylockian mentioned that boards in the early to mid thirties always seemed an “unfunctional” volume that was outperformed by both lower and higher volume boards. I took his words to heart and tried to get my volumes down to the 32 l range from 34-36 l. I’m still chasing lower volume, but working on more parallel rails to assist paddling. I see you may have found a similar thing with the 36/34 liters, so maybe 36 liters ±1 is your “unfunctional” volume range.

I’ve built minor variations of the same high performance kneeboard for 10 years, I have had really 30 l low volume versions that paddled in and caught waves almost as well as their higher volume 40 l “twins”.  When you’re “swimming” the boards in you have to expend energy and the waves need to have push and steepen out, but I think you end up being pushed by the energy inside the face wave, rather than merely relying on the wave steepening to help you to slide down the face. On the low volume boards I miss heaps of waves when the waves are fat, even if the waves are decent size.

If the tails are really thin, then I try to use the tail as a “brake” to slow getting sucked up the face, then paddle hard to pull the board down the face. If the tail is thicker, then I let the tail get lifted up the face and paddle “downhill” to get the board moving. Pop outs are more feasible with more volume.

I don’t notice much difference in planing speed, but I’m a fairly competant wave rider.

I’m just an old hack kneeboarder, lol. Your mileage may differ.



Everything is a trade off.  I like extra foam, but at some point it works against getting in early, because at the steepest point of takeoff all that float often wants to float you up and over the back, so you have put your weight more forward, and paddle a little harder those last few strokes.  It’s all part of adapting to a different type board.  You can’t switch to a much higher volume board than you’re used to, and expect a fair evaluation in one or two sessions.  A lot of the clichés I hear about thicker boards sounds like just that. You gotta ride them awhile, in a variety of conditions, to get a fair evaluation. In my opinion.

I too have been seeking to find that ideal volume via width, length, thickness and shape.
I have come to understand it is me, not the equipment. As I get older my reaction time is getting slower.
( When I was a teenager I would see the 50 year olds in the water and notice how slow they reacted.)
That fraction of a second that I lose each year is what causes me to miss the good waves, or flat out blow them. When I was in my 20's  (180lbs) I could take months off from surfing and still pop up with ease once back in the water.
I finally proved that it's me, not the equipment. Here's how. I took one of my low volume boards out the other day and was easily catching the waves ...but not making them down the line. Of course I blamed the waves. "They are just walls! Breaking too fast....etc" Out of frustration I belly boarded the next wave. I got a super long fast ride. Paddled back out. Again same result. This on my 6'x2" board! (I am 230lbs 54 years old) Then I tried standing up. That split second of getting to my feet killed the ride again. I had to except the fact that I needed a longer board to make up for the split second I was losing with age and weight. Look. I am still searching and dreaming, but I just had to except my limitations.

You have to modify the equipment to the needs / wants of the rider, and the conditions the board will be ridden in. Once you understand the trade offs, you maximize the factors high on the priority list, at the expense of those factors given a lower priority.

For my age / condition and regular spot, I go for high wave count, mega paddle-ability, speed down the line, knowing I have to paddle a little harder those last few strokes, may take a few drops a little later than planned (rocker appropriate), and won’t be doing any rail burying slashes. Turning  is gonna be between shortboard and longboard, have to walk the board a bit, step back on the tail for turns. Every once in awhile I forget, and try to lay down a jammin’ rail turn, and just kook out. As long as I step back and turn off the tail, no problem. Duck diving is tough, try to minimize those situations, hasn’t been a problem at the point break. I tends to paddle around rather than straight out. You can get way up on nose and push down and hang on, that’s as close as you’re gonna get to a duck dive, works for me. Or if no one around you can always bail and flail, haha.

Being small is an advantage as you get older. Big guys over 50 have a hard time.

I agree spuddups.  I’m a small guy, but I got a little heavy, nearing 200, now I’m down around 170ish, and it’s made a huge difference.  I really could afford to lose another 10 lbs.

The boards I’m riding now were designed when I was heavier, and would probably work for someone much bigger and heavier. 

I love the second pic huck…

Very true with surfing…especially on the East Coast.

I’m no expert but stating the obvious, the volume effects where the rails sit in the water. I have some experience with this because like you I like to get to my feet early so I made the mistake a few times of buying small wave boards and having them too big than they were designed for. 

i.e. I rode a 6’0 Hypto Krypto, liked the way it sat in the water but found it too buoyant. Then I had a similar experience testing a Baked Potato. I’m 78kg. Most HPSB are designed for lower volume than I really like - I probably should have been on a 5’6". Figuring out how to add volume is now a puzzle. 

As an aside, I agree people overusing volume as a shorthand for ballpark understanding what kind of board we are talking about, to set the scene. Some say that length is a better shorthand… and then we beginners see stuff lke “Ride it 6-8” shorter than your standard shortboard". This is assuming that the guy has ever ridden or cares about standard shortboards…). Of all the dimensions volume tells the most IMHO but I understand it doesn’t say much. 

I’m still learning a lot but I noticed that thin rails seem to make things easier regards volume. People say thin rails in the water on a thick will drag but the cornice and others seem to be cool?

This is an excellent thread, something I’ve been wrestling with.  I think that the issue regarding volume is more helpful to consider when you like one specific board, but need to get the wave catching/riding aspect dialed in.  It’s then that changes in volume in accordance with the small changes in width and/or length comes in to play.  Going from one type of board to another and only considering volume is not going to be helpful.  

For what its worth I’ll chime in on my experiences.

Over the last year I have been experimenting with different rockers both staged and continous.   You will find articles on the internet that says flatter rocker gets in easier.  However, as already mentioned on this thread its best to have a rocker that fits the wave you intend to surf.  I had one of my flatter staged rockered boards (6’0’') paddle in amazing in very fat, small conditions, BUT when I tried it in hollow waves with more juice it was  difficult to catch waves on it.  Now I find myself going back to slightly curvier rockers that are continous (or almost continous) and they are paddle in very well and they feel slightly more user friendly too.   You can add volume but if your rocker is not working with the curve of the wave you will not feel the full benefit.

I’ll agree.  And also say that when I add volume past a certain point, I like a little more rocker as well.  I mentioned this earlier, that the high volume in my boards will sometimes hang me up at the top for just a nanosecond, so I like a bit more rocker for late drops.  And I’ve found on my Matty HPLB that a thin shape, with less volume, works well for me with a flatter rocker.  In other words, I’m less dependent on volume for paddle-ability, when I have a flatter rocker.  I also find that flatter rocker in rounder waves likes rail fins.  You have to drop in on one rail to avoid pearling, and the quad setup on the Matty hugs the face when its steep and I’m dropping in.