Skimboarding is a sport that takes its inspiration from surfing – but for many beginners, it’s seen as a safer option because it keeps you closer to the shore and in shallower water. If you want the freedom and excitement of riding waves, but you prefer not to risk the deeper waters and the strong currents, skimboarding could be a fantastic compromise.
Every person who begins boarding will find their own rhythm and riding style. As long as you have a good idea of the basic techniques, you’ll be able to customize your skimboard experience to exactly the way you like to experience the water. This introduction to skimboards is just meant to give you an idea of what to expect – don’t be afraid to play around with the mechanics of the sport, because that’s what the more experienced skimboarders are doing!
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First Thing to Expect: Balance in Motion
The first time on a board, you’ll notice that being on a board is a lot like being on a bike. Meaning, you won’t be able to balance on it while standing still, not like a surfboard. Skimboards are small and curved underneath, in a way that prevents you from simply standing on it without a wobble. The only time you’ll be balanced on one is when you are in motion.
So that means that, much like a bike, you have to gain motion and balance simultaneously. And that means a lot of falling over while you learn. It’s not quite as bad as falling off a bike onto hard pavement, but you’ve got to be able to get up and keep trying to master the art of skimboarding when you’re a beginner.
Four Steps to Beginner Skimboarding
The first three skills that you need to master to skimboard are:
- Getting prepared
- Finding your balance
- Increasing your speed
Being prepared means three things: finding the right spot to skimboard, having the right kind of board for you, and being in good physical shape for this pretty taxing sport.
The right spot will be on the coast, and preferably a flat beach would be best. The best type of board will depend on what type of skimboarding you’ll be doing. If you stick to sand skimming, you just need any board that has a flat design. Wooden skimboards are often used for this. If you intend to skim waves, you’ll need a curved foam board that is designed specifically to ride water.
Being physically prepared doesn’t mean you need to be a pro athlete. But it’s good to be able to run, jump, and stretch without any issues in order to skimboard properly.
The next step is finding your balance on a board, which mostly just takes a lot of practice. Here’s what you’re going to do:
- Stand sideways with the water on your left if you are right footed, or on your right if you are left footed.
- Lean down and hold your board about six inches off the wet sand, facing the same direction as you. Now, you’re going to shoot the board across the sand, much like you would shoot a pool cue across the pool table – but make sure to let go of the board.
- Now start running! Run onto the board one foot at a time, don’t just hop on. Bend your knees when you make contact and you should gain balance as soon as your body gets into the motion of the board.
If you want to skim the sand, do all of this just after a wave rolls out. If you want to skim the water, do all of this just before a wave rolls in.
Riding the board after this is easy – you just keep your balance till the momentum runs out. But if you want to increase your speed or the length of your ride, you can do two things: first, choose the right wave so that the water speeds you along. Second you can give the board a sideways turn over flat water, a technique called side-slipping.
Once you’ve gotten these three basic skills down, you can already start doing a few tricks. At the beginner level, skimboarders can usually master 180s, as well as body aerials, where you jump, spin, and land back on the board.
Tips for Skimboard Learning Beyond the Basics
Once you go beyond the basics of skimboarding, there are a few tips that you can use to help your skills get to intermediate and advanced levels.
One of the first things that skimboarders do is start getting seriously strategic about how they pick their waves. If you want to skim on water, choosing the right wave is essential for a longer, faster ride. Here’s one good tip for choosing a good wave: watch the water in front of the wave as it hits the beach. When another wave hits, does that water move inwards towards the land, or back out towards the water? Choose waves that are pushing water towards the land for a faster ride.
One thing you’ll learn over time is how to distribute your weight during the ride so that you get a smoother ride. For example, as you move into the water, shifting your weight slightly back to the tail can help you raise the nose and get a smoother entry. But you’ve got to immediately center your weight again as soon as you get on the water, because you don’t want the tail to drag and stop your ride altogether.
The trickiest part of moving from beginner to intermediate skimboarding is choosing to ride with the wave, rather than riding sideways. This is, of course, how you’ll move faster and farther, but it can take some practice. Ideally, you want to be at the very front of the wave, skimming along as it brings you to shore. But you also may practice turning at certain points so that you can ride a little bit longer before reaching the shore. One big tip? Always be sure your board’s nose is not pointing down when you do come to shore, or you could be in for a very rough fall when the nose catches the sand.
Safety Tips for Skimboarding Beginners
For the most part, skimboarding doesn’t carry too many risks. You’ll fall plenty of times, but other than a few bruises, this shouldn’t be a huge problem. However, there are some safety tips to consider to keep yourself in the best shape possible.
Don’t forget that you’re out in the sun, and that the water is reflecting the sun back up at you from below. Sunscreen, sun glasses, and other protective gear will be very useful in keeping yourself healthy while you skimboard. You may also want to wear earplugs to avoid what’s called “surfer’s ear” – a combination of wind and water exposure that can damage your hearing.
If you intend to spend a lot of time skimboarding, you should be sure to spend some time strengthening your knees and your back. These two body parts take most of the stress when skimboarding, and are most likely to get injured when participating in this sport.
Different Types of Skimboards
We mentioned above that there are two types of skimboards – one made for sand skimming, and one made for water skimming. Let’s take a closer look at each of these, because choosing the right board is just as important as learning how to skimboard properly.
- Foam boards are used for water boarding, and are generally much lighter and more flexible. They are also more expensive. If you skimboard in rough currents, however, this will be the better board for you.
- Wood boards are a bit heavier and stiffer, which makes them better suited to sand skimming, but not as great for being in the water. They tend to sink very easily. However, these are usually more affordable, making them a popular choice for beginners.
Once you’ve decided what material you want your skimboard to be made of, you’ll need to choose the size. The size of your skimboard will be based on many things, including:
- Your height and weight
- How fast you want to skim
- Your skimboarding style (such as sand skimming or water skimming)
The best rule of thumb is to go for as small a board as you can comfortably use, but keep in mind that the bigger the board, the greater the distance you’ll reach – basically, the closer you get to the size of a surfboard, the more the experience will become like surfing. If your goal is to have a smooth, lengthy, speedy ride, then choosing a wider and longer skimboard may be your best option. However, if you want to do tricks and fun moves, smaller boards are usually more flexible.
But the most important factor of all is body weight. A small board is not an ideal choice for someone who is over 175 pounds or so, because the very small boards will simply sink under this much weight. Once you get around 175 pounds, you should probably stick to the large or extra-large skimboards (49 inches or longer). Under that weight, you can choose from boards as small as 45 inches.
Also keep in mind that the kind of water you are skimboarding will matter to the type of board you use. For example, if you if you want to go faster in areas where there aren’t a ton of big, strong waves, a heavier board will probably be better because you’ll likely be spending a lot more of your time on the sand. In areas where the currents have more power, a lighter board will let you skim the waves.
The Shape of Skimboards
There’s one more thing we need to discuss about skimboards, and that’s the shape. The shape is determined by the curvature of the head, or the rocker, of the board. More rocker means the board curves up more; less rocker means the board is flatter. If you want to go faster and skim sand and calm waters, go for a shallow rocker. If you want to stick to choppy waters, go for a steep rocker.
There are also boards referred to as pintail boars and W-tail boards, which offer different types of flexibility and balance for advanced skim boarders. The more you learn about the sport and how you enjoy riding, the closer you’ll come to finding your own best skimboard.
Many advanced skimboarders make their own DIY skimboards to get the exact rocker and weight that they want for their riding style. This is a great way to get involved in the sport once you’ve learned how to skim board.
Where to Begin with Skimboarding
We’ve covered a lot of material, but don’t get overwhelmed. Skimboarding is actually a very simple sport once you get started. You only need a small board and the ocean! The biggest thing that a beginner needs to do is practice getting on the board while it is moving. Be sure that you are learning how to slowly adjust your weight from one foot as it lands on the board, to both feet as the second lands on the board. If you put all your weight on the board at once, it will simply stop moving and you’ll go flying off.
Once you’ve mastered that single part of skimboarding, your options for other moves and tricks open right up. You can begin learning more intermediate and advanced moves pretty quickly when you’ve gotten the basics mastered. Choosing the right board will also help, but don’t worry if you have to try a few boards before you find the right one for your skimming style. It may be that you need more than one depending on your mood for the day – skimming sand and water are both fun.
Lots of practice and choosing a good board are all it takes to have a great time with skimboarding.
Ryan is an extreme kite surfer. When Ryan isn’t shredding in on the waves he spends time with his riding his bike, canoeing, and surfing.