How To Order A Step-Up

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.

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