Can you surf 1ft waves?

can you surf 1ft waves

Yes, you can still surf even when the waves are 1ft but you’ll need a surfboard with lots of volume and buoyancy to help you catch tiny waves. Consider taking out a fish, longboard, minimal or large foamie to make the most of small surf.

Now we’ve identified you can surf in 1ft waves you’re probably wondering why you struggle when the waves get small.

Believe it or not, sound small wave surfing is actually one of the sport’s most complex challenges and can take years of surfing experience to truly master.

Can you surf 1ft waves? Yes. Is it easy? No. Let’s take a look at why small wave surfing is so tricky and some tips and advice for getting your grovel on the next time a small swell arrives.

How tall is a 1ft wave?

Using traditional wave height calculations a 1ft wave will sit approximately between your ankle and knee. Using the Hawaiin scale for messing waves a 1ft wave can be as large as shoulder high when compared to the surfer on the wave.

The measurement of wave sizes varies across the world, so a 1ft wave in Hawaii is completely different to a 1ft wave in the UK. Let’s take a quick look at the two ways you can measure the height of a wave, why they’re so vastly different and which one we recommend using.

Measuring the face of the wave (international standard)

The most common system for measuring waves simply involves measuring the height of the wave’s face while a surfer is riding along the face of the wave. You can see the image below showing a simple calculation of wave height.

The wave height is measured from the trough to the peak of the wave.

Measuring the back of a wave (Hawaiian standard)

The Hawaiin scale for wave height throws this out the window and measures the height of waves based on the back of the wave. To put this into context, imagine you’re surfing and you look back to the beach, the backs of the waves you can see are what Hawaiin surfers measure to give waves a defined height.

This approach can lead to some serious discrepancies compared to the original method. Surfing 1ft waves in Hawaii can still be close to 4-5ft anywhere else in the world so watch out if some Hawaiians tell you the surf is small!

Tips for surfing 1ft waves

If you want to try and conquer some mini peaks we’ve got some sure-fire tips that’ll help you catch more waves and even get a few turns off if you’re lucky. Just check out what World Tour surfer Felipe Toledo can do with tiny waves in one of my favourite displays of small wave prowess by any surfer, ever.

Get a groveller

When it comes to surfing 1ft waves, volume is well and truly your friend. Most surfboard shapers will have a model they refer to as a ‘groveller’.

These boards are typically full of foam with thick tails and thick noses creating a load of float when you’re paddling and catching waves. Boards like this are going to be infinitely better than concaved shortboards more suited for when it’s 6ft and pumping.

Aim for long-period swells

The swell period indicates the time between each incoming swell. The longer the period the more power will be focused on each swell. Small waves with a long swell period of 12 seconds+ will have considerably more power and push, allowing you to generate more speed and perform turns.

Avoid onshore winds

Onshore wind can really destroy waves in no time, if the waves are small an onshore breeze can turn them into all but dribble in no time at all. For the best results in 1ft waves try to surf when there’s little to no wind at all and offshore wind if any.

Header over to our guide on offshore and onshore wind to learn more about how wind affects the surf.

Why would you surf 1ft waves?

Believe it or not, there are large swathes of surfers globally who will jump at the slightest chance to surf 1ft waves. The whole idea of the question ‘can you surf 1ft waves’ would make them laugh out loud.

So who are these small wave warriors and why do they froth at the slightest chance of a tiny ground swell?

You’re just learning to surf

If you’re starting out in the world of surfing, small, clean 1ft waves on a summer’s day are perfect for getting your feet on the wax. Grab a foamie (foam surfboard) with lots of float and head out, you’ll be surprised how much power some 1ft waves can have.

You live in an area that doesn’t get consistent swell

If you’re as unlucky as me and live an hour away from good waves the thought of small clean waves on your doorstep is more than enough to get you peeling on a wetsuit.

Lots of inland surfers and surfers who live in swell-starved areas will appear in droves for even the smallest of swells.

Small wave surfing will improve your surfing in bigger waves

Eleven times world champion Kelly Slater hails from Florida, known for its consistent waist-high waves and wind swell. But still, he’s a standout at some of the most dangerous barreling waves in the world.

He himself credits small wave surfing for perfecting his turns and techniques in larger waves. Short of getting barreled lot’s of the surf tricks you perform on head-high waves are possible in 1ft waves. They just require precision timing and perfect rail work, perfect your small wave game and those same turns will feel infinitely easier when larger swells arrive.


So, can you surf 1ft waves? Hell yeah, small wave surfing can be heaps of fun and it’ll help you out with your timing and turns for when the next ground swell arrives.

Don’t miss out on more helpful guides to improve your surfing below.