So You Want To Learn To Surf On An SUP?

Flickr / Ingrid Taylar
Flickr / Ingrid Taylar

SUPing (stand-up paddle boarding) has become all the rage over the past ten years. The popularity of standing upright on a long, wide board and paddling around the open ocean is appealing. Viewing ocean wildlife, getting your Zen on and having a workout at the same time is beyond satisfying – it’s close to perfect.

For OG surfers who are getting older and have physical limitations, SUP-surfing (surfing on waves with a stand up paddle board) is a way they can continue to surf waves and not have to strain or re-injure their muscles, backs, knees and necks like they did when they were lying prone and popping-up on a regular board for years. Plenty of former pro surfers are now doing it, Laird’s doing it and you can do it too, right?

Take heed grasshopper, SUP-surfing has put more novices in the water and has almost doubled the crowds at local surf spots, a dangerous combination. The bummer for us “old-timers,” is that when novices jump on huge SUPs and enter traditional surf breaks without wave knowledge, an understanding of the Ten Commandments of Surfing, or the ability to control their craft, tension, fights and accidents are the result.

Here are some tips to help you become a better SUP-surfer, respect the surfers who came before you, generate good vibes and stay safe while having fun:

Thoroughly read and digest the Ten Commandments of Surfing – just Google it….it’s so important it’s #1.

Choose a board and a paddle that’s suits your height and weight with the help of a professional.

Start off in a marina or a harbor on flat water for a few months before venturing out into the open ocean. Get a feel for your board and paddle. Learn to turn your board by stepping with one foot to the very back and paddling either backwards or forwards. Practice on flat water until you are stable and balanced. Don’t be afraid to fall, it’s impossible not to and it will make you a better SUP-surfer.

Once in the ocean, practice there for a few months. Find your balance, step back on your board, turn, fall, get back up and do it again.

When you think you’re ready to surf some waves, you probably aren’t! Sorry, but it’s true. So choose a beginners beach. Heading out to the best and most populated surf spot is not recommended. Be sure you stay far, far to the inside away from anyone – all by yourself. Try to catch the white-water first and practice some more.

If you cannot safely pull out of a wave (that means to stop surfing it and head back out for more) without putting another surfer in jeopardy, you are not ready to surf with other people! Practice pulling out while riding the whitewater.

Always hold on to your board when you go down, do not rely on the leash to control the board for you. Your craft can still hit others and with bigger SUPs, leashes break easily, sending a rogue board into surfers close by. On smaller waves, learn how to “turtle roll” your board: flip the board upside down, hold it close to the nose on top of yourself, frog kick going backwards, pulling it as you dive under the oncoming wave. Sounds complicated but it’s not – check it out on YouTube – right now – do it!

Do use a leash.

Understand your limitations. Just because you see SUP-surfers at a particular break, doesn’t mean it’s a break for you. Waves look smaller from shore and ocean currents can be deceiving. Plenty of excellent surfers have made the transition to SUPs, know how to surf, are knowledgeable about ocean currents, understand surfing etiquette and how to keep others safe. Be honest with yourself about your ability.

Don’t be a wave hog: if you have become adept at SUP-surfing and see a set coming, call it out. And don’t take all the waves or all the best waves. For every one wave you take, let three go.

Don’t be a fly. This is a SUP-surfer who buzzes back and forth from peak to peak, paying no attention to others with the sole goal of being the one to get all the waves (a.k.a. wave hog). OG surfers sit in one spot in the line-up and wait their turn (again check out the Ten Commandments). Do the same. If you were sitting on a board in the water, it would be disconcerting to have someone towering over you. Sit down for a bit, and don’t be a fly. There’s a definite order to who has the right of way on a wave, learn it.

When heading to shore, stay present. Point your board straight towards the sand. Never position your board horizontal to the wave, it’s too hard to control and it really hurts when it hits you.

Be a good ambassador of SUP-surfing: be kind, say hello and if you see other SUP-surfers being wave hogs, flys or putting others in harms way, call them out…nicely.

Don’t be a hater. Just because others do it, don’t fall into the trap. No one owns the ocean and every surfer deserves their fair share of the waves and your respect. Whatever style of board someone rides, their age, sex or where they are from are non-issues. Catch a wave, not an attitude.

Show respect to locals and experienced surfers. If you are on vacation, new to the sport, or scoping out a private beach you couldn’t get to previously, you are surfing in someone else’s backyard – above all else – honor this!

If all SUP-surfers, old and new alike, honor SUP-surfing and surfing etiquette, fewer beaches will attempt to abolish stand up boards from their breaks. It sucks when everyone is punished for the behavior of a few. Be the Big Kahuna and do your part by acting for the benefit of the whole – instead of the gratification of one. Surfing is all about the L O V E – so spread it. TC mark

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