Stand Up Paddle Board Surfing – SUPing in the Surf
As the fastest growing water sport globally, it is easy to see why everyone is ‘getting on board’. Suited for paddlers of all levels, there are many benefits to be gained from paddle boarding. From the all over body workout as well as increases in stamina, endurance and stability through to the ability to connect with nature and release the pressure valve so to speak, there is a place for paddle boarding for us all. If you’re new to the sport though or are looking to step it up to another level and take on the ocean swells, there are probably a few things on your mind.
An obvious question perhaps – which is easier, surfing or SUPing in the Surf
As a recreational sport, remembering that paddling on boards or flat wooden rafts as a means of transport has been around for a long time, surfing is by far a more established sport and one that many of us grew up with as kids. The obvious difference of course is introducing the paddle when SUPing.
Whilst the question makes sense, it’s not really an A or B type choice. While both require a sense of balance and core strength, surfers propel the board through the water with their hands whilst laying down prior to catching the wave whereas SUPers solely use their paddle. Whilst on the wave surfers interact with theboard a lot more in that they use their arms, twist through their waist engaging their core, and change positions with their feet as and when needed so they can propel themselves into and on the wave.
SUPers however place a lot more emphasis on driving the paddle through the water so their arms are fixed to the paddle and not free like a surfer. SUPers also need to engage their core muscles and manoeuvre the board in part with their feet and body but also by digging the paddle into the water so they can adjust the boards direction and angle.
While the purest will likely say surfing, I’m of the view that they are somewhat similar to each other particularly when it comes to getting into waves. The bigger the wave the more skill that is required for both and while we typically do not see big wave SUPing, there is definitely a place for wave riding in both boarding disciplines. It’s also worth remembering that for a large portion of the time the surfer is laying or sitting on their board waiting for the wave whilst the SUPer is standing and using the paddle and as such is exerting more energy overall.
Do Surfers Really Hate SUPers?
Look it’s definitely a growing sport and it’s uptake is clearly skyrocketing but unfortunately there will always be the haters out there. Some of us can embrace change and some of us can’t. SUPing isn’t going away though guys so we’re all going to have to play nice with each other.
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So why all the tears?
SUPers are wave hogs – I can see the gripe here because there’s a fair argument that SUPers can get on waves with theirpaddle quicker than shortboard surfers. They also have the added advantage of height as they are standing up so their line of sight is better enabling them to pick up the wave earlier. Perhaps a surf etiquette consideration for us SUPers to take on board.
It’s an old mans sport that doesn’t look as cool – sure, you’re not going to get into 30 foot waves every day and it’s not compulsory to have filthy bleached hair and drive around in a 1970s station wagon, but the sport definitely caters for all flavours both young and old. We’re all going to get old as well so take it up early then you’ll look like a cool old guy one day!!
It’s too expensive and only for the wealthy – whilst the high end kit can be quite expensive there are entry level boards both inflatable and hard so it does cater for all. Sure you can get one of those massive bulky hard boards where you need an SUV to cart it around but it can be as expensive as you make it – or not. I’d also suggest that if you’re a 22-year old brick layer who’s just taken a spill on a work site and now has a dodgy back and can’t surf, SUPing may become your new best friend so worth think about that one.
It’s dangerous – I struggle with this argument as well. Yes if you get hit in the head by a 15′ hard board with a 300 pound guy on it sure it’s going to hurt but I’d suggest that the same guy on a typical long board will hurt just as much. There are also an increasing number of really good inflatable SUPs out there which will clearly be more impact friendly so I think the too dangerous argument is a bit weak.
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So now that we’re all friends again, what sort of surfing SUP and kit do we need?
Whilst you can get out into the surf or rougher waters on a SUP that is more suitable for flat water paddling, there are boards that are better geared purely to surfing so as you progress into bigger waves, upgrading or changing boards would be a definite plus.
The Board – an important distinction for paddling in the surf is that you would typically use a shorter board than you would on flat water because it will be far more manoeuvrable relative to a longer board. If the board is particularly wide then it will also be less effective in hollower waves.
As a general rule of thumb you should go for a surf paddle board that is a little smaller than what you would use for a regular touring or flat water paddling. So once you’ve worked out your height and weight measurements and what SUP would typically suit you for flat water paddling (manufacturers guide charts will help), go down a size and this should then be better suited for the surf. If you are quite capable and have a reasonable level of skill then you can probably play with the balance a little.
Another key consideration is do you go for a hard board or an inflatable. A hard board will typically always out perform an inflatable in surf conditions although there are many high end inflatables on the market that do rival their hard board cousins so you do have a choice. An inflatable is easier to get back into the car as well if you don’t mind a bit of pumping and packing.
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Leash – they’re always important when boarding but more important again when in the surf. Your leash should be at least as long as your board or even a little longer. Having a heavier duty leash as compared to what you would have on your touring SUP is also a benefit as you and the board will take more of a pounding in surf conditions so you definitely don’t want it to break. Trying to swim with a paddle in your hand isn’t much fun so safety first please.
Paddle – the key distinctions here are weight and length. You will need a shorter paddle than you would for touring so you can dig it into the water / waves. This will help with your manoeuvrability and also make you more explosive coming onto the wave. The weight is also critical as you really don’t want to be lugging around a heavy adjustable plastic or metal paddle. If you can afford it (consider second hand if needs be) then go for a non-adjustable appropriately sized carbon fibre paddle. It will make a big difference.
A basic fin configuration and this also applies to flat water paddling is simply a single centre fin. It creates less drag but is better suited to hard board rather than iSUPs. Inflatables being far thicker than hard boards have a higher softer rail so having two small side fins or side bits is necessary as it will make the board far easier to handle and manoeuvre in the waves. Adjustable fins are also a nice option two as you can then tailor the board to suit your style and the paddling conditions. The length of the fin also plays a part. The larger the fin the better tracking and hold you will have whereas the shorter the fin then the looser the ride will be.
Deck Padding – whilst it doesn’t impact the performance of your board in the water, it does impact your level of comfort and ability to handle the board. A thicker and longer padded surface is not only helpful for when you take a fall but it also helps as you move along the board when trying to position yourself. Having the padding thicker towards the rear of the board also helps as you lean heavier on the tail when manoeuvring and turning. If there is a raised tail or lip on the rear padding then better again.
From my perspective and whether you are in the surf or not, I’d pick a Stand Up Paddle Board over surfing any day. For one, I am rubbish at surfing so there’s a given but stand up paddle boarding adds so many other dimensions to your paddling experience. It has the versatility of hitting even the smallest of waves in the surf all the way through to flat water paddling on lakes, rivers, lagoons or rapid riding if that’s your thing. The health and fitness benefits are vast as is the connection with nature.
Give it a go – what do you have to lose!!
As always we would love to hear from you so please leave your comments below and we will get back to you.
Stay safe and get wet.