Stand Up Paddle Boarding Etiquette – Play it Safe

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Etiquette – Play it Safe

Whether you’re interacting in society or out on the water on your board, displaying proper paddle boarding etiquette can be the difference between a great experience, or at its worse, a massive floating punch-up. It’s really a code of behaviour and something that we should be aware of at all times.

With its rapid and continual growth, paddle boarding will get more attention yet again so lets go over some of the do’s and don’ts when you’re out on the water.

SUP Surfer colliding with Surfer


General Paddle Boarding Etiquette

Surf SUPing (which we will cover below) is an entirely different animal but there is generally accepted behaviour that we should be mindful of when out on our SUPs.

Man with Child in PFD on Paddle BoardThe Law – while not always the case, in many states in the U.S. or different territories and countries around the world, paddle boards are classed as a water craft or vessel and as such need to abide by specific laws and regulations – for example, the wearing of a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and in particular for children. Understand and know the appropriate maritime laws wherever you plan on paddling.

Boating Channels – there are often specific channel markers on posts, but boats and in particular those under sail, have the right of way when in the channel. Understand the waterways and remain conscious of water traffic. Not only is it best practice, depending on their size, boats are not always that nimble or responsive so putting yourself in harms way isn’t too good for your health.

Ankle Leash – it may not be a legal requirement, but it is considered best practice to always wear your Paddle Board Leash. Ensuring that you and your board do not become separated, leashes act as an important safety resource. They also make sure that your board doesn’t shoot off if you lose control. SUPs can definitely do some damage if they hit someone so keeping them under control and within reach in the event of a fall is quite important.
Paddle Boarding beside Whale Shark


Wildlife – they were there first so be respectful of marine life. Unless you’re actually fishing, take a few pics, enjoy the sites but let the whales and dolphins do their thing.

Drafting – is a practice where you sit directly behind the person in front of you and benefit from their hard work. They act as a wind blocker in essence which reduces the level of energy and effort that you need to make – think motor racing, cycling or competitive swimming.

Its actually a bit of an art form so unless you are a capable paddler and have experience, simply avoid it. It’s also considered bad form to sit on the tail of a less experienced paddler or even a female if you’re a guy so play nice and don’t agitate other paddlers.

Water Traffic – our waterways can be very congested so its important that you remain conscious of those around you. While larger vessels may have the right of way, its easy to become engrossed in what you’re doing and forget about the fact that you’re sharing the waterways with others. If you come into contact with other paddlers, paddle on the opposite side of your board and try to manoeuvre out of each other’s way. Apologising is always a nice touch as well.

Help Others in Need – there are a lot of newbies out there on the water so if another paddler looks distressed or perhaps can’t get back on their board, provided you are able to, offer assistance as it will no doubt be well-received.

<< Yet to buy a SUP, take a read of our NIXY – Newport G3 10’6″ Review >>

Paddle Board Surfing

Surfers can be very territorial and have long been the unofficial custodians of the waves. Playing by the unwritten rules and following surf etiquette should be right up there on your to-do list.SUP Surfers on Wave


Paddle out Around the Break – its a little easier for surfers to cut straight through the waves out into the break, but its much more of a challenge as a paddler. Make sure you have a feel for the sets, keep an eye out for other surfers or paddlers and then work your way through the channel and back out around the break.

Aim for Less Congested Peaks – it can get busy out there and SUPer’s aren’t always accepted so look for pockets where there is less traffic. Catch your share of waves and then move down the beach to other peaks every now and then. It’s always good to play nice and not over stay your welcome. Sooner of later you’ll become part of the local community and be more accepted.

Back Paddling – while its perfectly normal to manoeuvre and ‘back paddle’ in flat water recreational paddling, its really bad form when in the surf unless you know that you are out there on your own. No one wants an unpredictable paddle Paddle Boarder Riding Wave

board (or paddle) in their face so know when its your wave and be respectful of your fellow surfers.

Give Waves Away – if you want to build some goodwill with the pack then it never hurts to pay it forward and give the odd wave to someone else. You may be out there with more aggressive or less patient surfers but if they know you’re making an effort and showing a bit of respect then it will likely go down well.

Never Drop In – pretty much the quickest way to NOT make friends – think Keanu Reeves in Point Break where he gets smacked in the head. Its one of the golden rules of surfing so as soon as you know someone is on a wave, steer clear. If you disrupt their ride or cause them to take a spill then expect to get Keanu’d.

Call Upcoming Sets – unless you’ve taken a seat, you have a much higher vantage point than surfers so give them an early heads-up and call out the set. If you know what you’re doing and can read the waves, let them know which wave is the best. Just another way of building up respect.

<< Mix it up a little and take a look at our Beginners Guide to Skimboarding >>

Two Paddle Boards on Big WaveWho’s in the Lineup – take a look at who’s out there and make sure you know your spot in the lineup. Jumping queue is not cool and won’t do you any favours.

There will normally be a big-dog out there as well so pick him out and show a bit of respect. Most surfers are territorial and stick to the same breaks. If you make an effort to say hi and show respect; over time you too may well become accepted as a local.

Wider Breaking Waves – a nice way to get more action and increase your wave count is to look for waves that are breaking wider or further out. They will typically be less accessible or overlooked by surfers who are in the main lineup so don’t let them go to waste and make the most of it.

Snaking – is when you paddle around another surfer who has position over you so you can gain right of way. The surfer or paddler that is closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way so ‘snaking’ around in front of them is another big no-no.

Your Leash – if you’re on a paddle board designed for SUP surfing you’ll likely already have a shorter surfing leash. If you’re on an all-rounder though, change out your leash for a shorter 6-8 footer as this will enable you to regain your board quicker if you come off which will reduce the chance of hitting and injuring other surfers.

Paddle Boarding on a Nice Clean WaveAwareness – hitting or being hit by another board isn’t any fun and will certainly not win you friends. When you’re paddling for a wave, scan across the lineup so you know you have a clear run at it. If you’ve actually caught one, run your eye across the wave face so you know if there are any surfers paddling out.

You have the right of way if you are on the wave but right and wrong aren’t what its all about. Similarly, if you’re the one paddling out, remain conscious of riders on a wave and let them pass by.

Your Wave Count – while its not a team sport, being mindful of the number of good waves that you land is important. Don’t be seen as a wave hog. If you’re finding yourself on more quality waves than the rest of the guys in the lineup, let a few good ones go or slide on down to another break. Another way of currying good favour.

Do Not Bail Your Board – its not uncommon to get caught in a breaking wave but if you do you need to avoid bailing or abandoning your board as it can be dangerous to surfers behind you. If you are caught, you can either kick your board forward over the wave or grab on to the leash near the plug as this will keep the board close to you when you resurface and out of harms way as much as possible.

Somewhat similar for your paddle. While your instinct may well be to tuck up and brace if you’ve taken a spill, your paddle is a hard projectile as well so try to keep it under control just as you would do with your board. Its your choice to use a paddle so its also your responsibility.

<< Another great all-rounder worth taking a look at is the Atoll 11’ iSUP >>

SUP Surfer Riding a Wave

Unwritten rules and etiquette are in the most part just as important as written rules so its always important that you know the lay of the land before you take to your board. Remaining respectful of accepted practices as well as those around you will only make for a more enjoyable experience for all.

We hope you found this article of interest and as always would welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you.

Until then, stay safe and get wet.

4 thoughts on “Stand Up Paddle Boarding Etiquette – Play it Safe”

  1. Wow man what an extensive and interesting post.

    I did not realize that paddle boarders hit the waves like surfers. I always envisioned paddle boarding to be very much like taking a leisurely stroll and did not realize it could be as exciting as that. Probably one of the reasons I have never gotten into the sport, I may have to reconsider as that looks like a ton of fun.

    Love the images man, the one of the paddle border almost running the surfer over probably resulted in a Keanu Reeves style confrontation I would imagine! lol

    Cheers man

    Reply
    • Hey Rob. Your take on paddle boarding isn’t dissimilar to many others but as you kick the tyres a little there’s a lot more to it. For anyone old enough to remember, the Keanu Reeves example is the one that I still fall back on as well. Plenty of waves to go round as long as we all play nice.

      All the best – Jason.

      Reply
  2. Wow, I had not idea that there was so much ‘political’ maneuvering involved in this sport!

    I have known a few surfers over the years and have listened to them talking about the waves, and the others that were in the water with them. Some of them seemed to think that they owned the beach and could do whatever they wanted, and this included letting outsiders know that they were not welcome.

    I didn’t agree with this attitude and have always thought that we should all able to share natures bounty together. However, as there are still people like this out there, it is in our interests to play by the rules as you suggest and just do our best to get along with everyone, so that everyone can have a great time.
    After all, none of us want to be hit in the head by a board, a paddle, or a fist!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Hey Andrew. You do hear the old stories and while its certainly getting better, you still get a lot of territorial types out on the waves in particular so a bit of commonsense and fair play is never a bad thing.

      Stay safe – Jason.

      Reply

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