Beginning Stand Up Paddle Surfing

Stand Up Paddle Surfing is the fastest growing water sport in the world today. If not for the chilling effects of a worldwide recession you’d be seeing them everywhere, because they are the most versatile watercraft anyone has found. Not only can you surf with them, but you can also paddle in any lake, river, pond or bay. People are doing open ocean downwind runs, racing from island to island in the tropics and across Cape Cod Bay. Fishing from them, running rapids, exploring coasts and rivers. They’ve even been taken to Antarctica. You can also sail them using a simple windsurfing rig.

Not only are they a great adventure craft, but they can easily replace your gym membership and all that boring time you spend on a elliptical machine with a workout that’s fun to do, low impact and high results. Arms, shoulders, core, legs and back–all get a solid workout in a typical SUP session. While the boards are more expensive than a typical surfboard, they are still less expensive than good kayaks, and one board can last you for many years (though most people get addicted quickly and start adding specialized boards.

Stand up paddle surfing is a GREAT geezer sport. You can do something challenging without dealing with the flexibility issues that limit us in some sports. Learning SUP has dramatically improved balance, flexibility and strength for many people, even people with neurological issues. It appears to be highly therapeutic. My own brother has a tumor on his auditory nerve that caused vertigo, headaches, and limited the amount of work he could do. He couldn’t drive his car, sometimes fell during vertigo spells. He tried standup paddle surfing and steadily improved at it. He lost weight, his balance steadily improved. He says it completely changed his life, and he’s not the only one. This link is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve heard from dozens of people on my other blogs who have found great thereaputic value. I think it’s the requirement for constant balancing that does the trick, but it’s probably also all the fine muscle control you have to gain.

Getting Started

Before you start paddle surfing you need to assess your swimming skills and your ability to handle yourself and your board in surf. Any watersport is dangerous, and good swimming skills are a necessity, even if you only do standup on flat water and lakes

Leash:
Wear one Even on a lake. When you fall you often give the board a kick that sends it zooming away. Then the substantial freeboard gives the wind something to push against and suddenly you’re all alone. In waves it’s even easier to be abandoned by your board. I had to swim in from the outer reef at Kanaha when my leash parted one morning last summer. It was after noon before I hit sand. Long morning.

It’s not just your safety that’s at stake though–you can kill or injure someone with one of these boards. A leash is not a cure all for that problem but it’s a start. More important though is the issue of where you practice. Don’t learn where there are other surfers. These are big boards and it’s easy for them to get out of control. You don’t need the best spot in the lineup, all you need is some sloppy waves to practice on. Don’t forget how long the board and leash are. If you get worked and are bouncing along in the whitewater your board can be 25 feet away from you. There’s no excuse for a rank beginner learning where there are people below you who can be hit by your board.

When you do fall in, pretend that you don’t have a leash. Do what you can to control the board. DON’T grab the leash though–if it gets wrapped around your fingers while you’re in the wave they can easily be broken or even torn off. It’s happened. It’s a good idea to have a grab handle on the back of the board. Handy on the front of the board for that matter though the leash will keep you from using a front handle as effectively. If you have a solid handle to hang onto then it’s much easier to keep your board away from people. The other big advantage is that you can get an occasional breath while you’re being bounced around–you’ll always be near the surface if you’re hanging onto the board. Make certain that you wrap your hand over the top of the handle, don’t hook it under. In the pressure of a wave the nadle gets forced to the board and can trap your hand.

While we’re talking about breathing and drowning, your paddle is actually a big help when you’re getting pushed down by a wave. Put it across your chest with the paddle blade above your head and the dihedral bent down. As you are pushed through the water the paddle will send you upwards. I’m not sure why this works, but every time I try it I’m amazed at how fast I pop up

Lifejacket:
It’s not unreasonable to wear a kayak-style lifejacket. The inflatable kind that are almost as narrow as a pair of suspenders are really handy. Some of the best big wave surfers in the world wear them today. Yes, you’ll look stupid, but you’ll be alive and stupid, not dead and cool.

Be aware of the wind and currents, you can easily be blown to sea by an offshore wind or find yourself fighting a powerful current. Start your learning experiences where there are lifeguards, and it’s highly recommended to have someone on the shore that’s paying attention to where you are and whether you are screaming or not.

Etiquette:
Once you get good enough to surf in a lineup, remember that you have a huge advantage over other surfers–and DON’T take more advantage of it than you should. You can start into a wave long before standard surfers can, you can get back to the lineup much quicker, and you can catch waves even when you’re out of the slot.

Don’t be a wave hog. There’s a backlash starting of surfers being pissed off about SUP folks coming into their favorite spot and taking too many waves. Of course for some of the territorial knuckleheads that think they own the beach, and any wave you take is too many waves. But there’s two good reasons not to irritate fellow surfers

First of all, you don’t need their waves. A SUP surfer can surf almost anywhere. Waves that are too small for shortboarders are just fine for SUP. Long frequency, no shoulder waves give long and fulfilling rides. You can SUP surf in a ski boat wake. You can also paddle long distances to get to outside breaks or breaks that aren’t easy to get to from shore. It’s fun and good exercise getting there, and you don’t have to dodge the grems.

Second, they were there first. No matter how stupidly they might assert their territory, you’re the new guy, even if you shortboarded that break for the last twenty years. Give them room.

In other articles we’ll cover the basic elements of SUP and the moves you’ll need to master, we’ll also cover some basic surfing, distance paddling and racing, as well as downwinding, touring on SUPs, SUP fishing, and SUP sailing. These are great toys.

One Comment

  1. Offshore-Paddler says:

    After surfing for nearly 30 years, I can finally say that I’ve found something better (for me) SUP has set me free. I can paddle my race SUP offshore to find solitude and personal challenge, I can ride my wave SUP out on bombies that are just too far to paddle. I’ve just got to get the kids and Wifey interested now. I can be sure that I will be staying happy, challenged, fit and very active well into my Geezerdom!

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