SUP Surfing 101: How To Start Paddle Board Surfing?
One of the main reasons why many years ago paddle boarding and all its various activities took my heart at first try was its versatility. I mean from paddle boarding you can go to SUP surfing, to yoga and all these other activities on your board that you will never get tired from.
Here we’ll be discussing all about the paddle surfing and the different types of surf sups out there. So, whatever you have been wondering about SUP surfing, I’m here to answer.
What is SUP Surfing?
If you already have experience with regular paddle boarding, but you now want to try some SUP surfing to mix things up and learn new skills, at the first try, you will realize that surfing waves on a SUP is a very different sport from flat water SUPing. Not that it’s significantly tricky, but you’ll have to learn some new moves and techniques to get rolling.
Not to worry though, if you’re already experienced being on a SUP board, and you have paddled through flat water surfaces and those windy and choppy days, then you definitely have a great base, and you’ll master SUP surfing in no time!
And speaking of those moves and techniques that you have to learn, as an experienced stand up paddler, I’m here to explain to you all the basics of paddle surf through the next 8 main tips in this text.
1. SUP Surfing: the main gear
The SUP Surfing Board
Of course, the most essential gear for SUP surfing is the SUP surfboard. Should you go and get a brand new SUP board for SUP surfing? Well, that depends on your current SUP board.
To be able to balance and ride waves on your SUP, you need to have the ability to float and to maneuver your SUP board. That said, if you have a longer SUP board, then it will be slower to turn in the surf, and if your board is quite wide, then it will hold less in the hollower waves.
However, that’s not to say that an experienced surfer won’t be able to SUP surf at all, but only that beginners might have a more difficult time with mastering it all.
Shortly said, this is the length you are going to need for SUP surfing: Pick a SUP board that’s smaller than those used for cruising or touring. If until now you have been paddling on a 10-12 ft board, for SUP surfing, you will need about a 9ft board. And if until now you have been paddling on a 9-10 ft board, then an 8ft would be just perfect for paddle board surfing.
And this is the width of the SUP board needed for smooth SUP surfing: Since too wide of a board won’t work for paddle board surfing, pick something that’s around 30 or 31″.
Also, when it comes to the design, the surf sups should have a surfboard-type shape instead of looking like a canoe or a floater. It should typically look like an oversized shortboard surfboard or an oversized longboard surfboard.
Plus, the weight of the overall SUP board should be too heavy. Choose one that you could carry by the handle from the car to the water without needing to put it down for a rest.
As you are just starting out, don’t go with a board that’s too short. Something like 7 feet won’t work unless you are already a seasoned paddler or surfer. However, after you try SUP surfing for the first couple of weeks, trust me when I say, you’ll get hooked! Hooked, I tell ya!
So, maybe if you are now buying a SUP board for SUP surfing too, get a cheaper one or a used one, because when you get a beginner’s board now, in a couple of months’ time you’ll outgrow it and you’ll be ready for a board that can provide more maneuverability and control.
The SUP Surfing paddle
When it comes to SUP surfing, you cannot just get away with any sort of SUP paddle. So you can forget about your heavy adjustable paddle made from plastic and/or metal.
For paddle board surfing, you need one that’s lightweight. This will make a huge difference when paddling through the waves, when changing sides for quick turns in the wave, when pushing your paddle away from you before getting smashed by a wave, and so on.
This is why I would advise you to invest in a full-carbon SUP paddle. Sure, it will be a bit pricier than your usual paddle, BUT you will use it for years in SUP surfing and paddle boarding, and it won’t tire your arms, so it’s really a win-win situation!
If money’s tight, you can always find a good second-hand deal.
But hey, what about the paddle surf size? Well, when it comes to paddle boarding, you want it to be several centimeters taller than you, but for paddle board surfing, you need it to be the same height as you.
The SUP Surfing leash
The third and last vital piece of gear for paddle surfing is the board leash.
This also differs when it comes to paddle boarding or SUP surfing because of the SUP board. Namely, your surf SUP board will probably be bulkier and heavier than your stand up paddle board so that you will need a longer and thicker leash. This is because you are now surfing the waves, and your leash is more likely to pull hard on your leg and board since your board is constantly getting swept away by the waves.
Wondering about the length of the leash? Well, it should be as long as your board, but it shouldn’t be too long because it will keep tangling around your feet.
Do not go for a coiled leash for SUP surfing because they can be dangerous due to both recoil and extended length in the waves.
Basically, the heavier your SUP surfing and the stronger the waves, the thicker a leash you want.
2. SUP Surfing: where to SUP surf?
Now that you have the right paddle board surfing gear, the second most important thing is the find the right spot for practicing SUP surfing.
For this, I’ve gathered the 6 key things to look for when in search of a paddle surf location.
Small Gentle Waves
The smaller the waves, the better in the beginning. Look for places with gentle whitewater where no big sets are breaking across the horizon.
A Paddling Channel
Search for a spot with waves breaking in one area, and then a relatively flat water channel across the waves so that you can easily paddle back out on your SUP.
A Smooth Water Surface
Find a beach that has little or no chop. This means no wind because it is a lot easier to learn SUP surfing when there’s a flat water area between the waves.
A Beach Break
Pick a place that doesn’t have a strong shore break. This is because it will be quite hard for you to push your board across the waves.
Avoid the Rocks
Besides the risk of you getting hurt, a rocky area will definitely damage surf SUPs. Plus, you will probably fall a lot in the beginning, so you can imagine how dangerous such an area would be.
Avoid the Crowds
Choose a spot that has lower traffic, whether that’s people swimming, paddling, surfing, or boats passing by. All these can be very distracting and potentially dangerous, as you will fall over quite a lot in the beginning. Plus, with so many people around waiting for a wave, you will never catch enough waves to practice properly.
3. SUP Surfing: in the waters
As part of the how-to SUP surf series, this is the next key step in mastering this sport. This is one of the first challenges you have to learn initially.
When getting into the water through a beach break, you’ll have to learn to push your board through the shore break while holding your paddle in your other hand. Make sure to get past the shore break before hopping onto your SUP and stand up paddle toward the peak.
To do this SUP surfing technique right, you have to first float on your SUP board on top of the water while holding it firmly by the handle and dynamically pushing it toward and over each incoming whitewater or small wave. During this time, keep the paddle perpendicular to the wave. Otherwise, it will get dragged back to the shore.
As you are walking and dragging your board across the water when it starts getting deep enough or even too deep to walk, get onto your surf SUP board in a prone position.
Place the paddle under your torso while its handle is sticking out far in front of you. Then start paddling with your hand just like you would on a surfboard.
This paddling technique is beneficial in the beginning while you are still building up your SUP surfing skills. Experienced SUP surfers use the surfboard-style prone paddling when they cannot stand up paddle to the peak because of the conditions. Also, this technique is used for resting their legs after riding long waves.
On the other hand, if you are learning to SUP surf at a point break because you cannot find a beach break or any other spot, then this prone paddling technique is also precious.
You see, by getting out in the water through a point break, you have to jump off the rocks and immediately lie on your surf SUP and paddle with your hands until you get to a spot where you can stand up and use the paddle instead.
4. SUP Surfing: stand up paddling to the peak
After learning how to get into the water and prone paddle your water to the waves, let’s review stand up paddling through the surf.
How To Stand Up On A Surf SUP?
You may think since you already know how to stand up and paddle on flat water that this should be easy-peasy, but the truth is, stand up paddling when SUP surfing is a whole different story.
Firstly the wind and the waves make it hard to get up on your board and stay on your feet. Additionally, the fact that your surf SUP is now shorter and less stable doesn’t help either!
This is why beginner surf SUPers should start by kneeling on their board and mastering balance like that before completely standing. By doing this gradually, you get familiar with your board’s proportions so that you know where it is best to place your knees/feet and go from there.
Be patient with yourself when standing upon the waves. Don’t give up, no matter how many times you have fallen over.
Standing Up Directly
I’ve heard many surfers say that when they actually try to stand on their knees from previously being in a prone position and then standing on their feet is harder for them. Some people prefer prone to feet immediately and feel that that step in the middle is complicating things for them.
So, try to omit this step and see if that’s easier for you.
Additionally, you can try to first sit on your surf SUP and then stand on your feet without kneeling. As you sit, simply place your feet under you to stand up, but before standing up, put the paddle down across the SUP in front of you.
PRO TIP: If your board is smaller than you’re used to, and there’s a lot of wind and waves around you, standing up might prove difficult, making the board quite unstable. So, to avoid falling down, you need to stand up as quickly as possible while your board still has that initial momentum from your paddling.
Also, advanced riders, when they find themselves in this situation, they first paddle with their hands when in prone position to make the board move, and then pop up quickly while the SUP is still moving.
Surf SUP Paddle Stance
When you are touring or just paddling on your SUP board, your usual stance is with your feet parallel and facing forward.
However, when you are SUP surfing on your smaller board, then it is helpful to pull one foot slightly backward (just several centimeters) to improve your board’s stability by spreading your weight over the board’s center area.
Once you get comfy while standing on your feet in moving waters, you can go on to practice the whitewater boarding while on your feet.
Don’t get discouraged because initially, you’ll probably fall one too many times, but the trick here is to face the wave head-on, perpendicular to it, and take a firm paddle stroke at the exact moment you hit the wave/whitewater.
What would also help is to shift your weight backward on your surf SUP and with your feet, you should push the board up against the wave.
Surely you will need a lot of practice for this, and it probably won’t work with bigger crashing waves.
When stronger waves hit you, to ease the situation, jump off your surf SUP and let the wave sweep it away until the leash stops the SUP’s momentum.
Be prepared for a rough pull on your ankle and leg – try to let your body flow along with the wave to reduce the impact of the pull.
5. SUP Surfing: the right wave positions
Learning how to position yourself for a wave properly is extremely important when you want to get to the peak.
Firstly, you will have a much easier time learning to position yourself on unbroken waves than straight on whitewater. Also, avoid broken waves because they move and shake your SUP a lot, and on them, you’ll lose balance much more quickly.
This is why I would suggest that you pick an incoming green wave and paddle towards it. When you move close enough, turn your SUP around toward the beach quickly. This is yet another technique that I’ll be talking about just below.
The 180º Surf SUP Turning Technique
Take broader circular paddle strokes away from the rail opposite the turning direction and push one foot back to the tail while turning. This last detail will help your board pivot around its tail.
Then, when you turn and you are facing the beach, paddle really hard and quick to gain momentum before the wave starts pushing you. Center your weight correctly on the center of the board so that you are floating evenly on top of the water, and your tail and nose are not underwater.
The Parallel-Turn Technique
This is a more advanced technique for catching waves on your surf SUP, and it avoids the loss of momentum that comes with the 180º board turn.
So, with the parallel turn method, you turn slightly to get parallel to the wave while still paddling. This would be a 45º turn, and then as the wave reaches you and pushes you, it gives you momentum instead of you being the one that pushes the board by paddling hard.
Then as the wave reaches you and gives you more momentum, you do another 45º turn toward the beach while you simultaneously drop into the wave.
With this more advanced method, you maintain momentum at all times, and you only adjust the direction while the wave pushes you. This avoids doing a hard 180º U-turn followed by heavy paddling to get moving again.
SUP Surf Takeoff Positioning
Probably one of the most challenging skills to learn is to know precisely when and where to turn around or to paddle parallelly and get into the wave.
You see, while those surfers who ride a shortboard need to place themselves right where the wave starts breaking, you on your SUP surfing board have more flexibility because of the higher speed and momentum so you can catch the wave much earlier.
SUP surfers can place themselves further to sea and catch the waves before they start breaking, even before surfers do.
6. SUP Surfing: paddling into a wave
Now that you know how to turn your surf SUP around, you are now about to drop into the wave to ride it. Firstly, you take stronger than regular paddle strokes to gain momentum and boost your board into the stream.
The best approach to this is to start with a series of fast, short, and hard strokes instead of the normal ones that only move your board around when stand up paddling.
To gain even more momentum, use your hips, they will give you more substantial paddling power.
Then, if you want to catch the wave early, you will need a lot more boost than if the wave is already close to breaking. One way to help your surf SUP tip over into the wave is to shift more weight onto your front foot and load up the nose. For this, you can even slide your front foot slightly forward.
As mentioned, when paddle board surfing, you should have your feet parallel or near, so when you drop into the wave, switch to a surf/skate stance. How so? That’s when you have your feet sideways with one foot forward and the other backward.
However, this switch should happen immediately before dropping into the wave because as soon as your board enters the wave, you need to pull back your front foot. If you are in a hollower wave, then you need to shift your whole stance backward to avoid nosediving.
7. SUP surfing: riding the waves
After you master all these techniques, riding the wave is the easy part. You already can hold a balance, so you just let yourself slide down the wave.
This is especially joyful since the size of your board (bigger than the surfboard) gives you more momentum, and you have enough speed as the wave comes to you.
The great part about SUP surfing is that you have the paddle to the rescue if your wave loses strength. In that case, gain some speed with the paddle and slide on.
Furthermore, having the right stance at all times during SUP surfing a wave is key, especially with larger surf SUPs. This is because as you lose momentum, you have enough space to walk to the front and shift your weight forward while paddling at the same time. Then as your speed increases, shift your weight to the back of the board again to avoid nosediving.
Then, as you have practiced enough and you are pretty comfortable riding a wave, you can start playing with sharp turns on your surf SUP while using your paddle as an additional fin. So, as you make a turn at the top of the wave or the bottom, stick the blade of the paddle in the water on the side of the turn to make it sharper.
8. SUP Surfing: exiting a wave
If at one point you feel as if you need to exit a wave for some reason, just use the paddle to slow down and let the wave pass you by.
However, if you are already into the wave, then you will need to use your feet to steer your board forcefully up and out of the wave.
Lastly, you may find yourself in a situation where the only thing left is to jump off the board while holding on to the leash to avoid a particular wave. This is okay as long as you let your body flow freely with the water, and you prepare for the strong pull of the leash.
At this point, you should also check to see if there’s someone else downstream from you who might get hit by your SUP.
With the 8th section of the SUP surfing, I conclude the info hub on everything you need to know about paddle board surfing.
In addition, I have the three most commonly asked questions by people who are just now entering the world of paddle surfing.
The Fin Setup
If you were wondering how having a fin setup can help you in and out of the surf read on and take notes.
Namely, I mentioned already that the shape and size of your SUP board is the most important thing. However, technology brought about many different sets of fins, and with them, you can significantly transform the performance of your SUP surfing board.
THE BASIC SETUP The single long-center fin is the most basic fin setup. It includes having just one fin installed in the center of the board. It creates minimal drag and is excellent for the board, which has been intended for surfing.
Especially for hard boards, because inflatable paddle boards have more rounded rails which contribute less to carving performance than those rails on the hardboards.
THE SIDE-FIN SETUP Adding side fins next to the center fin is an upgrade from the basic setup, and it allows the rider to control the tail of the board when there are no hard rails that would give that carving performance instead.
This is why, if you need the extra traction, I would recommend adding the side fins. This way, you can hold onto the flexibility of having a central fin only when speed is your priority and adding the side fins only when you need to.
THE THREE-FIN SETUP The permanent three-fin setup is also great, but you lose the flexibility of switching between one or three fins.
For surfing purposes only, harder fins are preferred because they give you more control. However, when you have an inflatable board for SUP surfing, the rigidity of the fins won’t matter at all.
Surfing on Deck Pads?
Wondering if your deck pad is ideal for surfing?
Well, just like with all of the boards, the quality and texture of the deck pad will make or break a surf.
That said, having a full deck pad that’s thicker and longer and covers more board surface would be great because it will be easier for you when you are falling down while learning to SUP surf.
Also, when buying, look for a board that has a contoured tail pad area and a raised rear edge. This will spare your rear foot from constantly sliding, and it will also give you a lot more leverage when applying foot pressure.
You also have boards that have a raised arch bar at the tail of the deck pad. This lets you feel where your back foot is placed, and you don’t have to risk falling by looking down to check.
Another helpful thing is an arch bar or T bar, which will allow you to dig your rear foot in and apply more weight into the board to pivot the tail.
Hardboard vs. Inflatable for SUP Surfing
When looking at things objectively, both hardboards and inflatable boards have their advantages and disadvantages.
For instance, a hardboard with its rail shape. The rails here are more sculpted and more easily controlled for all surfing maneuvers. A SUP hardboard will feel very close to a traditional surfboard, and it will give you more speed on the wave and more control when doing turns or making any adjustments.
On the other hand, you have the storage and transport issue with the hardboard, which can totally break your SUPing or surfing plans. And for this, the inflatable boards are much better.
Additionally, inflatable boards are great for learning how to SUP surf because of their slightly softer deck pads, so falling down won’t be as painful.
Plus, if paddling or surfing is a seasonal thing you for, then the inflatable board here wins because it’s much more practical for the offseason.
With that said, the larger volume of the inflatable boards is something to think about since that can make your wave catching harder. However, this isn’t something you won’t be able to master over time.
Just pick the wave you want to hit, paddle hard, and don’t get discouraged if you paddle into a breaking wave on occasion. Here duck dives aren’t really beneficial, so you need to learn how to brace while standing and paddling out.
Prone paddling can also prove slightly more difficult on a SUP board than a surfboard, primarily because of the wider design and the paddle that you have to have tucked under your torso, but prone paddling is great when you want to get underneath wind.
Surely it takes practice to SUP surf on an inflatable board, but then again, it takes a lot of practice to SUP surf on any board in order to become good.
So really the best SUP for surfing is the one that you practice a lot on.
Don’t wait for the perfect conditions, because if you wait for them, you’ll never try anything new.
Just get out there, have fun and spend as many hours as you can on the water, practicing your SUP surfing. As you get better, it gets incredibly addictive and satisfying, I promise! I hope I was able to answer all your questions and dilemmas regarding SUP Surfing and surf SUPs.
If you have any additional questions or you just want to share your experience, do not hesitate to drop me a line in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to visit my Facebook and Instagram account for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle board surfing and everything related.
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