So You Want to SUP Surf? What To Know Before you Go

So You Want to SUP Surf?

Yes, you can surf a standup paddle board! It is super fun and in some ways, easier to learn than prone surfing.  Here’s why:
  • You don’t have to pop up.  In paddle surfing, you are already standing when you catch the wave.
  • It’s easier to see the sets coming in.  Your field of vision is much better because you are standing up.
  • It’s easier to catch the waves.  You have a paddle, which means increased speed and the ability to brace for stability.  Plus SUP surf boards are generally wider and heavier, which can work in your favor.
However, heavier and bigger boards, as well as the paddles, also can make sup surfing a bit more dangerous, especially for others  around you in the line up and for non-surfing beach goers.
If you are new to sup, be sure you are comfortable with your balance on flatwater and have a strong, confident forward stroke before you venture out into the waves.

Know before you Go

Before you paddle out and go for that first wave, it is essential to learn proper surfing etiquette to keep yourself as well other the others around you, safe.  Know these rules and what they mean before you get into the line up.


Observe Right of Way

Know who has priority to catch the wave! Essentially, you take turns.  Just like with driving or piloting a boat, failure to follow the rules of the road can result in injury. Here’s how you know who gets to go:

  • Furthest out: the surfer that is furthest out or that has been waiting longest
  • Furthest inside: the closest surfer to the peak of the breaking wave
  • First on the wave.

In some places, the wave might break at two places and two surfers can catch it together, In these instances, communication is key: Call out  “Left!” or “Right!” to let another surfer know which way you are going.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Right of Way: Don’t Drop In

Dropping in is when you cut in front of or otherwise get in the way of  surfer who is already on the wave or has the right of way. Look around you before you start to charge after a wave to make sure someone else doesn’t have priority!  Dropping in is a sure fire way to get lots of stink eye at least,  or cause bigger trouble or injury with other surfers.

Don’t Snake

Snaking is when a surfer repeatedly paddles around someone to try to get into the priority positive to get waves.  Don’t do it.  It is NOT cool.  It’s like cutting in line.

Don’t  Be a Wave Hog

Wait your turn.  Give others a chance to catch waves.  You don’t need to get every single one.  Because of the size of the boards, the paddles and the standing position, SUPS have a distinct advantage over prone surfers and we can typically catch more waves.  Not taking advantage of that ability and sharing waves with others is a great way to show respect and reduce animosity on the line up.

Do Apologize

In addition to watching for the incoming waves, you need to be paying attention to the surfers around you to make sure you are following the etiquette.  But we all make mistakes.  When when you are learning, it’s super easy to not see the surfer who has the right of way or who may have caught the wave first.  Say you’re sorry.  Go out of your way to apologize. Don’t make excuses, don’t blame others.

 Respect the Locals

SUP surfers are not always going to be welcome. Because of the reasons listed above – we have the advantage, our gear can be hazardous and because new sup surfers may seem to take all of that for granted and do not show respect.  Add to that being an outsider and things can get sketchy,  So, be respectful.
Locals surf their home breaks regularly. Be friendly. Don’t crowd the line up. And don’t snake and drop in.  Think of it like being a guest in someone’s home.
 If the vibe is weird, stay on the shoulder of the waves, out of the way.  Set yourself up away from the main group of surfers if you are the lone sup paddler on the water.  Remember, sup surfers can catch waves in places prone surfer may avoid because our gear allows to.  Sure, the waves you get might not be the biggest and the best, but you’ll get plenty and you’ll earn respect.

Learn the Right Way to Paddle Out

Don’t ditch your board or paddle into the path of other surfers. Observe the waves and time your paddle out between sets.  Avoid surfers in the line up by paddling around to the sides or away from them.  If there is a channel where waves are not breaking, use that as your route back out.

Don’t Surf Breaks Above your Skill Level

If you just started surfing, you don’t want to immediately try to charge huge waves.  Work your way up to bigger ones as your skills progress.  And remember, waves do not have to be huge to be fun!   Surfing above your skill level puts you in harm’s way and it can get you crosswise with other surfers.
Surfing at skill levels also means taking weather and ocean conditions other than wave height into account. Pay attention to tide, wind and current and make sure you can handle it, in concert with the types of waves that are breaking.

Learn How to Control Your Board

ALWAYS USE A LEASH! This is the main way you keep control over your board.  It’s how to recover it after a wipe out.  And it’s how you keep it from hurting others.  Most local beach towns require leash use.  If your leash breaks, your session is over unless you have a spare in the car.

There a phrase a lot of surfers use: “Don’t bail, grab rail.” What that means is don’t just jump off your board if you see you are about to collide with someone. If you do, it will likely launch your board right at them!

Sit down instead. Scoot to the back of the board to let the wave pass under you, and stick your legs in the water to act as brakes. You can also use this technique – sometimes called “the rodeo” to get back into shore the white wash.  Hold your paddle above your head to keep it out of the way when you do.

You can also control you board in the shore break or when you have wiped out and are in the water by “short leashing” it.  Grab the leash where it connects to the leash string.  Holding the leash that way keeps the board from getting away from you and possibly injuring swimmers close to shore.

Help other Surfers

This should be a given.  Always offer aid to someone in trouble.

Respect the Beach

This should also be a given.  Pick up after yourself, and others when you see trash on the beach.
If you have any questions about the beach, where you should be surfing or the like, ask a lifeguard.  They can advise you as to conditions, hazards and what the local vibe is.
For most people, sup surfing is a progression of improvement: learning to read the waves so you can catch them, then learning how turn the board to stay on them longer.  It all takes time. But after you’ve caught that first wave, you’ll be hooked. When you Learn and remember these rules for  staying safe, your one step closer!