Before we get into this we should acknowledge this isn’t an ‘x is better than y’ article. It’s merely a comparison piece between two disciplines that can easily cross over and complement one another.
Stand up paddle surfing has much appeal – especially if you’ve been a surfer (in the traditional sense) most of your life. There’s no question that when it comes to carving things up surfing is the more dynamic discipline. Smaller, lower volume boards in the hands of expert riders are devastating weapons when given am applicable watery canvas to paint on. The issue, for many, is most real world surfers aren’t as that experienced (mostly because of time lacking in the surf) and very small opportunity in hitting up good conditions.
Of course, there are many different types of surfboard and styles of riding that offer a plethora of ways to slide saltwater walls. Stand up paddle boards, however, do trump most of these craft when thinking everyday sliders who’re only able to access wave conditions every so often.
The biggest advantage of SUPs in surf in the additional UK coastline (and some inland waterways) that now allow swell missions. You don’t need a big wave. And by ‘big’ we’re talking 3ft+ (not actually that big in terms of surfing). Surfing (even on longboards) comes into its own when waves are above knee high. SUP, meanwhile, allows smaller, slacker ‘waves’ to be tackled. Having a paddle for additional propulsion and a bigger more voluminous (weighty) platform gives easy entry to ankle slapping swells. It’s possible to slide along on surf this small, sticking a paddle stroke in every so often, to keep the speed going. From a location point of view this opens up a whole host of less than headline spots away from the likes of Cornwall and Wales. It’s one reason the UK’s south coast has such a build up of stand up paddle boarders. Not being the most consistent doesn’t matter as much when you have a SUP and paddle under your arm.
There’s an argument that riding a stand up paddle board gives a higher wave count. Whilst this may be true when conditions are micro (see above) it’s not quite the case with faces above 2ft. A flat rockered, 9’+ nose riding longboard, for instance, will deliver just as high a wave count. The beauty of SUP surfing, however, is the paddle.
Paddle in your hands (whilst at odds in terms of surfing purity for some) gives additional oomph when navigating pitching lips and sectioning waves. Unfortunately most spots the masses hit up suffer from close out sets. Even solid peeling swells (at least the beach break type) have sections. Being able to hit the NOS button (dip a paddle stroke) gives a boost of speed to successfully get round this and onto the next unbroken piece of wave.
Early pick up, in terms of how soon SUPers can roll into a wave, is another benefit. Again, a paddle gives more acceleration and earlier power, which combined with the momentum of a bigger board aids early pick ups. This is an advantage surfers have rallied against suggesting some stand up paddle surfers are wave hogs – which is true in some instances.
Ultimately, whichever surf venue you choose to ride etiquette should be adhered to and respect given. To other paddlers as well as proners.
There’s no question SUP surfing delivers benefits for most real world riders over surfing. But you’ll never convert the hardcore. And nor should this be the case. In an ideal world riders will both surf and SUP surf depending on conditions. After all, having multiple tools for different scenarios will only in trade time on the water.