There’s been a bit of surf about the last few days. And we don’t mean whomping, ‘eat ya board’ death bombs where surfvival is key. We’re talking more accessible waves that allow progression. Big enough, but not life threatening. In particular, the south coast is getting a round of windless juice that’s enticing many a paddler into the action.
With the influx of newby SUPers this year the knock on to winter paddling, it seems, also continues. It’s certainly not as big numbers as seen in summer 2020 – the cooler weather puts paid to that. Yet new recruits are certainly out to experience this side of the sport.
One question we’ve heard is: ‘how do I take off on waves properly?’. As inexperienced riders ‘reading’ (interpreting) the conditions and proper positioning are new skills to learn. Simply paddling for any old lump like a hyperactive puppy doesn’t yield best results. Some thought and a plan of attack needs to be put in place.
All waves aren’t the same. And no surf break works like the rest. There are similarities but that’s about it. We should also add that no two waves break in identical either.
The best word to describe how a SUP surfer should act is ‘proactive’. Sitting in one spot and not moving in rhythm with the ocean won’t get you a ride. Of course, surf etiquette should be adhered to. (If you’re unsure of surf etiquette then familiarising yourself is essential). With proper conduct, however, there shouldn’t be a problem with working your way to the peak. We should add that knowing and understanding tides and factor such as rips is info you’ll need to stay safe as much as actually SUP surfing.
The peak is where the wave starts to form, jack up and become more vertical. At most beach breaks, which is where you should be riding (to start), multiple peaks will exist. This’ll be where the bulk of surfers are sitting. Either side may offer the odd alternative section but it’s the peak you generally need to be on. Note: quieter peaks do exist at many surf spots. You may just have to walk a little to find them. If you’re learning this is worthwhile.
As waves pulse through some will be bigger while others will be smaller. Spotting a set incoming and paddling either out or in, depending on how you judge the size, is a good idea. Your chosen wave should be as vertical as possible. Timing is everything and this only comes with practice. Aiming to drop down the wave face at the wave’s apex is the route you’re aiming to take. Make sure you look around and spot others who want the same wave – avoiding collisions is wise. Looking also means peering behind you, over both shoulders, to see how the wave is stacking up and which way it’s likely to peel. Keep your head up and don’t shoe gaze.
When you feel the I ocean’s energy lift you and your SUP paddle hard! You should already be in surf stance and aiming to trim the board, nose to tail, to stop the front submerging and you bailing or the wave rolling beneath you and you falling off the back – a balanced almost martial arts stance is needed. Look in the direction of travel as you continue to stroke. Don’t stop paddling until you’ve 100% caught the wave and are being propelled along. Bend your knees, trim the board and avoid standing tall with your paddle in the air grinning like a Cheshire cat. We get the stoke factor but this’ll mean you just run straight as opposed to along the wave. It also means you’ll have further too paddle back out against lines of white water. Hopefully you’ll then score a fun ride and be ready for more.
Surf SUPing is something that needs to be done more to improve. With careful practice, however, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy a fulfilling winter of riding waves.
With autumn already here, and winter just around the corner, the time for waves is now. It doesn’t matter which part of the UK’s coastline you head for you’ve more chance of scoring a surfable/SUPable wave during the off season. Low pressure systems whip up storms, close to shore and miles out at sea, all of which can deliver surf in various forms. But what type of venue and wave should you be looking at if you’re thinking of having a crack?
Waves come in all shapes and sizes: some absolute behemoths while other swells are mellower and smaller. Surf also breaks on all seabed types, from sand to reef and a mixture of the two. Waves can roll in and dump onto steeply shelving beaches as well as curling (refracting) round headlands and peeling either left or right. Basically, there are a multitude of scenarios for SUP surfing but not every one is right for taking those first steps.
A wide open sand bottomed beach will serve you well at first. Picking a spot that isn’t mega busy is also a good call. You may want others around for safety but if too crowded there’s nothing worse than a marauding stand up paddle board dancing through the line up, dragging the rider as the white water surges towards shore. Ample space and room to make mistakes is therefore key. Avoid places where heavy marine traffic is operating as well. The last thing you want to end up is a statistic!
The wave shouldn’t be too big. A stand up paddle board – even inflatable – will catch the smallest of ripples. That said you still want the feeling of riding a proper wave so something between knee and chest high will have enough ‘push’ to shove you along and give you the taste.
Whilst you can surf when it’s breezy there’s no point beasting yourselves if a blow’s puffing onto the beach. A windless or light air day will be much more fun and make getting ‘out back’ a doddle. It should also go without saying that obstacles, such as rocks and wooden sea defences need to be avoided. Simply making your life as easy as possible should be best course of action.
Research your intended surf spot thoroughly. Understand how the beach changes its personality as tides ebb and flow. Know how different wind directions affect the break as well. If you need to ask questions then do so. There’s a plethora of info online and most members of relevant Facebook groups will be able to answer your queries.
Finally, wrap your head around surf etiquette – it applies to SUPing in waves as well. Knowing the rules of the road is key to not annoying others and making sure you have an enjoyable time. Also, be sure to smile. When learning to stand up paddle surf you’re going to do a lot of falling. But this is OK and all part of the learning curve. Enjoy!
Can I SUP surf my McConks inflatable stand up paddle board?
Pics: Richard Heathcote
‘Surfing’: such an ambiguous term in the grand scheme of things. For some surfing will never be anything other than using arms to propel a prone surfboard, without a paddle, out into the brine to do battle with clean, overhead and hollow sets marching in procession from the deep Atlantic. For others ‘surfing’ is any act that involves sliding along, or upon, a moving piece of oceanic energy otherwise known as swell (this can also include stand up paddle boards).
Using a paddle to get from point A to B has been done for thousands of years. Standing and paddling also isn’t anything knew. It may also surprise you to learn that standing, paddling and riding waves is also an old technique that some fisherman (and women) of the world have employed for centuries. Only in the last few decades has sliding liquid walls become more a recreational activity with no real purpose other than fun.
It’s no secret stand up paddle board can give you ‘more’ in wave environments. Especially those locations where the surf is slack, inconsistent, small or hard to access. Perhaps it’s a combo of all those elements. You won’t necessarily get higher numbers of wave rides than a person piloting a longboard nose rider. But you will get longer slides if you become particularly adept with a SUP and paddle.
For ultimate SUP surfing performance you need a hard board, there’s no two ways about it. Hard boards are just that: hard. Whereas air-filled boards, or iSUPs, are enclosed cavities, with a top and bottom joined together by fine strands of thread – commonly known as Dropstitch. An iSUP’s deck and hull are then secured to one another but the board’s rails. There’s a bit more to it than that but in a nutshell there you have an inflatable SUP. The only thing left to do is fill it with air.
The continuing search for more and more rigid iSUPs, and technology/solutions to make it so, is ongoing. All air boards have what’s known as a deflection point. This is the part of the board that even when filled with optimum amounts of air (PSI) will still ‘give’ slightly. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a trait of inflatable SUPs. When surfing though, due to inflatables having deflection points forwards of where the paddler stands (generally), it tends to ‘give’ slightly as you take off. Therefore adjusting your SUP surfing technique is a requirement. If you don’t you’ll ‘pearl’ or nose dive.
Sliding along waves on a hard SUP allows the pilot to engage the board’s rail. You can’t do this with an inflatable as the PVC material is rounded and won’t grip. That said, with practice you’ll learn how to coax your inflatable SUP onto the green face of a wave to track down the line.
In recent years some brands have employed a ‘hard release rail’ which is usually a strip of rubber, though harder than the board’s material itself is still malleable enough to allow your iSUP to be folded when not in use. This edge aims to fake a rail and get air boards to grip more than without. It can also increase rigidity to a degree.
Inflatable stand up paddle boards are generally made from PVC. This tends to stick, or suck, to the water. As riders take off on swells they won’t get quite the acceleration a hard SUP will give. But with a few glides under your belt this will be forgotten.
So can you surf your inflatable SUP? Answer: yes, of course you can. And iSUPs are much more efficient at SUP surfing these days than they were a few years back. There are some limitations if you compare to a hard shell board. But then if you’re comparing it’s a bit like putting apples and pears next to one another – it’s not like for like so isn’t a fair test so to speak.
Many paddlers use inflatables for surfing. The benefits of being able to pack them down, stow them in the boot of car, or travel overseas without too many excess baggage fees, means they’re the practical choice. There’s plenty of fun you can have atop an iSUP in waves as long as you approach sliding swells with an open-minded view. But don’t take our word for it. Next time you get chance to chuck a McConks inflatable stand up paddle board at some surf why not? We guarantee it’ll put a mile-wide smile on your chops…