SUP surfing: transitioning from flat water paddling to waves.

SUP surfing: transitioning from flat water paddling to waves.

Core skills for effectively crossing over to stand up paddle board surfing.

With autumn rolling through, and surf more likely in all corners of the UK, thoughts of riding your stand up paddle board in waves (SUP surfing) may have entered your mind. Transitioning from flat water paddling to waves, however, requires more than just throwing yourself headlong into the fray. Not least because that would be unsafe! Fundamental skills need to be in place beforehand as well as base knowledge. You’ll then need to consider your options. 

What follows are the main points to think about/work on BEFORE heading into the surf. It may be that a lesson or two, with guidance from a qualified and experienced professional will also be of benefit.

SUP experience.

It should go without saying that when contemplating your first stand up paddle surfing session, the amount of time you’re going to spend up on your board is far outweighed by time spent in the water. Constantly falling, before clambering back onto your platform gets exhausting. Fatigue sets in with all the physical demands of the process. And a cold sea, cooler air temperatures, thick (more restrictive) wetsuits and the constant battering of waves won’t help either. 

Moving from flat water to SUP surfing
Making that transition from flat water stand up paddling to SUP surfing.

The surf environment – even on the mellowest of days – has current, tidal movement and the surf itself aims to unseat you. Without being prepared, swimming will be mostly what you do. A short session ending abruptly. We all have to start somewhere but having some key building blocks in place will stand you in good stead.

Ideally, you’ll have some time under your belt stand up paddling in rougher coastal water. We’re not suggesting you head out into ‘orrible conditions but understanding how things like side chop, breeze and current affect you and your board are key. Then, being able to cope with this and navigate your SUP should be ticked off. Paddling in adverse conditions is as much a safety thing as it is SUP surfing skill!

A solid stand up paddle boarding stroke.

Your paddling and piloting of said stand up paddle board is extremely important. And not just for SUP surfing either. Paddling is your source of momentum and the way you move from A to B. It’s how you maneuver and avoid situations that may otherwise go awry.

Being able to fully bury the paddle’s blade and transfer all your energy into a forward stroke will see maximum efficiency in terms of propulsion and glide. Knowing when to hammer down and when to back off is also important. Changing cadence, and altering the subtleties of each stroke are skills born of time spent on the water. This transfers directly to SUP surfing as it allows riders to hone their take offs. Improved board trim, once on the wave, is a byproduct.

Transition to SUP surfing from flat water
Ready to jump in? The SUP surfing transition explained.

Having other types of SUP paddle stroke in your arsenal is another good idea. Whilst waiting for your wave you’ll need to be moving and positioning yourself according to where the waves are peaking. Waves don’t break in the same place – unless you’re surfing a reef break (which isn’t the best idea when starting out). Sweep strokes, reverse paddling, sculling, J-strokes, C-strokes and more are all worth researching and practicing. 

The SUP pivot turn.

One key skill in SUP surfing is being able to step back onto the tail of your stand up paddle board, sink it, perform a wide sweeping paddle stroke and spin your SUP 180 degrees. This is the most effective (and quickest) way of getting your stand up paddle board in position for taking off on your chosen wave. And it’s super easy to practice on flat water. In fact, the SUP pivot turn is an essential skill across all areas of stand up paddle boarding.

Catching waves on your inflatable stand up paddle board is perfectly applicable.

On a safety note being able to pivot turn means you can avoid sticky situations in the surf. If you need to ‘get out of Dodge’ quick smart then spinning 180 and zooming off in a different direction may help you avoid being wiped out by an incoming wave or other riders.

General SUP surfing knowledge.

‘Knowledge is power’ so the old saying goes. And it’s especially true when talking about surf environments. You mightn’t realise it but there’s a lot going on where breaking waves are concerned – even if you can’t immediately spot those tiny tell-tale signs.

From flat water to SUP surfing
Knowledge is power – especially in a SUP surfing wave environment!

Nothing equates to actual hands on experience. But this should always be backed up by theory. (We can hear the groans already!). The more knowledge you have about waves, how they break, types of surf, tides and how this affects the surf, wind and its effects on swell, how to interpret weather forecasts and apply them to your local break (or most frequented) and so on means the better your SUP surfing sessions will be. On top of this, you’ll be safer. Heading into a surf zone with a blissful state of ignorance can be a recipe for disaster. And it only takes a small amount of genning up to accumulate understanding.

We appreciate this may befuddle at first. But have it in mind and slowly all will be revealed. A classic example is riptides and how they play a part. Rips can be your worst enemy or best friend. Learning about them beforehand and then heading to the beach to see if you can spot rips is good practice.

Flat water paddling to SUP surfing transitions
Surf breaks – friend or foe? With time, practic and perseverance definitely your friend.

One big piece of understanding to wrap your grey matter round is surfing etiquette and how to behave in waves next to others. Best practice dictates you should be well away from surfers and water users whilst learning to SUP surf. But having a grasp of surfing etiquette is super important and will play its part as you move in closer proximity to wave shredding bethren. Surfing etiquette commands its own article so in the meantime hit this link to learn more about it.

https://surfing-waves.com/surfing-etiquette.htm

Patience: waiting, watching, absorbing.

One of the biggest skills you can own as a SUP surfer is patience. You’ll certainly need this in the UK as weather forecasts, swells and all manner of other factors conspire against you to scupper plans of wave shredding.

We often get flat days through the year (even in winter!). This can be a good opportunity to head down the beach and check out your chosen venue without too much froth and flotsam in the way. It’ll give you chance to assess where potential hazards are you mightn’t have seen before. If you’re keen then head out for a dip and put the diving mask on. Observing the break’s bathymetry will tell how the waves form and spill. You’ll get a better idea of where to sit for optimum take offs and score the longest, most fulfilling rides.

You often see surfers sitting, watching and looking at the forming and pitching waves for long periods of time. On particularly solid days the experienced crew may sit and scope what’s going on for considerable minutes, before getting suited and booted. Learn from this and understand why. Fools rush in and all that…

SUP surfing equipment and suitable conditions.

Coming off the back of an idyllic summer flat water SUPing with your trusty 10’6 inflatable and heading to SUP surfing spots may be your situation. Alternatively, you could have stumped up for an 11’ plus pointy nosed touring board and now contemplating swell rides. In the back of your mind, thinking could be your current stand up paddle board isn’t the ideal for those first forays into SUP surfing – which may be true. If you have aspirations of ripping waves, rail to rail shredding and busting sick airs then the aforementioned equipment isn’t ideal.

For most, however, SUP surfing is about a longboard surf style – after all, stand up paddle boards are big and oversize so they suit this niche arguably much better than shortboards. Not to take anything away from those who pilot short surf SUPs well but in terms of mass appeal, it’s the longboard ethic that rules. And with the original point in mind: any type of stand up paddle board can be taken into waves. And by waves, we’re talking dribblers and up. Waves come in all sizes after all.

charlie SUP surfing a Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co longboard style SUP
The aim of the game – Charlie Cripwell SUP surfing in Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s backyard.

You don’t need to be aiming for overhead pounders to begin with. In fact, many paddlers enjoy stand up paddle surfing in much tamer conditions. Ankle slappers are perfectly fine (and encouraged) for your first forays into waves. That trusty 10’6 inflatable SUP will catch and glide along happily, giving you much needed muscle memory and experience. Same with touring boards. Some touring/race SUPs actually do a sterling job of surfing waves, albeit smaller ones. They glide for ages and can deliver super long rides. The point is: consider your location and the conditions on offer. If in doubt don’t go out. If others don’t reckon it’s a good idea give it a miss. But do paddle out on the right day with your already owned SUP gear. You can always upgrade to specialist kit later.

As an example, Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s Classic range of longboard SUPs is at home both on flat water and in waves. With a SUP like this versatility’s a given. If you’re pricing equipment up it’s worth keeping this in mind as you’ll be getting more bang for Buck. See what’s in the Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co shop via the link below –

https://freshwaterbaypaddleboards.co.uk/shop/

Summing up.

This isn’t a conclusive guide to stand up paddle surfing – far from it. But hopefully, it’ll give anyone transitioning from flat water to waves a starting point. Have fun in the surf but above all stay safe!

If you have any questions about Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co’s gear or SUP in general then get in touch. We’re only too happy to help.

For more articles like this check out the following –

White Water SUP

White Water SUP

First forays into White Water SUP

It doesn’t matter how much experience you have on a SUP, there’s always the opportunity to progress your skills and try something new.  For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, we have years of experience on flat water and in the surf. However, very recently we decided to step out of our SUP comfort zone and try something new.  White Water SUP is relatively new on the UK SUP scene – there’s a massive following for whitewater kayaking and canoeing, so why not have a go at white water SUP?

We headed up to the Lake District to run a set of rapids that we don’t think has ever been SUP’d before.  Ok, we’re not confirming ‘first descent’ but Sean from Wild River lives and breathes the river and he’d never seen it SUP’d before.  We took on 6 miles of Grade 2 rapids on the River Eden, just outside Penrith in the Lake District.  The rapids only work about 25% of the time as the water level needs to be just right.  Too little water and you won’t make it over the rocks; too much water and you’ve got a fight on your hands!

Leaving vehicles at both ends of the run, we loaded up two of our Freshwater Bay iSUPs with everything we thought we might need. There’s no get off point during the 6 mile run, so we utilised the boards cargo nets to store dry bags with snacks, first aid kit, iSUP repair kits and a pump – it always pays to be prepared for any SUP emergency. We also took spare SUP paddles, as the last thing we wanted to was to be up the creek without…..

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK

Leash or no leash?

One of main talking points in whitewater SUP is whether or not to wear a leash.  It’s a difficult one – a leash is your lifeline to your board, but can also be a hazard.  If you’re going to wear a leash for white water SUP then the recommendation is to use a waist leash on a quick release.  The last thing you want is an ankle or knee leash dragging in the water and getting tangled.  This could be a potential disaster.  After much discussion we decided to run the river without leashes.  We didn’t have quick release waist leashes at our disposal so it was the safest option.

Needless to say, we both came off our boards on the the first tiny rapid, which didn’t bode too well.  However, with Sean’s knowledge of the river, and his white water canoe and kayak experience, as well as my SUP experience, we decided to plough on.

Whitewater SUP Paddleboard UK
By the time we got to the next set of rapids, we were a bit more prepared.  Sean was teaching me what to look for and how to tell whether a rapid is caused by a rock that could pose a danger, or whether it’s a standing wave.  We pulled up on the bank and assessed the rapid to pick out a line that we would attempt to run.  I say attempt as the river has ways of pushing your SUP around that I haven’t experience – the rapids can cause part of the board to slow down and I often found the tail swinging round so I was doing 360 degree turns through the rapids.  In interesting experience when you’re first starting out, but after a little experience you understand how to handle it.

Using the iSUPs on rapids

Taking the two different inflatable SUPs meant we could swap around and see how each paddle board performed.  The 10’2 board is 5″ thick which is beneficial on a wave as opposed to a thicker board, but it was the 6″ thick 10’6 iSUP that really stood out in the rapids.  As the rapids pushed the SUPs around it was much easier to catch a rail on the thinner 10’2 and tip the board. The 6″ thick 10’6 provided the extra volume at the rail which made bounce off the rapids, rather than cut under and tip. A much easier prospect when you’re first starting out in whitewater.

Overall both SUPs handled it well.  We bounced off more than our fair share of rocks and both paddle boards came out unscathed. Our polymer fused PVC construction is among the most durable SUP constructions on the market.   In our opinion, an inflatable SUP is the best choice for white water activity – they bounce off rocks without the shudder you get from plastic whitewater boards.   If you do lose balance and fall to your knees, they are also a lot more forgiving.  The other benefits are that they weigh a lot less than plastic white water SUPs, so easier to drag up the bank and portage around any unnavigable sections of the river.

For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co, white water SUP was a learning experience. And a whole heap of fun.  Getting out there and trying some new is what it’s all about.  SUP has so many disciplines – from racing to surfing to down-winding.  White Water SUP is one of the most exhilarating ways to experience the water.  Needless to say, it’s not suitable until you’ve mastered the basics and are comfortable SUPing on the flat. Always go with someone familiar with the River, and never alone.  Get out there and have fun, but also be safe!

whitewater paddleboarding UK

Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Longboard SUP Surf at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Here’s Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co Team Rider, Al Reed, having some longboard SUP Surf fun on his Classic 9’11 SUP.

If you’re looking for a single SUP that’s as happy on flat water as it is on the waves, then the Classic 9’11 is a great choice.  At 31.5″ wide it’s forgiving and stable enough on the flat.  But with it’s rocker line and thinned out nose, tail and rails it also surfs like a classic longboard.  Al Reed has been UK South Coast Longboard Champion for 13 years, as well as British Masters Longboard Surf Champion.  He loves riding his Freshwater Bay Classic 9’11 in anything from knee high rollers to double overhead reef breaks.

The Freshwater Bay 9’11 SUP also comes in Classic Blue and White as well as Paulownia Wood Veneer, with the same great shape and longboard SUP Surfing ability!

Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co bamboo longboard SUP Surf

Accessible Stoke – SUP surfing Vs Prone Surfing

We’ll be honest, the title of this article sounds a little contentious and doesn’t really promote the right image. After all there’s nothing ‘versus’ (or shouldn’t be anyway!) about either of these sports. As far as Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co. is concerned any type of wave riding activity is good.  Whether it’s SUP surfing, prone surfing, body boarding or Kayaking; it just so happens we’re into stand up paddle boards….

 

Paddleboard SUP Surf UK
As much as we love a flat-water paddle, there’s nothing like dropping down a wave and having as much fun as you can handle. With paddle in hand and 10ft SUP under your feet, you’re primed to catch waves otherwise unrideable on your usual mal or shortboard.
There are still those in the World that may knock SUP surfing, so firstly let’s clarify what we’re talking about when we say ‘stand up paddle surfing’. It doesn’t have to be Jaws or a Mentawai reef break. Any time you catch a wave, of any size, and regardless of whether or not you’re ripping, that’s what we’re talking about. Sure, if you can shred, tear and blow the backs out of waves then all power to you, but most SUP paddlers aren’t that way inclined.

For us at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co it all comes down to time spent in the water. After a Summer of riding waves that really wouldn’t have been possible or worth it on a surfboard (and at times even we called them barrel-scraping days), we were still out there – in an almost empty lineup – having fun!

SUP Surf Isle of Wight UK
SUP Surfing opens up a whole range of wave-riding options. Ankle-biting ripples are all good – the waves you wouldn’t think about paddling for on a good wave day, become the Holy Grail between the lulls. And why not? You can still catch them, and still have fun!

Paddling a SUP also offers the chance of riding offshore waves, breaking far from the madding crowd. No need to hitch a lift from a passing boat when you can paddle your SUP.  And no burning out your shoulder muscles before you even start surfing.

Then there are the junkier days. If you’ve got the skills days like these are perfect for SUP surfing. The momentum you generate as a paddle surfer means riders are primed for outrunning crumbly sections, rounding sloppy lips and turning an otherwise lacklustre session into something far more enjoyable.

Flip this towards traditional forms of surfing and we just don’t think the majority will have as much fun as on a SUP. There are definitely those who can light up when perched atop a surfboard, even when the waves haven’t turned on for weeks, or even months – the Isle of Wight certainly has its fair share.

But many who surf do so in a recreational sense only – hitting up wave beaches every now and again to get their fix, life often getting in the way. The reality is that the waves aren’t always there when you have the time, and vice versa. Whichever way you cut it, for most people this isn’t enough time on the water to reap the same kind of rewards as SUP surfing will.

SUP Surf UK
Surf Isle of Wight
On a SUP, riders will be having much more fun, quicker. There’s no faffing about with popping up, paddling out is easier (in smaller and light wind conditions) and SUPs pick up swells earlier. Waves that were out of bounds for surfboards (either because the surf is predominantly too small or too far offshore) are now prime for your SUP surf. And then of course there’s the option of using your stand up paddleboard on the flat – a great workout, and more time in and on the water. SUP’s versatility is another key reason it’s super popular.

We reiterate once again: this isn’t a surf bashing article. In fact it’s quite the opposite. We love surfing. It’s just that we also love paddle surfing and think it’s one of the easiest ways to access waves and get that surfing stoke.

A couple of things to point out, although many who’ve gone before us have done the same; get your SUP skills honed in the flat before venturing into the lineup – the surf zone isn’t a place to try out your shiny new SUP for the first time. With more SUPs entering the water, it’s important to respect surfing etiquette – just because you can see and catch a wave earlier on a SUP, doesn’t mean you have to; you don’t need the best waves to have fun, so let some sets pass you by, or find a peak away from the main lineup. You won’t make any friends or influence people by being a wave hog. Ride with Aloha, respect and you’ll get the same in return.