SUP surfing: transitioning from flat water paddling to waves.

by | Oct 9, 2021 | SUP advice, SUP inspiration

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 –