Top tips for catching your first waves

by | Nov 17, 2020 | SUP advice

While most Stand Up Paddleboard owners are happy enough to paddle on lakes and rivers, flat water coastal waters and beaches, catching waves on your SUP is a lot of fun!

While most Stand Up Paddleboard owners are happy enough to paddle on lakes and rivers, flat water coastal waters and beaches, catching waves on your SUP is a lot of fun!

But before you attempt to take your SUP in the waves, make sure you are well practiced and confident on flat water first.  The water is a LOT more dynamic in a wave environment, so you need to feel comfortable and stable with the additional movement your SUP will make, and know how to counteract or ‘go with the flow’ to stay on your board.

It’s also important to choose the right kind of board for SUP surfing.  While you can (in theory) ride a wave on most types of SUP, long and narrow touring or race boards, and inflatable boards, aren’t designed with wave riding in mind.  Yes, there are some iSUPs that are better at riding waves than others, but if you really want to surf then a hard SUP is the answer.  Surf SUPs can be any size from 11 foot down to 7 foot, but in reality, those short low volume surf SUPs are suitable for very few people.  If you want a board you can paddle comfortably on flat water, and enjoy carving a wave in a cruisy longboard style, we would recommend our Freshwater Bay Classic SUP board as that is exactly what they are designed for!

If you’re just starting out with your first forays into SUP surfing, then choose a quiet location away from crowds.  Not only does it let you practice without being a danger to other water users, it also takes the pressure off you so you can enjoy getting used to being on your board in that environment without having to contend with others.  It’s also important to make sure you are wearing a good strong leash so your board doesn’t get away from you if you fall off, or if you have to push your SUP over the top of a breaking wave. 

If you’re feeling confident you can paddle out from the beach standing up, but you can also paddle out on your knees, or lying in the prone position with your paddle tucked under your torso and paddling with your arms like a regular surfer.  We would recommend standing up as soon as you are able to as it helps you develop your balance faster, and you have a better vantage point to see the waves coming towards you. For the first few paddle outs, it’s best to be in waist deep water before you attempt to stand, so you don’t injure yourself if you do fall off.  

Rather than having your feet parallel, as you would for flat water paddleboarding, try staggering your feet slightly so the foot you would naturally place at the tail of the board when surfing is slightly further back.  This will help stabilise you as the board not only pitches back and forth, but also rolls side to side.  Ideally you want to get through the breaking wave zone as quickly and efficiently as possible, and you may well make it out to the line-up in one go with dry hair; however, there are a couple of techniques to help you get through the waves that you can’t just paddle over normally.

If the wave is about to break, or has just broken in front of you, then get yourself into the surf stance.  This is where your front foot is placed centrally in the middle of the board, and your back foot is on the tail.  As the wave is coming for you, take the weight off your front foot and apply weight to the back foot.  This will lift the nose of the board slightly to allow the white-water to pass underneath. At the same time, take a long powerful stroke with your paddle to help propel yourself over the breaking wave.  As the wave passes beneath you, lean forward slightly applying weight to your front foot, which will bring the nose of the SUP back down, and stop you falling off the back. At the same time bring your back foot forwards into the staggered stance. Again, use the paddle to take a powerful forward stroke, which will also act as a brace to steady yourself.   For the first attempts at this technique, you are VERY likely to fall in.  Don’t worry about it, this is why you have chosen a nice quiet location to practice.  As the saying goes; if you’re falling, you’re learning! 

If you do fall off, keep hold of your SUP paddle.  It should soon become second nature to never let go, although fibreglass and carbon paddles will float indefinitely, so if you do let go just swim over and retrieve it.  However, it’s much better to be in the habit of keeping hold of it. If you’re in the water and another wave is coming towards you, grab hold of the tail of your board or the rail-saver (flat webbing part) on your leash and pull down slightly as you duck under the wave.  This will help the wave pass over both you and your board. Climb back onboard your SUP and continue to paddle out.  

Once you have paddled out to the ‘lineup’ – the area where you want to be to catch the waves – either face out to sea to keep an eye on the incoming waves, or stay parallel to the waves. 

The advantage of staying parallel to the waves is that you don’t have to do a 180° step-back turn to paddle for the wave you want to catch, which loses speed and momentum.  If you stay parallel and paddle you can time when to put in a couple of extra strokes to turn the board as the wave approaches.  This means you keep your speed up and maintain stability for catching the wave.

For the last few strokes into the wave, change the cadence of your paddle stroke from the usual deep long powerful stroke, to a faster shorter motion – almost circular in technique. 

As you feel the wave picking up the tail of your board, and you start to drop down the face of the wave, step back from your staggered stance into the surf stance, turn your head and lean into the direction you want to travel.  As you reach the bottom of the wave, you can put the paddle in the water and use that to pivot the board round and back up the wave.  If all goes to plan, you are now up and away, surfing your way down the line!