First thing to understand is that there really aren’t rules–not yet anyway. Right now there are simply ways that the community of SUP surfers believe we should act. If you don’t follow these ways, someone might yell at you, and people might think you’re a jerk, but that’s it.
And that’s the best reason of all to follow these ways–because we don’t want that to change. Join the community and share the stoke because that is what makes surfing–all surfing–so very special. Don’t put yourself outside of that by being an idiot.
Beginners and experts have a different set of responsibilities. We’re going to take pains to explain everything as clearly as possible, which will make this a little tedious. If you find that too slow just jump to the summary at the end.
What’s a beginner? Well obviously if it’s your first week on a SUP and you’re still falling in every few minutes you’re an absolute beginner. Once you get into waves you’d probably count yourself a beginner if you can’t turn easily without falling. But the definition needs to be a little more precise.
Beginner: You can paddle out past the breaking waves without falling when knee high whitewater hits you. You can pick the right place to be in a wave, paddle to the right spot and turn in front of the wave without falling, then catch the wave.
Intermediate: In waist high waves you can do a bottom turn, a cutback, and turn out of the wave without falling. When you do fall you can grab your board. Your leash is rarely needed.
Beginners have no business in a popular break. You’ll get in the way, you can get hurt if a closeout wave or set comes through, if you catch a wave and fall you’ll lose your board to the end of your leash. Almost everything you do will endanger yourself and endanger other surfers. Paddle away from the break, find some small waves and practice.
One very important thing to practice is controlling your board. If you watch experienced surfers you’ll almost never see their boards at the end of their leash. They either turn out of waves at the end of their ride, or in the rare cases that they fall they grab the board as they fall.
The leash DOES NOT prevent your board from hurting other people. When your body is outstretched, being dragged by your runaway board you have four feet of body, perhaps ten feet of leash and eleven feet of board. That’s at least a 25 foot radius you can hurt other people within. Your board will generally be in the wave, sticking out just waiting to nail another surfer.
One disciplined way to practice controlling your board is to surf BY YOURSELF without a leash. By yourself means NO ONE in the water who could be hit by your board–all the way to the beach, because that’s probably how far you’ll have to swim to regain your board. You can certainly simulate this with a leash if you don’t want to do all that swimming, but going leash-less is a useful training aid and a commitment. Just never do it around other people.
If you are a beginner, and you want to paddle out and watch the more advanced surfers, stay in the channel (which should be obvious–it’s the way most surfers will be returning to the lineup) and sit down. Don’t wobble around in the lineup and loom over all the surfers. It’s rude and intimidating. (Side note: They are surfers, you are a stand up paddle surfer. They are not prone surfers or crawlers. Someone calls you a sweeper, they’re a jerk. Don’t join them).
Intermediate: If you can execute basic surf maneuvers without falling and can control your board, you should be welcome in an uncrowded lineup. If the crowd grows you should paddle off to the side or go looking for new spots. Your SUP board can catch waves that longboarders can’t. Don’t be a sheep, you don’t have to be in the pocket of a lineup with twenty other surfers. If you can’t thread your way through a half dozen people in the way, and contend with people dropping in or the need to pull out from the wave at ANY time without EVER losing control of your board, then you shouldn’t be there. Yes there will be be people there that can’t do that. Just because someone else is a kook doesn’t mean you need to be. Ride your own ride
All SUP Surfers
1. Don’t be a wavehog: It’s easy to grab every rideable wave with a SUP. You can always be first into the wave, closest to the shoulder. Everyone else is just dropping in. If you are spinning laps, paddling back out quickly and setting up for the next wave, you’re the worst kind of hog.
2, The second worst wavehog is the guy that maneuvers outside, coming in like a locomotive on every good set wave. Do it once and you’re getting all the wave can offer. Do it five times and hoot others off your wave and you genuinely, truly, absolutely suck.
3, When your turn comes, take your wave, surf it well, paddle back out and sit down. Talk to people. Watch for good waves. Let them pass and make it obvious that you’re sharing. Show some aloha, some kindness, some wisdom.
4. Don’t drop in. Dropping in means another surfer has caught the wave closer to the shoulder. If you find you accidentally have, turn out of the wave immediately. If you can’t do that without falling then sit down on the tail of your board (and if you can’t, what are you doing in a crowded break?). Never undertake a maneuver that might cause you to ditch your board in front of the overtaking surfer.
5. Using your high vantage point to call out waves might be a good thing, but ask your fellow surfers if they’d like you to do that. A lot of people surf to decompress and relax. Having some guy bellow “here’s a good one” five times in a row for mediocre waves may disturb their Wa.
6. Don’t paddle out through the middle of the break. Go off to the channel, or if there is no channel, well to the side out of the surfing zone. Killing someone’s ride by standing like a deer in the headlights will not gain you any points.
7. If you must paddle in the surfing zone, signal which way you are going to try to pass any surfer on a collision course with you. Generally you want to pass behind them so they don’t have to cut back, so if you fall you won’t take them out. Make your intention clear. It might not work but at least you tried.
Any time you think a rule doesn’t apply to you, you’re just BS-ing yourself. “I didn’t really drop in because I was so far down the wave”: BS–you wouldn’t come up with an excuse if you didn’t KNOW you were wrong.
“I tried to grab my board but I missed it” BS–go back and practice control.
Find new places. SUP boards are magic for that. You are missing out if you don’t explore, and you’re just adding to the congestion. Five miles is no big deal for a SUP board.
Don’t let nitwits control your standards. Just because someone doesn’t appreciate your efforts to share and to observe traditional etiquette doesn’t mean you should abandon it. Set your standards and live by them.
Stay out of popular breaks. Find some small waves and practice controlling your board. Learn to turn out of waves and/or grab the board as you fall. Do not rely on your leash–in fact consider learning to surf BY YOURSELF without a leash with NO ONE in the water who could be hit by your board–all the way to the beach. Alternatively simulate this with a leash if you don’t want to do all that swimming, Going leash-less is a useful training aid and a commitment. Just never do it around other people.
Intermediate: If you can execute basic surf maneuvers without falling and can control your board, you should be welcome in an uncrowded lineup. If the crowd grows, paddle off to the side or go looking for new spots. If you can’t thread your way through a half dozen people in the way, and contend with people dropping in or the need to pull out from the wave at ANY time without EVER losing control of your board, then you shouldn’t be in a crowd.
All SUP Surfers
1. Don’t be a wavehog.
2, When your turn comes, take your wave, surf it well, paddle back out and sit down.
3. Don’t drop in. If you accidentally have, turn out of the wave immediately.
4. Don’t paddle out through the middle of the break.
5. If you must paddle in the surfing zone, signal which way you are going to try to pass any surfer on a collision course with you.
Any time you think a rule doesn’t apply to you, you’re lying to yourself.