How to Surf on a Paddle Board

Colette Goh | How To

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How to Surf on a Paddle Board

How to Surf on a Paddle Board

So you love taking out your paddleboard. You feel like you have mastered stand up paddle boarding, SUP yoga, and sit-on-top kayaking. But there’s something inside of you that’s itching to try a new water sport. If you consider yourself a thrill seeker that loves a challenge, have you considered stand up paddle surfing?

SUP surfing is an exciting sport and a hybrid between paddle boarding and surfing. SUP surfing is different from regular surfing in a few ways. The first is that SUP surfers start from standing versus lying flat on the board. Second, SUP surfers are able to use their paddle for catching waves and to help maneuver the board, making it easier to catch waves and turn. SUP boards are especially great for small surf conditions because the paddle and larger board makes it easier for the rider to catch smaller waves.

Read on for a guide on everything you need to know about paddle board surfing.

How to Choose the Right SUP for Surfing

If you want to try SUP surfing, we recommend learning on a paddleboard that is designed for surfing. 

All of our ISLE Surf Paddle Boards are hard top paddle boards that are shorter, thinner, and have less volume than a normal SUP. They also fall within the recommended height of 9.5 - 11 foot length and come with a leash which is critical for SUP surfing. While you can also surf on an inflatable paddle board, the thicker rails of the board will make it difficult to manuver in all but the smallest surf.  But hey, if you have an inflatable, don’t be afraid to try it in very small waves (1-2 feet). 

The Cruiser, Versa, and Versa 2 are all great for beginners as they are 32” wide for more stability. They are all terrific SUP boards for flat-water use that can “cross-over” to perform in the surf zone thanks to their surf-inspired design. The Cruiser is a soft top hard paddle board that works equally well for paddle boarding as it does surfing. The full non-slip deck pad helps with stability, making it a great choice if you’re just starting. 

The Versa and Versa 2 are the best all-around epoxy stand up paddleboards. They feature a brushed traction pad plus a grooved diamond patterned traction pad at the tail for maximum grip. This is especially helpful for SUP surfing 

The Classic Surf 2.0 is best for intermediate to advanced surfers. It comes in two sizes, 9’0 and 9’6, and it’s slightly narrower at 29.5” inches, making it more agile in the water. This surfboard is designed primarily for SUP surfing. It’s built like a longboard but wide for more stability, and a pronounced rocker makes it easier to catch waves. It’s ideal for small to medium-sized surf and flat water paddling. Plus you can optimize the fin placement based on conditions or SUP surfing style. 

Note that the bigger the board, the more stable it is on the water. It also is more forgiving, as you don’t have to be as precise when positioning the board and catching the wave. However, what you gain in stability, you lose in agility. However, as you gain more skill, you can progress to paddling with a smaller board to maximize the thrill.

Things to Know Before SUP Surfing

The first thing to remember is that it is dangerous to SUP surf in crowds. Because the boards are larger and less maneuverable, it means that if you fall, the board poses a greater danger to other surfers. Therefore it’s best to learn without a lot of other people around. 

Beginners should look for an open, sandy beach with small 1-2 foot waves that break slowly out from shore, and don’t dump on the beach. The spot should ideally have light offshore winds which means wind blows from land toward the water for smooth and predictable waves.

Once you’ve identified the spot where you want to start surfing, don’t forget to check your local surf report. The surf report predicts what the conditions at your local breaks will be like. They include elements like wave height, swell direction, swell period, wind forecast, and a tide chart. This will give you a good idea of what the surf will be like for the next week. Our guide on How To Read A Surf Report For The Best Riding Experience includes tips and tricks to understanding the report as well as the best surf report websites to use.

Finally, think about the time of day when you will start surfing. As a rule of thumb, the best times of day to surf are around sunrise and sunset. Why? It’s because usually this time of day is less crowded, so you have lots of opportunities to catch waves. Secondly, usually, these times of day are when there will be light offshore winds. These gentle winds provide clean and perfectly shaped waves for you to catch. 

For more info, check out our guide on What's The Best Time Of The Day To Surf for more details. 

Of course, if you learn to read a surf report, you can find pockets in the day where the swell will be ideal, but it will be less crowded. 

Surf Etiquette 101

Now let’s chat Surf Etiquette 101. It’s critical to follow these rules to the best of your ability, as it’s the only thing that keeps order in the water.

  • As a beginner, you’ll start off riding straight into the beach, as opposed to going “down the line” to the left or right. If you’re in a beginner area, it’s OK for multiple surfers to catch the same wave and go straight. This will not apply once you advance to the next level and start “trimming” down the line, left or right. 
  • Do not paddle out into a crowded lineup of experienced surfers. Find somewhere off to the side of crowded spots, or find areas where other beginners are getting started. The type of wave you need as a beginner is different from the waves you’ll surf once you become more experienced. 
  • Knowing when you can paddle for a wave is critical to understand
  • The surfer who is closest to the breaking part of the wave, or “peak” of the wave, has the first chance to catch the wave. Please note that paddling around a surfer to get yourself into the inside position does not give you the right of way, that only works in contest settings.
  • If you’re at a break with one takeoff spot, wait your turn, slowly moving towards it as others take their turn. Don’t paddle around them.

Here are 3 DON’TS to keep you in the good books of your local surfing community: 

  • Don’t be a wave hog - just because you can catch a ton of waves doesn’t mean you should. If you notice you’ve ridden three waves while the surfer next to you hasn’t caught one, give them a nod for them to have their turn. The rule of thumb is to “take one, give two.”
  • Don’t drop in: only 1 surfer per wave (outside of beginner zones). You can’t decide to catch a wave that you see another surfer riding. The only exception is if you’re surfing with a bunch of friends and one of you calls for a “party wave’ that no one else is riding
  • Don’t ditch your surfboard if a big wave is coming your way as it’s dangerous for everyone around you. Your board will be sent flying back to shore and can seriously injure someone. Learning a proper duck dive or turtle roll (best for longboards) is the best solution. Or if you’re unable to do so, grab the velcro portion of your leash (near the tail of your board) and keep your board as close to you as possible.

How to SUP Surf

We’ve broken how to SUP surf into 3 steps:

  1. Launching and paddling past breaking waves: To get over the wave, paddle straight toward the wave, and that your feet are in the surf position stance so you can lift the nose when the wave hits
  2. Catching waves: the trick to catching waves is being in the right position and committing to the wave you want to surf. 
    1. Place your weight on the tail of the SUP, with pressure on the back foot, then use the paddle to maneuver the board.
    2. When waiting, line up parallel to the incoming waves, hybrid stance, with toes facing out toward the ocean, and paddle on the toe side of the board. 
    3. When you see the wave you want to catch, turn your board 90 degrees so you’re perpendicular to the wave (with your nose towards the beach). 
    4. When the wave gets close, start paddling. 
    5. At around 4-5 strokes, ideally, the wave should reach you and pick up the tail of the board. 
    6. Lean forward to establish your board on the face of the wave
    7. Once you’re sure that you caught it, step back and turn your feet to a full surf stance
  3. Surfing the wave
    1. try to angle your board on the wave so you stay in the pocket. The pocket is the spot on the wave where the breaking part of the wave meets the open blue/green face.
    2. Most beginners find it easier to angle boards so they face the wave with their toes and hold the paddle on the toe side of the board 

The Pop Up and Surf Stance

So we’ve covered how to catch a wave when SUP surfing. But what should you look like once you’ve riding the wave?

The first step is figuring out your stance. When standing on a surfboard, your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Are you Regular or Goofy Footed? It doesn’t matter, it just has to do with identifying your dominant foot. What is the foot you’d use to kick a ball? Or if you run forward and jump as high as you can off one leg - what leg did you use to jump? If you jump off your right foot, that’s your dominant foot and you’re a regular-footed surfer. Your stance would be with your left foot forward and your right foot at the back. If you’re goofy, you would have your right foot forward and your left foot at the back. 

Your body position should be back straight, knees slightly bent, with your back leg slightly “tucked” forward towards your front leg - think of a runner crouched at the start line of a race. You’ll want your chest pointed forwards and the toes of  your front foot at about a 45 degree angle and back foot at 90 degree angle. A beginner mistake is to think you should be directly in line with the board, with both feet pointed towards the rail of the board at 90 degree.  This is not proper surf stance and will lead to imbalance and “poo stance”, which looks terrible and doesn’t allow your body to rotate properly to maneuver the board. 

Once you catch a wave, you want your feet near the center line of the board, over the stringer and toward the back of the board with consistency. If you’re not centered, you’ll end up moving side to side. You can only control a surfboard from the tail, so once you’re on the wave, move your feet towards the tail for easier turning. 

The more you surf, the more you can perfect and adjust your stance. Eventually, you will see how moving your feet a few inches can affect speed and turn. It’s especially critical when surfing small waves. Generally moving to the front of the board is the easiest way to create speed while sticking to the back is the easiest way to dig into a turn or slow down.

Choosing the Right Gear for SUP Surfing

To SUP surf, you’ll need a few more things beyond your paddleboard:

  • Paddle: we recommend using a paddle with smaller blades than touring blades for less resistance and higher frequency of strokes. In terms of size, it will likely be slightly shorter than a touring paddle as you won’t be standing straight up on your board as you try to catch waves
  • Leash: should be the same length as your board. Choose a straight leash. While you can use a coil leash, keep in mind it can recoil the board if you fall off the board. Attach the leash to your foot that is closer to the tail. 
  • Wetsuit or rash guards: stay warm and prevent chafing
  • Personal floatation device: recommended if you are not a strong swimmer or you go outside the surf zone. If you have your leash on and are in the surf zone, life jackets aren’t required.

Caring for your Paddle Board Post Surfing

Now let’s chat about caring for your paddle board. You can extend the life of your surfboard by simply cleaning and storing it properly

  • Rinse your board after you surf to remove salt
  • Use a surfboard bag for storage and transport
  • Repair dings and cracks right away - don’t get in the water. If any water gets into the fiberglass and saturates the foam core, it can cause serious damage
  • If there are serious issues, take it to a repair shop right away. 

If you made it through this detailed SUP surfing guide - then it’s time to get off your phone/computer. Grab your board and get out there! 

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