Interview: SUP Mag UK
Pics: Chris Griffiths
Chris ‘Guts’ Griffiths is a legend within the UK’s surf scene. Colourful, larger than life and super enthusiastic about wave riding, the twice European Longboard Champ is also a fan of stand up paddle surfing. SUP Mag UK caught up with the man himself for a natter about all things SUP and surf.
Could you let our readers know a little about your background and past watery experiences?
Well, I’m 49 years old and have been surfing for almost 40 years so I’m definitely a confirmed surf addict! I learned to surf on a 7.2ft single fin pin tailed Zippy Sticks at Llangennith that a family friend had lent me. I was instantly hooked and surfing has taken me on an amazing journey over the decades to far flung corners of the world in search of ‘the perfect wave’ ever since. It has enabled me to meet some amazing characters too.
I competed for around 20 years on all sorts of boards but my biggest success came on longboards, where I won a couple of European titles as well as being rated as highly as top five in the ASP world rankings.
Tell us how you got into stand up paddle surfing?
About eight or nine years ago I was on a boat trip in the Mentawis with a bunch of the best longboarders on the planet including the then World Champ Josh Constable. Josh kept going on about how he had started SUP surfing and was frothing about how much fun it was. Now this guy is a great surfer (on both short and long boards) and I figured if he was into it then it was worth a go! As soon as I got back home I bit the bullet and got myself a C4 Waterman 10.6ft.
What did your crew think when they first saw you rock up swinging a blade?
I was the first person at my home break of Langland to take a paddle board into the lineup and it would be fair to say there were a few raised eyebrows. I was terrible at it too! It took me months to even master the basics and several times I considered giving up as I’ve never struggled with any form of surfing as much as I did with SUP. But thankfully I persevered and started to ride pretty well – which calmed down all the boys nerves a bit as they realised I wasn’t going to kill anyone.
How different is it riding a stand up compared to regular surfing?
It’s totally different but exactly the same, if that makes any sense? Once you’ve adjusted to the size of the board and figured out all the skills you need with the paddle, it becomes just another way of surfing. Different but equally fulfilling and as fun as regular surfing. And because you can surf SUPs in even the tiniest of ripples, it means that you get to go surfing so many more days of the year.
Which do you prefer – SUP or surf – and why?
I don’t prefer any form of surfing over the other – I am totally excited to be surfing my shortboard, SUP or log. There are days (and waves) that are more suited to one board or another. I just find that riding all sorts of boards keeps me interested and excited to surf more than if I just rode the same type of board every day.
You competed on the Euro Longboard Tour (and won it twice) and we know you’ve done a few SUP comps in the past – any plans to make it more of a thing?
Yeah, I did all the UK SUP contests for a couple of years and never lost an event I entered. I am the current Welsh Champion too. That being said, I am pushing 50 now and don’t have the desire to compete as much as I did years ago. I may do a few select events but contest surfing isn’t my big focus anymore. I’d rather surf great waves and progress myself and my surfing in that way.
Where’s your local haunt and what typical conditions are you faced with?
My local beach is Langland Bay. It’s a great place to call home and produces a variety of waves depending on the tide – from soft perfect peelers to world class reef breaks, all on the same beach. It’s a busy place and the standard of surfing is high so it’s super competitive, which I like.
What’s your opinion on the Welsh SUP scene as a whole?
There’s a thriving SUP scene in Wales. It seems (particularly locally) to have attracted quite a few girls, which is great to see. The standard is slowly getting better and we have several British team members who SUP locally.
You’ve done your fair share of global surf travelling – what’s your number one spot and why should we go there?
For regular surfing, my dream destination is the Mentawais with its bathtub warm water and super consistent perfect barrels. As for a perfect SUP destination, that would have to be the Maldives. You get the same perfect surf as Indo but less barrels and power, which makes it a bit more SUP friendly.
What about domestic?
My favourite waves to SUP in the UK are the sand reef at low tide Langland. This is a slabby, thick, challenging wave that holds a really solid swell. It’s a difficult but ultimately rewarding wave to SUP. Another one is a cracking little wave in Yorkshire called Caves situated at the north end of Sandsend bay. This place produces a really fun rippable left that machines away for 150 yards on a good day. My third one is another left hander in West Wales, a very special wave that is very fickle but when it’s firing can produce mind bendingly long, rippable waves to rival any point break in the world.
Do you have any interest in flat water paddling or is it just waves that float your boat?
I have done a few flat water races (I actually won the Starboard September Sessions surf and flatwater race when it was held in Ireland a few years back) but it’s not my forte .
How’s the local SUP scene in your area?
It’s growing in popularity, that’s for sure. But some people overstep their ability level and take SUPs into surf spots that they can’t handle or are too busy for a SUP, which can cause some friction for sure. To be fair though, there are a lot more people buying SUPs for flat water fun than for surf and I think this will always be the case.
What do you think about the national SUP scene? Do you see it being as big as some predict – bigger than surfing?
No, I see SUP surfing staying much smaller than regular surfing – especially in proper waves, as it’s just too difficult for most people’s ability level. It takes a lot of surfing skill to handle a SUP board safely in decent surf. But I do see flatwater SUP becoming massive.
Why does paddle surfing appeal to those who see it?
I think its appeal is that it is a completely different way to approach surfing. It’s a way to challenge yourself and learn new skills in a sport that you have maybe gleaned all you can. It also opens up the possibility of surfing a raft of days a year when it’s too small to conventionally surf any other board.
Talk to us about your shaping background – have you crafted any Guts branded stand up paddle boards yet?
I’ve been shaping now for 20 years and have shaped boards that I feel are very suited to the waves we have in this country. I started predominantly shaping longboards for myself and a host of Britain’s best longboarders including Sam Bleakley, Elliot Dudley, Connor Griffiths and Joe Davies but these days I’m making more shortboards and hybrids. I have made a few custom SUPs for myself and a few friends but have not really rolled them out commercially yet.
Maybe one day I’ll do this, but I have a small factory that’s running at full production and I want to keep making boards the old fashioned way (by hand) so I’m limited to the amount of boards I can produce.
Blu Wave have just started sponsoring you – how did their support come about?
I’ve been aware of Blu Wave as a SUP brand for several seasons and have liked their boards and accessories. I’ve been selling them in my shop for a while now, but it was only recently they invited me to try out their boards with a view to riding and promoting them. It’s still early days but I have to say that, as well as looking great, they surf really well. They are lightweight, responsive and easy to surf. I’m really impressed.
What’s your ‘go to’ stick in the Blu Wave range?
There are two that I’m favouring at the moment. In small waves I’m riding the 8.6ft Waverider pro and in overhead stuff the 9.6ft Waverider pro.
Any specific SUP plans moving forwards? Waves to ride, spots to hit up?
Yeah, I’m heading to Ireland in September for a few weeks to do some serious testing with the whole Blu Wave range and then it’s time for somewhere warmer for a winter trip!
Final shouts and thanks?
Just a big thanks to everyone that has helped me in my life and with my surfing career. It’s been a great journey so far!