Words: Tez Plavenieks
Pics: Caz Rigby, Fi Plavenieks, Tez Plavenieks, Reuben May
Watch any good paddler SUPing in waves and the overriding impression will be one of speed. It won’t matter whether the conditions are small, big, mushy, offshore groomed peelers or anything else. He or she will have one MASSIVE tool in their arsenal which’ll make them the envy of everyone around: speed! SUPM’s editor delves a little deeper and gives some advice for those heading into the surf this autumn/winter.
Speed allows all those big turns to be achieved with buckets of spray thrown in the process – even with tiddler swells in effect. Riders can outrun close out sections, enjoy longer rides and generally milk the waves for all their worth. In contrast those surfers not experiencing the same will be suffering due to the lack of generating that much needed vroom, generally. There are, of course, a myriad of other reasons why someone’s SUP surfing is less than dynamic, but most likely speed, and the lack thereof, may be a major symptom.
Getting your take offs nailed is the first port of call when looking at speed whilst SUP surfing. Far too often paddlers spot their chosen lump, turn heel, paddle hard and simply drop down the face straight into the trough. As fun as that may be ultimately you’re going to grind to a halt once all that momentum has been lost, just at the same moment white water catches you up and clips your heels.
To overcome this hurdle an angled take off should be employed. Using your head will help here so look down the line, engage your board’s inside rail closest to the wave’s face and avoid running out into the flats. Straight away you’ll be enjoy longer surfs even if you don’t have any intention of whacking fat lips. Even in the smallest of waves this technique can help you milk swells until they fizzle.
Use your paddle
SUPers have one critical tool which defines the sport. If you haven’t guessed then it’s your paddle, so use it! Having done all the grunt working catching your chosen wave it’s fool hardy to stop at the critical time.
As your board ramps up speed and you begin to drop down the wave’s face stick in a few extra strokes to ensure you’ve definitely caught the wave and you’re accelerating. (This should be done in conjunction with the above angled take off technique).
When zooming down the line it’s also wise to keep your paddle in play, utilising it as a bracing tool when engaging your board’s rails (skimming the water lightly), but most importantly giving you an extra boost of propulsion through each turn.
Position on the wave
Having taken off in angular fashion the most efficient route, until you’re ready to belt the lip, is to keep a high line close to the wave’s pocket. This is where you’ll find the most amount of Mother Nature’s power and allow you to build even more momentum.
Keep your head pointed in the direction of travel and eyes on the prize. When you spot the section you’re aiming to hit it’s then time to drop into a dynamic bottom turn, being careful not to run out of steam in the flats. With everything set up and in place you should then enjoy a slingshot motion back up to the lip ready to do your thing. Top turns are as varied as every other aspect of surfing so therefore open to interpretation. The main thing though, as is the focus of this article, is to perform a move which doesn’t slow you down, instead setting you up for the rest of your ride without losing speed.
Trim is something often overlooked in all aspects of SUP, not just the surfing element. In nearly all cases effective trim can make or break a ride. And trim doesn’t always mean flat. In a lot of cases moving towards the nose or tail can induce or reduce speed. Trim is all about efficiency relative to where you’re positioned on the wave and reducing drag.
As an example moving right forwards as you take off is a way to make sure the board accelerates down the wave before you move back into your normal surf stance. Over time trim will become intuitive. Main point here is don’t be afraid to move about and get proactive.
In gutless conditions it may be necessary to ‘work’ your board or pump. You may have seen others doing this and upon initial glance looks like the rider in question is mimicking a Duracell bunny. Efficient pumping does work, however, if done correctly. Essentially you’re giving your board an extra shove, and therefore inducing momentum, by lifting the nose and pushing it back down and forwards in quick succession.
It’s best to practice the technique and work out your foot positioning because just as effective pumping is a great skill to have you can also do the wrong thing thereby halting your progress on the wave and stalling.
In years past there’s been a perception that small, super light performance orientated stand up paddle boards are what should be taken into waves. These days this isn’t quite the case. Obviously if you’re surfing quality (hollow/fast) waves with light offshores and aspiring to bust huge airs then as light a board as possible will be required. For most real world SUP surfers, however, a manoeuvre oriented all rounder or hybrid style board will also work. Many brands now build their sleds with additional versatility, such as carveability, so riders don’t need to venture down the super low volume and narrow route.
It should be noted, however, that a reduction in board width and volume will help with harder more gouging turns. That said you don’t need to go too extreme. And also, on the weight point, sometimes a little bit can help with momentum on the wave. As nice as carrying/transporting featherweight SUPs is sometimes they can feel quite corky on the water, needing more rider input to get the most out of. This can lead to fatigue setting in quicker. And also, if there’s any degree of breeze around then these types of SUP are also susceptible. We’re not suggesting you use a dead weight but you get the idea.
The inflatable question
All of the above techniques and tips can be employed if riding an iSUP in waves. You’ll not be getting quite the same performance benefits from an air board as you will with a hard shell SUP, but you can at least practice and have fun aboard one.
We’ve done our fair share of iSUP surfing and although they’re slightly more limited there’s plenty of progression to be made if your chosen sled is such.
Ultimately speed is your friend (in all sports where manoeuvrability is key) so knowing how to increase this is a good thing. The rest of your SUP surfing jigsaw pieces will then fall into place.
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