Where we at?

SUP surfing as it stands…

Stand up paddle boarding’s an easy going (and quite mellow) watersport when practised on flat water by and large. For beginners and recreational paddlers this epitomises the experience. Those looking to progress, however, may find the surf environment is too much of a tantalising prospect. Piloting (what could be described as) an oversized surfboard, with the additional boost of paddle propulsion, opens up a whole lot more wave riding opportunities and locations than with just a surfboard in tow. As SUP continues to grow we look at the stand up paddle surfing arm of SUP (arguably the most performance orientated area that still remains in easy reach for the majority of riders). Read Part 2.
Words & pics: As stated

Tez Plavenieks
SUPM editor and all-round watercraft rider

Tell us about your surf riding background and when you discovered riding waves with a paddle.
I’ve surfed (on surfboards) since I was five. This also included bodyboarding and, later, my first forays into windsurfing as a teen. Even with that, it quickly became obvious that I liked moving water, although I do still enjoy flatter brine sometimes. At the end of 2005, I first saw SUP and fancied getting involved. The waves we enjoy at my local break on sandbars, sometimes a mile or so out. Using a paddle propelled craft to reach them and then subsequently ride these swells was a lightbulb, a game-changing moment for me. I subsequently spent five or so years mainly riding these spots on my own as stand up paddleboarding hadn’t quite grown as it has these days.

Do you still partake in a surf dabble with a paddle? If so, how does this make up (to a greater or lesser extent) your overall paddling?
SUP surfing is still a great way to enjoy waves. It doesn’t matter whether you have dribbles or overhead bombs. A SUP and paddle make riding surf unique and challenging in its own way. Some may think it’s not the purest form of ‘surfing’ (which it isn’t), but there’s no lacking of fun. It’s no secret I ride all kinds of watercraft, and of late, flying above it takes a lot of my attention. That said, if there’s a wave, then I’ll usually find some time for stuck to the water ‘stick surfing’.

What’s your overall opinion of SUP surfing in the UK currently? Do you see much new blood at your local, for instance?
My local’s pretty unique in that it is a bona fide SUP surf spot when there’s swell. The secret’s out the last few years, and with SUP’s growth, we regularly see new paddlers coming to take on the conditions – whatever they may be. Elsewhere isn’t the same – not from what I can see, at least. Whilst SUP surfer numbers did increase a little a few years back, it’s waned as a discipline mainly because the majority of paddlers don’t have the skills. This isn’t a criticism, it’s more an observation. SUPers coming into the sport are often doing so without any prior experience. Even in small swell, you need some knowledge. Without that, it’s an off-putting environment, and maybe people don’t want the hassle.

Why do you think stand up paddle boarding waves never exploded as some predicted?
I think it’s to do with the difficulty of SUP surfing. In small waves, you’ll still get beat downs if you get it wrong. Just paddling out, stood up over white water isn’t the easiest. And then there’s the equipment issue. Back a few years the industry started pushing low volume, narrow high-performance SUPs for surfing. As soon as you push a discipline towards the elite level, you lose numbers. And that certainly seems to have contributed, among other things.

As SUP continues to navigate through its new growth spurt, with large volumes of paddlers coming into the fold, do you think we’ll see an influx of SUP surf riders?
Maybe. We could see a few riders progressing on to SUP surfing if their interests are pricked. Location will play a part. Hardcore surf venues won’t attract, I don’t think. But mellower wave spots might (such as my backyard). The issue as well is where the paddler in question is based. You need to be at the coast for waves, and not everybody has easy (or quick) journeys to get to these put-ins. Once furlough/staycation has ended, it’ll be a whole load trickier to score waves – unless the rider(s) in question are prepared to become weekend warriors. And not any will because of responsibilities and life getting in the way.

Final thoughts on SUP surfing?
SUP surfing is (for me) the main reason to ride a board with a paddle in hand. Whilst I still love traditional surfing, the unique aspect of adding a paddle make a stand-up paddle wave riding its own challenge and therefore keeps my attention. As said above, it’s also one of the best modes of wave sliding for the more local area. If you’re thinking about getting into SUP surfing, then learn surf etiquette, take things slowly, and pretty soon, you’ll be loving it as well.

Andy McConkey
McConks SUP

Tell us about your surf riding background and when you discovered riding waves with a paddle.
Both Jen and myself were very average but keen surfers and windsurfers. Growing up in the Vale of Glamorgan, I had more access to waves as a grom than Jen did growing up in Swindon. But it was at Uni that the surf passion exploded, myself at St Andrews in Scotland, and Jen at Aberystwyth in West Wales, and then Plymouth. Moving back home after my degree in Marine biology, I expected to spend the rest of my life on a boat, working and surfing.

Of course, reality didn’t quite follow the dream, so other than three months in Florida, a couple of days surfing parallel to the shore at Skegness, and some surfing in the south-west when working with South West Water; I never achieved my vision. And the same was true for Jenny – her ambitions of living on a beach working on coastal environmental issues fell apart when she started working for a marine consultancy based as far as away as you can get from the coast in the middle of Oxfordshire.

And actually, it was that distance from decent surf that led to SUP. After so many failed day trips, weekend trips, and full-on holidays, we just gave in to the inevitable and stopped chasing wind and surf. We’re the kind of people who used to take all our boards and winds up kit to Gwithian for two weeks at Easter. And we would see a rideable ripple or any wind worth rigging for. One Easter at Gwithian, the sea was so calm that we snorkelled around Godrevy and caught spider crabs at 2m depth.

And as we increasingly got jobs that meant we couldn’t have the afternoon off on a forecast, surf became very frustrating. We turned to mountain biking and windsurfing at our inland lakes, but even windsurfing is frustrating inland. Even a pretty good blow is fickle once you add the inevitable wind shadow.

When we were still trying to surf fairly regularly, SUP became a thing in the surf world. Like most surfers, at the time, we were sceptical and quite anti. It looked cool, but our life had moved on – on to windsurfing and mountain biking.

Do you still partake in a surf dabble with a paddle? If so, how does this make up your overall paddling?
But for us, SUP was borne out of needing a family watersport once we’d had kids. We’re not the kind of family to ditch the kids with each other whilst we go out and do our thing. So SUP surfing hasn’t ever been a massive component of SUP for us. When the conditions, location, availability all combine, we get on the water, in waves and with paddles, and have a wonderful time. Having a high volume SUP gives you so much more confidence and makes the whole thing more fun, especially for ‘retired’ surfers.

What’s your overall opinion of SUP surfing in the UK currently? Do you see much new blood at your local, for instance?
Being based in the Cotswolds, we don’t have a local and whilst we see lots of new blood playing around in wake, we’re not at a break often enough to tell the difference!

Why do you think SUP boarding waves never exploded as some predicted?
Prone surfers have never made SUP surfers welcome in very many locations. Quite simply, surfers in some locations need to stop being such tossers! Whilst it’s true that the odd SUP kook causes issues at some breaks, it would be nice if prone surfers could learn to share and educate rather than sneer and shout.

As SUP continues to navigate through its new growth spurt, with large volumes of paddlers coming into the fold, do you think we’ll see an influx of SUP surf riders?
Hopefully, yes, but the head says that most of the newbies are buying cheap bendy boards, which aren’t very good for surf SUP. And they’ll be put off because they think they’re not very good.

Final thoughts on SUP surfing?
We’re not going to be too disappointed if it still doesn’t become the next big thing. Line ups are already confrontational and busy when it’s on. The best thing about SUP surf is that you have a paddle and can find a new peak away from the crowds.

Sarah Thornely
Supjunkie

Tell us about your surf riding background and when you discovered riding waves with a paddle.
The only surf riding background I have is standing on a surfboard that my father made in about 1971/2 when I was a young teen – we would take it on holiday to Cornwall and stand on it on the sea, just floating around. I have fond memories of that board and always wanted to be able to surf because it felt a cool thing to do back then. After seven years of SUP, I asked a friend in Wales about SUP surfing, and she suggested we have a go (she is an incredibly competent surfer with a wealth of practical knowledge). We borrowed a couple of big old boards for stability, and on a very, very cold and windy day at Coney Beach in Wales, we had a go with a few friends who knew what they were doing and gave good initial advice. It was a bitter November’s day, and I would have happily gone for coffee instead, but hey, we were there, and three hours later, I got off the water with a huge grin on my face and my love for SUP surfing was born! When I returned home, I bought a board. This was in the winter of 2018/19.

Do you still partake in a surf dabble with a paddle? If so, how does this make up (to a greater or lesser extent) your overall paddling?
I try to SUP surf as much as possible as I find it a huge thrill, however small the waves are. If the waves are around, it would probably make up about a quarter of my water time. I’d be happier if it were more like 75%!

What’s your overall opinion of SUP surfing in the UK currently? Do you see much new blood at your local, for instance?
My local beach is Hayling which is ideal for the sport, with long clean waves sometimes a kilometre off the beach – I often feel like I am the new blood, but everybody there is lovely and supportive. I think there are many new SUP surfers in the line-up because the conditions can be easy; everyone with a new inflatable is prepared to have a go!

Why do you think stand up paddle boarding waves never exploded as some predicted?
I never knew about this prediction as I have been solely involved in the racing side of SUP – perhaps we had mini-explosion early doors as with the racing? There seem to be different views on the growth of that as well. SUP is growing massively year on year but maybe not the surf or race side as much – it’s all about leisure. I guess you can buy a cheaper inflatable than you can a SUP surfboard, so maybe that’s got something to do with it as well.

As SUP continues to navigate through its new growth spurt, with large volumes of paddlers coming into the fold, do you think we’ll see an influx of SUP surf riders?
There is another new growth spurt in SUP, and I predict there will be more this summer than ever – it could dwarf last year as long as people can get hold of the boards. I have surfed on the south coast, North Devon and Wales and knowing how the numbers have grown, I do not doubt that the SUP surf riders will be there in their droves. I think, though, that a lot of these SUP surfers will be classed as leisure riders on the surf, having a go for fun’s sake. Why not have a go if you’ve got an all-round 10’6 I-SUP although I’d encourage anyone who wants to have a go NOT to go into a crowded line-up (the surfers won’t thank you for that!) – have a lesson, find somewhere quiet, enjoy the fun but think about the safety aspect first. Find someone who knows what they are doing for top tips.

There is nothing more thrilling than catching your first wave or the next one, or the next one! Me, I want to be more than a leisure SUP surfer, so I guess I should grab some lessons to improve and learn too.

Final thoughts on SUP surfing?
I never thought I would surf, especially at ‘my age, although I have never let that stop me from doing anything. Still, I certainly don’t have the ability to pop on a traditional surfboard, so SUP surfing has filled that gap. I was encouraged to enter the Hotdoggers competition at Saunton – conditions were just manageable for me, and it was great fun being in the line-up with good mates who didn’t judge my ability.

I am lucky enough to own a SUP longboard too, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to learn to ‘hang ten’ – if I get some lessons, get the conditions and practice, I may do it one day – watch this space!

Damian Scott
Neptune SUP

Tell us about your surf riding background and when you discovered riding waves with a paddle.
Although I spent more time in my youth (over 30 years ago), windsurfing (Eastbourne has more wind than waves) surfing was a big part of my early days on the water with many trips to the south-west. Since then, I have been lucky enough to surf from Europe to Oz and many breaks in between.
I first tried SUPing on the sea many years ago, it was only my second time on a SUP, and there was no more than a low tide ankle-biter under the board, and yet it caught it; for me, and that was it. The reality that I could catch ‘waves/lumps’ that previously I wouldn’t have even thought of, made adding a SUP to the quiver a must (that was the start of the Neptune SUPs journey).

Do you still partake in a surf dabble with a paddle? If so, how does this make up (to a greater or lesser extent) your overall paddling?
I enjoy flatwater paddling, but for me playing on waves, however small (my big wave days are behind me), is where it’s at. I have noticed more riders on local breaks and think that will increase as time goes. Historically ‘some’ surfers can be less than welcoming. It’s always been like that, which is a shame. That doesn’t make it attractive and can put people off.

What’s your overall opinion of SUP surfing in the UK currently? Do you see much new blood at your local, for instance?
In the last year or so, there has been an explosion of cheap iSUPs that have been very popular; these are hard enough to stand up on flatwater; so I don’t think that has helped. Also, just as SUP surfing started to get traction, foiling has become the ‘new toy’, and brands are focusing on pushing them. This is just my opinion but when I got into surfing, it was more about being connected to the wave. As the sport has grown, it’s more like skateboarding on waves with more and more air tricks or riding the biggest wave out there.

Why do you think stand up paddle boarding waves never exploded as some predicted?
This has become the face of the sport and requires very particular shaped boards and skills. SUP surfing, however, is more likened to old school longboard riding in style; even a short 8’ full carbon traditional shaped surfboard SUP is nothing like as responsive as a ‘surfboard’. So I think SUP surfing appeals to those who want to surf but maybe in a way that is not as ‘popular’ as seen on TV/social media.

Final thoughts on SUP surfing?
When doing any sport in the sea, GET LESSONS! Good instruction will not only get you surfing quicker, teach you the etiquette of waves and the rules/secrets of the sea, and it may also save your or someone else’s life. Keep safe and have fun!

Ben Felton

Tell us about your surf riding background and when you discovered riding waves with a paddle.
I enjoyed surfing on a longboard when I was younger. I wasn’t seriously into it at the time, but I love the water and just being in the sea. Due to work commitments, I was unable to carry on surfing. I started dabbling around other hobbies, but they just didn’t hit the fix I was chasing! I changed jobs, and a friend convinced me to have a go at SUP. The first time I caught a wave, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how early you could get on to a wave and how small conditions you could go out in! It was a game-changer.

Do you still partake in a surf dabble with a paddle? If so, how does this make up (to a greater or lesser extent) your overall paddling?
Yes, I still SUP surf. However, SUP foiling is taking over. I tend to go out in bigger waves now to SUP surf. It’s the best feeling!

What’s your overall opinion of SUP surfing in the UK currently? Do you see much new blood at your local, for instance?
Great community, loads of social media groups to get advice from, many areas to SUP surf in the UK so that you can paddle away from the crowds. Some of the longer SUP surfboards suit the mushy waves we get here on the south coast too. I’m seeing a lot of new flatwater paddlers but not many new SUP surfers.

Why do you think stand up paddle boarding waves never exploded as some predicted?
I think the learning curve of SUP surfing is relatively hard. For instance, paddling into waves requires good balance, powerful paddle strokes, and super expensive equipment. It’s a lot of money to outlay to ‘give it a go’ and test whether it’s for you.

As SUP continues to navigate through its new growth spurt, with large volumes of paddlers coming into the fold, do you think we’ll see an influx of SUP surf riders?
Yes, I think we will when all the new paddlers realise what fun they can have in the waves.

Final thoughts on SUP surfing?
For me, it changed my life. Once I paddled into that first wave, it became an addiction. The power of a paddle and extra volume in the boards allow you to make the most of your local spot or any other for that matter.

About thepaddlerezine (455 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

1 Comment on Where we at?

  1. Great, article. I also started board surfing at a young age, now at 70, I have bad knees and shoulders and it is difficult to “pop up” I started sup surfing about 7 years ago, as even long boarding was getting difficult. As a purist, I took sup surfing on as a separate sport from surfing. Now however, SUP surfing is the only surfing I do. I just wish they made a decent isup so I could travel with a board.

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