Surfing for SUP racers – negotiating the wave zone

So you’ve spotted stand up paddle boarding and have decided to get involved. After the initial learning phase that bling race SUP in your local stand up emporium has now been purchased and those starting blocks are calling.

Having nailed a few SUP races on inland waters there’s a growing urge to tackle some open ocean competitions. But wait just a minute. What’s this you see before you? Waves? Nobody said anything about having to become a surfer to race stand up paddle boards…

Surf SUP racing – a global ‘thing’

Globally SUP racing is moving ever more into the wave arena. For sure, there’ll always be those technical long distance flat water races, or even flat water sprints. But the trend more and more is for SUP races to be held at surf venues. Not only does this make for a more challenging event, calling on a whole host of ocean skills that riders have to develop, but spectators have a more engaging experience with the ever present spectacle of carnage, pile ups and big take downs.

In the UK SUP is starting to slowly follow suit. And let’s be honest, with swell in the mix it’s more fun for competitors – if slightly daunting for those uninitiated.

Race/touring boards in waves

Here at SUP Mag UK we’re big fans of riding race and touring SUPs in waves – for a variety of reasons. During sessions when your usual surf sled isn’t cutting it, there’s nothing better than busting out the 12.6ft or 14ft and going for a play.


Granted, you’re never going to be ripping big turns and gouging cutties, but catching and riding waves on a pointy nose board forces riders to learn the art of trim and control, thereby improving overall board and paddle skills whilst being more engaging than simple flat water mile chewing. Covering distance and building stamina will help no end but mixing up training is also key and let’s be honest, stand up is about fun. Having a bash at race SUP surfing is certainly that…

If you really get the bug then there’s nothing stopping SUPers heading out on bigger days and challenging themselves. Just be wary of other water users if you do this! A marauding 14ft board ploughing through a busy line up is lethal and no one will thank you. Pick and choose your times and venues wisely.

First things first

As much as riding surf on race and touring SUPs is indeed fun, and builds your skills in the process, we’re not suggesting everyone with a pointy nose SUP heads to their local surf break and gets stuck in. It’d be carnage.

A better route would be to bite the bullet, regress back to that 10ft (ish) all rounder and build up to riding race SUPs in waves – developing your surf skills one step at a time. You never know, the discovery of being good at SUP surfing could be on the agenda as well. But you’ll never learn this trying to learn surfing’s fundamentals on the wrong kit. Plus you’ll get frustrated.

Fuerteventura by Kai Nicolas Steimer

With every part of SUP there are challenges. If you really want to learn to surf then consider getting a lesson. And maybe on a prone surfboard tutorial first. This may also be frustrating to many – especially when lying down seems like a step backwards – but trust us, you’ll learn a lot. Not least about reading the sea state – a key skill for all open water paddlers.

Ready to go

Having become confident and happy in small to medium sized waves, on a surf orientated stand up paddle board, it’s then time to try out your skills on the race/touring SUP. You’d do well to find a quiet stretch of beach so as to not cause a nuisance and as with all learning processes, start off small. Choosing a big day for those first forays into race SUP wave riding is recipe for disaster.

With a few sessions under your belt we’re confident you’ll have got the hang of it, however, and the next time you’re in a race with waves added to the mix you’ll be better prepared and poised to make a decent stab at it. And if you’re bitten by the bug of riding longer boards in swell, also consider the downwind option, which offers similar experiences, increase your time on the water and will further help develop your overall stand up repertoire.

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