C4 Watermans Dave Parmenter has been waxing lyrical about the current state of the stand up paddle surfing sport. In an excellent article he debunks myths and corrects mistakes. Over to Dave:
It seems the new hybrid sport of stand-up paddling and surfing is getting more popular everyday. That’s great, but so things are moving so fast that it is getting hard to keep up with all the advances. It seems like each day another SUP-oriented business sprouts up, and each seems to have its own ideas about equipment and techniques.
Frankly, this infant sport is in an awkward phase, its explosive growth has outpaced the formation of a core elite. Simply put, at present there are very few seasoned authorities on SUP surfing out there, yet an increasing number of insta-experts are inflicting all sorts of baloney on the gullible SUP newcomer.
With that in mind, we thought we ought to tackle a handful of the most common SUP errors we encounter in our travels…
#1. Stand-up surfboards are just oversized long boards.
Nope. Don’t listen when you hear a little voice telling you this, that’s just all the misfit SUBs in the used board rack whispering in your ear.
Given ample flotation and girth, just about any sort of watercraft will let you get out there and start stand-up padding. But for the discriminating surfer and paddler, there’s a lot more to progressive SUB design than merely widening a tanker.
When blown up to jumbo proportions, the drawbacks inherent in typical longboard designs; rolled bottoms, soft & round rails, old-fashioned rockers become magnified. Drag is increased, response grows more sluggish, and once the board gets on a sizzling wave face the surfer finds he must wrestle an unwieldy sloth that has all the handling characteristics of a Greyhound bus with the power steering out.
Properly designed SUBs are not oversize long boards, nor are they blown-up short boards. They are stand-up surfboards a wholly new, rapidly-evolving class of surf craft, one that borrows design components from all the existing types of surfriding craft and combines them in a finely-tuned matrix that allows the progressive SUP surfer to lean on the paddle and push the board into places and angles no big board has ever been.
#2. A Stand-up Paddle Surfboard Must Be Wide To Be Stable.
This is one of stand-up paddle surfing’s biggest and most widespread misconceptions. Simply put, excessive width is the poor man’s solution to stability.
There are other ways to grant considerable stability to an SUB. When the outline, rail volume, bottom contour, rocker, and rail shape are put together in the proper configuration, an SUB can be amazingly stable even at 27” or 28” wide. And get this: All those boards you see in the racks with overly soft, round rails? Well, they can subtract 1 or 2 inches from a board’s stability quotient------one more reason why SUB widths are relative.
A narrower plan shape with a perfectly balanced set of design components will paddle straighter and easier and, of course, perform much more like a conventional high-performance surfboard.
Much like an airplane in flight, a stand-up surfboard is stable (or unstable) on three axes: Pitch, Yaw, and Roll. Roll instability (side-to-side) is usually the first thing the novice notices, but as SUBs become shorter or curvier you must also contend with pitch instability (the angle the nose dips up or down) and yaw (the tendency of the nose to swing side-to-side with each stroke).
Additionally, when a stand-up board is over-wide the paddler is forced to extend his paddle slant-wise off the rail, thus losing the optimum mechanical angle of the paddle stroke. The more vertical the paddle shaft as it is pulled along the rail, the more power you get with each stroke. It’s also a matter of ergonomics: The slant-wise stroke forced upon you by a too-wide board can create needless torque on your arms and shoulders, and saps your paddle power like a engine sputtering on three cylinders.
Furthermore, the wider the board, the more likely the nose and tail will be drawn in sharply to conform to aesthetic and control elements. Excessive outline curve, especially from the center-point to the nose, brings a considerable problem with yaw. It’s no fun to struggle with a nose that whips from side to side as you are perched on the ledge cranking to make a late drop…
#3. The Best SUB On Which To Learn Is A Long Single-fin.
Or a wide quad-fin or a short tri-fin, etc…
No, the best board on which to learn is a borrowed board. By all means, learn on the biggest board you can find, but before committing to a purchase go out and demo everything you can get your hands on.
If you can master the basics before you buy your own board, you will be more likely to end up with an SUB size and shape that won‘t hold you back when you begin to progress.
Purchase an SUB with an eye on where your skill level will be two or three months from now--------not for the first few days when you are wobbling over the waters of your local inlet or lake.
After all, there’s nothing worse than finally learning to crank a snapback while leaning on your blade, only to realize to do so on your 12’-plus leviathan will require a truss and two tugboats.
#4. The Towering Infernal: The Too-Tall Paddle
Wherever we go in the world, the most common sight we see is people using paddles that are way too tall for them. From San-O to Sydney, all too many SUB paddlers are reaching over their heads like children straining to reach the cookie jar atop the ‘fridge.
Aside from squandering the mechanical advantage of the proper and efficient paddle stroke, using too tall a paddle sets you up for some sort of repetitive stress harm to your shoulders.
While a general guideline states that the paddle should extend 5 or 6 inches over your head, some variability exists due to the thickness of your board, slight differences in paddling styles, and even the shape and angle of the paddle blade.
Try standing on a bench with your paddle and take a few pantomime strokes; this way you can simulate the blade depth of your stroke and lets you see how high the top of the paddle goes overhead. Your top hand should be at the height of your forehead and nose when you push into your stroke. Any higher or lower and you will be suffering a power loss.
Additionally, adjustable paddles, on which you can readily change the length of the paddle shaft, are great tools you can employ to zero in on the optimum paddle size for your board and style.
#5. Light Out For the Territories
It’s no secret that planet’s surf breaks are over-crowded and teeming with short boarders, long boarders, body boarders, tow-surfers, kayakers, and bodysurfing marine mammals. Why add an enormous surfboard and a six-foot paddle to the biomass?
Unless your name is Laird or Keaulana, there is no good reason why you should paddle out on your stand-up surfboard at a crowded name break, or any spot for that matter, which is an established conventional surfing break.
Along every coastline in the world, no matter how jam-packed, there are countless overlooked breaks where there is little or no history of use as a traditional surf break.
The whole point of SUP surfing is to get away from overcrowded breaks and head off into fresh pastures. The fattest offshore reef, the tiniest beach break, the mushiest point, each becomes a J-Bay or Sunset or Superbank on a properly designed SUB.
So find a wave that no one else wants and paddle out with a few friends, and not only will you rediscover the original stoke of surfing, but you’ll be doing your part to ensure that stand-up paddle surfers and conventional board surfers enjoy a peaceful coexistence.