How To Surf A SUP, Everything You Need To Know

How to surf a SUPHow to surf a SUP aka stand-up paddle board, the two biggest differences between stand-up paddle surfing and prone surfing are:

  • On a stand-up paddle board you are almost always in the upright or standing position.
  • You use a paddle to get out into the line-up, paddle around, catch a wave and as an extension to your arms.

A Brief History

Some may think that the stand-up paddle board is a new invention but nothing could be further from the truth.  The stand-up paddle board, or an earlier version of it, was being used at the same time as the earliest surfboards.  It is said that the Ali’i, Hawaiian Royalty, used stand-up paddle boards and were the only ones allowed to do so.

Laird Hamilton, the noted Big Wave Surfer, is one of the individuals who brought the stand-up paddle board from obscurity to prominence in today’s surf scene.  In less than a decade, the little known stand-up paddle board became a global phenomenon.

At one point, every brick and mortar as well as online surf shop was carrying and selling stand-up paddle boards.  Everyone wanted a piece of the pie.  The craze for stand-up paddle boards has died down, no longer is every surf shop on the planet, selling and carrying these boards.

Recommended Equipment

It is my opinion, and not just mine, that you should at least know the basics (paddling, popping-up, catching a wave and turning) on a prone surfboard before you take up stand-up paddle surfing.  This makes learning how to stand-up paddle surf easier as well as being less dangerous to your fellow surfers.

How To Surf A SUPDon’t get ahead of yourself, and purchase a small, narrow and thin stand-up paddle board, it may look nice but at this point you are not ready for that type of board.  You should start with a stand-up paddle board that is at least 10 feet long, 30 inches wide and 3 ¾ – 4 inches thick.  You want a long stable board, this will make your learning experience more pleasurable.  Get a board with some sort of handle, this makes carrying the board much easier.

If your board does not come with a paddle, you will need to purchase one.  I would recommend a carbon fiber paddle, because of its strength to weight ratio.  Wood paddles are very nice but the extra weight will be physically more taxing, especially after a full day of surfing.  The general rule is that the length of your paddle should be 6 – 8 inches over your height.

Don’t forget to get a leash, which should be at least as long as your paddle board.  The leash not only saves you from having to swim for your paddle board, but will stop the paddle board from traveling too far and possibly striking another surfer.  Click here to read my post on surfboard leash length guide.

Make sure your paddle board has a deck pad on almost the entire length of the board.  The deck pad will eliminate the need for wax, and just like wax will keep you from slipping off your board.

Getting Started

You may want to start learning on a relatively flat body of water, but that is not necessary and will not duplicate the feeling of paddling out in surf.  Choose a beach break with relatively gentle waves, make sure you stay out of the line-up and away from other surfers.  You are learning and I guarantee you, you will be falling and you don’t want to hurt anyone.

Place your board in the ocean, lie on the board and place the blade portion of the paddle under your chest angle side down.  Prone paddle out, until you see a clear area before the breaking waves.  As you get better, you won’t have to prone paddle out.

How To Surf A SUPNow assume a pop-up position with the paddle in one hand, pop-up and land with your feet parallel to each other and about shoulder width apart.  You should be facing straight ahead and pointed towards the nose.  Keep your body and knees relaxed, if you are too rigid, maintaining your balance will be harder.

Place one hand on the handle of the paddle and the other hand should be grasping the shaft about 2 feet down from the handle.  The angled portion of the blade should be facing towards you.  You will paddle along the rail of you paddle board.  If you are paddling on the right side of your board then your left hand should be on the handle and vice versa.

Reach forward with the paddle, your top arm should be straight and the arm on the shaft should be slightly bent.  Dig down and pull towards the rear.  To paddle straight you will need to paddle equal amounts of strokes on the left and right sides of your paddle board.

To go left or right you will need to paddle on the opposite side you wish to turn (e.g. if you wish to turn left, paddle on the right side of the board).  You will need to get in the habit and rhythm of quickly switching right and left hands on the paddle handle and shaft.

Here It Comes

As you start to paddle out, waves will start approaching you, as the breaking wave hits the board you want to brace yourself, placing the paddle blade in the water can help maintain your balance.  As you get better, you can step back, with one foot, on the tail of the paddle board, lifting the nose of the board.  This will make it easier to get the board up and over a breaking wave.  Do not be discouraged should you fall off.

You want to catch a wave before it breaks, and you want to try to not have the wave break on the board.  If you’re right handed you will find it easier to turn towards your left when catching a wave and vice versa.  Start paddling on the opposite side of the board you wish to turn until you are perpendicular to the wave.

How To Surf A SUPAs the wave hits the board, you will feel a push forward.  If you are not ready for this push you will find yourself falling backwards.  If the wave breaks on the board the push will become a hard shove.  If you were prepared for the push then you will be on the wave, make sure to place one foot on the tail (assuming a surfing stance), and start surfing the paddle board like you would a surfboard.

As you get better, you can perform a quick turn, known as a kick turn.  This turn requires that you step back and place one foot on the tail of the paddle board (assuming a modified surfing stance), this will lift the nose of the board and create a pivot point.  Paddle on the opposite side of where you wish to turn.  Continue paddling until you are perpendicular to and on the wave.

You will surf a stand-up paddle board as you do a surfboard, from the tail.  Once you’re on a wave the paddle is not a dead weight in your hands.  You will use the paddle to continue on a wave, to help you make turns (sharp and hard and otherwise) as a pivot point, etc.  Using the paddle as you surf will become second nature and will aid in your surfing.

With time and practice you will get used to surfing and paddling a stand-up paddle board.  Don’t be discouraged should you find yourself falling off a bunch as you are learning, we’ve all been there.

In Conclusion

The biggest differences between how to surf a SUP and prone surfboard are: You are almost always in an upright or standing position and you use paddle to catch waves and get around.  The SUP is not a new invention but was around when the first surfboards were used.

When learning to surf a stand-up paddle board, get yourself a long, wide and thick board.  You want a stable board when you are learning to surf a stand-up paddle board.  The length of your paddle should be between 6 – 8 inches above your height.

Your paddle is not a dead weight but an extensions of your arms.  Using your paddle when surfing will become second nature and with time and practice you will get better at stand-up paddle surfing.

Thanks for dropping in and should you have questions or comments, please post it in the comments section of this page.

8 thoughts on “How To Surf A SUP, Everything You Need To Know

  1. From a person who knows nothing about surfing I really learned a lot. You really go into detail on how to surf and everything. Although I think I should learn how to swim first before I learn how to surf haha.

    • Hi Matt, I agree, that before anyone takes on surfing that they need to know how to swim :).

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  2. Your website is awesome! I just recently tried surfing for the first time and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Since I love travelling, I’m already looking for a place to spend this next winter and get good at surfing. Do you have any suggestions? I’m looking for something with small living expenses and possibly a good diving spot too.
    Honestly, I’ve never heard of surfing a sup but I can imagine that was a start of surfing. I’ve tried stand up paddling on a river in Colorado and that was fun too so I’d be glad to hear what you know about sup on a river.

    • Hi Eva, Unfortunately, the only place I’ve ever surfed is Hawaii but I hear Bali and Costa Rica are nice. As far as SUP on a river, I’ve never tried that but it sounds like fun. I would think, as long as you don’t run the rapids on your SUP, that it would be easier using a SUP on a river than the ocean, but I could be wrong.

      Thanks for comments and dropping in!

  3. Great post!

    All this information is really really helpful. I don’t live near the beach but if I go on vacation or move to the beach I will be sure to take what I have learned here to the waves.

    Keep up the great writing.

  4. Surfs Up Duuude ! So Laird Hamilton showed them a another way. I wonder what they used for paddles back in the early days ?

    • Hi Robert, Yes, Laird Hamilton has been a pioneer on the surf scene for many years. I would think that back in the early days they had beautiful Koa wood paddles.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

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