Standup Paddle Boarding & Surfing
Standup paddle boarding is a new sport that is adding more crowd pressure on the playground of an existing sport, surfing. As such, this new sport and its new participants are naturally viewed with a bit of suspicion. It’s no different than the early days of snowboarding in the 1980s, when snowboarders were met with a bit of contempt. Not because of their dress or their culture – this was before all of that came to be. They were met with contempt simply because they were unfamiliar - their path down the mountain was difficult to anticipate for skiers, they stopped and sat in the middle of the mountain, and they created havoc getting off the chairlifts. Change is unnerving. Nevertheless snowboarding developed and flourished, and the two sides learned to share the mountain and because of that, today there are tens of millions of people around the world enjoying the mountains and connecting with nature in a way they otherwise wouldn’t have. Without question, the advent of snowboarding was a great thing for people and the world. Without question, so too will standup paddle boarding be.
The primary issue between the surfing culture and the standup paddle boarding newcomers are that:
Just as snowboarding presented issues to the established skiing environment, so too does stand up paddle surfing present issues to the established surfing environment. In the skiing world the newcomers (the snowboarders) were the counter-culture invading the establishment (which is never in favor of change, let’s be honest) so the backlash was unavoidable. Ironically, in the surfing world, surfers embody the idea of the counter-culture (which not only doesn’t typically fear change, but actually usually embraces it as early adopters). You can read this two ways. On one hand, the fact that surfers are concerned is something to seriously consider. There are issues that need to be addressed. On the other hand, and true to the nature of counter-culture minded people, many if not most lifelong surfers (top pros, shop owners, and other influential surfers) are gravitating towards stand up paddle surfing. The take away is that SUP isn’t going away, but neither are the issues. We’ll address each SUP/surfing issue separately below.
The natural board length advantage of SUPS
give them a wave catching advantage over both long
boards and short boards
SUPs compete for already crowded surfing
Separately, surfers need to understand what stand up paddle boarding means to them and their water loving community. The reality is that only probably 5-10% of stand up paddle boarders will be venturing into the surf. A good percentage of those will likely be surfers that migrate over. This is already happening. The other coming 90-95% of standup paddle boarding enthusiasts are likely going to stay in the flat water. Only a small percentage of the population is willing to put themselves in danger in the surf, which is precisely why surfing isn’t more crowded than it already is. The larger picture here is that millions of more people around the world are getting into the water and establishing the essential connection to water and the oceans that you as surfers have known for years. The number of people who give a shit about the water and the ocean is about to skyrocket to numbers you likely can’t even conceive today, and only good will come of that. Your playground is about to have a lot more passionate voices defending it. This may indeed be something that eventually saves the crowded surf breaks that you share today from continual environmental abuse and disaster.
The combination of the massive size of
an SUP and an inexperienced rider can present a
danger to anyone else sharing a surfing spot.
Safety issues of this nature are going to happen as SUPing grows in popularity. It’s inevitable. This is an issue that surfers need to step up and deal with in an appropriate manner in the water as it happens. It doesn’t have be combative or aggressive in nature, but something needs to be said. Give them a little room at first to protect yourself and give the SUPer the benefit of the doubt before you say anything because they may be quite capable of handling the board in the environment. If it becomes apparent they are a safety issue to you and others just say something. The most effective way to handle a situation is what they call a sandwich criticism. Say something nice, follow with the criticism, then part with something nice. Most people will respond very favorably. Just warmly smile and say hi, maybe compliment on their board and ask them where they got it. Then express your opinion that this break, with this crowd, with their skill level, might not be a very safe situation for everyone involved and that the SUPer might paddle down the coast a bit to a less crowded area. Then part by mentioning some off-peak times when they might be able to SUP here and not run into the crowds, and then say how you hope to see them around as they get more proficient in the waves.
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