“Get that damn boat out of the lineup!”
“I can’t stand those sweepers. I hope they stick their brooms between their legs and fly away like the witches they are.”
“They’re a bunch of kooks.”
“I hate those frickin’ things. It’s hard enough catching waves with all the longboarders sitting outside…and now this.”
“They have no business being in the lineup. SUPs should be banned from the surf zone….”
These are just some of the comments I’ve heard traditional surfers
direct against Stand Up Paddle (SUP) surfers. The invective, the
vitriol, the diabolic hatred is no hyperbole; some regular surfers
loathe SUP surfers more than Al Qaeda. In their view, regular surfer’s
territory, ever an increasingly more crowded zone, has been terrorized
for the last handful of years by the latest fitness craze.
I’ve heard surfers complain about—and sometimes vehemently confront—a
new class of surfer: a Type A, wealthy (who can afford a $1,500 board
and $350 paddle) establishment jock who wants to cross train in between
sessions at the extreme workout gym and grueling triathlon practices by
jumping on the latest health bandwagon, SUP surfing.
But plenty of longtime traditional surfers have also made the switch
to SUP. And certainly, these two archetypes aren’t the only ones to SUP.
I admit: I’ve had negative—even violent—thoughts towards SUP surfers.
Their boards make traditional longboards look like matchsticks. Their
paddle propels them with more power than any pair of human arms can
muster. When they sit far outside and easily pick off a wave, one that I
was perfectly lined up for, waiting patiently for several minutes, only
to be denied because the SUP surfer who just paddled into the surf
zone, now has the inside position.
When this happens, my first thought is to want to drop in on them and tell them to go surf somewhere else.
I laugh to myself when I see one clumsily fall off their board. I’m
regaled, basking in a macabre alter ego when I see a traditional surfer
barking and ‘chewing out’ a SUP surfer for dropping in.
Despite these tendencies, I’m trying to change my attitude. Though I’m not a member of Self Realization Fellowship
(SRF), I do appreciate its presence in town. Sometimes, I’ll ask
myself: What would Yogananda do? He’d probably be delighted to see so
many people enjoying the water.
And when examining the SUP conundrum from a Christian perspective,
would Jesus equate SUP surfers with the money changers in the temple and
chase them out of the lineup, pursuing aquatic justice? Most likely
not. “Blessed are the surf peacemakers,” Jesus might say.
Religious dogma aside, are SUP surfers unjustly ridiculed? Or should they be banned
from regular surf zones as has been done in some areas of Dana Point
and San Onofre? Will Encinitas surf beaches ever be off-limits to SUPs?
Not anytime soon, according to Encinitas Lifeguards Captain, Larry Giles.
“There haven’t been any discussions on regulating areas and usage for
SUP boards. The only area we currently designate as an activities zone
are two zones for swimming, south of Swami’s and the other at Moonlight
Beach. The other areas throughout Encinitas are open-use areas,” says
Giles, adding, “You can do whatever you want, as long as it’s not a
motorized craft. You can surf, fish, bodyboard, bodysurf, take out a
Hobie Cat, kayak, or SUP.”
Are SUPs considered vessels?
Some surfers argue that
because SUPs offer a distinct advantage in terms of catching a wave,
they technically shouldn’t be allowed in the surf zone because the Coast Guard designates anything assisted by a paddle to be equated with a boat and therefore, traditional surfers have right of way.
But according to Giles, this isn’t so.
“Here’s what the Coast Guard has told us: If you’re taking a SUP
outside the surf zone, you need a PFD (personal flotation device). If
you’re using the board as a surfing device, though, there’s no
regulation from the Coast Guard. But if you’re paddling around on a SUP
in a harbor, bay, or offshore outside the surf zone, you need to have a
PFD; you don’t need to wear it, you just need to have one on the board.”
Big Brother in the lineup
If you’re a traditional surfer
and bummed to learn that SUPs won’t be banned from the popular surf
breaks, Giles wants you to consider this:
“Do you really want more government regulation? Do you want the
government telling you more of what you can and cannot do in the water?
That can open a Pandora’s Box for special interest groups to come in and
try to ban something else.
“What’s next?” asks Giles. “A group of swimmers trying to ban the entire area to bodyboarders, surfers and kayakers?”
SUP contributes to the local economy
At the end of the day,
Giles believes that if everybody practices good etiquette, all surfers
should be equally rewarded the opportunity to recreate in the water.
Plus, he says, SUP adds jobs to the local economy, employing shapers,
sales people, glassers, and opening shops in otherwise vacant
Tom English, owner of Aloha Standup Paddles in Leucadia, is one of those in local employ via SUP. He offers lessons, sales and rentals out of Shatto and Sons T-Shirts, next to Mozy Café on Coast Highway 101.
English was on the longboard club and contest circuit for 25 years.
He says he made the switch to SUP because of the new challenge and his
aging body. English stands 6’2”, weighs 200 lbs., is almost 50 years old
with a pair of knees that haven’t kept their youthful cartilage, so for
him, SUP surfing has saved his body and kept him in the water for much
longer than he would have if he stuck with traditional surfing.
A convert to SUP at the very beginning of the sport’s renaissance, English says that it was anything but easy at first.
“It was real difficult. The boards were very narrow and very difficult to stand up on for someone my size.”
Is SUPing infinitely easier than traditional surfing?
that SUP boards are much easier to navigate and balance on, due to
their contemporary wider, lighter, and more buoyant construction,
wouldn’t it be logical to conclude that SUP surfing is infinitely
“The word ‘easy’ is a funny word when it comes to SUP. It looks easy
but when you first start there’s nothing easy about it. Even the light
ones aren’t easy,” says English, who first teaches people how to control
the board in the flat Carlsbad lagoon. For his clients who want to go
out and catch waves on a SUP, English first makes them take an
open-ocean skills assessment test, which requires spinning the board
around 360 degrees around a buoy in both directions and also doing a
“The skills of controlling the board are the most important. I make
sure everybody I work with has these skills before they even get in the
ocean,” claims English, who also professes to never surf crowded peaks.
The 800 pound gorilla in the water
Most SUP surfers realize
that they aren’t welcome in the pack by regular surfers. So why would
they want to surf waves in close proximity to disapproving stares, or
“We don’t ever surf in areas where there’s a lineup,” says Ryan Guay, national sales manager at Boardworks,
a local board manufacturer that distributes SUP boards all across the
country. Guay says that he and his co-workers are well aware of the
negative attitude many traditional surfers carry towards SUP surfers.
But Guay thinks the SUP rebirth is just getting under way. “Most of
our sales are shipped to people who live way inland and want SUPs for
lakes and rivers. That segment of the population is booming,” he says.
And what about accomplished SUP surfers who have been at it for
several years now—are they entitled to surf crowded breaks like Swami’s?
“Why would you want to,” asks English. “Mixing SUPs with crowded
conditions is a recipe for disaster. I’ll look for the next peak beyond
where people are.”
Only a surfer knows the feeling
One of the greatest
feelings, any surfer will tell you, is paddling for a wave and popping
up to the feet, a technique and step that is eliminated in SUP surfing.
“Don’t you miss popping up?” I ask English. “The pop up is probably the
most challenging part of surfing and gets harder and harder as someone
gets older. A lot of people are coming to me and saying they can’t pop
up anymore. They may have arthritis in the hips and knees, which can
make it difficult to enjoy the water. The SUP is a vehicle for people to
stay in the water and get their water addiction fix. I’ve had people
who came to me absolutely depressed; they could no longer turn their
necks anymore, paddle prone and pop up…they were devastated mentally.”
English advises SUP surfers to “Get away from main peaks, surf softer
and crumbly peaks to yourself, which in [his] opinion, is always more
fun to surf than a better yet hectic, crowded peak.”
We’ve seen this problem before
Giles and English and Guay
all equate the SUP/traditional surfer controversy to not only the
longboarder/shortboarder rift, but also the battle between skiiers and
snowboarders a couple decades ago.
“All the skiers thought snowboarders were kooks back in the day. It’s
the same thing,” says English, who adds, “As more and more people
witness the sport as it should be done, I think it will gain more
respect like what has happened in Hawaii, where it’s regarded as not
that big of a deal like it is over here.”
Do prone paddlers wish they could catch everything, too?
also admit that besides feeling animosity to SUP surfers, I’ve also
been jealous. As I struggle to catch a mushy, inconsequential wave,
flailing my arms and ultimately whiffing badly on my shortboard, a SUP
surfer has effortlessly caught the wave, riding it all the way to shore.
Could it be that some of the hatred directed at them is because we
wish we could catch as many waves as a SUP surfer? Sure, there are some
SUP surfers out there who are wave hogs. Then again, there are a lot
more traditional surfer wave hogs.
Will SUP surfers eventually be widely accepted? Perhaps regular surfers resonate with what author H.G. Wells said:
“The path of least resistance is the path of the loser.” Or, perhaps
regular surfers will come around, falling in line with philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s
theory: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed;
second, it is violently opposed; and third, it is accepted as
But maybe it was Rodney King who said it best: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Judd Handler is a surf reporter for Encinitas Patch and runs a surf blog at DivineSurfDesign.com.
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