By Adam Eyal, Inflatable SUP Guru at Fringepursuits.com
With boards costing hundreds of dollars and sprains making up 50% of all injuries, making a mistake on your SUP surf board can be expensive as well as painful.
We’ve seen just about every SUP surf mistake in our time, whether it’s to do with equipment, technique or attitude. Here, we’ve drawn on this experience to highlight seven of the most common mistakes among novice stand up paddle board surfers. Making mistakes is a huge part of the learning and growing process, but by being careful and following our tips you can eliminate as many of the risks as possible.
1. Choosing the wrong board
SUP surf boards are highly technical pieces of kit with increasingly impressive design features. As a result, it’s important to choose a board that’s going to allow you to get the most out of the sport.
Often, beginners use a SUP board which is either too big or too small for their size and weight. This mistake makes the whole activity frustrating as the board will be too difficult to maneuver and control. Start by looking at boards measuring around ten feet in length, but make sure to follow this up with research on the best SUP boards for surfing for you.
2. Starting too shallow
Heading out into the deep is daunting, especially if you’re new to the world of SUP surfing. It’s tempting to stick close to the shore, but it’s a mistake to start out in water that’s too shallow.
If your board is only just clearing the ground, the fins will sink into the sand. If this happens, you won’t go anywhere – and you could even do damage to your board. To avoid this, head for water which is about knee deep to give you enough ground clearance without being intimidating.
3. Being too ambitious
One of the biggest mistakes that beginners make is trying to do too much too soon. It’s dangerous to head out on the water on your own without having taken any lessons – if nothing else, you’ll be missing out on some health and safety basics. Although SUP surfing is relatively easy to learn, you shouldn’t rush to catch any waves too early.
Don’t run before you can walk – or rather, don’t surf before you can paddle. Be respectful of Mother Nature, be realistic about your skill level, and be sensible about the waves that you try to tackle.
4. Holding the paddle incorrectly
From hockey sticks to vacuum cleaners, there are so many other long-handled objects which are held with your hands close together, so it’s tempting to do the same with a SUP surf paddle.
However, if you hold the paddle like a push broomstick, you simply won’t get enough power to propel yourself efficiently. Instead, place one hand at the end (on the stirrup) and the other hand halfway down the length of the shaft, right between the handle and the blade.
When you place your paddle in the water, keep it upright at all times. If you hold the paddle with the blade far out to the side, you’ll just end up turning the board rather than moving straight.
In addition, hold the paddle with the blade angled forwards. If you hold it backwards, you’ll scoop the water upwards, lowering your board into the water at the same time.
5. Using the wrong stance
Should you use a simple paddling stance, a surf stance, or a combination of the two? With a sport that combines several different activities, it can be hard to know the best way to position your feet to get the most control of your board.
To start, make sure that you’re standing in the center of the board with your feet shoulder width apart. You’re aiming for as much balance and stability as possible, but standing further backwards will cause your board’s tail to dip and its nose to lift out of the water. As you become more experienced, you can place a foot above the fins when you’re riding waves as this will help you to drive your SUP board’s direction and movement.
6. Looking down
You should look at your feet to make sure you’ve got the correct stance, right? Wrong.
Your body has a tendency to follow its eyes, so if you look down you can lose your bearings, rock back on your heels and fall into the drink. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually far more effective to keep your head up. Look at the horizon and use your feet to feel your own stability and sense the movement of the water beneath you.
7. Not being aware of the surroundings
If you’re new to stand up paddle board surfing, losing track of your surroundings is one of the easiest and most dangerous mistakes to make. With so much to concentrate on your mind can become distracted – but this can land you and your fellow ocean-goers in trouble.
You should always keep track of the wind direction while you’re out on the water. If you feel a change in wind strength or direction, paddle back to a safe location as soon as you can, before you’re swept along towards a dangerous area of the coast.
Similarly, you should always pay attention to the other people in your surroundings. There is a certain unspoken etiquette among surfers, so be respectful of others. Avoid catching all the waves and don’t surf too close to others or someone will end up getting hurt.
If SUP surfing was easy, everyone would be doing it. You’re always going to make mistakes (no matter how experienced you are) and there are always going to be areas which you can improve.
However, by following these steps, watching online video tutorials and taking a few lessons, you’ll be well placed to skip out some of the most common SUP surf mistakes. The rest is up to you, so get out on the water and surf, surf, surf!
See you on the water, wherever you go!