What’s Up with SUP (Stand Up Paddlers)?

Over the last couple of years, the “sweepers” have multiplied like a virus. Even with a depressed economy pinching people’s non-essential spending, it seems there are plenty of financially well-offs willing to plunk down nearly two thousand dollars to buy a 10 or 11-foot SUP (Stand Up Paddle) board and oar.

In a way, there’s something aesthetically alluring seeing someone standing on a board with their paddle and cruising from break to break, like the watermen of long ago. The SUP craze, though, doesn’t quite equate to a Hawaiian beach-boy renaissance; lots of prone paddlers loathe “SUPers” because the SUPers have an enormous advantage with their eagle-eye view, long, heavy board and paddle, making catching waves nearly effortless.

Personally, I have no problem with SUPers, as long as they don’t snake any waves and dominate a line up. Ideally, a SUPer will find his own break, leaving the prone paddler alone.

One time, I was sitting alone about 50 yards north of the main popular point break. There were chest high waves but coming in very inconsistently. After what seemed like a 10-minute lull, I saw a wave forming and started paddling to the peak. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a SUPer sweeping his “broom”, racing for “my wave.”

I was planning on going left, but the SUPer caught the wave on the shoulder and I thought he was going left so I backed off. Halfway down the line, he cut back and ended up going right. How was I supposed to know he was going right? He should have shouted for me to go for it at the very least.

I read an angry-toned letter to the editor in a popular surfing magazine recently saying that if someone is using an oar or paddle to get into a wave, then they are classified essentially as a boat, and therefore, by law, have to give right away to a prone surfer.

I don’t want to be an angry person. But I felt anger when the SUPer invaded my solitude and ruined what might have been the best wave of my session. Perhaps this episode was a test.

I could have just let the situation go and laughed it off, but that experience left me with a bad association with SUPers. But there are plenty of SUPers who catch waves with good etiquette. Just like it’s unwise to judge a whole race of people based on one person’s actions, I should judge all SUPers based on one bad experience.

Still, I can’t help but laugh when I see an obvious beginner SUPer try to paddle into an ankle slapper and wiping out. “Serves that yuppie right,” my judgmental mind chatters.

I’m sure the experience standing on a board and paddling effortlessly on glassy water is a sublime experience and a good workout, but I love the feeling of being prone, paddling into a wave and popping up to my feet and letting my feet, hips, arms and board—not a paddle—serve as the catalyst for speed down the line.

I don’t plan on SUPing anytime time soon. But if I am confronted with a SUPer snaking a wave again in the future, I will try to be calm in voicing my displeasure.

“Hey man, that looks like a lot of fun, but I’ve been sitting in this spot for a long time waiting for a wave. I don’t want to be angry but that’s how I’m feeling right now. In the future, please don’t paddle into a wave that I’ve been waiting for.”

I would try using an intro like that, though, admittedly, I would need to polish it up and make it shorter and more to the point.

As a human that hasn’t yet mastered peaceful thinking, I imagine a SUPer snaking one of my waves and as revenge, I paddle right up to him going down the line and tripping him or grabbing the oar out of his hand. Other prone surfers no doubt would take that violent imagination a step further by picturing bashing the SUPer over the head.

But if I keep imagining that scene, I will attract that into my life and I don’t want that; I want to be at my own peak with maybe a friend or two and left in peace.

Ultimately, SUPers who snake waves are no different than prone surfers snaking waves. I think it’s important for all prone surfers not to judge SUPers for being financially well-off wave hogs.

The same magazine I alluded to earlier had an editorial in which the editor recommended that every surfer try SUP because it makes every small day look like Rincon firing at its finest, or something to that effect. The editor also said that because many of today’s top pros are trying it, that we surf peons should take it up also.

Personally, I think the editor should be tarred and feathered for advocating that. Can you imagine your favorite break with 50-100 SUPers? I can picture it now. SUPers who accuse each other of snaking a wave would settle their differences in a fencing duel with their oars; or perhaps they would try to bash each other’s skulls.

Despite that, on a flat day, seeing a SUPer cruising for hundreds of yards makes me feel at once copasetic with the scenery and envious because it looks like fun.

But when the surf is up, there is something still unsettling about the site of a SUPer battling for waves with “normal” surfers.

It’s crucial, though, that we all get along. How are we going to become a peaceful world, how are we going to have understanding with our global enemies if shortboarders can’t stand longboarders and prone surfers want to snipe SUPers?

Can’t we all just get along?


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