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SUP Surfing
by Paul Costales

We're going to delve into one of the surfing worlds biggest current controversy, the SUP. SUP? That stands for Stand Up Paddle surfing, and this form of ocean recreation has taken our local waters by storm. The SUP surfer paddles upright on something akin to a longboard but custom made for stand up paddling with a higher buoyancy and stability. The SUP surfer's locomotion is with a paddle (or blade), not unlike an outrigger canoe paddle. SUP surfing is known to be a great workout and a good way to pass the time in our flat summers. However, there has been some issue between surfers and SUP surfers in crowded lineups in regards to priority and safety.

We solicited comments from surfers on the website SantaBarbaraSurfing.com for some opinions both pro and con. We also contacted Jim Brewer, owner of BlueLine Stand Up Paddle Surf with a Q&A for a SUP viewpoint. We'll try not to take sides on the debate, but one thing we will take sides on is what to call SUP surfers and regular surfers. Some SUPs have started calling your typical surfer a "prone surfer" and a SUP a "stand up surfer." It seems unreasonable for a new sport to come in and change the terminology of an older sport.
We have body boarders, knee boarders, kite surfers, wind surfers, and mat riders amongst others that have managed to name their sport without changing the definition of the sport they sprang from. Surfers are Surfers, not prone surfers.

We'll start out with our Q&A with Jim Brewer, owner of Blueline Stand Up Paddle Surf at 24 E. Mason St in Santa Barbara. Jim just had his Grand Opening a few weeks ago and as a surfer of 30 years who now exclusively SUPs, he's has a good feel for the SUP world.

First, a little bit of SUP history for the un-informed. I understand it originally comes from the Polynesians. However it was recently re-introduced from The Islands when Laird Hamilton picked it up.

Jim Brewer:
The Waikiki Beach boys started doing it in the 40s. It's all part of being a true waterman. They just took out a big tandem board and a canoe paddle and cruised around taking pics of tourists and having fun on the water. That's what it's all about, having fun on the water. Laird saw old pics and started surfing the things and that's when it got big.

In your view is the fast rise in popularity sustainable or will we see a downtrend?

Jim Brewer:
The sport will grow and grow and it now has become a part of surfing much to the dismay of some prone surfers. Most all the best and most respected surfers in the world are doing it and doing it at a high level.

What percentage of SUPers do you think are also surfers, or switched from surfing, versus those that got into the sport without much prior surfing or other wave riding experience?

Jim Brewer:
I would say that it is 50/50 right now. A few years ago it was mostly prone surfers looking for something different. I am a third generation surfer and only do standup now.

Locally where would you recommend SUPers to go, both for the experienced and the novice? Are there any places you would recommend they do not go?

Jim Brewer:
Don't go to Rincon or big name places like that. That's just my opinion. The beauty of this sport is that we don't need to surf in crowded places like that. Go find your private break out in the middle of nowhere and have fun. I don't really recommend any spots. I recommend not doing SUP at Rincon. It will never be a happy ending.

Surfing has a lot of unwritten, and sometimes written, etiquette. These vary from place to place based on culture and geography. Do you think SUPs have their own etiquette in the water?

Jim Brewer:
SUP etiquette is the same as all surf etiquette. We are surfing on a surfboard. There will always be kooks that don't play by the rules on any kind of board if it's a 6'6 fish or a 12' SUP board. The best etiquette for all surfers is to be friendly, don't hog waves and be safe. If a dude on a SUP board is causing problems, he should be dealt with on the spot. The same goes for the prone surfer. It's not the SUP board that hurts the person its the guy on the board that does the damage by not playing by the rules.

What is your response to a surfer who thinks SUPs are dangerous? There have been reported incidents of inexperienced SUPs bailing their board in the lineup and creating chaos.

Jim Brewer:
These people should be called out and dealt with on the spot. I do my best to educate these guys everyday. No one leaves my shop without a speech on how to play safe and not piss people off. Like I said earlier, I have been prone surfing for 30 years and have seen some bad accidents in the water involving short boards with pointy noses and sharp fins being used as weapons.

My last question isn't going to beat around the bush. I've had sessions ruined by one guy on a SUP. A few times have been at Rincon on admittedly small days. However I'm catching waves on a longboard, and having a good time. A SUP will paddle by and seem like a nice enough guy. Then he sits outside of me and puts the clamp on my session. I either let it happen or I start dropping in on him. Either way it's not cool. How do we avoid this situation from happening going forward when surfers and SUPs are in the lineup together?

Jim Brewer:
Don't drop in or you will be just as bad as him. Tell him what he is doing and that it's not cool. The easiest way to deal with this problem is education and talking in the water. Yell at the guy if need be. Most will get the picture. I yell at other SUP surfers when I am on my SUP all the time. I don't want to get hurt by one just like no one else does!!

-- o -- o --

We give big props to Jim for answering all of those questions although he realized this column was coming from a guy who'd has his share of SUP disillusionment. Now we'll head on over to the surfer input which we solicited and filtered through some of the best, both pro and con.

Friends don't let friends Stand Up Paddle. That's my motto. Not only does it look lame, but also it's hazardous to others and in a line up, and just plain rude. If you want to do it alone, on a flat day, away from others, knock yourself out! But to paddle into a break zone, with surfers in the water, you're only asking for trouble. Unless you're Laird Hamilton, the odds are you really can't control that big board very well. And then to throw a paddle into the mix only makes it more dangerous. It's probably more dangerous than a kayak. Stay away from surfers, just like the knowledgeable kayakers do. Show some respect to the guys using their hands as paddles.

I think SUPing is okay only when they are paddling in flat water away from the waves. I have been hit by a SUP at campus on a big day and it was not fun, the guy had no idea what he was doing and was just bailing off his board before every wave. That said I have tried stand up paddling in flat water before, and it is fun, but using it to catch waves is cheating

I bought a SUP at the beginning of the summer and love it. With a job, wife & three kids, my surf time is both limited and scheduled. I go when I can, not when I want to. I don't have the luxury of waiting for the right day, the right tide, the right swell direction, or spend the time to drive up and down the coast looking for the best spot. I still prefer to lay down when the surf gets decent, but the SUP gets me in the water on those small and flat days that I would otherwise be on the beach drinking beer. On those flat or small days paddling out to Sands and back on a clear day checking the bottom and the kelp beds at Devereaux is a is a great way to appreciate the ocean. It's also fun for the kids. They have a great time paddling it around, and piling on with their friends. It's also a fun way to get the kids involved by tandem surfing with them.

There's always someone up the food chain from you in the lineup. Short boarders have to contend with long boarders. Long boarders have to contend with SUP's, surf skis, Kayaks and whatever. The bottom line is, don't be a (bad guy) - move around, paddle to different breaks, let a set go by now and again, stay out of the pack, and surf the inside on crowded days.

It is hard not to cycle out to the top (of the lineup) because it is so easy, and I admit I catch myself doing it from time to time. But I strive not to be a Hoover and suck up every wave in sight because when I surf I'm on the other end of the spectrum and I hate it when kids on short boards back paddle me as I sit there waiting patiently on my long board. That's the part of the food chain where I sit, old, lack of skills, out of shape. For me, if I'm out on my SUP, there's nothing worth getting excited about anyway, One last thought for the SUPs, it's a big coast and the paddle gives you the option of exploring more of it.

I hate the bastards - guys on (darn) ocean liners sitting way outside, and angling in to always be slightly deeper. It's an old fart's version of back-paddling, and I have pretty much gotten to the point where I just burn them. That being said, I can't get too high and mighty as my family unfortunately participates. My wife's got one, doesn't surf it, but uses it for open ocean paddling. My daughter, although she professes to hate SUP's, if it's it in the van and the waves are small isn't above pulling it out and getting a few. Unfortunately, they aren't going away,
SUPs are a topic which obviously rile a lot of folks up. It's not like this column is going to settle anything. All the sub-groups of surfing can annoy each other, whether its shortboarders, longboarders, body boarders, kayakers, kite surfers, or windsurfers. A lot of of these riders have reached happy mediums with the other branches. Kite surfers know their rigs are powerful and erratic, and won't enter a lineup. Longboarders tend to hang out in the coves of pointbreaks while shortboarders tackle the faster sections or beachbreaks. If SUPs and surfers are to get along in the future a code will need to develop. There will still be problems, after all shortboaders still give stink eye to longboarders who keep paddling outside past them, but hopefully something can develop better than the current SUP free for all.

-- o -- o --

Have your say in the comments section, are surfers just inflexible when it comes to SUPs, or are SUPs the embodiment of all things bad in surfing?

All photos and artwork used by permission from the authors; Morgan Maassen, Jon Shafer, Mike Vincelli (beachnutscomic.com), and the DailyDrop.com.

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