Some media outlets and individuals have a disposition towards playing up the “animosity” between stand up paddle surfers and what I tend to refer to as regular surfers. Sure there are segregated beaches in parts of Southern California, perhaps most famously in Orange County where some breaks are officially off limits to SUP surfers, and there may well be other locations around the world which have adopted a similar stance. Beginner SUP surfers are typically riding a wide, high volume 10’6” board, which looks pretty scary when viewed from eye level in the water no matter who is paddling, so the fear factor of not wanting to be hit by a SUP is readily understood. With that in mind, I’ve seen a lot of regular surfers who for whatever reason choose not to use a leash, wipe out, and lose control of their boards. They are, in my opinion, every bit as dangerous as the beginner SUP surfer who is not in control of their board. Nevertheless, the fear factor that SUP surfers are inherently dangerous has been allowed to propagate in parts of the water sports community.
With this backdrop in mind, I always say hello to others on water regardless of whether they are paddling with their hands, using a paddle or just happen to be swimming by. I started doing this when I first started stand up paddling and continue to this day. In fact, if I say hello to a regular surfer and they don’t respond, I pretend to assume they didn’t hear me and I say hello again.
This past Saturday I visited Surfrider Beach in Malibu. I’m not originally from the West Coast, but I’ve come to understand that this particular beach is a popular spot. The clue is in the name. The waves were small, but had a nice shape, while the breeze was just strong enough to put a little texture on the water’s surface. Surfrider Beach is one of my favorite places to SUP surf. It is not too far from where I live, I can typically find free parking along the PCH and it is a point break. For readers not familiar with a point break (no, it’s not just the name of the soon to be released remake of a classic Patrick Swayze movie), simplistically put, a point break is where the waves break over there and you can paddle out over here, as opposed to a beach or shore break where there is no option but to paddle out through the oncoming waves. I like point breaks.
I paddled around through the line up, found a spot where I could stage myself without anyone directly in front of me and began catching some waves. There was a longboarder in the line up wearing a cowboy hat, a mixed crowd of young and old surfers, girls in bikinis, long haired surfer dudes and a sprinkling of additional stand up paddle surfers. The diversity commonly found in the line up is another reason I enjoy paddling at Surfrider Beach. I was paddling back out after a fairly long ride when a longboarder looked over at me and said, “Hey, you can’t be here. These are our waves,” before breaking out in a grin and laughing.
Not long thereafter, a lull in the waves set in and we were all sitting down on our boards bobbing in the water like a flock of disparate species of waterfowl. A longboarder called over, “Could I try your SUP?” I said sure and rolled off my board. I had never been on a longboard, something the crowd found difficult to fathom, and I crawled on top and straddled the board at the balance point like the rest of the group. The longboarder on my SUP initially had the paddle backwards, but otherwise had good pretty good balance and did well for a first timer. “This is a lot more difficult than it looks,” she said.
The sets began rolling through again before long and we switched back, but not before the longboarder and everyone in the lineup had a new perspective on stand up paddling. I returned to Surfrider Beach the next day and went two for two when a guy on a surfboard struck up a conversation and asked about my SUP. “Would you like to try it out?” I said to his obvious surprise. I jumped off and he climbed on. Like the longboarder the day before, the surfer was surprised at the core strength and balance needed to stand up paddle.
Such encounters may not be the norm – they’ll probably never happen at one of Orange County’s segregated beaches – but perhaps they should. So get out there, say hello and make a conversion.