How to Sup Surf : Everything You Need to Know!

How to Sup Surf

Do you remember your first bicycle ride without training wheels? That adrenaline pumping through your veins, your heartbeat racing in sync with the spinning wheels – an exhilarating mix of fear and excitement. Well, folks, get ready to relive that exhilarating feeling but this time, on water. Yes, you heard me right.

We’re talking SUP surfing, an adventure that combines the tranquility of paddleboarding with the thrill of surfing. Our main focus for this journey will be: SUP surfing, paddleboard techniques, and wave catching. So, tighten your life jackets and let’s dive right in!

Are you sold on how to sup surf? If you are, then this article should be a complete guide to help you get started in this new sport. At first, sup surfing may look like standard surfing but there are actually a host of differences between the two.

If you’re used to surfs or skateboarding however, you’ll find that learning how to sup surf is easier for you because the muscles you use for the activity are more or less the same.

How Sup Surfing Works

How Sup Surfing Works

SUP stands for “stand up paddle boarding” where the rider stand up on the board and uses a paddle to propel themselves on the water. SUP surfing therefore talks about surfing on the water using a stand up paddleboard and a a paddle. So what makes it different from the traditional sport? Well, sup surf requires you to steer and navigate with a paddle as opposed to just using your hands with traditional surfing.

Once you get to the surf zone however, the rules still apply where you try catching waves and maneuver through it. The first time SUP surfing was identified as a sport was in 2013 and today, there are actually different variations of activities associated with a stand up paddleboard. For example, there’s SUP fishing, yoga, and touring.

Today, stand up paddle boards are favorite among tourists who want to explore the water. One reason is perhaps there’s a quick learning curve for the sport – making it a fun activity for tourists who want a convenient way of exploring the water without spending too much time on the lessons.

Here’s What You Need for Sup Surfing

Here's What You Need for Sup Surfing

Of course, like any other sport – paddling requires several items or equipment to get you started. How many things do you need? At its most basic, you only need three things: the board, a paddle, and a leash. Here’s how you use each one and even how to choose them for paddle surfing.


SUP boards can be anywhere from 10 to 12 feet in length but it really depends on how you would be using it. For SUP surfing, it’s not uncommon to find one that’s under 10 feet in length.

Note though that your choice of board really depends on your weight and height. After all, you want the board to be able to keep you upright on a few waves. They’re also narrower which means that it’s easier to navigate the water and catch mushy waves that will propel you through the water.

Don’t forget – we’re talking about SUP surfing here as opposed to other SUP activities. This is because if you’re doing other SUP variations such as fishing or touring – the paddle board will be wider to better help with balance. It’s all about how the board will be used.

The board itself is made of thick foam and covered by various materials. It can be anything from fiberglass, wood veneers, or carbon fiber. Some manufacturers of SUP boards cover it with epoxy resin which helps make it stronger, last longer, and perhaps even look better.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have these inflatable boards which can fit inside a backpack – perfect for people who love to travel and have their own boards with them. Of course, the issue with these boards is that they’re not as durable as a traditional one. For beginners though, it’s a great middle ground and cheap enough that you can easily upgrade later on!

The board is an integral part of the sport – which is why riders often spend hours just talking about the different parts and features of the ones they own. For example, some boards come with at least one fin to help with steering and stability. For advanced surfers however, additional fins are in there to enhance the experience.


Have you ever seen a surfer use a paddle from a standing position? If you have, then chances are you’re watching SUP surfing in action. The paddle is used for breaking waves and push through the water. The length of the paddle should be relative to the height of the user – specifically it should be 8 to 15 inches taller than the rider.

There are three parts to it: the paddle blade, the handle, and the shaft. When used, it should be at angle and in front of the board so there’s more power while you steer and move the SUP forward. If you like to use a canoe, then you’ll notice that the paddle looks a lot like one – typically made from several materials such as aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, wood, and even plastic.


Finally, you have the leash which is an important component for safety. Have you ever worried that the board will get lost during a particularly strong wave? It’s been known to happen – which is why riders have this little rope attached to their ankles. This is called the “leash” and the other end is typically tied around the board.

If you fall off – which happens often while you learn to sup surf – then the leash will make sure the board stays with you. Considering how much a SUP board usually costs, it only makes sense to have some backup to avoid loss.

Can you use any kind of rope for the job? Of course not! You can choose a coiled leash or a straight one – but they need to be made specifically for SUP boards. This is important because leashes made for surf boards are not compatible. Why is that? Because SUP boards are typically heavier and would require a stronger leash.

Today, there are products called “break away leash” that helps the rider quickly break off the connection when it comes to emergency situations.


Accessories are mainly for safety reasons and really depends on where you are. For example, the US Coast Guard requires that riders have a whistle with them at all times so calling for help becomes easier. Personal flotation devices are also necessary especially if you’re outside the swim and surf areas.

How to Sup Surf – Getting Started

How to Sup Surf - Getting Started

So, you’re ready to sup surf and you’ve already made the commitment to buy your brand new board! Here are some things that should help you:

Choosing a New Board

The board would be your first must-have for SUP surfing. Now, keep in mind that the board and paddle are available separately – but you can also buy them as a set. The leash however, is typically sold independent of the board and the paddle. You want to find a board that’s 10 inches in length or less – this is a good choice for surfing.

Also take careful note of the hull or the body of the board. For surfing, you want a planing hull which is both flat and wide. In contrast, there’s the displacement hull which is narrow and long -perfect for touring.

Of course, don’t forget to look at the weight capacity of the paddling board. Fortunately, that’s something that’s readily provided by the manufacturer so just make sure to check on that. Check the fins as well. As a rule, large fins means you’ll be more stable on the board. Smaller fins offer better steering though so try to hit that balance.

Finding your Paddle

If you buy a surf board, do you get a paddle along with it? Well, it really depends on the brand. Some paddling boards come complete with the handle sticking out – allowing you to enjoy matching set for your surf activities.

Note though that with the paddle doing most of the work, you want something hard, reliable, and adjustable. This is why most people who take up surf paddling buy a separate piece instead of just sticking to the one that comes with the board.

But what sign should you look for when buying a surf paddle? Again, we have to go back to the purpose of the SUP. If you’re using it to surf – then you want something that’s approximately eight inches taller than your height. Those who are touring, fishing, or even doing yoga typically prefer longer paddling tools – somewhere around 10 inches more than their height.

Another sign of a good paddle would be the weight. Here’s a quick test that I want you to try out: take a broom and a construction spade. Stand on top of a chair and start using the broom as a paddle for about 10 strokes in your imaginary SUP. Now switch that to a construction spade and imagine that you’re rowing against the waves. It’s so much harder, isn’t it? Keep in mind that when surfing, you’ll be using that paddle for exaggerated periods of time.

The best paddles are therefore lighter but with a firmer blade. Plastic blades with an aluminum shaft are pretty common and if you’re not looking to spend big, this is already a good beginner’s choice.

If you’re intent on enjoying this sport for a long time though, invest on fiberglass or perhaps carbon-fiber. These are very hardy materials but wonderfully light, which is why you can find them in whitewater rafting!

Finally, don’t forget to look into the size of the blade itself. As a rule, smaller blades give you more steering and movement action. So, yes, you want a smaller blade to surf while a bigger blade would be perfect for touring.

Finding your Surf Spot

You have your paddling board? Great! Once you do, find your surfing spot. Remember that an SUP is not as hardy as a surfboard so you want to avoid the really big waves. You want the small waves with very little chop so you can have more control over the steering of the board. For most coastal cities, SUPs are really the only option because the waves aren’t big enough for actual surfboards. You might want to join local SUP communities and they can lead you to the best areas for SUP use!

Practice on a Few Waves

Finally, it’s all about paddling practice. It would definitely be helpful if you can find someone to teach you through the whole process – especially if you’re a complete beginner. Ideally, your first goal is to simply remain upright on the board while on the water. You can bring in the steering afterwards – just focus on your balance first and how you can stay on the board without body slamming in the water.

This is why it’s usually a good idea to start practicing in sandy or smooth-bottomed bodies of water so there’s no fear of hurting yourself if you crash. Will you crash? Definitely!

Once you get used to just moving on the water, you can try more advanced technique on the board. Some beginners are taught to strengthen their core. This can do so much for balance and could basically help you stay on your feet while moving through the water.

Paddleboard Techniques: Paddling, Standing, and Turning

Once you’ve got your gear sorted, it’s time to learn some basic paddleboard techniques. You didn’t think you’d just stand up and start catching waves, did you? Don’t worry, we’ll get there. But first, let’s talk about paddling, standing, and turning.

  1. Paddling: You want to stand in the middle of your board, feet hip-width apart. Hold the paddle with one hand at the top of the shaft and the other hand halfway down. As you paddle, make sure your strokes are close to the board for better tracking and balance.
  2. Standing: To stand up on your board, start in a kneeling position and slowly rise to your feet, one foot at a time. Remember to keep your knees slightly bent for better balance.
  3. Turning: Turning your paddleboard might seem tricky at first, but with practice, it’ll become second nature. To turn left, paddle on the right side of your board. To turn right, paddle on the left. Simple, isn’t it?

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the real meat of SUP surfing – catching and riding waves.

Catching Waves: Timing is Everything

Just like in traditional surfing, catching a wave in SUP surfing is all about timing. But how do you time it right? Well, it’s a combination of observing the wave, positioning yourself correctly, and paddling at the right moment.

  1. Observing the wave: Before you start paddling towards a wave, watch it. Understand its rhythm, its movement. Look for the point where the wave breaks. This observation will help you anticipate the wave’s behavior and increase your chances of catching it.
  2. Positioning: Once you’ve observed the wave, position yourself in its path. Remember to position yourself at a safe distance from where the wave breaks. You don’t want to be caught in the break, trust me.
  3. Paddling: Now comes the part where your observation and positioning pay off. As the wave approaches, start paddling towards it. Try to match your speed with the wave’s speed. When you feel the wave’s momentum pushing you forward, stop paddling, stand up on your board, and ride the wave.

Remember, practice makes perfect. You might not catch a wave on your first try, or your second, or even your third. But don’t get disheartened. SUP surfing is about perseverance and enjoying the process.

Riding Waves: The Art of Balance and Maneuvering

Catching the wave is just half the battle, now comes riding it. How do you balance yourself on a board while riding a wave? How do you maneuver your board to make the most of the wave? Let’s find out:

  1. Balance: Balance in SUP surfing comes from your core. Keep your knees slightly bent and your body centered over the board. As you ride the wave, shift your weight from your toes to your heels to steer the board.
  2. Maneuvering: To maneuver your board on the wave, use your paddle. You can drag it in the water on one side to slow down or turn. You can also paddle on one side to gain speed or change direction.

There’s a certain joy in riding a wave, a feeling of oneness with the ocean. It’s this feeling that makes SUP surfing so addictive.

SUP Surfing Etiquette: Share the Waves, Share the Fun

Like any sport, SUP surfing has its own set of etiquette rules. Why? Because safety and respect for others are as important as catching and riding waves. So, here are a few rules to keep in mind:

  1. Right of Way: The surfer who is closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. This means if someone else is closer to the peak, it’s their wave to ride.
  2. Don’t Drop In: Dropping in is when a surfer takes off on a wave while another surfer is already riding it. It’s considered disrespectful and can be dangerous.
  3. Respect Other Surfers: Whether they’re beginners or pros, respect all other surfers. Everyone’s there to have fun and catch some waves. Let’s keep it that way.

SUP surfing isn’t just about catching and riding waves, it’s about respecting the ocean and those who share it with you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sup surfing easier than surfing?

Strictly speaking – yes. Achieving a balanced surf stance is often easier because you don’t always have to be on rough waters. You can start practicing on calmer waters first to get your balance and then paddling towards the surf to catch the waves. The board you use is also often heavier – giving you better control on the water. When it comes to raw power, the paddle will help you make hard strokes on the water so you won’t get as tired quickly. Note though that SUP surfing seems easier when you’re coming from the typical surfing background.
But what happens if you have zero knowledge in surfing? Well, it becomes a bit tougher. Other surfers have some basic knowledge and muscle memory. They know how to maintain a surf stance, retain balance and essentially just make sure that they stay on the board during the waves. These are important lessons that you’ll need to learn as a beginner.

Can you use a stand up paddle board for activities other than paddle surfing?

Of course! A paddling board can be used for other leisure activities such as fishing, touring, and even yoga! Most beginners start paddling as part of a tour, allowing them to explore the water at a more leisurely pace. Note though that SUP surfboards might slightly vary depending on its exact use.
For example, you can buy an SUP for surfing and also use it for touring or fishing but its physical features would be optimal for surfing. There’s also a SUP for yoga with a corrugated surface to prevent you from slipping during different postures.

Are surfing board and paddling board similar?

Yes, there’s definitely a different between the two. Just because you’re standing up on an SUP with a paddle doesn’t automatically turn it into a surf board. The primary difference would be the size. Your average surf board is smaller and narrower, measuring anywhere from five to nine feet in length.
They’re also lighter than an SUP board. The reason for this is simple – maneuverability. An SUP is meant to glide on the water and take on smaller waves. You won’t get tossed around so much when riding this particularly board. What about an average surfboard? Well, it’s smaller and can ride the waves better. At the end of the day, the SUP is something you use for calmer waters while the surfboard would be ideal for the rougher and higher waves.

How much would a paddling board set cost?

The cost really depends on how much you’re willing to spend on the sport. The cheapest ones are set at 700USD for foam-core paddling boards. This type of SUP is typically generic which means that you can do almost all activities on it but the experience may not be best.
Expensive models are around 2,000USD and they would usually be made for a specific activity. Serious paddlers with high skill level in the sport generally choose these more expensive models to get the best performance and experience from their chosen paddle activity.
Note that inflatable SUPs are significantly cheaper than the foam-core types. You can buy them for as low as 180USD but keep in mind that the quality would be significantly different from the traditional type. For one thing, the inflatable SUP can take less weight and may not function as well in rougher waters.

Riding into the Sunset: Concluding Thoughts on SUP Surfing

Sup Surfing Frequently Asked Questions

To wrap things up, SUP surfing is an exhilarating sport that combines the tranquility of paddleboarding with the thrill of surfing. From choosing the right gear, learning basic paddleboard techniques, to catching and riding waves, and respecting surfing etiquette, there’s a lot to learn. But at the end of the day, it’s about embracing the ocean, riding its waves, and having fun.

SUP surfing, like any journey, is about the experience, not just the destination. It’s about the calmness of the ocean before the wave comes, the anticipation as you paddle towards the wave, the exhilaration as you ride it, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve become one with nature, even if just for a moment.

So, are you ready to catch the wave and start your SUP surfing journey? Remember, the ocean waits for no one. Grab your paddleboard, dive in, and let the waves guide you. Adventure awaits, my friends. Happy SUP surfing!

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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