This article was going to be called "Fear and Loathing in the line up" then I thought "Fear and Loathing on the internet" was maybe a better title, but finally I thought "Embrace the Hate" was probably better.
I am very lucky. I live walking distance to the surf, and towards the end of a long road. The waves are not that consistent, never powerful, but it is on the door step, I can surf before and after work and I love it. Given that our area is probably one of the closest surf breaks to London you would think that the line up would get very busy, and it does. We have a car park about 1/4 mile down the coast from my house, when the surf is working the line up is packed directly in front of the car park, but I am nearly always surfing alone, 200 yards further up. In fact, I often get lonely and paddle down to I can at least watch other people surfing. So you get the picture, mostly I stand up paddle surf alone or with some other SUP buddies.
It is a bit of a shock paddling out into a line up, in say Devon, Cornwall or California to see a lot of other surfers, boogie boarders, longboarders etc.. all competing for waves. The first time I paddled out into a busy line up I got the stink eye, which I expected as the only SUP out. I caught a few waves and a local longboarder paddled over and I thought "here it comes".
"I have never seen anyone actually surf those things before" was his first comment. Immediately taken back, as I was expecting hostility, I sat down on the board and had one of the most interesting conversations about surfing, localism and SUP I have had. The waves are good in Devon, there are some great spots and there are some great long boarders and short boarders and an active club scene. There are a very small number of locals, like James Davis, who have taken up SUP, but most have stuck to their original sport. It appears that occasionally unknown (non-local) folks paddle out on SUP’s straight into a busy line up, and snag waves from the peak, the issue is these SUPers are clearly not very competent surfers and are not aware of the rules of the waves. This, in turn, has created something of a fear and loathing complex, which has also created rumours and incorrect stories that have been lapped up by the uneducated throughout the UK surfing community.
For example a local surfer was catching some waves at Croyde in Devon UK (see more warning – graphic image not for the faint hearted !) . At some point in the session a mini mal riders board hit her on the head and gave her a really serious head injury. The mini mal guy did not check on her, offer medical help, give his name or anything that a decent minded individual would do. In fact he just left. Roll forward to two months later, a friend of mine was SUP surfing 90 miles further down the coast at a contest. A short boarder paddled over and gave in a load of abuse about how and SUPer had given a surfer in Croyde a head injury at a break called Oysters. Hmmm. Oysters is a shifty seldom surfed off shore reef, and the real culprit was actually another surfer, not and SUPer.
No sport, person, event or entity is complete unless somebody has created an "anti" group in facebook. Congratulations paddlers, that has now happened.
Photo : Simon Basset 2009
Some in the SUP industry are also not helping. There is a vacuum of identity at the moment as people are discovering stand up paddle from surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, kite surfing, fishing and also complete beginners. Some industry folks are desperately trying to hang off the coat tails of the surfing identity, which in turn does not endear the surfers to the SUPers. This is a mistake. SUP will develop its own and probably multiple, faces over the next few years, some of which will be surfing related, but the majority will be open water, flat water or fitness related. There is a good reason why in the US more boards are being sold to in land customers than in states with access to the ocean. Whether we like waves, downwinders, fitness training or fishing we will all find our own identity and I look forward to seeing where we end up.
Still it does not abdicate responsibility from SUPers, there are not that many of us out there right now, and we are all ambassadors for the sport. There have been lots written about this but it is worth remembering a few golden rules.
1. Is the line up really busy ? Are there a few peaks to the left or right going unridden – thats where you need to head for, God gave us a paddle – lets use it.
2. Can you surf? No really can you? Do you have enough skill to turn to avoid a collision? Are you experienced and able to control your board and paddle after a wipeout? If not then don’t go out in a busy line up. Find an empty peak and work on your skills. It will be time well spent, and it will make you a better SUPer.
3. Do you understand the rules of the waves? Before you even go out into the surf for the first time you need to understand this, both for common curtosy and for safety reasons (i.e. if don’t drop in means nothing to you – you need to learn the rules of the waves !).
Do you agree ? Do you think I am talking nonsense – add your comments below.