The SUP SAFE Surf Code!

It is really important to realise that stand up paddleboards have the potential to do a lot of damage (both physically, and to the sport’s reputation!!) in the surf line up. They are big and long, and on long leashes. To a regular surfer they look HUGE, scary – and unwelcome. They also enable us to get more than our fair share of waves. So it is vital that SUP surfers behave responsibly.

First off, here are our five top safety tips for SUP Surfing.

1. Wherever possible, keep away from crowded surf zones NEVER paddle out into a busy line up – the beauty of SUP is that you don’t need the most perfect wave to have fun. Paddle along to the next peak or the one after that, further away from the most crowded areas. You may well find your own, empty wave. You can still get great SUP surfing on a smaller wave or in slightly more onshore conditions, and it’s much safer – and much more fun – if it’s less crowded!


2. Check your SUP leash carefully!

You must always use a leash when SUP surfing. This will stop your board becoming a weapon when you fall off. Always use a straight ankle leash (never a coiled or a waist SUP leash) when surfing, and check it regularly. Also check the cord that the leash attaches to – if it’s frayed, replace it. Your SUP board puts a LOT of strain on your leash, and you really don’t want it breaking.


3. Be super careful never to let your board get between you and an oncoming wave

This is when you are not actually on your board, but in the white water with your board. SUP boards generally have more width and volume than surfboards, so they are much easier for the wave to pick up and slam onto you with great force.


4. Protect Your Head

Whenever you get wiped out by a wave, particularly if you are underwater, there is always the risk of getting swiped by your fin(s). Use your arms to protect your head as much as possible. 


5. Be VERY wary when SUP surfing in windy conditions

The larger size of SUP surf boards makes them much more prone to being caught by the wind, particularly during wipeouts.  This can be particularly dangerous in offshore winds, when the uprush of wind in front of a wave can catch your board and suddenly it’s flying like a kite at the end of your leash – and then it’s going to come back down hard and fast!  

When you’re first starting out and learning to SUP surf, start with easy, small waves where there are FEW people, if any, around you. Learn to catch and ride the smaller ones before even going anywhere near a proper surf break.

Once you do feel ready to go out in waves where there are other surfers present, it is vital that you obey the normal rules and etiquette of surfing:

  • keep your board under control
  • don’t drop in on people (i.e. paddle onto a wave that someone else is already riding)
  • If you catch a wave at the same time as someone else, if they are closer to the peak than you and surfing in your direction, then you must exit the wave.
  • don’t snake people (turn so as to take a wave that someone else has already set up for)
  • don’t surf dangerously.
  • With a SUP board you can catch a lot of waves. This does not mean you should. Be nice and if you are surfing close to others let them have their fair share of waves. Sit down and watch a few sets go by. There will always be another one coming. Don’t be a wave hog. You and SUP surfers in general won’t be welcomed back.

We would also strongly recommend:

  • Positive discrimination – Make a point of giving waves to the surfers on occasion. Even if it’s a good one, tell them to go for it (in good time, so they can). Unless they’re a real piece of work, they’ll be stoked by your generosity, and now at least one other person in the line-up thinks you’re OK. Indeed, next time they may even call you onto one!

  • Social skills – Talk to the other surfers in between the sets. Call the sets when you see them coming. Congratulate a great ride. If you get in anyone’s way, apologise. Be friendly. If you get stink-eye in return, don’t bite back – let it go. You tried. It’s all so easy to do, and it’s so well worthwhile if it changes the mood in the line-up. It’s always a huge breakthrough when you get your first hoot (of appreciation) from a surfer!

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The SUP SAFE Courses

To learn much more about all aspects of paddleboarding safety why not check out our SUP SAFE courses? You can do them online (completely free!) or with one of our trained SUP SAFE course presenters around New Zealand.