This is a collaborative document. Please add your comments to this posting–the idea is to build a collaborative document that will reflect the knowledge of anyone that has something to contribute. I’d like to include your perspectives. They don’t have to carefully written, just informative. I’ll edit and polish to make the document readable. I’ll also keep changing the timestamp to move it to the top as I make changes.

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In just three short weeks you can stand up surf like this!! Yeah, right.

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Giampaolo gets the BEST photos–and he does it with just a point and shoot camera. His blog is a daily imperative. This is Laird Hamilton on a whacky Ho’okipa wave in howling Kona winds. Photo courtesy of MauiSurf/windsurf forecast, Giampaolo Cammarota

I am wildly underqualified to instruct anyone on Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Surfing. I’m a beginner–a few months ahead of you if you start today. And that’s exactly why a beginner may find this very valuable–you’re going to have the same problems I do.

This article is built in four sections:

  • Introduction–cautions and precautions
  • Gear–Available boards and why you would choose them
  • Getting up–Standing on your board, paddling, balance, turning techniques
  • Surfing–How to catch waves and some techniques for riding them

We’ll add more sections and/or subdivide those sections as necessary. Let’s start.

Introduction–Cautions and Precautions

Special thanks to Blane Chambers at Paddle Surf Hawaii for reminding me I needed to add this section. Blane has very useful sections on his website with instruction in both basic and advanced tecnique.

Before you start paddle surfing you need to assess your swimming skills and your ability to handle yourself and your board in surf. Any watersport is dangerous, and good swimming skills are a necessity, even if you only do standup on flat water and lakes. It’s not unreasonable to wear kayak-style lifejacket. Some of the best big wave surfers in the world wear them today. Yes, you’ll look stupid, but you’ll be alive and stupid, not dead and cool. I have to admit I don’t wear one, but I’m a strong swimmer and fat floats.

Be aware of the wind and currents, you can easily be blown to sea by an offshore wind or find yourself fighting a powerful current. Start your learning experiences where there are lifeguards, and it’s highly recommended to have someone on the shore that’s paying atentiion to where you are and whether you are screaming or not.

When you are beginning, stay away from other surfers. These are big boards and it’s easy for them to get out of control. You don’t need the best spot in the linup, all you need is some sloppy waves to practice on.

Once you are good, remember that you have a huge advantage over other surfers–and DON’T take more advantage of it than you should. You can start into a wave long before standard surfers can, you can get back to the lineup much quicker, and you can catch waves even when you’re out of the slot. Don’t be a wave hog.

Gear–Available boards and why you would choose them

The first issue is the right board. For a rank beginner there’s almost no such thing as too wide or too long. But once you start catching waves or riding in difficult conditions like chop and wind, you might outgrow your first board. The more you weigh, the bigger the board needs to be. I’m 6?3? and weigh 240. My favorite board for purely getting up and paddling around is a Jimmy Lewis 11? 0? by 30? wide. It’s thick and floaty, has a huge fin that adds stability, and it’s easy to get it moving. It’s an epoxy sandwich board so it’s very light. That’s good news when you’re moving this thing around.

I also really like the Ding King hollow board I waited about six months for. The Ding King has one mold for making these boards and they take about a week apiece. Last I heard Mark still had a long waiting list. Mark’s boards are 11?6? and 27? wide. They have a full length pad and they’re fairly stable considering the relatively narrow width. The two best things about this board are how it tracks and how it sails. It’s relatively easy to paddle this board fast and straight. I had a mast track put onto mine and I sail it more than I paddle it–it’s great fun to chase down a big wave and ride it until it poops out, then sail back to the reef and do it again.

I’ve also looked at the new Lairds, the largest of which makes my Jimmy Lewis boards look small (I think it’s 12? 2? by 31). They are hard to get right now, but I’ve got my name in for one. They’re being made in Asia somewhere so they should be widely available soon. I’d love one with a mast track, but I don’t think that will be happening soon. I was talking to a buddy of Laird Hamilton’s at the beach yesterday who quoted Laird as saying something like “I was the first guy (in recent history) to do standup, and the last to offer a board, but I want anything I put my name on to be absolutely right”. Everyone I’ve talked to loves these boards, but I haven’t tried one yet. Stay posted.

Most people I know say that JL board is still too small for me–that I need something around 12? 6? and 30 inches wide. Sounds good, but for now I’m happy. I finally figured out to surf this 11?0?, and I’m having a great time with it. this board is by far the easiest board to stand up on that I’ve tried. Even much larger boards are harder to keep your balamnce on–I don’t know what kind of mojo Jimmy added to the shape, but it’s working.

The new Starboard boards due out in april also sound very interesting. The Hot Sails Maui forum has some interesting details on this.

I also have a Jimmy Lewis 11?7? x 26. I use this mostly as a regular surfboard–it’s fabulous in small surf. Now that I’m getting better at standup I can actually paddle this thing, but it’s very tippy, especially in side chop. I think it would make a fabulous SUP board for a small or skinny person, especially once they start catching waves. I’m not a good surfer yet, but I can actually shuffle my way to the nose with this board.

Another good choice is a big softop. The bigger the better. But don’t buy one unless it’s seriously cheap, you’ll outgrow it quickly. These are probably the only stand up boards you can rent.

If you’re buying a board, see if you can get a mast track put into it. Not only will that open a new set of doors (longboard windsurfing) it also makes the board a lot easier to handle. Get whoever puts the mast track in to route some fingerholes in the track at one end. You can still use it to hold a mast base, but you can also stick your fingers in to carry the board. These boards are too wide to tuck under an arm.

Boards with a rubber deck are great for foot grip, but when you’re first learning you’ll spend a lot of time on your knees. The deck is very grippy and can wear holes in your knees. Wax on an undecked board won’t do that. Take a look at my knees sometime–I’ll have the scars for years. I went to the drugstore and got some neoprene knee braces–solved the problem, though you look like a dork. But you’re going to look like a dork for a while anyway, no harm done. You should still wax the rubber deck–makes it much sticker. Just like the boogie boarders wax their soft boards (I didn’t know that trick until recently, I always wondered how those guys kept the boards under them when they swim).

Paddles: Then you need a paddle. Two choices generally available, wood or carbon fibre. I’ve seen a few aluminum shafted paddles, but haven’t found any for sale. Carbon fibre is about half the weight and twice the price–about $300. You need a paddle that’s about one shaka above your head–six inches taller than you. Wood paddles are considered better for learning since you’re supposedly less likely to break them. But I’ve found the carbon fibre to be very forgiving and I like to think they’re less of a deadly weapon when you’re flailing them about. In either case, put a layer of duct tape around the paddle edge to cushion it. When you fall you’ll be whacking the board with your paddle edge. Do it a little hard and you’ll knock a chip out of the board. Don’t ask how I know this. You can take the tape off later when you stop falling every thirty seconds. I have two paddles and I like both of them, one is a Pohaku Beachboy paddle, and I don’t know the source of the second one–I’ll dig into that.

Another gear question: Bootie or no bootie. For the first few weeks I think it’s a really good idea to have booties. You’ll be falling in all kinds of crazy positions. Landing on the coral without booties is not fun. I like the O’Neill Superfreak split toe tropicals . They seem to affect your balance less than solid foot booties. While I’m delivering unsolicited plugs, the O’Neill Superfreak board shorts are the best board shorts I’ve ever had–spendy, but worth it. The O’Neill website is pretty cool, though they desperately need a writer who doesn’t just babble corp-speak. Could use a proofreader too, but so could I.

I don’t know why all the stuff I really like lately is named superfreak. Maui Hot sails Superfreak windsurfing sails, superfreak booties, superfreak board shorts. Someone may be trying to tell me something.

Enough gear chat, let’s get in the water.

Getting Up

Pick a day with minimal wind, little or no chop, and small waves. If you’re doing this on a lake–good for you. That’s perfect.

The easiest way to start is on your knees. Get in about two to three feet of water, push the board forward and slip onto it in a kneeling position right about in the middle. You’ll probably be slouched down almost in a crawling position at first–that’s okay. You’ll also fall off a lot even from this relatively stable position. Don’t sweat it, it doesn’t mean there’s no way you can do this. In a few hours you’ll wonder what the fuss was.

Immediately start paddling out towards the waves. Just choke up on the paddle and stroke on either side as necessary. If you can, try to feel the effect of stroking different ways. Initially you’ll be focusing on not falling off and won’t have any concentration left for learning other stuff. But as your stability increases, start trying things. If you paddle far away from the board it will turn more than if your paddle enters the water vertically and close to the board. If you sweep outwards a little at the end of the stroke it will tend to go straighter rather than turning away from the stroking side. As you pick up speed, kneel up straighter. You’ll find there are basically two kneeling positions–hunched and stable, or tall and not. Tall is better, it gives you more of a chance to gain your sea legs.

Once you’re moving along at some forward speed, lurch to your feet. The best way is any way you can do it, but most people who have surfed will find it easy to do a typical surfing “pop up” except that you’re starting from a kneeling position and their feet will come up in an athletic stance that’s suitable for more advanced paddling. At first you want your feet side-by-side, planted wide on the board–almost to the edges. It’s the most stable position. You want to be far enough forward so the board is flat in the water and nose is an inch or two off the water. If you’re too far back the board will stall and be hard to paddle. It will also be very unstable.

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Feet centered–side by side position (photo courtesy Paddle Surf Hawaii)

Perhaps you’d like a more detailed description than “lurch to your feet”. Place your hands on the board a few inches ahead of your knees with the paddle in your dominant hand and the blade resting on the nose of the board. Press down with your arms straight and hop to a standing position with your knees bent deeply and your feet planted wide. Get the paddle in the water as quickly as you can–it will help stability–but stay in an athletic, knees bent stance. Look at the nose of the board and start paddling.

Your paddle is your friend–keep it in the water as much as possible. You can push the blade forward or back to keep from falling, and even lean on it or pull up on it momentarily to keep from falling.

If you’re having trouble keeping your balance, look at the tip of your board. It’s even helpful to have some feature there to look at. If your nose is featureless you might want to make a wax line across the tip so you can look at it. If you look at the water you’ll be right where you’re looking in short order. It’s not just target fixation, your body is moving relative to the board, not the water or the horizon.

If you’re in surf or chop, it’s easiest to go straight into the waves. As a larger wave or whitewater reaches the nose of the board, stick he paddle in just past the crest and pull yourself up into it. Before long you’ll be ploughing over good sized waves with no drama–it’s surprising how easy this part is. It’s much easier to get a standup board through whitewater or shorebreak than a regular surfboard because the wave doesn’t hit your body, just your feet.

Getting Better: Once you are able to stand and paddle on the board, you need board time to improve. Spending as much time on the board as you can will quickly build the muscles you need to do this sport, and give you the subtle balance training you need to improve. Here’s some things to start paying attention to:

Paddling–reach forward with your paddle and put the blade in almost vertically, close to the board. Stroke back, visualising pulling the board forward in the water. Don’t try to extend the stroke too far past your legs, that angles the blade too much and pulls the board edge downwards. Your blade is angled forwards for two reasons–to make the blade more stable in the water (as you’ll see if you try to stroke with the blade backwards) and to improve the release of the blade as you pull it up. Stroking too far backwards defeats that smooth release.

Foot position–You generally want to retain the centered stance for long distance paddling on flat water because its more stable and gives you easier, even paddle transitions from side to side. But when the surface is choppy or you’re in waves you’ll want to adopt a more fore and aft stance with your dominant foot forward just as in normal surfing. If you’re not a surfer and you don’t know which foot is your dominant one, slide on a slick floor with your socks on, or hop up onto a high step. The foot you put forward is your dominant foot. Left foot forward is “Regular Foot” right is “Goofy Foot”. Attach your leash to the rearward foot. You might prefer a calf leash instead of an ankle leash for a board as large as most SUP boards.

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Foot forward position–more power, less side-to-side balance. The stroke bias that would normally push the board to the right of the picture is countered by the weight on the left rail (surfer’s right). (photo courtesy Paddle Surf Hawaii)

Happy feet–You need to learn that your feet are not bolted to the board. As your balance improves you can move around the board more. In flatwater you need to initate this learning by forcing yourself to move your feet around. Shift from centered to fore and aft stance. Move your back foot more towards the tail then back centered again. In chop your learning will be automatic–when you master sideways chop you’re bound to be moving about on the board.

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Spinning the board. Step back or lean back on the rear foot, paddle hard (photo courtesy Paddle Surf Hawaii)

Turning and Spinning–Initially you’ll be turning the board slowly by stroking away from the board, but this is the slow way around. Fine for flatwater, but too slow to surf. The faster way is to put weight on the back of the board and stroke with the paddle to pivot the board. Once you are in a fore and aft position you can start practicing this by just putting weight on your back leg.
Works even better if you take a step backwards. You need to lean on the paddle a bit to optimize these moves. Once you can spin the board 360 you’re ready to surf.

Surfing Stand Up

When you get into surf the liklihood of scaring the heck out of yourself increases geometrically. The fear has a basis–you can get hurt or killed. You WILL get hurt sooner or later, it’s part of the deal. Here’s some things to consider:

Understand the area you’re surfing. I’ve ridden a board way past where everyone else was bailing out of the wave only to find myself in ten inches of water over coral covered lava. Not fun. You need to watch what other people are doing. Know how and where to get into and out of the water. Spend some time watching what the waves do and where the shallow spots are.

You’re going to fall. when you do, take a deep breath before you hit, try to fall into the wave–with the board between you and the shore. If you’re in shallow water and small waves try to land flat (picture not sinking at all). In bigger waves and deeper water tuck you chin down and curl up, cover your head with your arms. Try to punch into the face of the wave so it doesn’t break on top of you. Relax, don’t struggle, save your energy and your air. Wait for the thrashing to end, then open your eyes, find the top, and swim calmly for the surface. When your head breaks the surface get a good breath and look outside to see where the next wave is. If you have time you can pull your board to you and hug it, but don’t do that if the wave is right on top of you. Paddle out of the impact zone. Thank the gods of the sea that they’ve spared your sorry ass once again.

If you’re not scared when you’re surfing you’re either Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, or stupid. And the last time I saw Laird he had fourteen stitches in his face from a little face/board interception incident at Ho’okipa and a cheek that looked like Popeye.

Laird Hamilton with face mod

Laird with popeye face modification. He’s as good as they get and he can still get hurt. Of course he got smacked in the face with a 14 foot board and never quit smiling, so there’s that. Photo courtesy Maui Surf/Windsurf Forecast, Giampaolo Cammarota

Four Stand Up Paddle Boards Compared… 

…By a really mediocre surfer. But hey, that’s okay, there’s a lot of folks starting off with standup, so a duffer’s viewpoint could be helpful to them. The boards I compared are the boards I’ve got: A Laird, a Ku Nalu, a Jimmy Lewis 11.0 X 30 and a Jimmy Lewis 11″7″ X 26. I went to Puamana beach park near Lahina, dragging along four boards, Diane with her Nikon and Sam the Gay Dog.

I hauled all four boards out and set them on the sand in order of degree of tippiness, a highly scientific approach. Incidentally, the bootie on one foot isn’t some attempt at a signature thing like Michael Jackson’s glove. I broke my toe the other day leaping onto my mast during blown jibe number 4,327. I found that “buddy taping” it to the toe next to it keeps it from flopping around and a surf bootie keeps the assembly all tied together. It doesn’t do much for my balance, but other than that it’s not much bother.

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The Jimmy Lewis 11’7″ X 26.5 X 4.75″ is the narrowest, has the softest rails and the narrowest tail of all four boards.

The Ku Nalu has similar gross dimensions: 12′ 2″ X 26 5/8″ x 4 5/8″, but it has a blunter nose, wider tail, and harder edges.

The Jimmy Lewis 11’0″ X 30″X 4.4″ has an extremely wide tail, a blunt nose, downturned rails, a flat bottom and a huge fin, all of which makes it as stable as a wharf.

The Laird is the behemoth of the bunch, 12’1″ X 31″ X 4.13″ thick. It’s flat in the midsection with a little nose and tail rocker. the rails are fairly soft with a little tuck at the bottom. It’s got a fin that looks absolutely tiny on this huge board.

I’ve been using all four of these boards for a while, the Laird being the newest. And I rarely paddle the JL 11’7″ – I use it as a longboard for small to midsized surf, and it’s wonderful for that.

So the plan is to ride all four back to back and assess them comparatively for initial stability, maneuverability, paddling, and surfing. Your mileage will vary, and I invite your comments and corrections.

We’ll start with the Ku Nalu since I’ve had it the longest. This is a challenging board for a beginner to ride, I’m surprised that I was able to learn on it. The very first thing you notice is that this board is relatively heavy. It calls to question the value of hollow boards. The second thing you notice is that it’s fast. Very fast, way faster than any of the other boards in this comparison and/or any others I’ve tried. I have no idea why. It accelerates very quickly, in fact that’s one of the problems in learning on it–you find yourself going off the back more than on other boards.

It has some initial stability, but once it starts to tip, it keeps going. It doesn’t seem to develop any corrective stability,. I suspect this is because there is so little rocker over the length of the board.

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The Ku Nalu surfs beautifully, you can catch anything with the speed and acceleration that’s available, and it turns and trims very sweetly. You don’t need to stand on the tail to turn it, just a little rail pressure is fine. I haven’t been using this board as much since I got the others, and this test made me realize what I was missing. Except for the stability issues, this would be a great choice for a long paddle. It hauls. Some people have raised safety issues about hollow boards–they say if you break one you don’t have anything that floats. I don’t know if that’s true, but it might be worth some thought for open water crossing.

This is the best surfing board after the JL 11’7″ for my beginner skills. Pretty much surfs itself and doesn’t do anything funny.

Next up is the Laird. I’ve only had this a week or so. I put a “do-it-yourself” deck pad on it the other day. I should have taken it to the Ding King and had them do it. The self-stick pads are expensive ($139) and when I compare the finished product to what Amir at the Ding King did for my JL 11’7″ I could just gag.

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The Laird is extremely stable, equal to or better than the JL 11′ X 30″. It paddles well, though it doesn’t accelerate or cruise like the Ku Nalu. What it does better than any other board I’ve tried is turn. It spins around with just foot pressure. It’s a very strange feeling. You can be just paddling and decide to turn. Instead of stepping back and paddling wide you can just twist your knees and ankles and the board swings.

What I haven’t been so successful at is surfing it. With the standard fin it slews in the wave as you try to turn. I had it spin out completely on one occasion, doing about two thirds of a 180 before I hit the drink backwards. If I had been trying to do that I’d be really pleased, but as you might have noticed, I ain’t Laird. I swapped in the huge fin from the JL 11×30 and it made two big differences. It fixed the slewing and made it very hard to turn. Maybe someplace in between is the answer.

Towards the end of the day I got one of my friends at Puamana (I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t remember his name) to try the board. He’s a superb and graceful surfer. He had the Laird dancing in the waves, and liked it a lot. So okay, it’s me, big surprise.

Next is the JL 11×30. When I first got this board I felt like I was cheating. It’s extremely easy to get on and paddle. I had a hard time surfing it at first–at one point I claimed it wobbled like a Rappala. Now I’m trying to figure out what my problem was. It surfs great. I can’t get it to do any of the things I used to complain of, even when I try. I hope the Laird turns out the same way.

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You can stand on this board so casually that you start falling off from simple inattention. Like we used to say about motorcycles–new riders have two accidents, one caused by incompetence, the second by overconfidence. You can see in the bottom two pictures that I’m totally relaxed on this board, and I can catch just about any kind of sloppy little wave. During this session I was catching waves that were a long way from breaking, I’d just keep paddling hard until the board slotted in. You can paddle out through big whitewater–even when it pushes the board backwards the board stays stable. It’s almost too easy. Like I said, cheating.

The only downside is that it doesn’t really cruise. You paddle and it goes. You stop and it stops. Not much momentum.

Finally we come to the Jimmy Lewis 11’7″. What a great surfboard, and a great standup board for anyone under 185. But for me, it’s a longboard. My balance has gotten good enough that I can stand on it, paddle and catch waves. But it’s a battle. But when you belly paddle it into a wave and just stuff it under your feet, it feels like a living thing. It carves into a bottom turn like a parabolic ski, and it zooms. I’ve been startled at the speed I can get in a wave with this board.

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But as for me paddling it, well, look at the pictures. I managed to get into a couple of mooshy waves, but the board was so deep under the water that i needed to step on the tail just to get the nose up on top of the water. It didn’t pearl, it just stayed submerged. This is the only board I’ve ever gotten a nose ride from, other than just passing through while I was staggering off the pointy end. There’s really no point in including it in this review other than it’s a great surf board, smaller people will love it, and I’ve already got it.

So here’s my not scientific at all ratings for these three boards. Laird is L, Jimmy Lewis 11×30 is JL11, and the 11’7″ X 26 is JL7, the Ku Nalu is KN:

Initial stability 1. L 2. JL11 3. KN 4. JL7

Recovery stability: 1. KN 2. JL11 3. L 4. JL7

Paddling

Cruising (maintains momentum) 1. KN 2. L 3. JL11

Maneuverability 1. L 2. JL11 3. KN

Surfing 1. JL7 2. KN 3. JL11 4. L

More than what the numbers show is overall feel and enjoyment of the boards. If I could only have one board it would be the Jimmy Lewis 11 x 30, but that’s probably because I’m a beginner and I’m really big. Second would be the the Laird. the Laird is actually a better all-around board, but you can get confident and competent with the JL11 faster than any other board I’ve tried.
The Ku Nalu is more specialized, much higher performance, and I think as I get better it will become my favorite. The Jimmy Lewis 11’7″ is my favorite surfboard.

I’m really glad I have them all.