Whatever your reasons are for wanting to that, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind before venturing into ridding and surfing any type of wave.
Here are the basics to help you get started:
- Choose your first day well. SUPing is best suited to slower moving waves. If a wave is barrelling or breaking quickly in shallow water then it is best left to surfers on smaller boards. You ideally want knee to shoulder high waves that are breaking slowly for your first few sessions. If it is too windy (especially if the wind is blowing onshore) then this will also decrease wave quality and make it harder for you to spot waves.
- Choose your spot. On small wave days it is relatively easy to paddle 'out back' (where the unbroken waves are) on your SUP and to get yourself into a position where waves are breaking. Do make sure that you stay away from any groups of surfers who are sat on a clear 'peak' when you are starting out. There is a strict code of conduct amongst anyone catching waves and - until you're confidently riding waves - you should stay clear of other surfers.
- Paddle out. Before you begin paddle surfing, you need to get out back. Getting out through broken waves can be quite challenging (especially if you are used to flat water). If there are several rows of broken waves to get through before you're out back, then your best technique is to wade out until you're in chest deep water, and then lie on your board and paddle with your arms. You can rest your paddle on your board and hold it under your chest as you paddle. As you approach a broken wave lift your body up on your arms (pinning the paddle down with one arm). Let the board go over the top of the wave, and some of the wave pass between you and your board.
- Where is out back? This is one of those things that you will get more of a feel for, as you spend more time in the surf area. You need to be beyond where most of the waves are breaking, and just outside where the 'set waves' (the larger group of waves that come in every few minutes) are breaking. When you first get out back, you're best off being too far out and then working your way in once you've got a feel for where the sets are breaking. Then wait with your board facing the shore and keep your eyes on the horizon, looking out for waves!
- Choosing your wave. When you see a set approaching you need to choose which wave to catch. Sets can have upwards of 3 waves, so there's no need to go for the first one... You need to aim to catch the wave before it breaks, but not too early as it won't pick you up. So, choose your wave and then paddle towards or away from the 'peak' (where the wave starts breaking) to get in the right position.
- Catch the wave. Paddle in the neutral position initially - with your feet both facing forward. Paddle firmly (either alternate sides or just one side - whatever normally works best for you) towards the beach. You need to quickly generate speed so that you are travelling at a similar speed to the wave when it gets to you.
When you've caught the wave you will know. If you're used to the sensation of your paddle propelling your board then this may feel quite strange.
There is a clear moment when the wave begins powering your board and, with experience, you'll learn to understand and anticipate this.
The most important thing to do when you feel the wave take you, is to change your stance. You can't surf a wave facing forward, so you need to change to a sideways surfing stance (either 'regular' - left foot forward, or 'goofy' - right foot forward). If you aren't sure which way you surf then try not to think about it and one way should feel more natural - just go with that!
- I can't get out-back! This could be for a number of reasons - if the surf is 'sety', then wait for a gap between sets and then really go for it. Take a look from the beach before you get in the water too, you may spot flatter sections between peaks that it's easier to get out through. Or the surf may simply be too big, in which case leave it for a smaller day.
- I can't get on the wave! This could be due to one of 2 things: positioning or speed. You need to be paddling hard before the wave reaches you, and you need to be going for waves that are beginning to break. If the waves keep going under your board then you are either too far out, or are too far away from the peak.
- The waves keep throwing me off my board! You are probably going for waves too late. Unlike surfers who can catch waves late on their short boards, you need to catch the wave before it breaks. If you leave it too late then the wave will catch your board and throw you off.
Catching waves on a SUP board will take a few sessions for you to get the hang of it, and a lifetime to truly master it, but wave-riding is one of the best experiences you can have on your SUP board, so get out there, take a few wipe-outs and get wave-riding!