How to SUP Surf

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Congrats on making it here! You are choosing to worship the original origins of paddle boarding by learning how to SUP surf! Yeahh Bro!

With practice, learning to SUP surf can be an awesome way to level up your SUP game. Imagine actually catching some waves and cruising by your friends as they get knocked off their boards by that same wave you were surfing on!

By understanding a few basics like feet positioning, you can start surfing from your first trip out on the water.

In my 20 years of experience with water sports, I’ve found that SUPing time and again is the one I fall back on. In fact, I tell all my friends that you haven’t fully experienced British Columbia until you’ve experienced it atop a SUP. When it comes to SUP surfing, I, like so many Canadians, cut my teeth at Tofino, on Vancouver Island.

SUP surfing in British Columbia showed me the true brilliance and versatility of the standup paddleboard, and I decided then and there that SUPers needed to try hitting the surf.

Photo from Tofino Paddle Surf if you are in the area check them out! Seriously!

In this article, I’m going to run over the basics of how to paddle board surf, guiding you through all the accessories you need and some basic techniques that will help keep you from wiping out on your first wave. 

I’ll answer some of your most frequently asked questions, and then you’ll be ready to hit the waves. Ready? Btw, if you are looking for the best inflatable paddle boards check this article out!

Table of Contents

What Do I Need to sURF the SUP?

Surfing on a SUP has some special equipment requirements that you need to know about before you head out on the waves.

Proper Board

Probably the most asked question by new SUP purchasers is the question of the board. There are plenty of boards out on the market, in all different shapes and sizes. However, before we even get to board shape, there is another question to answer: hardboard or inflatable?

Hard Board or Inflatable?

Inflatable boards are easy to transport: you can deflate them to the size of a hockey bag and take them with you everywhere. With hard boards, you’ll need a vehicle on which you can strap your hardboard. 

Inflatable boards can generally withstand a good deal of abuse, while hard boards need to be paid special attention to — like a surfboard.

What are the benefits of a hardboard? The hardboard has more glide in general than the inflatable, giving it more speed in the end. For most SUPers, though, this speed difference is negligible: a hardboard moves about 5% faster on the water than an inflatable board. 

Board Shape?

Beyond the choice of hardboard and inflatable board, you’ll need to decide on a shape for your board. Most surfing SUPs are specially made to facilitate maneuverability on the water and allow riders to get the most out of a wave.

In general, the shape of a surfing SUP is a symmetric elliptical, with the tail and the nose gathering in a point on either end. 

Although the perfect board shape depends on your size and weight, there are a few guidelines that you can use as rules of thumb. 

The ideal length of the SUP should be around nine feet. As you may realize, this comes out several inches shorter than the length of traditional flatwater SUPs

This is unequivocally the case: having a shorter board reduces glide but increases maneuverability. Since the “glide” of a surfing SUP is determined by the wave and not the surfer, surfers shouldn’t worry about it too much. 

On the other hand, maneuverability is a hot-button topic, as the surfer needs to be able to react quickly to the unpredictability of the waves.

As far as width goes, you want your board to be relatively thin. Aim for no more than 31 inches in width.

If you are still interested in a surfboard check out our paddle board vs surfboard article!

A Proper SUP Paddle

The kind of paddle you’re using can have a big impact on your time on the water. First, let’s look at the paddle blade.

Paddle Blade

There are two classic paddle blade shapes you might see when you’re shopping for paddles. The first is more of a teardrop shape: this blade has a wide base very close to the end of the blade. This width quickly tapers down into the width of the paddle.

The second paddle blade is closer in shape to a rectangle: it is long and thin, with a relatively long area of maximum width.

For surfing, we are going to prefer to use the former blade: the teardrop. The teardrop shape gives you maximum power per stroke, and as SUP surfing requires quick bursts of movement to get the SUP into place, this is the one we prefer. 

Many of our readers who have only flatwater paddled before likely have a paddle that is rectangularly shaped. These paddles are great for long-distance SUPing or touring, but they’re not optimal for surfing.

Paddle Material

The second thing to consider when it comes to your SUP paddle is its material. From my years of experience SUPing and surfing, I can tell you this for free: go for a lightweight carbon paddle

Why lightweight carbon? These paddles are crazy durable and unbelievably light. Like I’ve been saying, you need to generate a quick acceleration when surfing, and having the most lightweight weight paddle possible will help you do that.

Paddle Size

Next, you’re going to want to consider the height of your paddle. Anyone who has flat water SUPed likely has some generic ideas about paddle size. A general rule of thumb for the paddle on flat water is to be “the height of your body with the paddling arm extended upward.” 

This works well for flat water, but we’re going to want something much shorter for surfing. Why? With a paddle that extends above the height of your head, you have a much more energy-efficient paddle but one that is less able to generate acceleration and control.

For surfing on the SUP, you want to get a paddle that is just about as tall as you are or at most a few inches above your head. A paddle that is nearly identical to you in height allows you to maximize your control and acceleration, helping you maneuver your board into the sweet spot so you can ride the waves.

Straight Sup Leash

SUPers don’t have to wear a life jacket in surf zones, but you should always SUP with a leash. When SUPing with a leash, you make sure that the board never gets too far away from you. This has a few benefits.

First, and most obviously, you will want to get right back and try again when you wipe out. You don’t want to have to chase your board down the beach.

Second, a rogue board can cause serious injury to an unaware bystander. It’s not worth risking some stranger’s health and safety just to feel “dangerous” on a leashless SUP.

Okay, so you’re wearing a SUP leash. If you are used to touring or racing, you likely have a coiled leash for your SUP at home. You’ll want to get a straight SUP leash.

A straight SUP leash is a must-have for surfing. The coiled leash, while excellent in calm water, becomes somewhat dangerous in the surf. The coiled leash can cause your board to spring back and hit you while you’re down. In the chaos and frenzy of the waves, this could mean serious injury.

A straight SUP leash keeps the board hooked but won’t send it careening back to your jugular just as you’re breaking for air. 

Additional Accessories

These additional accessories are optional, but they can’t hurt.


If you’re spending a long day out on the water, it’s probably a good idea to put some sunscreen on. Even if you’re not someone who burns quickly, current research suggests that daily sunscreen use can prevent the likelihood of melanoma by about 50 percent. When you’re out in the waves with no shade cover, sun damage to your skin is compounded.


On a sunny day teeming with brightness, I always bring my sunglasses with me. They help me see everything clearly as I’m riding the waves. 

If you decide to bring sunglasses, make sure they’re going to stay on. Get some sunglasses specially made for surfing, or buy a strap that will keep those sunglasses glued to your noggin.

Getting Out There: How to SUP Surf

Now that you’re all set up with the proper accessories, it’s time to hit the surf! Before we get out and surf our first wave, there are some things to be aware of.

Surfing Etiquette

If you’ve never been out on the water, there is some important etiquette we have to go over.

SUP surfers historically get a bad rap by prone surfers (that is, those who begin laying down). Why? As they’re standing on their boards, SUP surfers have a unique vantage point that allows them to see waves as they’re coming sooner than the prone surfers.

Some SUP surfers who go out on the water don’t know anything about surfing etiquette and, as a result, see good waves, take them, and by doing so, upset the lineup.

What Is The Lineup?

We can observe this notion of the lineup on just about any beach in the world with surfers. 

The lineup is a preferential system of catching waves wherein the person waiting for the longest gets priority and right of way on the next wave they want to ride.

This person who has been waiting for the longest is in priority spot number one. The person who has been waiting for the second-longest is in priority spot number two, and so on. 

When the number one priority surfer sees a wave they want to take, they ride it down the line, thereby moving to the last place position to wait until they are in the first position once again.

When it’s being followed, the lineup is an excellent system that maxes out everyone’s fun and minimizes physical and verbal confrontations.

As SUP surfers, we have the potential to make prone surfers uncomfortable because our paddles allow us to have more maneuverability and, therefore, more potential opportunities to cut the line.

How To Enter a New Lineup

When you get to a new location where you want to start surfing, it’s up to you to thoroughly observe what lineups, if any, are currently functioning on the beach. 

Do this before you even enter the water: try and spot where the waves seem to be giving the best rides and at what points of the water there are existing lineups.

If you see a lineup that seems to be catching the waves you want to catch, you might decide you’re going to enter it. Make sure you fully understand where the back of this line is before you paddle out.

Once you’ve paddled out, it’s best to sit down on your board and orient yourself to the surf. If you see one of the surfers in the lineup pass you, it’s important to say something — a quick hello or a “How’re the waves?” will do well enough.

Communication is crucial.. Let me say that again, Communication is crucial to putting the prone surfers at ease, who might be on edge after seeing a SUP paddle out to the lineup.

Don’t: Be A Snake

No surfer in their right mind wants to be a snake. What’s a snake? A snake is someone who was in the first position and rides a wave out to the end, then comes back around and takes the next wave away from the next person in the lineup.

As SUPers, we have a unique opportunity to become snakes because we can position our board more ably and get out to a prime surfing spot more easily than prone surfers. 

Many SUP surfers who don’t know about surfing etiquette do this in ignorance, but to the prone surfers, it doesn’t matter. No one likes a snake.

Don’t: Drop In

Dropping in refers to the act of line cutting in which someone paddles to and catches a wave that already has an acknowledged rider. The surfer who drops in goes ahead of the other surfer. The result is that the other surfer has to accommodate their movements to match the surfer in front of them.

To avoid dropping in, be sure to observe the lineup in minute detail before trying to join.

Do: Communicate

Communication is vital in all aspects of surfing. It lets you acknowledge the other surfers on the waves and is crucial in keeping a healthy lineup functioning.

There are moments on the surf when communication is key to keeping you from colliding with another surfer. 

For example, in a split peak situation, when the wave is splitting in two directions, two people can ride the wave. It’s important they tell each other ahead of time, however, what they plan to do.

If you make a mistake at any time in the lineup, just apologize. Be upfront about your mistake, apologize, and move on.

Do: Be Patient

Especially when you’re first joining a lineup, it might be good of you to skip some good waves in favor of the surfers who were already there. As a SUPer, you have the vantage point to see good waves before they’re close, and you can tell the prone surfers in the line when good waves are coming their way.

Do: Brush It Off

If someone drops in on your wave or pulls a snake on you, just brush it off. Everyone’s out there to have fun, so there’s no need to start a fight. If this person does it multiple times, it might warrant a talking-to.

For a more in-depth look at all these rules, check out the Golden Rules of surfing etiquette.

Feet Positioning

Feet positioning is essential on the surf because it allows you to have maximum control over your board.

Unlike touring or racing, we won’t be standing with our feet parallel when SUP surfing. Our feet are still about hips’ width apart, but they will be positioned in a surf stance, with our bodies facing out to the long end of the board.

Before going straight to the surf stance, though, you may start by practicing with just one foot slightly in front of the other. It’s also best to practice on flat water first before you attempt to catch a wave.

Having your feet in parallel makes surfing incredibly difficult, as you simply don’t have the stability on the waves you need. Keeping your legs slightly bent and in a surfer stance, you can adapt easily to the rolling waves and position yourself with the best possibility of success.

Ideal Waves and Conditions to Start

Finding the ideal waves to start in will help you smoothly begin your SUP surfing journey. You don’t want to go on waves beyond your skill level, as this puts you and the other surfers in danger.

At the same time, you don’t want to start with waves so small it’s closer to flatwater surfing. You’re looking to go SUP surfing small waves that are 1.5 feet to 2 feet in height or up to 3 feet if you’re feeling confident. For your first wave, don’t go beyond three feet.

When you’re first beginning, you don’t need perfect waves that peel nicely and look like the movies. Just start with low, unassuming waves that break slowly, preferably over the sand.

Where You Want To Position Your Board

To catch your first wave, make sure you stand in a surfer stance with your board faced directly towards the shore, perpendicular to the line of the sand. In this position, you will be ready to surf your first wave.

Surfing Your First Wave

Now that you know where to position your board generally, where to stand, and what kind of waves to look for, let’s get started with surfing your very first wave.

Paddling Through Break Waves (Getting There)

Ideally, you’re going to want to be standing as you paddle through the break waves and get to your starting spot. Paddling through waves while standing up is the most energy-efficient way to get out to the lineup, and it’s also safe if done correctly.

If you’re launching off the beach, wait until there is a lull in the waves. Some surfers start on their knees until they’re clear of the sand before standing.

As the break waves approach, stand in your surfer position to prepare for the wave. Position your board at a 90-degree angle to the oncoming wave. As the wave comes, transfer the weight from your back foot to your front foot as your board goes over the wave. 

For many break waves, paddling over is the best option. Some waves, however, are too big to go over. What should you do then? Just jump off your board and get into the water; you don’t want to be sent flying from a too-big wave.

It’s also always helpful to see other people do it: check the above video out to watch excellent demonstrations of surfers overcoming break waves and why the parallel touring stance just won’t cut it out on the water.

We go through a bunch of scenarios as to How to Paddle Board in Waves here.

Initial Takeoff

Anthony Maltese lists four major points for the takeoff to keep in mind when getting out on the surf. 

Once it’s your time to shine, you need to be ready. Be in your surfer stance (or semi-surf) with the paddle on the toe side of your board. 

Next, you need to be watching what matters. Look out to the waves and see where you’re going to go. If you get caught looking at your toes when the wave comes, you’ll miss it.

Finally, commit to a wave. Once you’ve decided on a wave, don’t hesitate. Hesitation = wipeout.

Riding Your First Wave (You’re Doing It!)

So you waited in line, you got into the first position, and now you’re doing it! Here are some stand up paddle surfing tips and tricks about helping you ride that wave as long as possible.

For low waves, you’ll want the board to be going at the speed or a greater speed than the speed of the wave when it hits. This will help you get the most out of the wave. 

As you’re on the wave, make sure you continue to look where you’re going. Watch the changing landscape of the water and make sure you adapt to the way the wave moves towards the beach.

Using your paddle, you can help stabilize yourself or reposition the board mid-wave to help you stay on the wave for longer. Ultimately, this all comes down to practice riding in the waves.

What To Do After The Ride

Whether the wave runs out or you’ve fallen, congratulations! You’ve ridden your first wave. Now it’s important to get back and ride another wave while the experience is fresh.

If you fell off your board, get back on it in the prone position after ensuring there are no surfers on waves that might be a danger to you. When there’s a lull in the waves, resume standing in your surf stance and paddle out to the lineup. 

Getting Out of the Way

If your wave ran out and you stayed standing the whole time, color me impressed. Now you can paddle well out of the range of the lineup and rejoin the group. 

Getting Back into Proper Sequencing

Whether you fell off your board or the wave ran out, you must get out of the way of the surfers who are next in line. Get back into the proper sequencing and get ready to get riding.


Here are some of our most frequently asked paddle board surfing questions.

Can you surf on any SUP?

You can, in theory, surf on any SUP, but there is one design that is best for surfing. A surfing SUP that tapers out elliptically on both ends and is about 9 feet long is ideal.

Is SUP Surfing Easier Than Surfing?

Stand up paddle board surfing is, in a lot of ways, easier than prone surfing. With SUP surfing, you have the major advantage of the paddle for stability and balance. What’s more, because you can generate a lot of acceleration on your paddleboard, SUP surfing is possible in low wind, small wave conditions where surfing would simply be unenjoyable.

Does Flat Water Paddle Boarding Help With Surfing?

Flat water paddle boarding absolutely helps with surfing. For tips on How to Paddle Board in the Ocean click here.

In fact, I recommend practicing on flat water before you ever try to go out on the surf, especially if you’ve never done stand up paddleboarding before. Flat water is a great place to test your stand up paddle surf technique, like your surfer stance, before getting out on the waves.

Flat water paddle boarding is also a great core workout, and a strong core is essential when surfing.

Why Do Surfers Hate Paddle Boarders?

If you enter the world of standup surf, you’ll quickly meet prone surfers who hate paddleboarders. Surfers and paddle boarders have a long, contentious history.

Paddleboarders often haven’t done the research and so don’t know anything about the lineup. This means that they might cut in line, drop in, or be a snake. Remember: don’t be a snake!

Stand up paddleboarders are also uncommon, merely being out on the water once in a while. This means that surfers are more typically exposed to incompetence in stand up surfing rather than excellence.

New paddleboarders can be a danger to the prone surfers, who can maneuver their way out of danger less ably than SUPers.

What We’ve Learned

We’ve learned a lot in this article, covering lots of ground. You should be theoretically ready to take your first wave! Remember, the real SUP surf lessons happen out on the water.

In this article, we covered:

  • Stand up surfing materials required
  • How to get out on the water
  • Dos and Don’ts of stand up paddleboarding
  • SUPing your first wave
  • Some SUP surfing techniques
  • SUP surfing FAQs

Remember, all that matters is that you go out on the waves and have fun in the end. Be sure to follow the etiquette and our paddle board surfing tips to keep yourself and everyone else safe, all the while shredding some gnarly gnar.


Photo of author
Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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