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HOME arrow FEATURES arrow Caught inside? How to Survive the Impact with a Board and Paddle
Caught inside? How to Survive the Impact with a Board and Paddle PDF Print E-mail
By: Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine   
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
How to survive the impact with a board and paddle.
You can't duck dive it, you can't wrap your arms around and turtle it, and sometimes you can't even flip it over. Getting caught inside with approach sets is part of the reality of stand up paddle surfing, and for many surfers it's down right fun. Stand up paddlers are an interesting crew and for some reason even after taking the royal water whipping of a lifetime, they still come out grinning, and will probably retell the experience with the same excitement that they use when describing the wave of the day. If you haven't been there yet it'll come soon enough; the day when you're caught inside faced with the reality that the next wave looming on the horizon is approaching fast and the lip is going to bear down own you. In this article, you'll learn how to prepare for impact and come out with a smile.

First, lets set the scene. You are one of half a dozen surfers in the water and eyeball that rogue set approaching. You know, that series of waves that seem to be almost double the size of the normal set waves. Spotting the set, you paddle for the horizon. You guess that there are about 6 waves in the set but you're not sure because the nearest waves blocks your view of the horizon. One wave passes, and the next one is lined up perfectly for you. If you don't take this one and next one is any bigger you know you'll be in trouble, so you smile, turn and drop in. The ride is screaming fast, steep, and eventually closes out blowing you off your board. When you surface and turn your head, the next wave is towing over you and already feathering at the top. There's no way you are going to be able to hold on to your board, even if you wrap your leash around your paddle. Now what?
First thing, scan down-wave from you to be sure that nobody is going to get hit by your board when the whitewater hits. If there happens to be someone on the inside, and he or she isn't moving one way or the other, make eye contact, and signal to the surfer to paddle either to the left or the right. If you have time, hop on your board and paddle in the opposite direction, then just before impact, push the board as hard as you can toward the clearing.

What about your paddle? You have to keep it under control and if at all possible, hold on to it so that it doesn't become a projectile in the water. The blade has the most potential for causing injury or board damage so the goal is to keep the blade out of the way. An easy way to do this is to tuck the blade under you armpit, behind you, and close to your body. With the blade is close to you body, it is less likely to get whipped around hitting you or your board, or getting pulled from your hand. Additionally, with the paddle behind you, if you lean back on it while you're getting dragged through the water, it'll help plane you back up to the surface.

What about he board? There isn't a whole lot you can do with your board. In this article we're talking about taking the impact from a wave or a size that would make it impossible to hold on to the board regardless of whether or not it has handles or similar attachments. Essentially, your board is left to blow in the wind.

Flip the board over or leave it right side up? In most cases, flipping the board up side down will help reduce the distance the board drags you as you are rolled though the whitewash. Much of this depends on the shape of the wave and the shape of your board. The approaching wave is more sloping and slab-like, leaving the board right side up might be a good idea. For a wave like this, there's a good chance the board will actually slide up the face of the wave  and poke through the peak even if you, yourself may be underwater.

Ready for impact? As the wave hits, stay calm and hold on. Depending on the wave you'll most likely have one of two experiences, and occasionally a combination of the two. If the wave is a big slabby, crumbly wave, you'll most likely go through the spin cycle. You may lose you orientation about which way is up. Kicking trying to swim through all of this is usually a waste of energy and the precious oxygen in your lungs. Just stay relaxed and wait for things to calm down some before making your way to the surface. Since paddles float, you'll easily know which way is up. If the wave is steep and barreling, after the initial impact, you'll most likely get pushed really deep, sucked up over the falls, rolled through the whitewater, sucked back up, and sent back down over the falls a second time. Just before you get sent back over the falls, you can sometimes get a breath of foamy air to make things a little easier.

Resist the drag or go with it? Leash breakage has quickly become a fact of life for many stand up paddle surfers. Big boards and big waves can put excessive stress on leashes. How does this relate to resisting the drag of the whitewater or going with the flow? Simply put, if you resist being dragged along, you're more likely to snap your leash, thus setting you up for a long swim in. If you streamline your body and go with the flow, you'll get washed further in, but your leash is more likely to be intact. Many surfers prefer to roll with the punches rather than make the long swim in. They say it's like riding a wild underwater waterslide. The choice is yours.

Once the smoke clears and you're back to the surface, survey the scene and get ready to do it all again. Remember to smile. The spin cycle is all part of the stand up paddle game.  While nothing is absolutely predictable, when you know what to expect and you know what to do, getting caught inside isn't always the nightmare it can be made out to be. Use wisdom and be prudent in your decision to paddle out in bigger surf. Like the signs read at all the beaches in Hawaii, "If in doubt, don't go out!" Have fun, be safe, and enjoy the ride.
feed5 Comments
Dieter Kunze
December 23, 2010

I choose surfing. Drugs are not a solution, it's just a temporary thing.. with a risk of addiction. I found a nice essay on this topic in my university. Really enjoyed reading it.

June 07, 2010


"If you have time, hop on your board and paddle in the opposite direction, then just before impact, push the board as hard as you can toward the clearing"

When you say "opposite direction" are you saying to paddle towards shore ?

johnny wad
September 17, 2009

check youtube for instructional videos...i did see one about how to get over the whitewater. clearly takes some practice but essentially let the board ride up the wave and give it a bit of an ollie (skateboard move). Slide your front foot up the board as you go over the wave to maintain stability.

May 27, 2009

I am new to SUP surfing. I find myself getting frustrated paddling back out after catching a wave because even small whitewash waves are difficult to get over, especially when surfing breaks with very little channel like beach breaks. Every time white wash rolls toward me I'm forced to jump off my board and swim under. This is fine but it often takes quite a lot of time spent ducking under waves before the ocean goes flat enough again for me to paddle back out to the lineup. There has got to be an easier way, right? I'm not surfing huge waves or anything, I just wish I knew how to get back outside the breakers to catch more waves without getting pummeled for ten minutes or so every time I catch a wave. Can you provide any suggestions???

August 16, 2008

While being dragged on big surf by an 11 foot board is no fun, you can use a buoyancy vest like the ones wore by tow in surfers or wake boarders. These have enough buoyancy to help you on the way up and rest in the mean time, but also enough to let youuu dive when the next one is over your head... While on the surface and waiting for the set to end it also helps you preserve energy and that precious O2... 4 -5 wave set no big deal, when you're counting on you 7 or 8th is a different story.

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