There's no question that stand up paddle surfing is one of the greatest water sports on the planet. With the right equipment and instruction, anyone can have a successful experience on the water. For many, it seems that the natural progression of things for those who live near the ocean, is to eventually take their skills to the waves and stand up paddle surf.
Now, the question has been raised, do you need to know how to prone paddle surf before stand up paddle surfing in the waves? Let's look at an imaginary friend named Joe as a case study and discuss. Like always, your comments at the end of this article are always welcome.
Joe fell in love with the sport of stand up paddling about 18 months ago and was instantly hooked. Any spare time he has included a drive to the oceanfront to paddle out in a protected inlet sheltered from the waves and current of the ocean.
Joe became quite an accomplished flat water stand up paddler. His balance was sharp. He could sink the tail and do 180 kick turns with ease. He could paddle comfortably in a surf stance and could really do some impressive stuff in the harbor.
After several months of paddling in the calm waters of the bay, he decided to venture out beyond the inlet to paddle in the rough waters of the open ocean. Upon venturing out on the ocean, he found that he had a whole new skill set to learn and master. Balance was more difficult with the waves, wind, and current, but Joe was fairly athletic and determined to learn. He had seen some videos and knew it was possible to have excellent board control in rough water.
Over the next few months, Joe refined his skills on the open ocean. Even when the waters were rough and choppy, and the wind was blowing, Joe could keep control of his board and had developed enough muscle strength to power through the wind and get to his destination.
Having become a skilled paddler in both the flat water and open ocean, out of curiosity, Joe picks up a new board...a little one shaped primarily for surfing. Again this board pushed Joe to the next level of balance and ability. With time, Joe is able to control his new board masterfully in any ocean conditions. He even went off and caught some little waves all by himself on an occasion or two on a day when nobody was out and when the water was rough.
Now, here's the question... Is Joe ready to approach a lineup and start catching waves?
He has excellent board control in all conditions. He's "put in his time" and "paid his dues" as a flat water paddler. He has a strong grasp of the core skills that he feels he'll need in the lineup. He's watched countless videos of stand up paddlers riding waves, and has even spent a great deal of time watching stand up paddle surfers at his local break.
Is Joe ready to approach a lineup and start catching waves?
Although Joe has masterful board control, he does not have the experience of being in a surf lineup. He doesn't understand the ebb, flow, and rotation of the surfers. Even though he has read books about proper surfing etiquette, he has very little first hand experience padding out, getting caught inside, avoiding oncoming surfers, managing the current, and judging wave height and power.
He doesn't know what it's like to get dropped in on by an overly aggressive surfer, or to be repeatedly snaked by that guy sitting on the outside with the really big board. He isn't able to see the shortboarders on the inside who are also waiting for their turn to get waves.
He doesn't see and understand all of the take of zones in a lineup. Joe has never experienced riding a high speed wave with control. He doesn't understand who has right of way when he's riding a wave or paddling out. Joe doesn't understand that surfing isn't only about the waves.
Although his intentions are good, and he's non-aggressive by nature, if he were to enter a lineup, his ignorance and unpredictable behavior would make him dangerous to both himself, and more importantly to those around him. And, the most scary part is, Joe would never know it.
He would go about doing what he thought was the right thing to do in the lineup, and even if someone were to regulate, and tell him to change his behavior, he wouldn't even know what he was doing wrong.
The result would be tension in the lineup from disrespectful and dangerous behavior by a stand up paddler who didn't know any better, anti-stand up paddle sentiments, a blanket label that all stand up paddlers are kooks, and a stereotype about all stand up paddle surfers that is near impossible to break.
What is the solution?
Before you take you approach any surf lineup as a stand up paddler, learn how to prone paddle surf. Don't just go out once or twice, spend at least one or two surf seasons (not sessions) learning how to surf prone paddle. It's a whole new world from the point of view of a prone surfer, and it's your responsibility to learn it and become part of it do that you don't ignorantly invade it.
Not only will you make friends in the lineup, you will understand the lineup from the inside out and have the knowledge you need to surf safely and considerately.
Now back the question... Is prone paddle surfing a pre-requisite for stand up paddle surfing?
In our opinion, it's a resounding, YES!