How to SUP Surf: A Beginner’s Guide [2023 Updated]

Last Updated January 27, 2023

You enjoy paddling with your SUP (stand-up paddle) board on flat water lakes and rivers. Taking them to reach the far corners of the tranquil stream seems easy. And, you’ve mastered the art of paddling through brooks and lagoons.

Shredder SUP & Surf buy online - Clip art

Now, you feel you are ready to take your SUP board to the next level – SUP Surfing for the first time.

SUP paddling and SUP surfing require the same basic knowledge – standing up on the board. Standing position and having the power of a paddle allows easy catching of waves. Additionally, SUP surfing bids distinctive challenges and skills to become proficient.

SUP surfing is not easy. But, with a few pointer and tips, your transition to SUP surfing would be a breeze. Don’t worry about stumbling and falling. Pause, take a deep breath and arm yourself with your knowledge in balancing on your board. You will be fine.

Beginner Notes: Learning How to SUP Surf

Suppose you have been paddling comfortably with your Stand-Up paddleboard in flat waters. In that case, you have a good head start over a beginner surfer. As mentioned, standing up on the board is the essential knowledge you need to arm yourself with. The next skills should follow.

Step 1. Get the Right Gear


SUP Surfboard

SUPs come in different shapes and sizes. The most common SUP is the traditional epoxy paddleboard or the rigid paddleboard. It is a fiberglass material wrapped around an EPS foam core. The tracking function is through its attached one or more fins.

The first thing you will need to learn how to SUP surf is to get the right SUP board. Is it unlike the SUP you use for cruising or racing? Not really, but it depends on your current SUP size.

Take into consideration that floatability and maneuverability are crucial in riding waves with your SUP. Thus, the longer the SUP board, the more sluggish it will turn in the surf. And, the broader the SUP board, the less it will sustain in hollower waves.

Advance skilled SUP surfer can make do in almost any SUP board in waves. But, learning SUP surfing will still be dependent on the level and type of waves you ride. Here’s breaking down the sizing factors:

  • For SUP surfing, choose a SUP size smaller than what you ride for cruising or touring. If you usually ride 10 to 12-foot SUP, go for an 8 or 9-foot board. If you are accustomed to 9 to 10-foot SUP, pick a 7 to 8-foot SUP.
  • Get a board that is no wider than 30 to 31 inches. This width is usually the case for 9-foot SUPs. Broader SUPs will not work well except for really mushy waves.
  • Pick a SUP with a similar shape as a surfboard instead of one shaped like a canoe or floater. The rule of thumb is, it should be like a big shortboard or longboard.
  • It would be best to pick a lightweight SUP. Choose one that you can grab through a handle or carry under your arm. This way, it won’t tire you from walking to the water and back.

Ideally, beginners should stay on the higher end of the SUP surfboard size range. It can be a little tricky to learn to SUP surf on a 7″. By the time you get familiar with SUP surfing, you can take on the waters with a smaller SUP. If you think of getting a separate SUP board for learning, a used one isn’t a bad idea.

SUP Surf Paddle

Cruising with a SUP allows you to paddle away with any sort of paddle. It is not limited even to a heavier metal paddle or an adjustable plastic one.

For SUP Surfing, on the other hand, a lightweight paddle makes a big difference. A light paddle allows easy paddling through the surf and changing sides for swift turns in the wave. It is also a big help when you need to push your paddle away when a wave smashes on you.

A full-carbon SUP paddle is a good investment. The STGPS1001 Switchblade 2.0 by STAGE is good to consider. They may be more expensive than other paddles, but they do really well in all areas of SUP surfing. You may check out Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for some good second-hand deal. We also have our own reviews on the best SUPs for surfing, so be sure to check those out. 

SUP Surf Leash

Leg ropes are essential pieces of gears when you are learning how to SUP Surf. Beginners typically have bulky and fairly heavy SUP surfboards. Therefore a longer and thicker leash is advisable. Regular sized surfboard leashes will likely snap on such SUP Surfboards, especially when they keep getting swept by one wave after another.

The length of the leash should conform to the size of your SUP surfboard. They should be the same. An excessively long leash will only tangle on your feet. They could also be in the way of other surfers in case your board gets dragged away.

Step 2. Pick the Best Surf Spot

A good set of equipment is useless without a place to surf. However, the spot you should pick should not just be any turf. Some good beginner surf spots have the following characteristics:

  • Gentle small waves with some mild whitewater but no big sets that break across the horizon.
  • Has a channel for paddling out. Get in that spot where you can easily paddle back to the baseline.
  • Choose a spot that has little to no chop. No chop means an area where there is a smooth water surface. There should be very minimal wind or offshore wind.
  • The spot where it is best to learn how to SUP Surf is where there are almost no rocks. Ideally, a location with some sandy bottoms. Rocky bottoms will do if there is enough water depth. You will fall and stumble while learning, so you wouldn’t want to be falling onto these sharps.
  • Beach breaks are better than point breaks when learning how to SUP surf. Beach breaks give you enough space to make your entry compared to point breaks where you need to jump off the rocks with your board.
  • The crowd also has to be considered. Spots with few surfers or SUPers are the best places. As you learn, you will have to let it go with your SUP surfboard, leaving you risks of hitting other riders.

Step 3. Paddling Through and Catching Waves

Now that you have the right board, the right paddle, and you found the right spot, it’s time to paddle through the surf to catch some waves. Be sure to keep an eye for hazards such as submerged rocks, low-slung beach breaks, or swimmers.

As you are getting ready to go out there, walk your board out to roughly waist-deep water, and safely hop on it. It is often easier to paddle out on your knees but, if you prefer to stand as you paddle, consider to bend your knees and keep your feet alternated – pretty much like your surf stance.

Standing up this way allows you to keep your balances, most especially when paddling through some whitewashes.

The secret is to paddle as hard into the whitewash and to put weight on your back foot. This method allows the board to pop over the foam. Then, you can use the momentum to punch through. Another tip is to lean back substantially to help you mount and overcome the wave.

Once you get used to it, you will learn the advanced technique of angling the board’s face towards the wave. This trick is done by pushing one rail down in the water with your foot. Edging, as it is most popularly known, helps deflect some of the wave energy as you near the crest.

Do not let go of your paddle since retrieving it on the shore can be both annoying. Plus, you would not want to look loony.

Paddling will get you the momentum you need to catch waves on your SUP surfboard. The key is to get the board pointed in the right direction. Beginners may find this step challenging, but you can start slow and be methodical in the waves you pick to ride.

One of the advantages of SUP Paddling is getting a better view of the sets coming in. This advantage lets you choose the right wave to ride while leaving yourself enough time to turn your board around sans rushing.

Mastering the pivot turns helps you to make faster shifts. Pivot turns are helpful as they allow the board to rotate easier. You can achieve this by stepping back on the board’s tail to enable the lifting of the nose clear of the water. Then, paddle on the opposite side of the direction you want to turn.

The most common mistake beginners make, particularly in surfing, is paddling for the wave with their board pointed to the shore. This process will simply turn away from where you want to go.

What you can do is to turn into the wave as it approaches. To put it simply, you should paddle parallel to the wave before taking a few hard strokes to turn in the direction of the beach as the wave approaches. As you turn towards the beach, you may want to parallel your feet into a surf stance to brace yourself from sudden acceleration from catching the wave.

Step 4. Riding It!

Riding the waves is the easiest part of SUP surfing. This part is merely allowing yourself to glide down the green part of the wave and enjoy the water. The size of your SUP surfboard, which should ideally be more extensive than a surfboard, will provide you the momentum you need to keep your speed as the wave peels.

Waves may soften up too and lose energy. If this happens to the waves you are riding, use your paddle to gain some speed back until you reach a more dynamic section.

Another critical aspect of SUP surfing is adjusting your stance. It is particularly true for more oversized SUP surfboards. Shift your weight forward while paddling if you are losing momentum. On the contrary, shift your weight back when you gain speed or when the wave gets hollower. This trick keeps you from nosediving.

Step 5. Getting Out of The Waves

Collisions can happen anytime. It is during these times that you would want to get out of your SUP board to avoid it. Other times are when you feel like the wave closes up before you, and you sense the need to exit the wave and paddle back out.

Do not merely dive off and hope for the best, especially when you are about to drop into the wave. Getting out of the wave requires you to use the paddle to slow yourself down while waiting for the tide to pass you by. Kicking out of a wave you are currently engaged with is more comfortable using your feet to steer your SUP surfboard forcefully up and out of the wave.

Now and then, surfing doesn’t give you much choice but to exit a wave on a SUP board by jumping off and holding on to the leash. But, before you do that, better scan your surroundings to make sure there is no one downstream from you who you might hit.


Most people assume that SUPs are for local lakes, rivers, and flatwater. Apparently, they are not. You can enjoy mild white water with them and SURF!

Surfing with a SUP is one of the most exciting parts of paddleboarding. In fact, the sport of stand-up paddling came from surfing. It runs deeper than Maui surfers mixing canoe paddles with longboards. SUP is a revival of an already existing practice that its history dates back to thousands of years ago.

In these times, you won’t miss surfers riding their SUPs against the waves as much as you still see them traverse the calm lakes. It doesn’t matter how you like to ride your SUP; what matters is your ethereal connection with the ocean when you’re afloat it.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Will the fin setup help me in and out of the surf?

A: Although the board’s size and shape are the significant factors to consider in picking a board, the fin setup definitely adds to its performance. Fin setup allows you to tune and really transform how you ride.

SUP Surf’s most basic fin setup is a single long center fin. It creates the slightest drag and blends well on boards that have been optimized for surfing – rigid boards to be specific. Adding side fins impacts the carving performance of the board. But, side fins are only recommended if you need the extra traction. For that, it is recommended that you get a board that allows you to add side fins.

Q: Is the deck pad necessary for SUP Surfing?

A: As with any boards, the deck’s quality and texture make a big difference in traction and how it feels underfoot. Generally, longer and thicker deck pads help cover more board surface. As you learn to SUP Surf, the tendency to fall on various parts is high. It is better that you have a substantial foothold help from the deck pad.

Q: Should I go for a hard or inflatable for SUP Surfing?

A: Inflatables are advantageous for beginners. They will appreciate the softer landing when they fall on the board. Hardboards have more performance advantages than inflatables. The sculpture and the shape are more amenable to surfing maneuvers. But, the best board to pick for SUP Surfing is the one that you can actually get on without any problems.

Related Resources