Stand-up paddle surfing, "Beach-Boy" Style surfing, "BB surfing," paddle surfing, standup surfing or Hui O He'e Nalu, it goes by many names but what is it? I recently put that question to John Bendon of Maui, HI. John is the son of Jim Bendon, the man who introduced me to kitesurfing in the summer of 1998 in the BVI. Standup surfing can provide a viable challenging option to kiteboarding when there is no wind OR too much!
** For an article with full sized images CLICK HERE
Jim Bendon kiting off Sprecksville, Maui in 1999.
John grew up on Maui surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, tow-in surfing and other ocean activities off Maui and Oahu. These pursuits produce well rounded watermen for which the islands are known. These days he crafts incredible vacations for visitors to the islands through Vacations in Maui
. Pa'ani Point is a intriguing property that he books with direct uncrowded kite access well to the east of Kanaha (Kite Beach), near Paia. Advanced kiters that are guests can legally ride in a narrow corridor and in close proximity to the airport making this spot fairly unique.
Pa'ani Point, just add wind and rip loose into all that clear ocean without a ton of kiters!
He is fairly new to standup paddle surfing however and provides some good insight into this style of surfing.
Stand-up surfing has really been taking off in Hawaii again. Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama were among the first recent
riders to get into standup surfing in a big way. Laird recently paddled across the English Channel to France and biked the rest of the way between London and Paris as a part of a charitable effort to benefit autistic children. You can still donate to this singular effort to heal autism here
. Additional information at surfline.com/surfnews/2006_06_06_laird.cfm.
Laird Hamilton was featured with a Cover article in the April 2006 Men's Journal.
It is not easy to readily track the origins of standup surfing other than to conclude that they are OLD. Some particularly long paddles have been found in archaeological digs on Oahu. Also, John pointed out lacking fins on the early Hawaiian boards the paddle might have come in handy. Duke Paoa Kahanamoku and other beachboys in the last century performed standup paddle surfing off Waikiki apparently to help in photographing tourists.
John Z riding in 1962
Here is John Zabotocky, forty-four years later
with a longer paddle but still paddling in. Amazing! More at standuppaddles.com/John%20Z..html. Be sure to checkout the video of John Z. at the bottom of the page, it is inspirational to say the least and he shows how it is done. 56 years of stand-up surfing in motion.
John says it is a fun way to head out in smaller (or larger) waves as it is more challenging than regular longboarding. He started fairly recently and hasn't been out in "large waves" yet, by local definition. He was saying nothing more than 4 ft. overhead or roughly 10 ft. swells. Lots of guys like to paddle long downwinders in windswells, This might be of particular appeal to Florida guys in our frequently calm summer conditions. These boards feel like longboards however they react a bit slower and there are all the dynamics involving the paddle. Things like carving, pivoting turns and related footwork. If you're on a small wave and it's about to give up the ghost just start paddling to try to renew your ride. The added visibility is like being in a "fish tower" allowing spotting incoming sets easier. I asked John about the challenges of the sport. In flat water is can be as simple as developing balance while paddling. In waves, knowing how to use the board to punch through surf, to avoid heading downwind with all that board and body surface. This has yet to develop as a high wind sport and perhaps never will except for downwind runs. It's pretty much impossible to do it in wind unless you're going downwind. Too much surface area moving you down wind and paddling upwind typically is not on.
If the incoming wave is small enough, say waist high or lower you can punch through by paddling hard. If the wave is much higher and will breaking on you, you can pivot the board quickly and ride in or jump in and use the leash to anchor the board through the wave. The footwork with a standup rig is similar to that used on a long board but a bit more exaggerated. It is an excellent, full body workout with the constant balancing and paddling. Stand-up paddle surfing can really condition the rider's core. New riders might do well to seek calm water and shorter duration sessions for starters at they develop balance and skills.
Archie Kalepa crossing the Molokai Channel
You can catch waves a bit earlier and more often when standup paddle surfing than in the conventional way. This can even bum normal surfers out at a crowded lineup. Spots that were usually "ruled" by longboarders such as Kanaha are now feeling a bit of competition from the standup guys. Folks may recall that shortboarders can grumble about longboarders grabbing the waves and now the long boarders have some competition. This may not be a good thing. There could be some problems with guys doing the standup surfing at crowded spots. Some fights have been reported at Hookipa because of it. If it gets to a point where there's lots of guys doing it at the more popular spots then there's going to be problems for sure.
Todd Makaha again
So, what does all this have to do with kitesurfing? I asked Paul Menta of TheKitehouse.com about this. Paul said there are strong parallels in board handling particularly if someone is thinking of kiting with a surfboard. Also, it is great cross-training for kiting and a solid workout. Paul also wants to try it out for tandem kitesurfing and even spearfishing. He is introducing standup paddle boarding into his operations at TheKitehouse. Paul tells me that a lot of kiters are taking on this style of surfing.
The guys grab some surf time in TheKitehouse in the Turks & Caicos
If you look around online quite a few other big names have been seen paddling in standing up, folks like Gerry Lopez, Buzzy Kerbox, Brian Keaulana, Loch Eggers, Sean Ordonez, Kelly Slater, Robert "Wingnut" Weaver, Todd Bradley perhaps even Kenny G and Adam Sandler in addition many other watermen, and women.
Laird paddles in.
John pursues stand up surfing as it is a way from him to get into the water on days when it isn't very good for other things. For example if it is way to windy/gusty for kiteboarding as can happen in summer on Maui, he plans to do some downwinders. You can just glide the chop for a long time.
A beer ad inspired by a recent competition in Hawaii
Standup surfing puts the challenge back into tackling smaller waves more suited for longboards that he would pass on as a rule. You get a good workout and keep paddling to extend the ride when the wave backs off at points that would strand you on a longboard. He would use stand-up surfing to cross train for tow-in surfing, which can be a great deal more demanding.
There is a video clip of standup paddle surfing with some footage of Dave Kalama riding a few: standuppaddles.com/MOVIES.html
Women may have an edge over guys in standup surfing in that they may approach things more with finesse than strength. This seems to be the case in kiteboarding at times.
Andrea Moller of the AMAZONE SURF TEAM has a go and it is a workout!
I asked John to describe his most memorable standup session to date. It was his second go at stand-up surfing. He had paddled out to the outer reef about 1/4 mile off Sprecks on a glassy wave day with two friends. The waves were about 4 ft. overhead with no one else out. It was great to work on the dynamics of balance and paddling in such fine conditions complete with turtles surfacing all over the place. Recently he told me about another great session involving perfect head high waves at Sprecks. No one was out with offshore winds with little barrels everywhere. Kiters and surfers like getting "tubed" John tells me standup guys love it too. He got barreled quite a few times that day.
A sequence of images showing a cold water standup ride
More of the same rider. It even shows turns back into and riding through breaking waves at surfingsports.com/Big_Red_Cali_Standup/index.html
I asked John what to do for gear if you don't live in Hawaii where this stuff is located in many shops. He said there is a fair amount online particularly through some of the shapers in the islands. He mentioned HiTech Surf Sports htmaui.com in Kahului, Maui as a good source of gear.
I spoke to Tom Cherry at HiTech Surf Sports in Kahalui, Maui about gear for stand-up paddle surfing. He said men typically ride boards around 12 ft. long while women go for 11 ft. boards. Some paddles are entirely of carbon while others may have an aluminum shaft and carbon paddle blade. Paddle length is determined by rider height and preference being about 1 to 2 ft. taller then the surfer. There is a trend to go longer to improve the reach of the paddle. Paddles go for about $290. to $315.+.
More about paddles at:
Stand-up surfboards range from custom to production epoxy to production soft top construction. Custom boards price out around $1600. to $2000.+ with production epoxy boards at around $1000. to $1200.+ and soft top boards at around $695.. The epoxy boards around 12 ft. and up that have been shaped for standup surfing may have more stability and displacement than the soft tops for heavier riders. There are a variety of shapers fabricating boards these days such as Sean Ordonez, Jimmy Lewis, Mickey Minoz and others. Some guys are even using old long windsurfing boards with square tails or 16 ft. paddleboards. You can sacrifice some performance with the windsurfers and paddleboards in the waves and turns by virtue of weight and board shape.
11 and 12 ft. soft top boards from Surftech on the left and the SOS Boards Big Red on the right. The the softop measures 12' x 26 1/4" x 4 1/4." Big Red measures 11'11" x 29 1/2" x 4."
A lot of photos of Sean Ordonez, a well known shaper riding his Big Red board off Hookipa follow.
and at: sosshapes.com
Additional information on standup paddle surfing can be found at:
And while we're still out in Maui, a look at tow-in surfing ...
John started tow-in surfing about three years ago but has put in about one and a half seasons. He left the islands for a couple of years and had to set it aside until about a year ago. The tow-in season runs from about October through March. He described the course required to obtain the ski decal required by the State to tow-in. I asked him what sort of physical and mental demands tow-in surfing places on the rider? He said you want to be in shape and be able to take a beating and be confident in your swimming. He also strongly felt that you should be capable of paddling into "huge" surf before starting tow-in surfing. There seems to be a lot of guys towing into big surf that they might have trouble handling if they tried to paddle into them. That is paddle by hand, not while standing up.
John tows into a big one
In some ways tow-in surfing, can be "easier" than paddling into surf, as long as things don't go wrong (sounds like like kiteboarding). You get into the wave sooner and may have less of a drop than when you paddle in. You are more manuverable with a small board going fast than in a larger board suitable for paddling into big waves. John feels that if you want to tow into 20 ft. "Hawaiian style" waves (waves for 40 ft. faces) you should be able to paddle into these same waves. I understood prior to this time that guys just couldn't paddle at a high enough speed to catch these big waves. John corrected me in stating that applies but to REALLY big waves, 25 to 30 ft."Hawaiian Style" waves (50 to 60 ft. plus wave faces!). He feels that waves of that size aren't readily manageable by paddling into waves. John indicated that "the drop is still the same, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just easier because you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to paddle and then stand up in the critical section. Aside from wave height, the spot also has a lot to do with the necessity for towing in. Spots where the peak is shifty or waves that are super critical and heavy (like big days in Tahiti at Teahupoo) also require towing in. Jaws has so much wind and is such a gnarly peak that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s much more suited for tow surfing than paddle surfing."
John is into an even larger wave, looking good
I asked him what sort of board he would use for paddling into 40 ft. face waves. He said it would be a "big wave gun" or a 9 to 12 ft. long narrow pintail board specifically designed for big waves. The pointy tail is intended to help the board grip the wave better through a longer rail section during turning. I asked him what the largest wave he has towed into at this point. He said there was a session at Jaws with 30 ft. wave faces. I asked him just how shallow the water is in these tow-in spots. He said that unlike say Pipeline where bottom impact is a serious concern, "hold down" is more of an issue in wiping out in the big tow-in surf. I asked him what his most memorable "hold down" experience has been to date. He said it was probably while surfing at Waimea. He saw a set coming on the horizon, it seemed to turn black. He was sitting deep, about 20 ft. inside the pack as it was super crowded that day. There was a peak barreling in and he concluded he was going to get smashed by this big set. He took off on one of the first waves in an effort to get in pretty far to avoid getting "destroyed." Unfortunately, it sectioned off and closed out. He surfaced after the wipeout for his first breath and saw the next wave with a 30 ft. face looming over him. It broke about 10 ft. in front of him, bounced him off the bottom a couple of times. He surfaced again and was fine.
Hey John, watch out for that left turn. Looking real good.
I asked him if he wears any safety gear when towing in? He said he wears a PFD and a helmet for sure. The most dangerous part of towing in may be all the ski's ripping around. It would be bad to surface from a wipeout and was slam into you. Checking around for some background on Jaws, it has been reported that up to 30 skies might be towing in there at one time. Given the limited area, shoreline shape and wave characteristics you might conclude 15 to 20 skies could create crowded conditions there.
30 ski's, guys in and under the water and monster waves?
So, that's some insight into the new, old sport of standup paddle surfing with a quick look at tow-in surfing. Thanks John for all the info and experiences, have fun and ride on ...
John about to plunge down the face.
Aloha and Mahalo