Friday, September 21, 2012

Stand Up Paddle Etiquette, part 1

Irony.  Feigned ignorance.  I am constantly confronted by conflicting thoughts on the sport of stand up paddling.  On one side, as a traditional surfer that spent my whole life trying to abide by and sometimes enforce the rules of the lineup and on the other side, as a relatively recently landlocked waverider that would rather stand up paddle than canoe or kayak on the many lakes and rivers close to where I reside.  Many of my friends on the front lines of the surf v. sup battle are decisively anti-stand up paddle.  Janitors, sweepers and oarons are common terms used to describe stand up paddlers.  And I understand their argument.  In fact I side with them a lot of the time.  But I also find SUPing enjoyable on my local stretch of the Deschutes river and have met many new friends because of the sport of stand up paddling.

At the dawn of this new sport I had an encounter with one of the icons of the sport.  In fact, it was at a time that there were only a handful of SUPers on the planet and the equipment was borrowed from the tandem surfing or sailboarding world.  The encounter was probably one of the first confrontations of the type that now happen every day at surf spots all over the world.  Here is the scenario, on a big day at a very crowded and very famous surf spot, a spot that I had spent years and years earning a coveted place in the lineup, I had to deal with a "traveling pro" using a paddle and a BIG board to his advantage.  The waves were fairly big by Southern California standards so the adrenaline level was high.  One of the big sets came and I had put myself in position to take whichever wave I wanted.  But at the regular takeoff spot.  I had never had to deal with another surfer, on a 14 foot board with a paddle, taking off 100 yards outside and using the paddle to make the closeout section.  I made a quick decision that this was MY wave no matter who and what was on it and I did a pretty cool late drop behind the guy as he flew by.  It was a good wave.  It was not as much fun riding this wave as it would have been if I had it to myself but the real bummer was that the other guy cut back three times into me, twice colliding rails and the last time banging my shins with his board.  If you know me, you would understand that this wasn't going to go without a discussion regardless of whether he was paddle surfing or just surfing.  Traveling pro surfers should know better than to force themselves on a crowded contentious lineup and that day wasn't the place to introduce his new version of the sport.  He chose to use a paddle to better his chances.  The paddle was THE reason that he had gotten the wave.  I have enough skills to have put myself in a better position to catch the wave than the other 200 surfers in the water but the paddle allowed one to take off where nobody else could.  This is the crux of the problem between surfing as we traditionally understand it and paddle surfing that is growing exponentially in popularity by the minute; using a paddle to take an advantage over others that don't.  A heated discussion ensued.  And then two weeks later he did it again to another member of that lineup that didn't deserve that form of disrespect.  So the sport did not get off to a good start at this particular surf spot.

I'll get straight to the point.  Using an unfair advantage to get more waves than you would have otherwise is wrong.  It can be a longboard at a shortboard spot or it could be a paddle and a SUP board but the result is the same.  It is totally disrespectful to the others if you are using this advantage to up your wave count.  And the old argument that the ocean is a free place so anyone can do what they want doesn't hold weight in my opinion.  There has been a long history of surfers policing themselves to ensure that there is some sort of order in the lineup.  Some places have a pecking order that is ruled with an iron fist and others are free-for-alls.  It is the duty of the individual to understand how the order is settled BEFORE you force yourself on a lineup.  Take the time to learn how to integrate into the lineup that you seek.  I promise, going out and trying to take as many waves as you can to prove your skill level will not get you the respect that you desire regardless of how good you think you are.  Letting good ones go will gain you far more resect in the long run.  The surf spot should dictate the level of skill needed to catch a wave.  Better waves will have better surfers.  If you are just starting out, find a spot that is known for learning how to ride.  The same applies to stand up paddle surfing.  Find out which spots are more amicable to SUPers and then ease your way into catching a few waves.  Going back to the original point, you don't want to take an unfair advantage with equipment and turn that into a great day of riding waves at the expense of others.  It is just not proper surf etiquette and should be applied to SUP etiquette as well.

There is also a safety factor involved here.  The better surf spots are so because they offer a better wave for the experienced.  And this usually means more skill and knowledge in how to get out into the lineup as well as return to the beach.  There is also skill needed to keep out of the way of other surfers,  to deal with currents that move through the lineup and to know what to do when a clean-up set comes.  This is all part of surfing and the knowledge is needed to protect yourself, as well as others out there with you.  Before paddle surfing, your arms were the tool to get you out.  At quite a few spots in the world, the ocean will not let you even get out into the lineup without a certain level of skill and fitness.  That fact controls who is out there.  But now the type of equipment and the fact that you can use a paddle to help propel you has allowed some without the level of experience needed into places that they never would have in the past.  This puts those novices in danger of hurting themselves or others and presents a much bigger challenge to rescue personnel that are looking after all of us.  Again, the responsibility is on the individual to learn where they should or shouldn't be.  However I think it is also the responsibility of those with the experience and understanding of tradition to pass along that knowledge.  Educating the new participants of the sport of how things work will go a long way to making our lineups better for everybody.  New SUP enthusiasts should be open and willing to listen to those that are upholding those traditions.

The irony in all of this is that after being one of the original skeptics of stand up paddling I find myself owning a business that is dedicated to it.  Our business is located in a wonderful place on this planet far from the ocean.  We teach people everyday how to enjoy stand up paddling and get people equipped to enjoy all the fine waterways we have around here.  My whole life was spent at the beach surfing and SUPing has kept me connected to my board even though I now look at the sun setting into the Cascade Mountains and not the Pacific Ocean.  I think it is part of my job to inform people where the sport evolved from and the traditions and practices that have existed from the beginning.  It is my duty to let people know that the original form of surfing existed first and it and the people that practice it should be given the respect that comes with that.  Stand up paddle surfers should not use the paddle as an advantage over traditional surfers.  Finding a peak to yourself and finding new spots to ride have long been a part of surfing and should be a part of paddle surfing as well.  The freedom to enjoy the ocean is only restricted by the ability of others to enjoy it with you.  Don't use that freedom as an argument to do what you want.  Respect other's right to enjoy the freedom of the ocean and you will experience what only the Hawaiians have a word for.  Aloha.

1 comment:

  1. I should clarify. Never should you use any skill, technique or otherwise to get more than your "fair share" of waves. Skill and experience in the water is earned over the years and those that put their time in deserve respect. However that doesn't give those the right to be a wave hog.