Say No To Oahu’s Potential SUP Ban

Three's a crowd. Photo: JP Van Swae
Three’s a crowd. Photo: JP Van Swae

A partial ban on SUP surfers in Waikiki lineups is being considered in a Hawaiian state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) meeting on August 27 in Honolulu.

Safe Surf Hawaii, “A website dedicated to safe and fair sharing of Hawaii’s surfzone (sic) resources,” is spearheading what they’re calling the Safe Surfzones Pilot Project (“SSPP”).

SSH believes that the dangers and number of SUPs in lineups around Honolulu has gotten unruly and needs to be controlled. The project, if accepted by the DLNR, would ban SUP users on a limited basis, from 3-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at Courts, Concessions and Kewalos (local surf breaks between Ala Moana Harbor and Kewalo Basin). The project would last for one year before reassessment.

We’re not for a SUP ban. Not only because of the initiative itself but also because we’re against government regulation in our surf breaks. Why bring political policy into one of the last places we go to find freedom?

SSH is pursuing this for, “safety and fair access to public resources,” according to their website. Encouraging people to come out to the meeting, they continue: “Tell the DLNR that it’s time to do something about the: (1) safety problems; and (2) “Wavehogging (sic) problems; that are being caused by the use of SUPs in Hawaii’s surfzones.”

Opposition to the project has blossomed too. A petition authored by Jupiter Kajiwara is circulating around the web, championing a motto that seems reasonably in line with the Duke’s ideology: “Hawaiian surfing should be kept free of rules and regulations … No one person or group should tell us when, where and how we can surf.”

The reasons for the project are nothing that we as standup paddlers haven’t heard before. Many SUP models are big and can be a liability in a crowded lineup, especially in the hands of inexperienced paddlers. However, those same reasons are often negated by talented and experienced SUP surfers. But veteran riders are also causing “wavehogging” problems that the SSH mentions.

I see similar conflicts in Orange County. I recently watched two paddlers on longboard SUPs wobble their way out into a crowded lineup, paddle around everyone and take off on the first two set waves that came through. Then one of them paddled back out and did it again, without waiting his turn. I paddled up to him and gently let him know that it wasn’t cool. He stayed on the inside for the rest of the session watching the rotation of the lineup.

On the wave-hogging front, a couple weeks ago I observed a well-known SUP pioneer out at a crowded, famous Southern California break taking off on anything that moved. Yes, he has prestige and history in the surf and SUP world, but many people in the lineup didn’t know who he was. I was a little ashamed by his behavior and felt the vibe turn dark toward him, myself and everybody else holding a paddle.

There’s little doubt that instances like these cause problems.

There are two solutions as I see it: first, inexperienced standup paddlers should not surf in crowded and more advanced lineups until they gain the necessary experience. Period. This may take years. They should surf spots like Queens around Honolulu, or Dogpatch at San Onofre, not the spots mentioned in the project. If you see someone endangering people in the lineup, set them straight. Social policing trumps bureaucratic policy any day of the week. Too many other things in our lives—roads, schools, homes, dog parks, camping areas—are regulated by the government. Let’s not invite that into our surf breaks.

Second, experienced paddle surfers need to follow the rules of surfing! Come on people. Yield to the inside. Take turns. Anybody taking waves on an SUP is an ambassador for the sport, even if he is a famous one. We are a target. Just because you can catch every wave doesn’t mean you should. When you’re sharing waves with people in an urban area like the south shore of Oahu or Southern California or anywhere really, initiatives like this are spurred by a lack of respect for other surfers.

As someone who surfs both a traditional surfboard and a SUP, I don’t like crowds. I often deal with crowded lineups by not frequenting them. If I feel like catching any wave I want, I surf uncrowded beachbreak (it still exists, even in populated Orange County). If I go to a well-known spot, I mine the inside for waves that no one wants before going out to the main peak. Then I wait my turn and take off on a good one. Surfing by moonlight ain’t bad either. There are a myriad of options to steer clear of conflict.

We CAN avoid official regulations. But it’s up to us to take the high road. There is absolutely no way we want a law regulating how or what we surf, where and when. If you, as standup paddlers, see another one of our brethren breaking the rules—by ignorance or otherwise—say something. Because what they do affects all of us.

There’s no doubt that having SUPs in a lineup is dangerous business. But shortboards are dangerous too. And so are longboards. Experienced surfers often fly down the line with no regard for other people. In short, every time you get into the ocean you’re putting yourself at risk no matter what craft you’re on. And as much as I dug, I couldn’t find a reliable statistic on a serious or fatal injury from a standup board impact in a surf zone (here’s one from a paddler’s own fin). More people in the lineup undoubtedly means more danger but it should be up to us to regulate the surf zone, not the government. If this project goes forward, more regulations around the world may follow.

And as far as people taking more than their fair share, wave hogs use every wave-riding craft, from shortboards to longboards to bodyboards to SUPs. If you regulate one, you might as well regulate them all. And that’s good for no one.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re on Oahu, check out the meeting:
AUGUST 27, 2014 5:30 P.M
THOMAS JEFFERSON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
342 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

More info on the Safe Surfzones Pilot Project.

More info on the Change.org petition.

More on the conflict between wave-riders.