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
342 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

More info on the Safe Surfzones Pilot Project.

More info on the petition.

More on the conflict between wave-riders.


  • mauicountry

    certify new comers properly like scuba. regulate the individuals. not the sport.

  • francois

    Hi Thomas, i approuve everything you just said but you seem to forget the case of the “desperate” sup in the middle of 100 surfers doing everything they can to kick out the SUP, and because of the ability of a shortboard to drop in some waves way after the SUP (the bad guy is not always the SUP). I do not accept the fact that because it’s crowded sup should go. I’ve been hurt twice by a longboard with nooooo leash, one time it broke my 2000 $ board and the guy was still complaining that i was taking toooooo much waves when i was only trying to get one. Waves do not belong to anybody and SUP is not a brand new sport it’s actually shortboard the young guy. How do you want to say sup on right surf on left when i have some friend surfing so i’m no longer allowed to hangout with them? What is the next step? I believe the problem is the same like 30 years ago, when snowboarding appeared in the mountains except the old surfers who are complaining about SUP right now were the snowboarder that day. i say if you are mad in the water when you are so lucky to be able to go at the beach you’d rather stay home!

  • danyel

    Strange discussion. People who surf or SUP regarly sometimes think they own the ocean. The ocean is mother nature and mother nature is the only one who owns the ocean. The ocean doesn’t say surfers in, SUP out. The ocean takes surfers or SUP out when she feels like it.

  • Jim Hayes

    Focus is off…….has little to nothing to do with the equipment and everything to do with the individual riding it. If you’re spent any time in the water, you’ve seen it all from every one of the groups represented out in the surf. A little common courtesy and a lot more respect for each other would go a long way here. At this point it’s important to band together, stay focused and just say No to bringing any sort of governmental regulation into the mix! Take a look around and point out one incidence where any form of government brings joy into your life. Surf pono, live a little Aloha and all will be as it is meant to be. If you’ve forgotten why you paddle out on whatever it is you do, might be time to remember what made you leave the shore… have some FUN! Free of all the BS that surrounds each and every one of us on a daily basis. Pretty simple…….treat others out there the way you’d like to be treated and let’s get back to having FUN!

  • Jon Kinley

    great article-ill link it to a few popular sup blogs. If the ban is ever overturned at Old Mans and Doho you can bet im gonna sup surf there and i will be among the first to tell the weeble wobbles to head to dogpatch for a while to hone their skills. It will take time but eventually, just like at the other spots where both prone and sup surfers co-exist it will all work itself out. Self Regulation is much preferable to forced regulation.

  • Jake

    No more regulating! SUP surfing is no more dangerous than prone. A kook is a kook. A newbie is a newbie and a jerk is a jerk no matter what they ride.

  • Gypsy Surfer

    Jim Hayes said it best. You are right on target with everything you had to say.

  • Pingback: Oahu's SUP Ban Proposal Withdrawn | SUP Magazine

  • ponobill

    Probably time to have a chat with the companies that rent SUP boards. Some are responsible businessmen providing good service, but we’ve probably all encountered the fly-by-night operators renting without a minutes worth of instruction on safety, etiquette, or which way to point the paddle. It’s not a happy thing to see someone sideways in the middle of the lineup on a 12 foot board, no leash, and his paddle backwards.
    Beyond that, if we don’t want to see even more backlash, we need to self regulate. That means consciously and obviously waiting your turn in a lineup. And unfortunately it means saying something to people who don’t. We’re not surfing to be the wave police, but there’s not a lot of choice, and the other surfers expect us to deal with our own crap.
    Personally I’m resolved to start avoiding the more popular spots. The main difference between a popular break and an empty one is good parking. Any sup surfers on larger boards have the benefit of mobility. I don’t know what you folks with the six foot sinkers are going to do. But I can go to the outer reefs almost as easily as my beloved and overcrowded lower Kanaha. I’ll just have to keep my nerve up and wear the impact vest.

  • Nitha

    Sorry this is a little late,as for your digging to find serious injury from sup knuckleheads here is one. Kalohe Blumfield North Shore born and raised(North Shore C&C lifeguard) hit in the head by experienced SUP’er ~heart stopped , CPR near drowning at Chuns Reef Oahu. 5″thick board 30″wide . Give my a break . I’m 56yrs old and go between a 6’6 and a 7’0 . I’ve built surfboards on the North Shore for over 25yrs, lived here for 40.The tension will never go away as long as SUP’ers believe they have a right in the line-up. Look at Kewalo’s, only swimmers and bodyboarders. Works for me and everybody else except the SUP populace.No way to compete with a boat with a paddle…….:-)

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