By Robert Stehlik
For me, one of the most challenging things to learn on a SUP was how to catch waves. Once I was on the wave, surfing the board was easy because I’d been surfing for years. But I had a hard time catching the waves standing: I turned too fast and was sideways when the wave came, I fell when doing pivot turns and I blew waves that I could have easily caught if I was prone surfing.
When you are starting out, seek out an uncrowded break where you won't get in anyone's way. Small waves and calm conditions the best for learning. Never try to catch a wave that someone else is already surfing on or is taking off on. From the beach, watch where the waves are breaking, how frequent the sets are, where you want to sit and how the currents are working. The waves push water in and it flows back out through channels. These out-flowing channels are the easiest way to paddle back out. If you have never surfed, think about learning to surfing on a prone long board first and get help from a friend or a good instructor.
Some of the advantages you have when you are standing up are that you can see approaching waves further out than when you are sitting down. The paddle allows you to paddle faster than you could with your hands, the longer board allows you to glide into waves earlier and the drop is easier because you are already standing up. All of this gives you an unfair advantage over prone surfers, which is why good etiquette is so important when standup surfing.
When you are prone surfing, as you see a wave coming, you point the board straight towards the beach and start paddling hard to catch it. If you try to do this on a standup--especially from a standstill and with poor stroke technique--the board will turn away from where you want to go. Then you start switching the paddle back and forth to make the board go straight, losing momentum and pointing in the wrong direction as the wave passes underneath you.
What really helped me catch more waves was this simple trick: turn into the wave as you are catching it. With the board pointed out towards the waves, watch for approaching sets and choose one you think you can catch. Turn towards the left or right depending on where the wave is peaking and build up some speed as you are paddling parallel to the wave. As the wave gets close, you can use steering strokes to turn faster (towards the beach) as needed.
You should also start moving into the surf stance as you are turning. If the wave is still sloping, keep your weight forward in the middle of the board and paddle hard to catch the wave, then move back as soon as you are on the wave and it gets steeper. If the wave is already getting steep as it approaches, you need to move your weight back even before the takeoff.
If you keep your feet parallel as you catch the wave, you can't brace yourself for the quick acceleration and either fall backwards as the board slips out underneath you or the nose plunges as you go over the handlebars. Practicing pivot turns with your feet in the surf stance is a good preparation for catching waves.
As you get better at turning into waves as you are catching them, you will eventually be able to paddle out towards the peak of an approaching set and at the last moment do a quick pivot turn on the steep face as you drop into it, which is an amazing rush. Good luck!
For more excellent tools and trick for SUP check out SUP magazine’s Beginner’s Guide, on newsstands and iTunes now.