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Battle of the boards erupts over paddle surfing

Stand-up paddle surfers use larger boards and paddles to catch waves, but traditional surfers resent the intrusion of the often-novice boarders in their waters.

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Mr. Bass, who prefers stand-up surfing when the waves aren’t big enough for shortboarding, says SUP is like having too much of a good thing.

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“People see stand-up riders catching waves and suddenly they’re everyone’s enemy,” he says. “There are some beaches where there’s such a negative vibe that stand-up surfers don’t even step foot in the water.”

On a recent weekend afternoon at Topanga State Beach in Los Angeles County, nearly 40 surfers bobbed offshore without a single SUP. The crowd at Malibu was similar, as Sunny Chang, an outdoor instructor for the store REI, was just finishing up her session.

Ms. Chang says contrary to what traditional surfers think, she believes SUP riders are always welcome.
“It’s just a slightly different way of surfing,” says Chang, her 9-foot, 2-inch longboard tucked under her arm. “Everyone is entitled to surf.”

But Jefferson Wagner, a Malibu city councilman, disagrees. “Stand-up paddle boarders should be banned from the surf zone,” says Mr. Wagner, who owns Zuma Jay, a surf shop that is a Malibu icon. “SUPs are too large and bulky for a person to control around other people.”

Most SUPs are nine to 10 feet long, not much different than longboards. But they are at least an inch and a half thicker and wider than traditional boards. And many SUP riders don’t wear leashes to keep their boards from tumbling toward surfers and swimmers closer to shore.

“I can just see some unsuspecting family visiting from the East Coast getting slammed by one of these boards set loose in the water,” Wagner says.

Kayaks are already banned at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach, so Wagner doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to banish SUPs as well. Of course, the cost of stand-up surfboards could end up being more of an impediment than any government restrictions or gnarly vibes in the water. Most SUPs, often carbon-wrapped, run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, and that usually doesn’t include the $250 paddle.

Freddie Morales, a longboarder, says he has no problem with SUPs “in the lineup” as long as stand-up riders and traditional surfers respect each other.

“There used to be a rivalry among longboarders and shortboarders, but that has basically dissipated,” says Mr. Morales, who works at Masi Custom Surfboards in San Diego. “I suspect the same will eventually happen between SUP and traditional surfers.”


Some resistance to SUP clearly remains more philosophical than pragmatic. Many purists believe using a paddle and a lumbering board is like surfing with a pontoon boat.

They prefer the purity of using arms and legs to propel themselves into a wave and then relying on their own dexterity and balance and feel to negotiate the water – in other words, “true” surfing.

“I have no interest in trying SUP,” says Chris Dewind, a devoted shortboarder and college student from Malibu. “You see these SUP riders sitting way outside or on the shoulder [of a point break], and they just don’t care about the other surfers.”

Mr. Dewind admits that it is more difficult to catch a wave on a shortboard than a SUP, but “I still think they should go find their own peaks – away from traditional surfers.”

Still, not everyone believes there needs to be segregated surf zones. Greg Bonann, a Los Angeles County lifeguard and creator of the TV series “Baywatch,” draws a comparison between SUVs and smaller cars.

“One is bigger, and you don’t want to get hit by it, but there is no reason that you can’t share the road together,” Mr. Bonann says. Then he offers a piece of pure laid-back L.A. advice to SUPs: “Surf politely, enjoy one another, and enjoy the waves.”