Catching waves on your stand up paddle board is just the first step on your journey to becoming a SUP surfing rockstar. Once you’re happily dropping in and hooning along the unbroken face there’s a whole heap of new skills to be learnt.
A green (or blue) watery wall is akin to a blank canvas and is just begging you to draw unique lines – as an artist would do with their brush.
The (front side) bottom turn
Most SUP surfers who’ve progressed from the catching waves stage will be quite happy taking off and gliding down the line. However, if you want to be a more dynamic rider then you’ll need to learn how to bottom turn correctly as it’s this one manoeuvre which will set you up for the rest of your ride.
A solid bottom turn can be split (generally) into two types. A bottom turn on a steep and fast wave and a bottom turn on a slow and gutless wave.
The easiest bottom turn to complete with any style is when you have speed from the get go. A steep (not necessarily big) wall of water will give you this.
Photo by Fi Plavenieks
When you pick your wave it ideally needs to be peaking and your timing needs to be such that as you take off the wave it’s at its steepest and therefore fastest.
As you drop down the wave face you’re aiming to rock the board over onto its inside rail, timing it so you’re fully committed as you reach the bottom (or trough). With your increased speed you can stand further back on your board which allows your fins to engage and bite. Keep your knees bent, your trunk (stomach and chest) tight, shoulders square and your head looking along the wave in the direction of travel – don’t gaze at your feet!
You should have put a few extra paddle strokes in as you dropped in, for even more speed, and as you come off the bottom you should be aiming to bring your paddle forward ready for the next move.
If you overcook your bottom turn then you can bring your paddle level with your body and lean on it slightly as it drags across the wave face. If you’re riding particularly big swells, with masses of speed, then dragging your paddle will serve a stabilizer – just be ready to bring your paddle the remainder of the way forwards as you float back up to the lip.
A decent bottom turn should slingshot you into the next part of the wave.
If you’re riding soft waves then you’ll need to take off at an angle and gather momentum and speed – which could take a few ‘up and downs’ or pumps. Once you’ve enough ‘oomph’ drop down into the trough and complete your bottom turn as described.
How you approach your bottom turn depends on how well you’ve ‘read’ the wave – something that comes with experience.
The (front side) top turn
Once you mastered the bottom turn it’s time to work on other moves you can throw into your repertoire.
The easiest, but no less dynamic, turn is an ‘off the top’ where you aim to come up to the lip, just as it’s breaking, and use the froth/lip to punt you back down – throwing buckets of spray as you do so (ideally).
Much of this move is about timing and reading the wave. If the swell looks like a solid wall then carve along it until you spot the wave is about to throw or close out. Your vision should be focused down the line so as to spot these types of section.
Photo by Fi Plavenieks
Once you’ve noted where the lip is going to throw you’re aiming to perform a dynamic bottom turn and project up towards the ‘feathering’ lip. As you come off the bottom your paddle should have been brought forwards in anticipation of the move.
You should experience a sense of weightlessness, which is fine for a split second. About half way up the wave face your weight should start shifting to your outside rail with the aim of exposing the underside of your board to the lip. As you hit the apex of the wave you should be banked right over onto your edge, paddle embedded in the lip, head looking in the direction of travel and your body low and compact ready for the rebound.
As you whip off the top and start to fall back down the wave face stick a paddle stroke in, which gives more speed and projection, and with the blade now behind you, you can lean on it slightly and push with your back foot. This will ‘squirt’ the tail sending spray flying.
If the wave ‘shuts down’ then that’s usually the end of your ride, however, if you have a new section wall up then your top turn will give you a boost of speed which will set you up for your next bottom turn and allow you to keep riding.
A solid bottom turn is the key to wave riding prowess. Master this first and then you’ll have a whole host of options. The off the top described is just one of these.
The key thing to remember with riding waves is that it’s all open to interpretation which allows riders to develop their own style. There is no right way of doing things – if there were the sport would be rather dull.
Use your imagination and go for it!
This year’s NWF will feature some of the UK’s top coaches on hand who will be sharing their key tips. And there’s no better way of developing your skills than hanging out with likeminded people. Get yourself along to 2013’s event and see your skills improve.
Tez Plavenieks is a freelance writer who loves windsurfing, SUP, surfing, snowboarding, drums, art and beer. If he’s not out sliding sideways then you’ll find him producing articles, stories and content revolving around his passions. Check out more at www.tezplavenieks.com