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Learning to Stand Up Paddle Surf, the Right Tools for the Job.

The aroma of coffee. Accompanied by the good vibe sounds of Reggae. As the the fingers tap the steering wheel. Around each bend in the road my head looks for an opening. Hoping to lay eyes on what lies on the other side of natural barrier created by Mother Nature.


Only a day out of my junior year at Wentworth Institute of Technology. An engineering, construction management and architectural college located near Fenway Park in the heart of my beloved city, Boston, MA. I boarded a plane to Charleston, SC to take a job as a Wakeboard Instructor at Trophy Lakes in John's Island, SC.


As I arrived, only a few months away from 21. My ego was the bigger than the state of South Carolina. And my life experiences could fit into the palm of my hand.


But, I knew it all.


As my wakeboard bag wrapped around the luggage belt. My back pack in hand, I was fumbling around with my board bag. A nice gentlemen offered his assistance and I turned to him, full of piss and vinegar, masshole tone. And said "all set." With a smile and making a strong statement with his eyes.


The words, "you a yankee" hit my ears harder than being called any four letter noun that society views as explicit. A lightning fast response rolled off my tongue, "I hate the Yankees, let's go Red Sox." With my chest puffed out and ready to go to verbal war, he just shook his head, turned and walked away. He stopped. And with that same shit eatin' grin. He said "boy, you got a lot to learn, you in the south now."


With my wakeboard bag on my back, back pack in my hand I laughed and made my way to the airport exit.


Within moments a red pick up truck with a black lab, pulled up. A man with a pony tail, hair down to his mid back. Jumped out, reached his hand out and said, "I'm Ken Hall, welcome to Charleston." This moment has been forged into my memory in a way that I can not really understand or describe. What I do know, is the result of this meeting.


A few days later, thanks to my new friend. I received a thorough education on living in the South. And what a Yankee was, and not the damn baseball team.


The lessons Ken provided were endless. But one forever modified the landscape of my life.


The introduction to the surf culture.


I watched September Sessions, a movie with this unknown signer, a Hawaiian surfer, Jack Johnson and a cast of other household surf names, a newly retired Kelly Slater. The more I watched the more I became inclined to surf. And that moment was just around the corner.


Fast forward a bunch of years later, I believe 2007. Attending Ken's bachelor party. I tried Stand Up Paddling. Cruising around a man made ski lake, I had no clue what this big surfboard was. A couple years after that, back in Charleston, SC. I tried it again, this time in the waves. Humbled and discouraged. The journey of paddling paused. Right there at that ego battle.


With the universe hard at work. My journey into the world of stand up paddling started to evolve. And I found myself at the beach every moment there were waves. No clue how to surf or what the rules to the game were, my education came from a few friends. One a few thousand miles away in California, Mr. Ken Hall.


A move to San Clemente brought me within striking distance of my dear friend. We shared a few waves. And many great times with his family. It came full circle. Once again.


Today as I write this story, a long winded one. I wanted to share my take and a few tips on stand up paddle surfing and how I have learned to love the progression.


As stand up paddleboarding evolved, the equipment did as well. This rapid process left the original roots and concepts in the rear view mirror. Evolution at its basic fundamentals. One of the changes I became involved with is riding smaller and smaller stand up paddle surf, or paddle surf boards.


First it was 10', then 9' then in the 7's.


This put me on watch for the perfect swell. And turning my nose down to smaller waves. Wind blown. Or soft.


If it was not perfect. I was not going.


After the Battle of the Paddle in 2014

, where we took on the heavy waves of Salt Creek. I made a vow to learn how to surf my raceboard in any condition.


Wednesday was my surf day. Whether it was big. Small or in between. I rode my 12'6 in the surf. This started me on a new journey. And brought me back to the roots of the sport of stand up paddling, riding big boards on small waves so we could surf no matter what. And get a workout in so when the big waves arrived we were ready.



Raceboard Surfing photo by Mike Muir


The raceboard Wednesday evolved into anytime I headed to SanO, to have the raceboard with me. Unless the swell was pumping.


With raceboards changing and now the standard being 14'. I began to modify the rule of going to the beach with the raceboard. What replaced it was riding big boards. Boards over 9'.


The reason was two fold.

  1. Bigger board equals more waves especially on small days.

  2. The bigger boards can actually surf really well.

This has changed my days on the water surfing stand up paddleboards. And has opened my eyes to the world of traditional surfing. Which Ken started me on 18 years ago, then again 6 years ago.


If the surf is messy or the line up busy I'll paddle out a 7' fun shape surf board. Something that I graduated down from the 9' long board.


There are always exceptions and this past week was one of them. I did paddle out to a busy line up on my stand up paddleboard. And in really good waves with some size. The reason for me doing this is simple, my ability level allows it and I feel more in control. As surfing (traditional) I am a beginner. For anyone learning to surf. With a paddle or without. Get a lesson. For the simple reasons of learning how to navigate through the waves. And when going out is a good time. No one wants to get humbled, scared or hurt trying something new. Put the odds in our favor by putting the ego on the shelf and learning from someone that loves to share the experience.


The next piece. If riding a big board sounds like something of interest. Start on the smallest waves possible. And keep a safe distance from other people. Including surfer, beach goers or swimmers. We didn't learn to drive in rush hour traffic in New York City. We learned in a safe controlled environment.


And one more piece. If we don't live there. And we see people in the water surfing. Without paddles. Unless an invitation has been sent to us. Paddling out to everyone and catching waves in front of them. Is the equivalent of cutting the bride and groom off in the wedding buffet line. Not only will you get a few nice words sent in your direction. The invitation to the anniversary party is off the table.


Surfing is an activity that I love. As well as many others. We can share waves, water and beaches. And this is common practice amongst the culture. However there are always exceptions. Doing our homework of proper etiquette and knowing our ability level is a great way to keep the fun alive. And the invites rolling in.










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