SUP ‘Surfs’ Up

Tuesday, August 3, 12021 HE

The video below is an informative TED-Ed short film on the history of surfing. It serves as an excellent preamble to this post.


We are away on Vancouver Island for a family vacation. We did a similar trip last year, where I got a lot of paddling in as we were staying right on the water. This year we are staying at the same places but in different units. Vancouver Island is the traditional homeland of the KwakwakaʼwakwNuu-chah-nulth, and Coast Salish peoples.

On the ferry ride over to Departure Bay, I was keen to look at Bowen Island from a different perspective. I had just seen the entire coast on my SUP circumnavigation of Bowen Island the weekend before, but the view from the ferry was a very different vantage point. A little further into our ferry ride, we could see the Cape Roger Curtis Lighthouse at the southwestern tip of Bowen Island. Once we could see west of the Pasley Islands group, we could look up Collingwood Channel and see Hutt Island off in the distance. I pointed it out to our boys.

On Vancouver Island, we were staying near Qualicum Beach. After settling in after our travel day, we checked out the local beach at the resort the following morning. It is a rocky shoreline but perfect for searching for crabs, shells, and other marine treasures. In the afternoon, I did a quick paddle session in the small waves offshore.

The next day we met some friends at Spider Lake. Last year, we did the same thing, but this year the weather was in our favour. Last year it was cloudy and windy, so the kids (and adults) got cold quickly. But this year, with the heatwave, the water was warm and we spent a lot of time in the water. There are frogs on the shoreline, which also kept the kids entertained.

I took advantage of the flat and warm water to practice my pivot/step back and nose 360 turns. It took a few attempts, but I have my nose 360 turn down. At least in flat water conditions.

And then, in the afternoon, I did an ocean paddle and tested my nose 360 turns in some minor waves. I was batting .500, which I was happy with.

We needed a grocery store run, and wanting a change of scenery, I checked the Go Paddling App to look for interesting paddling spots nearby. Qualicum Beach came up as a site, and it reminded me that last year while driving by the beach there looked like there was some light surf. Plus, it was very close to the grocery store, double-score!

Since my SUP lesson, when my instructor Mike mention a SUP surf course he would be instructing in Tofino in the fall, I have been interested to try out some SUP surf. I was hoping to attend the workshop, but it turns out the dates do not work for my family’s schedule. I hope they offer the course in the spring and will try to do it then.

So, when the Qualicum Beach location popped up on Go Paddling, and my memory jogged regarding the surf, I figured it was worth a try. After looking into the details more, it looked like there was potential for some small waves in the morning. See below for a screenshot of the forecast from Windy.com.

Screenshot of the wind forecast from Windy.com.

Here is the wave forecast. Zero-point four of a metre wasn’t anything to write home about. But considering it would be my SUP surf (if I can even call it that) debut, sans lesson, I figured it would be a good starting point. Plus, I was banking on the margin of error resulting in those waves being a bit bigger. The actual waves can be 0.6 metres (i.e. 2 feet) bigger (or smaller) than what is reported. I was hoping for the former (and not the latter).

Screenshot of the wind and wave forecast from Windy.com.

On the drive down I passed by a van parked a bit further up island from where I was heading with a longboard leaned up against it. I debated stopping there, as the spot I was heading to was likely better for a kayak launch, and this longboarder probably knew what they were doing compared to me. But, I decided to continue and see what the conditions were like at my planned destination. I could see a bit of whitewash as I surveyed the shoreline from the road. And seeing the longboard gave me confidence that I wasn’t totally off my rocker to try to surf the waves here.

When I arrived, the tide was low (see below). There was a rocky shoreline that led to a sand bar. Hopefully, it would be sand beyond the bar, so I wouldn’t have to worry about any hazards on the seafloor.

Tide prediction from Northwest Bay from the Water-Level App.

The image below was the view of the rocky beach leading up to the sand bar.

The view from Qualicum Beach.

I made my way to the water’s edge. It looked to be sandy from there, out to where it got deeper. I got my kit in order. I didn’t clue into it at the time, but I was using a coiled leash. A faux pas for the surf, as when you come off of your board it will spring back toward you (a note for next island trip is to bring my straight leash).

I started out on my knees as the crashing waves, though small, were still intimidating to me. A little way out into the surf I tried to stand. While I wasn’t knocked off of my board I was too unsteady to stay standing. I wasn’t able to control my balance forward and backward on the bar with the oncoming waves. After getting jarred by a third oncoming wave I decided to drop back to my knees and paddle out through the break section. In hindsight, it was that I was in a parallel stance, rather than a more staggered stance.

A little further out I was able to stand and paddle which allowed me to get comfortable on my feet. I went out further than needed to be in the surf with my logic being, one, the surf was quite shallow water, so I wanted to get past that. And two, I wanted to get a bit more comfortable on my legs and I reasoned that more paddling, both out and in, would allow me to do that before I was in the surf again.

I went into my step back/pivot turn and turned into the waves aimed straight into shore. The initial waves were no different than some of the more open water/downwind wave paddling I have done. I got into a good rhythm catching a few bumps. As I got closer to the shoreline I could feel my speed pick up and I was able to catch one really good wave where I could feel the front end of the board floating through the air!

When I got into shore I decided to turn from kneeling rather than try my luck with pivot turn in the surf zone. But shortly after turning, I was able to get up to standing in a staggered stance and ride paddle out in standing.

My second run was the best where I was able to catch a really good wave.

The rest of the runs were good but I wasn’t able to get the same speed and length of ride that I got on my second run. But the positives were that the only time I came off of my board was in the shallow water where I was attempting a pivot turn and I was able to jump off my board to my feet. Another positive was that I gained confidence in paddling out through the surf while standing. The future test will be doing that in bigger surf.

Here is the view from the boardwalk at the end of my session. Like I said, small waves, but enough white water for an introductory session.

The view from the boardwalk.

And a short clip taken from the same location as the photo above.

Below are a few resources that I found helpful when we were in Hawaii pre-pandemic, and I was contemplating giving SUP surfing a try. In the end, I chickened out. It was too unfamiliar for the water and etiquette. Not to mention the waves were pretty big. But, I did remember a few of the tips. I did a refresher on these later in the day after my mini-SUP session. The most helpful piece that I will try in a future session is riding across the wave to lengthen the ride rather than going straight into shore.

SUPBoarder has a great series titled Becoming a SUP Surfer, which covers some of the basics.

And another good resource is this one from StandUpPaddlingTV title SUP Surfing 101.

StandUpPaddleTV also has this one titled Launching a SUP in the Surf. The SUPBoarder series also covers this in a later episode in their Becoming a SUP Surfer series.

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