Santa Cruz has always been known for its agressive surfers – shortboarders vs. longboarders, valleys vs. locals – the fight for turf on the surf rages.
Now there is a new sport emerging, Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) and it's causing some controversy in the already crowded summer waters off Santa Cruz. With endorsements from the likes of supermodel Marisa Miller, movie stars, pro athletes and surfers it appears SUP'ing is firmly here to stay.
While there are a lot of ways the average person can enjoy SUP'ing, including lakes, rivers, harbors and various other calm water spots, the issue in this surf capital is whether there is room for a big board and paddle alongside traditional surfers.
Before I can get into the SUP vs surfer debate, I must discuss the attitude of the surfers in the water.
Santa Cruz has world-renowned waves and in the short span of coast we inhabit, there are dozens of quality surf breaks ranging from beginner to advanced with one major problem. The ocean never really gets too hard to access, therefore allowing SUPs to easily access the breaks once reserved for surfers.
Most people that are engaging SUPs are just being introduced to the ocean and they have begun to show up in the lineup much to the dismay of local surfers.
Now I would be remiss to not allow the perspective of the waterman, the surfer who can do it all. When in Hawaii if a SUPer shows up in the lineup, he is greeted with the same amount of respect as a short-boarder. Heck in Hawaii as long as you can paddle out and surf you will be OK, regardless of the vehicle you are surfing.
On a recent trip to the North Shore I watched as one of our group took a 10-foot SUP out at Sunset with waves well over 10 feet. He snapped the board, but he was holding his own.
However, the surf there does the job of weeding inexperienced people from the more advanced breaks.
Not so in Santa Cruz, where the breaks are more friendly, and gentler on amateurs.
But just because you can does not mean you should. No matter what you use to be in the water, be it a longboard, shortboard, bodyboard or SUP, there is a pecking order in the Santa Cruz waters and if you fail to realize this it can be a painfully humbling experience.
The surf in Santa Cruz rarely ever gets so advanced that it does the job of limiting people based on experience. More than once I have thought to myself "how did this person make it out here?" when I am sitting in the lineup.
Surfing in Santa Cruz is tribalistic, aggressive and downright territorial. We have always been known for being innovators of surf, so when anything other than a shortboard paddles out, the temperature cranks up quickly.
The key problem is that people believe they are entitled to use the ocean however they want. The issue at hand here is the breaks in Santa Cruz are very crowded and if you add a 10-foot SUP plus a paddle combined with an inexperienced waterman, you could have a deadly combination.
Just like the surf schools guiding people properly so as to not endanger them with the locals or the surf, SUP'ers need to recognize that while they can be allowed to exist in the water, they may need to designate their own break to avoid continual conflicts.
I am not sure where that break would be, but I do know that on the horizon, we will begin to see more and more conflict around SUP'ers and surfers.
Most surfers would agree that SUP'ers anywhere but in the most crowded breaks is acceptable. While SUP'ing is a great sport for core training and a lot of great surfers cross over by participating in contests and using it to continue their water time on flat days, they would be hesitant to paddle out into a crowded lineup.
All I can say is Santa Cruz has its roots in cutting edge surfing and skating and when something comes along that doesn't fit that mold, then all hell breaks loose.
My opinion? After traveling the world and surfing, I think that if you know your limits, understand your surroundings and just like anything else make sure you participate safely with consideration to the other people in the water you should be OK.
If you choose to muscle your way out to the Lane or 1st Peak Pleasure Point you might find yourself challenged.