Can You Surf with a Paddleboard and are they Good?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. In my youth I would stay with my uncle in Florida who introduced me to paddleboarding and have enjoyed SUP ever since. While traveling I frequently rent paddleboards to explore coastlines, as well as, surf out of tropical areas such as Hawaii and Guam to include my shoreline at home on the Emerald Coast with my SUP.

Paddleboarding and surfing are two iconic water activities that have captured the imagination of ocean enthusiasts around the world.

In recent years, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has gained remarkable popularity due to its versatility and accessibility.

Can paddle boards be used for surfing, blending the serenity of paddle boarding with the adrenaline of catching waves?

Yes, you can surf with a paddleboard. While a paddleboard offers less maneuverability while surfing because of the way it glides on top of the water instead of cutting through like a surfboard, you are still able to surf on smaller wakes and is a great tool for beginning surfers. This is from the stability of the SUP from the increased board width.

There is more to surfing with your paddleboard than you would think though, let’s dive into the subject and get some guidance before you head out to the surf.

Surfing with a Paddleboard (SUP)?

Understanding Paddle Boards and Surfboards

For an even greater understanding of the difference between paddleboards and surfboards, check out this article.


Woman Surfing with Paddleboard

Paddle boards and surfboards are distinct in design and purpose, each tailored to suit specific aquatic activities.

Paddle boards are characterized by their larger size, providing ample stability for standing, paddling, and even performing yoga.

They come in various shapes and sizes, with an emphasis on buoyancy and stability.

Their buoyancy comes from the material that they are made with allowing them to glide on top of the water.

This design limits quick movements necessary to delve into surfing in a bigger way than some realize.


On the other hand, surfboards are designed primarily for riding waves, with variations in length and shape dictating their performance in different surf conditions.

Surfboards cut through the water, while still floating at the top, it is unlike the design that an SUP (or stand up paddleboard) holds.

You can see a clear difference within this design when looking at the boards side by side even out of the water.

The Evolution of Paddleboarding

Karakokooa by John Webber

The roots of paddle boarding trace back to ancient cultures, where indigenous peoples used boards to navigate waterways.

Todays paddleboard is a more advance model that is recorded to be made in the 1930s by Thomas Blake who was restoring older surfboards for his museum work.

However, it was the advent of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) that truly revolutionized the sport, introducing a new way to explore calm waters and rivers.

Related: What is Paddleboarding?

Paddleboard Surfing

Paddleboard Surfing

Paddleboard surfing combines the core elements of both activities, offering a unique hybrid experience.

One of the key advantages of using paddle boards for surfing is their enhanced stability, which makes them particularly suitable for beginners looking to enter the world of wave riding.

This is how I personally surf, with a hybrid SUP surfboard, I prefer a more stable adventure compared to going into giant surf like some professional athletes.

Paddleboards also facilitate easier paddling, allowing surfers to catch waves earlier.

Nevertheless, this crossover is not without its challenges.

Maneuvering larger waves with a paddle board can prove tricky, and transitioning from paddling on flat water to riding waves requires mastering a new set of skills.

I have fallen plenty of times when underestimating the size of a wave coming forward, it isn’t something you will get immediately.

Techniques for Paddle Board Surfing

Paddle board surfing entails a distinct set of techniques to make the most of this hybrid endeavor.

When paddling out to waves, surfers use a combination of paddling strokes to navigate through the surf zone.

Timing and positioning play a crucial role in catching waves effectively, requiring a keen understanding of wave patterns.

Shifting body weight and maintaining balance become essential when transitioning from paddling to standing.

Additionally, proper paddle techniques assist in steering and maintaining stability while riding a wave.

This is why I recommend starting off in smaller surf, allowing you to get accustomed to how to stand and where to keep your paddle once the wave takes you.

Do not just jump into large wakes with your SUP, I have lost a total of 3 paddles doing this and it gets expensive.

Choosing the Right Paddle Board for Surfing

Selecting an appropriate paddleboard for surfing is pivotal in ensuring a fulfilling experience.

Factors like length, width, and volume determine the board’s stability and performance in the surf.

A more extensive board provides stability, while a narrower one offers better maneuverability.

The design of the board’s rocker (the curve from nose to tail) and tail shape also affect its behavior in waves.

Largely you are going to come across just size variations of boards.

If you enter a local board shop, they can easily assist you in finding the paddleboard you are looking for when surfing.

Fin setups contribute significantly to a paddleboard’s performance in surfing, with options ranging from single fins to the popular thruster and quad setups.

Luckily, there are some paddleboard designs that allow you to customize your fin setup depending on your activity that day.

Skill Progression and Learning Curve

Child Paddling on Paddleboard

For beginners, paddleboard surfing offers a gentler introduction to wave riding.

Riding small waves enables newcomers to build balance, coordination, and confidence before progressing to larger surf.

Overcoming challenges in larger waves requires mastering techniques for handling increased wave power and negotiating steeper drops.

I have personally stuck to small to small-medium waves, opting to not head into any risks in fear of losing another paddle.

Advanced paddleboard surfers focus on refining their turns and maneuvers, bridging the gap between paddle boarding and traditional surfing.

These advanced SUP surfers are able to maneuver with their paddleboards utilizing their paddles to an incredible extent.

Safety Precautions and Etiquette

Woman on Inflatable Paddleboard

Safety is paramount in any water-based activity, and paddleboard surfing is no exception.

Appropriate safety gear, such as a leash and proper attire, should be worn to ensure personal safety and protect fellow surfers.

Related: What Attire to Wear When Paddleboarding?

Understanding local surf conditions, including currents and potential hazards, is essential.

Adhering to surfing etiquette, such as respecting the right-of-way rules and sharing waves harmoniously, contributes to a positive and safe surfing environment.

Ask About Insights from Paddleboard Surfers

Real-life experiences provide valuable insights into the world of paddle board surfing.

Whether this is finding an online group, meeting up with a local club, or just asking questions at your local surf shop;

There is so much you can learn from others personal experience and build up to their surfing experience.

Enthusiasts share their successes, challenges, and lessons learned through anecdotes and stories.

These firsthand accounts offer diverse perspectives on the crossover between paddle boarding and surfing, highlighting the joys and intricacies of this hybrid activity.

As you contemplate the question “Can you surf with a paddle board?” remember that while the endeavor presents both possibilities and challenges

It opens up a realm of excitement and exploration where the tranquility of paddle boarding meets the exhilaration of riding waves.

Whether you’re a beginner seeking a stable introduction to surfing or an experienced water enthusiast looking to expand your horizons, paddle board surfing offers a captivating fusion of both worlds.


While paddleboard surfing is not the most advanced or maneuverable way to surf, it does offer advantages to those looking to begin surfing for the first time or those that want to broaden their SUP usage.

The paddleboard as a whole is not specifically built to surf, but with practice and effort, you can advance to larger wakes and surf with the best of them.

There are additions you are able to attach to your paddleboard to allow for easier surfing as well.

Do not forget that nearly every beach area has local surf shops that can offer you insight and steer you into the right direction for what you are looking for within SUP surfing.

Lastly, safety is paramount and even though you are on a paddleboard, remember to wear your paddleboard leash, PFD, and keep your paddle close when hitting that surf (trust me).

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