Why I Paddle Surf 90% of the Time

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
November 21, 2016

After my last post, Dropping Volume – Better have some solid processes, we got a nasty comment on facebook about the logic of riding small paddle boards as opposed to just shortboarding.

A video posted by Paddlewoo Progression Project (@the.progression.project) on


For starters, I don’t tolerate haters here, so if you post anything negative in a mean spirited way, the comment will be deleted, and you’ll be blocked.  I can’t do anything about shitty mindsets for the greater world, but if you choose to play here, you’ve got to be cordial.

That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, in fact I love a good argument, but not haters.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and encouraged.  I’m a work in progress, as are we all.

I do look at negativity,  especially from haters, as an excuse to reflect on what you’re doing and to make sure you’re on the right path.  Everyone has their own opinion, and in their mind, they’re correct.  I try on that hat, whatever it is, to make sure I’m not suffering from cognitive dissonance.

Through that lens I asked myself, “Why not just shortboard?”  Here’s where I landed.


  1. It’s just more fun on more days.  My surf session to fun surf session ratio is about 100% since I started paddling.  It sounds terrible, but shortboarding my ratio was probably 50%, and I left the water less happy when I arrived 25% of the time.  Surfing is all about riding waves, so if the waves aren’t on it’s difficult to feel fulfilled.
  2. The Challenge.  Riding small boards is one of the hardest things I’ve done in sport.  I enjoy the challenge.  I look forward to the challenge.  It’s fun to feel like a kook, and all you have to do to get back to that place is drop a few liters.
  3. Forced Mindfulness.  If you’re pushing your volume limits, you’re using 100% of your focus to balance.  That focus translates to being fully present in the moment.  Yes, you do get that same zen moment in shortboarding, but only when riding waves.  In paddling small boards you can extend the active meditation.
  4. The workout.  Going to the gym is a thing of the past.  Maybe I do a few sets of kettlebells each week, but I used to workout for an hour a day while shortboarding.  Now, I just paddle surf, and I stay in better shape.  It is the total body workout that swimming wishes it was.
  5. Body Type.  I’m 6.1 at 183 today.  I’m built more like a free safety than a pro surfer.  In surfing my weight has always worked against me, there is no added value in being strong.  Not true in paddle surfing.  In paddle surfing you can leverage strength through the paddle with an exponential effect.
  6. Peer group.  I like paddlers.  The commonalities we all share are solid traits.  I’ve met many of my best friends through paddling.
  7. Steep Innovation Curve.  Paddle surfing is still in its infancy.  It’s fun being a paddle surfer now, just as I assume it was amazing to be a surfer in the 60’s and 70’s.  With each new innovation you get to experience surf in a new way.  Shortboarding’s been stagnant for a long while, but paddle surfing is evolving every day.  I have no idea what shape I’ll be riding next year.  Or what kind of paddle.  Innovation and change are fun places to be.
  8. Paddle surfing is a complete sport.  Fun.  Exercise.  Challenge.  Comradery.

After looking in the hater mirror, I don’t doubt my path for a second.

What do you love about paddle surfing?

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  • Phil Gallo

    Outstanding!!! Great stuff Erik!! Your intelligent and measured approach to the ” haters” was spot on!!

  • andrew

    excellent response as would be expected from you Erik. Dare I say short boarding, barring an explosion of land based wave pools that provide reliable inexpensive and uncrowded surfing options( a pipe dream really) is becoming less and less attractive many people. The reliance on certain conditions and a fixed wave zone is a massive disadvantage over SUP.

  • James Mcgrane

    Yes more better, more fun , most of the time ! Great insight Erik

  • Rich

    Outstanding synopsis on several different points. Great article!

  • Bodie Shandro

    I could not agree more Erik, on every account! Just back from my biannual trip to Mexico. Waves were consistently waist to head high, mushy but perfect in my mind! There were so many short boarders there that came out of the water after a 3 hour session riding one wave! Are you kidding, a weeks vacation to ride 2-3 waves a day? With all due diligence and courtesy, I scored every session, 100% fun while they left defeated and angry that the waves were poor. I even offered up my board to a couple guys to give it a go. Happy to say we have a few new SUP surfers out there as a result! #aloha4everyone!..Bodie

  • Chase

    Spot on. The challenge and progression in finding the optimal volume for fun is what I love about going smaller. Surfing by myself at hard to access breaks (shifty, strong current) in SoCal always makes me wonder why more surfers don’t try. As a SUP surfer first, I’ve also found the challenge of learning to shortboard fun and motivating. I just got my first custom shortboard a few weeks ago and look forward to riding it when it is big, hollow and hard to get out on a SUP.

  • Ucycle

    Excellent piece, similar thing happen to me two weeks ago. Some guy ask me why I SUP and not “surf” since he saw me surf pretty good on it. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t try offend me but I told him i like the challenge of riding a small paddle board. I will use your points next time.

  • Jason Cole

    “Riding small boards is the hardest thing I’ve done in sport” this sums up my love of sup. I love it!

  • Dimitris

    OK good point but there are too many thoughts in between
    I am 49 155lb in good shape and I ride 28-30 Ltd shortboards and 7.4 starboard airborn which is 85 Ltd.
    In sup the wave count is there but the feeling riding a shortboard even in gutless surf for me is unbeatable
    Although I have no problem balancing my sup even in 20-25 kt wind after an hour I am exhausted 3-4 times more than surfing
    Just a few thoughts I still ride both although teniss elbow in both hands keeps me surfing more

  • Melvin

    Yup! Yup! \m/

  • Pete

    A friend asked me this a while ago, why I paddle surf more than surf these days (20 year surfer). I had to think about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that while the actual act of riding a wave is more fun on a short board most of the time, everything else is more fun on the paddle board. I don’t enjoy paddling around on a 6’2″ short board, and there’s so much downtime while waiting for waves. On a paddle board I’m engaged the whole time, and I genuinely enjoy paddling it around.

  • Laurence Woodward

    I think you are muddling up to different sports,what they have in common is the wave.Surfing requires you to go from prone to standing while taking the drop,which is probably the most difficult skill to master.Arugably making a late drop on a surfboard on a hollow wave is the greatest rush you can experience something that you can never experience on a sup as you are already standing. Your quest for lower volume is drawing you nearer to the shortboard experience were the lower volume of the shortboard allows better emersion of the rail into the wave face were the volume of sup’s in general prevents this happening. Armed with a paddle and a load of volume your wave count is bound to be higher but hopefully surfing in it’s many forms is more than how many waves you have ridden.

    • Erik -- PaddleWoo

      Hey Laurence, thanks for the post, and I appreciate your tone. I 100% get where you’re coming from. I grew up shortboarding, have lived in Costa Rica for a decade and surf twice a day, most days. So I still surf a shortboard more than most shortboarders reading this and there are definitely conditions where a shortboard excels, and is more fun. But, as I get better at paddle surfing that fun gap in incredible conditions shrinks.

      There is nothing better than taking off under the hook on bomb on a shortboard. Actually, a surf trip to Tavarua 4 years back set me on the path to paddle surf. Surfing Cloudbreak and Restaurants with solid swell for two weeks made our conditions seem lackluster. Got home, was board shortboarding… and fate led me to paddle surfing.

      Anyone that knows me knows that when surf is pumping I’m traveling with a quiver. Paddle board, shortboard and something funky. I love old twinnies and new tomo shapes.

      I take issue with 2 points. 1) Your statement that a late drop on a shortboard is the greatest rush. I find that a late drop in heavy surf on a paddle board is much more consequential. When I do switch to shortboarding in heavy surf, it’s a massive relief. Truth is, shortboard wipeouts aren’t nearly as scary. and 2) That the quest for low volume is pushing to a more shortboard experience. Anyone that surfs at a high level on a paddle board knows how much harder you can push the board. When I transition back to shortboards, I have to surf at about 50%. The Longer rail allows you to drive so much harder in turns. Yes, the turns are more drawn out, but the feeling is amazing. And you still get all the other aspects of a session on a paddle board that you don’t get on a shortboard.

      At the end of it all, I just love surfing. Since I first got in the water at 14 years old, that’s all I’ve wanted to do. Paddle surfing is a part of it all. And a large part of my mission in the sport is to showcase what I love about it. I want surfers to see paddle surfing through my lens. In a perfect world (and I would bet within the next 10 years) most surfers will paddle surf and paddle surfers will surf. It’s the same sport.

    • Ucycle

      I think to define which skill is more difficult to master is all perspective. Like catching a wave on a ultra small SUP is challenge itself or catch a wave while kiteboarding. Surfing on a shortboard have its benefit like duck dive and making a late drop on a wave with steep broken shoulder. But i don’t agree with about SUS is missing out on the rush of late drop going from prone to standing. Its like saying the bodyboarder and bodysurfer have less rush and fun compare to the surfer who actually go from prone to stand up. I’m not arguing which is better, shortboard vs small SUP vs bodyboard vs etc… In the end its what makes you happy, if you feel much happier surfing from prone to standing so be it.
      Here is some negative for SUS:
      1) its an expensive sport to get into, equipment is not cheap
      2) can’t really duck dive
      3) can’t easily get out on a big day(which rarely happens here in Southern California)
      4) Dealing with paddle and your board when getting murder in the inside
      5)Being automatically label as a kook from other surfer until you are proof your worth. (I have thick skin, haha, in and out of water)

      I wish there is a surf craft that have all the benefit of shortboard, longboard, bodyboard and SUP, that will be the holy grail of surf craft.

    • Derrick

      Laurence: I have been surfing since I was 17, I am now 53. I stand at 5′-10″ and weigh 172. I work out at the gym to, surf. I want to surf till I am in my 80’s. I also run 15 miles a week. I tell you all of this, to say, I am in good shape for my age. I have to disagree with your analysis of short vs SUP. I have done both successfully. SUP is a complete workout package. I can barely stand after a 2 hour session, because I get fatigued and cant balance as well with tired muscles. SUP is a lot more difficult to learn and stay balanced on the board while waiting and catching the wave. The rush on the SUP is extremely intense on a large waves, via late take-off or normal. The muscle power for a good bottom turn, can take your breath away (I squat 225 + my weight). I enjoy up-down surfing and I continue to do so on a SUP board, Except it takes more muscle to surf that style on a bigger board. My favorite surf conditions are +10′. I feel comfortable (paddle out and surfing) on anything less than 15′-18′.
      When you drop in on one of those (big sets + hollow) with a SUP then, you may understand, That the rush is still the same…I hope you give it a try, then again I am fine if you don’t. I still have my short, and long board, and 3 SUP’s. The short and long boards have dust on them.

  • surfafrica

    I was “forced” into paddle surfing after a back injury but have come to really appreciate it, especially moving towards lower volume boards. Here’s my take on Erik’s list:

    1. It’s just more fun on more days.
    I definitely come out of the water happier more often on a SUP than I did on a shortboard. Though, during some of our windier or lumpier days, I’m pretty jealous of my buddies out on shortboards.

    2. The Challenge.
    Similar to what Erik was saying, I like the steps you can take paddle surfing, both up and down. Sure, you can do that with shortboarding too, but I find I’m having more frequent wins on a SUP as I move along the learning curve which keeps me motivated to keep pushing along that curve. Dropping in on a critical wave on a shortboard is extremely challenging (maybe the single most difficult thing of both sports), but I do think once you cross a certain skill threshold, SUP can offer a whole different set of challenges (though I’m not close to that threshold with either).

    3. Forced Mindfulness.
    I think of it in different terms than zen and meditation but appreciate “in the moment” and “focus”. When on a SUP (especially lower volume ones), the mind is way more active in the activity. I get a larger sense of overall participation on a SUP than a shortboard. And the view up there is nice too.

    4. The workout.
    My body feels worked out doing both but I had to prepare more to shortboard than SUP. I can jump on a SUP after months away and can go out for reasonably long sessions (though again, I’m not surfing at advanced levels). If I took months off of shortboarding and didn’t work out to prepare, I’d be screwed. As my injuries mounted, this has been a big bonus for me. I can quickly participate and begin to once again push myself after forced time off. And as we age, this advantage will become more and more important. I’m psyched when I hear stories of older guys who used to love surfing being able to get back into it thanks to SUP.

    5. Body Type.
    When it comes to Erik’s point of leveraging strength, it works for weaknesses as well. For the past few years, I’ve been weak as f-ck due to a pile up of injuries. I can use the paddle’s mechanical advantages to help make up for some of those weaknesses.

    6. Peer group.
    Meh….they’re OK. 😉

    7. Steep Innovation Curve.
    I went through the snowboard renaissance from 1986 to the early 1990s. We went from riding on the tails of edgeless wood boards with spoon noses, fins and strap bindings to riding switch on twin tips with flex patterns, sidecut, camber, and proper bindings. The progression was thrilling. Ever year, some new innovation changed the game. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a similar journey with paddle surfing over the past 4 years.

  • Laurence

    Hi Eric, I enjoy all forms of surfing, I would not say one is suprior to another or gives a greater rush it’s just different. As you get older you will find the journey from prone to standing becomes harder sad but true. As for driving harder on a sup I believe that is due to width and volume requiring much more effort to acheive rail emersion. So yes you have to drive the board board much harder it’s also a reason your fins become so important but that’s another debate to be had.

  • Adam Jones

    I completely agree, I basically use whatever board fits the conditions. Kiting when it’s windy, SUP surf when it’s not windy. I love the advantages of SUP surfing over traditional surfing and that it’s a smaller community of riders pushing it. I just dropped down to a 7’11” 103L F-One Madeiro from a 140L Hokua X32 and am pleasantly surprised to paddle it with no issue (I lost some weight down from 185 to 168 or so which helped).

    In any case, keep up the blogs/podcasts.

  • Ryan Pena

    Great stuff, keep it up Erik. Love the graph ha.

  • Alex


    1. Wave Count
    2. Wave Count
    3. Wave Count

  • Alex

    Ok, I was being cheeky, but not really. The key element underlying Erik’s #1 reason is that sup surfing, once you are competent, increases your wave count under most conditions that most of us face most of the time.

    More waves=more time spent on the wave=more fun=getting better as a surfer.

    As Erik says, “surfing is all about riding waves.”

  • Brad Meyers

    Great article, as a prone surfer for 30 years and SUP for about 5 it continues to amaze me how much more fun SUP can be. All of your points are great, I would also include these few things that make SUP better than prone:
    When the water is cold it’s really nice to be up out of it.
    The scenery is so much nicer from above (you see so much sea life and “stuff” in 1 SUP session then you do in 100+ prone sessions).
    You can see the sets from a mile away, you have a minute or 2 to get to where that set is going to break at its peak. While I almost never paddle out (SUP) to a break w/ prone surfers they usually migrate to my break because they see me riding so many waves. A way to “ease” the tension w/ the prone guys is to sometimes call out the sets when you see them and you know they can’t, it makes the whole line-up more fun and after letting them take a few set waves they begin to have a different impression of SUP.
    SUP is so much more fun in Big Waves, period.
    Although there are a couple pluses to prone surfing, the list goes on and on for the benefits SUP has over prone.
    The truth is the prone surfers that really really hate SUP have NEVER done it!

    • Erik Antonson

      100% spot on. Thanks for chiming in! E

  • Ryder

    Nice article! The forced mindfulness resonates with me. It is an amazing feeling when you get dialed in and feel your body moving in lockstep with the ocean conditions around you. Really makes me appreciate not only surfing, but just having time in nature.

  • Luke

    Another point to consider is the early plaining… Especially on beach breaks… By the time the “average” short border gets enough speed to get up, they get closed out on. As we know, on a sup, your already speeding down the line before the wave fully hits the bank and u can stay ahead of the pocket if need be.. For me sup is a no brainer over short boards.I have been down the path of dissatisfied short board sessions..

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