SUPing Not Drowning

We try out the fastest growing watersport in the world and look down on the rest

By Hugh Upsher

A good friend had been relentlessly asking me to go for a surf every other weekend for what felt like months on end. Sometimes I would make an excuse, sometimes I would lie, and other times I would just say no. I love the idea of surfing, but I sold my surfboard after it had sat in the corner of my room unloved for one too many dry summers. The truth is, my friend wasn’t going surfing, he was actually asking me to go SUPing. He just couldn’t admit it to himself. 

It is known for being a great workout for your core muscles and people have even been known to practice yoga upon them. But outside of the realm of fitness magazine editors who’ve run out of better ideas, SUPers are seen as people who never learned to surf, but feel the need to cramp the vibe of people who do surf.

With a beautiful spring day staring me down through my curtains I decided to embrace the inevitability of being peer pressured into my debut SUPing experience. I grabbed my boardies, cap and sunscreen and headed off to the home of the eternally average wave, Muizenberg Beach.

We rented our boards and wetsuits from a place that required no more than a cell phone number scribbled on a clipboard to commandeer what is essentially a small boat. The board resembled a regular long board that had been put in an enormous microwave to puff up like a marshmallow. At nine feet in length, it also weighed a f**king ton, which totally sucked.

All this aside, I was filled with the joy of a new spring and the type of excitement reserved for new experiences. What could go wrong? I know how to surf, skate, wake and even snowboard, so this should be a piece of huge, foamy cake. And, I was fortunate to have an experienced friend by my side to guide me through the nuances of the art of SUPing. Well, until he promptly paddled his way to the back with ease, leaving me amongst the young fledgling riders with what was essentially a deadly projectile waiting to fire off from under me at any point. 

I got a pleasant wave of nostalgia seeing the Gary’s Surf School instructors in their blue and yellow wetsuits still shouting the classic ‘PADDLE!’ instruction, followed by an even louder ‘STAND UP!!!’ The life of a surf instructor must surely be one of the best lives one could live (I thought as I toppled backwards off my enormous board in slow motion).

The standing up part was relatively easy once you get your footing right (a similar sensation to standing on a cruise ship). But, once you get that right, and there is a break in the swell, you are left to slowly realize that everyone around you is silently staring up and judging you. When you’ve made your peace with this, it’s a good time to comically fall off your board just to really drive home the point that you are an idiot.

It turns out that catching waves is really difficult, and when you do, you immediately fall backwards. If only your friend had been there to instruct you to change your foot stance. I was out there for almost two hours and caught zero waves. Just when things seemed most hopeless, I realized my body had been acting like a sail, blowing me out to sea. The pilgrimage back to the shoreline was a long but rewarding one. At least my ‘core’ was getting totally ripped (if that is something that can happen to ones core).

Overall though, being in the ocean is always enjoyable, even if I was just watching other people do what I wanted to be doing. The one nice thing I can say is that a stand up paddleboard does give you a great vantage point for spectating. A poor workman always blames his tools, but in my defense, no carpenter could build a half decent spice rack using only a battle-axe and a mallet. Maybe he could, maybe I suck, but maybe I’ll just rent a long board next time.