STANDUP PADDLEBOARDS ARE MANY THINGS to many people: harbor cruiser, ocean trekker, wave surfer. Lately, the more-versatile-than-you-thought SUP has added another activity to its résumé: wakesurfing behind the boat.
It’s a fun activity,” said Jeff McKee, a professional wakeboard rider for Nautique and Slingshot Sports. “I’ve had guys who thought it looked dumb and didn’t want to try it. But then they did, and at the end they would say, ‘Damn, that’s pretty cool.’” McKee got his introduction to SUP wakesurfing almost by accident. He was on a photo shoot for another purpose, and someone got the idea to put a SUP behind the boat. McKee tried it and was hooked. It’s not going to replace wakeboarding as an adrenaline rush, but he really likes it.
One advantage SUP wakesurfing enjoys over traditional wakesurfing, and wakeboarding, is that participants can start standing up, or even sitting down — something McKee does when he has one of his toddlers on the board with him. The deepwater start required by the other activities is deep-sixed in favor of a drier, less strenuous start.
McKee recommends employing a standard wakesurf rope and using its full 20-foot length.
“You want to start behind the pocket,” he said. “Put the powerful part of the wave in front of you. Stand far back on the board in a typical SUP stance and have the boat move forward. Then, when there is tension on the rope, you can walk toward the back of the board and put your rear foot over the fins,” taking on more of a surfing stance. How far back do you want to start on the board? Far enough that the board takes on a bit of a bow-up attitude. Standing too far forward will put the nose down and the board develops a mind of its own, which can lead to wipeouts. A quick note on the board setup: McKee recommends using a board 10 feet long or less — more of a surf-style — and he says to mind the fins. He takes the front two fins off and moves the rear fins as far back as they’ll go. The forward fins want to make the board track straight, and that can be an issue when one is trying to maneuver around the wake.
Once comfortably in the wake, riders can let go of the rope just like in traditional wakesurfing. In fact, McKee said it’s far easier to let go of the rope while SUP wakesurfing. And more of the wake is usable to a rider on a SUP. McKee was surprised by how far back he could go.
“If you can do 15 feet on a regular board, you can do 25 feet on a SUP,” he said, especially using the entire SUP setup. “When you have the paddle, you can get into parts of the wake you’ve never used before.” Riding the wave is where most riders will notice a big difference between traditional boards and a SUP. There isn’t nearly the maneuverability with a SUP — McKee compares it to the difference between a traditional surfboard and a longboard — but even so, with a little practice, most riders will be able to pull off a wake-towake move and maybe a 360. And as simple as it is to get started, it’s just as simple to end it. Aim the board out of the wake and assume a SUP stance, and you’re good. Don’t even have to get wet. Boat drivers are going to want to note the slight speed difference with a SUP. Average speed for wakesurfing is 10 or 11 mph, but the speed should bump up slightly for SUP, to between 11 and 13 mph.
“Doing so creates a longer wave, giving you more space to work with between the back of the boat and the back of the wave,” McKee said.
The slower speed of wakesurfing appeals to a good chunk of the watersports crowd — the falls are less painful and the wipeouts less spectacular — and the relative ease of SUP start is another point in its favor. If a family member or a friend just can’t master the deepwater start, SUP wakesurfing is a good option.
“It’s a fun, extra, new activity,” McKee said. “It’s a new challenge.”