How exactly standup paddle surfing fits into the identity of the modern surfer/waterman in Southern California remains a contentious issue. From contempt to optimism, surfers run the gamut of emotions when considering standup paddling, and a recent order from the Department of Parks and Recreation has only served to spark the debate.
On April 1, 2010, the Orange Coast District passed an order that would prohibit the launch of standup paddleboards at San Onofre Surf Beach from Dog Patch to the Northwest border of the Military Enlisted Men's Beach as well as in areas of Crystal Cove State Park and Doheny State Beach. Standup Paddlers will still be permitted to launch in the area between Trail 6 and Dog Patch at San Onofre as well as south of Thor's Hammer in Doheny. Violations to this rule could cost standup paddlers up to $450.00 in fines.
Organizations within the standup paddling community like Human Powered Watercraft Association and Standup Paddle Alliance are petitioning to revise the Coast Guard's classification of paddleboards in order to protect their rights, as standup paddleboard's classification remains debatable.
"There are a lot of different segments within the standup community," explains Stand Up Paddler Magazine Managing Editor, Joe Carberry. "There are shortboard standup boards and then there are cruisers that are fourteen to sixteen feet. So it's hard to put a blanket policy over a segmented sport like this. You're going to have issues where it doesn't fit. "
Carberry says the tension between the surfing and standup paddling communities, (which seem to share an ironically sizeable overlap) is very real.
"People are so passionate about surfing, and the resource is finite, so it's going to create problems inevitably. Especially if the sport grows. I see the problem. I see what people are worried about: inexperienced paddleboarders endangering others. Right now, we're lucky that there's a respect out there. Trestles still seems sacred to me. You don't see guys out there. Where you see problems is where there is an easy access for standup paddling, like Doheny. The biggest sticking point has got to be San Onofre, because there is such a decorated history of surfing there, and you bring in another paddling craft and it's just dicey. I think the secret to success here is humility."
“The biggest sticking point has got to be San Onofre, because there is such a decorated history of surfing there, and you bring in another paddling craft and it's just dicey. I think the secret to success here is humility."
Message Boards, as they tend to do, have weighed in passionately on the new regulations.
"SUPs, longboards, shortboards, alaias, sponges, kneeboards, handplanes, bodysurfers, etc., etc. We love to create divisions in the tribe," wrote Waldo on the SurferMag.com Message Boards. "So where does it end – when every beach in the state is approved for a specific type of wave-riding vehicle? What about size of the surf? Will a given spot be OK for SUP’s and longboards when it’s under waist high, then shortboards when it’s waist to DOH, then mandatory tow-in if it’s any bigger? Now the door is open for the state & feds to legislate & license the lineup. That’ll mean more enforcement, court cases, and all kinds of CYA liability issues."
Responding to passionate rebuttals from SUP-hating surfers and surf-hating SUPers alike, some users found the controversy entertaining – likening the standup paddlers' current position in the surf hierarchy to that of bodyboarders over the last decade.
"It is amusing to see how riled up some people get over different wave-riding disciplines," wrote Sponge. "Bodyboarders have been at the bottom of the food chain. The modern longboard has taken some focus away. Now SUPers bear the brunt of ill will, mostly because they now are pretty much at the top of the wave-catching food chain."
While passions continue to flare over the new regulations, surfers must evaluate standup paddling's place in the future of water recreation, and the potential ramifications of governmental intervention. Whether these restrictions and classifications will pacify tensions within the sub cultures remains doubtful, and as Carberry notes, "the number of people in Orange County and the number of waves just don't quite work out, and people get frustrated."
Will frustration alone be the self-correcting mechanism that resolves Orange County's supply-demand dilemma? If not, it appears we're going to have to get more creative in amicably learning to share the ocean.