Over the past few years, two groups of athletes — stand-up paddleboarders and surfers — are finding it hard to coexist out in the water.
It’s an age-old story, really: a group of up-and-comers, the paddleboarders, are increasingly starting to move in on the turf of the establishment, in this case, surfers. But what makes this situation different is that the up-and-comers and the establishment, depending on what day it is, could sometimes be the same people.
“Many paddlers have surfed in the past,” said Ocean City Heritage Surf Shop owner Jim Hennessy. “But not all, (that’s) for sure.”
This summer, Ventnor even proposed banning paddleboarders from its surfing-designated beach. But after a vocal group of paddleboarders spoke up at a meeting, a King Solomon-style compromise was reached where the beach was split 66-33 between the two.
Now, at Derby Avenue, two signs are posted with arrows pointing in different directions — SUPs, or stand-up paddleboards, to the left, surfers to the right.
Surfer Trevor Tuthill of Egg Harbor Township said that since the divide, paddlers and surfers have started to learn to share the surf.
“If it’s your wave, they know,” Tuthill said. “If they know you’re going to catch it, they won’t paddle for it.”
So how did “SUPing” come to challenge surfers for control of the beach?
Stand-up paddleboarding has been growing in popularity for the last several years, Hennessy said. “But it’s really just starting to take off in the last year or two.”
More than 1.2 million people tried stand-up paddleboarding last year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, an increase of almost 20 percent over 2010.
Surfing instructor Stacey Marchel, who owns and operates Stacey’s Surf Camp in her hometown of Margate, said that she had “dabbled in the sport over the last few years. But this year, we probably tripled in business.”
Instructing newbies how to paddle in the ocean, rather than the placid bay, can be tricky.
“A good instructor makes sure that a person’s first ocean experience is pleasurable,” said fellow instructor Dan Gottlieb, of Margate. “We give the ocean paddler a lot of instruction on how to get the board into the surf, through the surf, and also how to come in safely.”
The problem, he said, “is that a breaking wave, if you’re in the wrong place, that force can apply to the board. … But when we do get one of our good (wind) days, they absolutely love it. They get more of a thrill being able to paddle in the ocean than they expected.”
That, of course, leads to the increasing territorial disputes between paddlers and surfers out on the beaches.
“Stand-up guys have a huge advantage,” Hennessy said. “Their boards are much bigger, they have paddles, they can catch a wave easier than a surfer can. They’re up and riding a wave before a surfer gets it, because they’re sitting farther out.”
Hennessy both surfs and paddles, but added that “I never stand-up paddle in and around surfers at a surfing beach.
“It can be a question of safety,” Hennessy continued. “A guy standing up on an 11-foot board, flying at you, paddle in hand, and you’re down on your stomach on a six-foot board. It really is a train coming at you.”
For Gottlieb, “I haven’t experienced any problems,” he said. “I know surfers can get upset with new paddleboarders who are still learning, and that’s understandable. … But it’s hard to say, ‘I’m experienced and I can be among the surfers,’ because there’s a lot of people who say they are – but they aren’t.”
The main thing, he said, “is respect.”
“Some surf paddlers are people with a surfing background, and they know the etiquette. Some new paddlers don’t have this background and don’t understand. The advantage of paddling is that it gives you chance to catch a wave and you don’t know any better.”
“When you’re on a paddleboard, you pretty much get every wave,” Marchel said.
“Some people can get greedy on a paddleboard and take more than their fair share,” Gottlieb added. “Everyone seems to get a bad rap because of a few people.”
Still, Hennessy said that while Ventnor may have divided its surfing beach, “I don’t think they should just take surfing areas and split them in half,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be enough space. They really should have their own zone. … I tend to think separation would be safer.”
As for Gottlieb, he was off to the weekend’s “Battle of the Paddle” in California, featuring 1,000 racers.
“It’s the largest race of its kind, growing bigger every single year,” Gottlieb said. “I’m going to go out and spectate. But I think I may jump in my age group, 50-59.”
Marchel plans to start up smaller, three-mile races and courses next summer, but for her, there’s a social draw.
“You can work out and chat with the girls at the same time,”Marchel said. “(And) it’s very zen. You can come out on a beautiful, still night and watch the sunset, while you’re not expending so much energy. It’s just calm and peaceful, and very magical.”
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