New Coast Guard ruling a big victory for Stand Up Paddle Surfers–Prevents SUP’s from being banned in surf breaks

    New Coast Guard ruling a big victory for Stand Up Paddle Surfers. Prevents SUP’s from being banned in surf breaks

    HPWA Receives Coast Guard Clarification

    The Human Powered Watercraft Association has received a letter of clarification from the United States Coast Guard stating “If a paddleboard is used within a designated swimming, surfing or bathing area, the Coast Guard does not consider it to be a vessel.”

    HPWA Director Steven Alan Fry explains the importance of this distinction: “State and local agencies have long been using “vessel” status to segregate or ban the use of small watercraft such as wave skis, outriggers and canoes from popular swimming beaches and surf breaks. When the USCG applied vessel status to SUP’s it resulted in an unintended consequence where surfers carrying paddles were banned or restricted from many popular surfing locations.”

    The HPWA took the initiative to inform the Coast Guard of the problem and was successful in gaining this critical clarification. Now, paddle surfing cannot be banned or regulated in any way different from other kinds of surfing, and equal access must be provided.

    Fry continues”We are now contacting the various state and local agencies who currently regulate paddle surfing to inform them of the need to eliminate any and all bans or restrictions on paddle surfing in designated surfing areas.” Fry explains further “The surfing community must self-regulate SUP’s in the same manner as is done between short and long board surfers. Each and every wave is a public resource that has to be reasonably shared by all surfers regardless of how long their board is or whether they use a paddle.”

    Mickey Munoz, HPWA’s surf industry advisor adds his conclusion. “Paddle surfing is here to stay and everyone has to learn to share. SUP’s have to spread the aloha spirit and yield a reasonable balance of waves to the inner lineups. Nothing but common sense will prevail.”

    The Human Powered Watercraft Association is free to join and helps to support their efforts to protect, educate and promote all forms of human powered watercraft. Meet them on Facebook or join up at


    Some History on this issue from OC Register

    Article from June 1st 2010

    It all started in 2008 when the U.S. Coast Guard and the California Department of Boating and Waterways declared stand-up paddleboards to be vessels, putting them in the same category as kayaks and wave skis.

    That definition, adopted last year by state beaches in Orange County, has led to restrictions on where stand-up paddleboarders can be at some beaches and, consequently, to conflicts between traditional surfers and paddleboard surfers. Paddlers say the new rules favor traditional surfers, and surfers say paddlers make the surf line unsafe.

    “It’s like we’re being pushed out of the surf,” said Michael Muir, an owner of Stand Up Paddle Magazine, based in Dana Point. “What makes (surfers) have more rights than we do?”


    Stand-up paddleboard surfing began in Hawaii and in recent years has jumped in popularity, bringing more paddlers to Orange County.

    In April, the Orange Coast District of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation carved out where paddlers can be at Doheny and San Onofre state beaches, expanding on the 2009 change. The district controls Orange County’s state beaches.


    Doheny State Beach: Paddle-assisted vessels are permitted to launch from the area known as “Thor’s Hammer,” which is next to the lifeguard headquarters, extending southeast to the park boundary at Capistrano County Beach. Launching is prohibited everywhere else along the beach, and paddlers must be 1,000 feet into the water from the high-water mark if north of Thor’s Hammer. Click here for map.

    San Onofre State Beach: Paddle-assisted vessels are permitted to launch from the area known as “Dog Patch,” extending southeast to the park boundary at Trail 6. Launching is prohibited everywhere else along the beach, and paddlers must be 1,000 feet into the water from the high-water mark if north of Dog Patch.

    At San Onofre, similar rules have applied to vessels such as kayaks for more than a decade, but stand-up paddleboards have been included only recently, leading to an outcry by some paddlers. Breaking the rules could lead to $450 fines.

    San Onofre and Doheny have designated paddle areas, while other state beaches such as Huntington and Bolsa Chica do not because paddle surfing is more popular at the former two, said Rich Haydon, park superintendent for Doheny, San Clemente and San Onofre state beaches.

    “It could in future years extend to Crystal Cove or Huntington Beach. It will depend on what the use patterns are,” he said, adding that he thought the rules are fair and accommodate surfers and paddlers.

    Regulatory moves like this have fostered two fledgling groups in Orange County that advocate for paddlers. The groups, which are seeking nonprofit status, are the Stand Up Paddle Alliance and the Human Powered Water Craft Association. Members complain that the rules limit where paddlers can be but that surfers can go where they please.


    If a paddler is in a permitted area, he or she must stay 100 feet from bathers. Some paddlers said they fear that surfers who move south could push them down and away from good waves. But Tom Bistline, president of the San Onofre Surfing Club, said that’s not likely to happen, as surfers want paddlers to have their own space.

    Most experienced paddlers don’t endanger others, but since there are a lot of beginners, issues arise, Haydon said. Mixing the two in the same lineup could cause animosity because paddlers can catch waves earlier than surfers can, surfers say.

    “They deserve a spot, just not with us,” Bistline said. “It’s all about the paddle. The paddle makes their style of surfing unique but also makes it the public-safety issue.”

    But if everyone follows surf etiquette, there shouldn’t be a safety problem, said Tim Ryan, legal director of the Water Craft Association. Paddlers new to the sport may not be well-versed in etiquette, so the two O.C. groups plan to tackle the education part of the problem by encouraging shop owners and manufacturers to explain etiquette to new buyers and host events.


    Not all state beaches in California have specifically mentioned stand-up paddlers when describing where vessels can launch. In Hawaii, none of the state beaches have done so, said Cliff Inn of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. At least one state beach in Hawaii has designated a suggested area for paddlers, but it’s not mandatory, Inn said.

    “We wanted to avoid creating rules,” he said. “If we did, someone would be excluded.”

    In a perfect world, Ryan could see both groups in the same lineup, he said. Ryan’s association plans to send letters to the Coast Guard complaining about categorizing paddleboards as vessels, which partially triggered the current conflict. Ryan said there is case law that counters that definition.

    “Surfers have had the rule of the lineup for a long time,” Ryan said. “As more surfers do stand up, it will become more integrated, but it’s going to be done over time. Stand-up paddlers have to be patient. Paddlers have to ultimately show monumental courtesy and monumental restraint.”

About The Author

Casey Gotcher

3 Responses and Counting...

  • Kari Van Horn 02.15.2011

    Mr. Gotcher,

    Thank you for bringing attention to the topic of the tension between SUP and surfing. As an avid surfer myself, I have a strong interest in the political matters concerning ocean sports, especially surfing and SUP. Your entry is very thorough and contained all the information for any question I could possibly have pertaining to this issue. Your usage of links to outside sources for reference and further inquiry are relevant and colorful. What interested me most about this piece was your inclusion of a previous article about the history of what initiated the uproar between surfers and SUP’s. Also, your “Hawaii Avoids Rules” section grabbed my attention. SUP is home to Hawai’i yet there was no inclination to initiate legislation for a separation of territory, however, it was newly introduced to California and the sport was slapped with a restrictive definition that restrained the participants from exercising their rights to share the ocean. You give both sides equal coverage and offer limited concessions (your “Safety Concerns” section) contrasted with compensatory refutations. Do you think the passing of this ruling will lead to other restrictions lifted off of the boundaries of other water sports, such as outriggering or kitesurfing? Also, what kind of measure would have to be taken to quell the heated emotions on the water of the surfers and SUP’s?

    One suggestion I would offer would be a zoned split of the shore break just as there is one for surfers and boogieboarders. Hawai’i does a complimentary job of managing their shore break space and dividing it equally amongst all water sports without causing major political and social backlash.

  • Hawaii and Calif are distinctly unique in that a long tradition of “self policing” by locals is much more stringent and prohibitive in the line-up there. The sheer numbers in the water in Calif from all walks of life make this difficult in most places in Calif, although admittedly, it does occur in some breaks. As someone who participates in and loves both sports, I can say that SUP and surfboards do not mix well. An expert SUPer, w/ a surfing background and knowledge of the pecking order, rules of the road and unwritten courtesy at a break can blend well, but unfortunately, most do not possess this body of experience.

    The above ruling seems to be a prudent, educated solution and compromise. Plain and simple, a SUP being classified as a vessel and required to use a PFD is a ridiculous application of law. Rather then utilize faulty logic and misuse an ordinance that should not apply, a specific ordinance has been created. Good on them! It has been said that a just compromise has been reached when neither party is completely satisfied. I think that is probably the case here.

  • I think that shop owners and SUP instructors do need to educate people in the unwritten laws of the surf, especially for beginners. Everyone just needs to learn to be patient with each other as SUP become more popular and start to take over the surf. I agree with everyone in saying that this decision was a great win for SUP but it will take time for everyone to get used to sharing the waves.

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