Categorized | Sports, SUP, Surfing

Big Island Safe Surfing Alliance releases draft SUP guidelines

Release from BISSA on Facebook (3/15/11)

These are the observations and input we have received since the public meeting and first working group meeting. Pay particular attention to our observations of our unique and limited Hilo surf breaks, and the need for SUP specific guidelines to achieve a safe and balanced use of our precious wave resources by a wide range of water users who range from all ages and backgrounds. SUP representatives have presented draft Kook or Kool guidelines for everyone in the water, but we believe this does not recognize there are major differences between SUPS and more traditional surfing platforms. We will be engaging in further discussions in our working group about SUP specific guidelines to achieve the type of safe balance which our East Hawaii surfing community deserves. This process takes time, so please be patient.


Much has been said on both sides about the issue of whether and how SUP can co-exist with traditional surfing platforms. At no time until the present has there ever been a need for this type of discussion in Hilo, until SUP exploded in popularity to the point where it is now.

Since the public meeting, there has been a heightened awareness from the SUP and surfing community which has generally had a positive impact on how SUP might fit into our limited Hilo breaks. This post describes our unique Hilo breaks and what we have done so far in considering the issues.

Since the public meeting, we have listened to and absorbed the ideas of many, and observed conditions at Honoli`i and Bayfront during a variety of swell and wave conditions, during weekdays, weekends and holidays. We stopped circulating our petition to DLNR out of respect for the process, but had gathered approximately 250 signatures from Big Island surfers by then.

Our goal, based on what we have absorbed and observed since the public meeting, is to accomplish a workable balance between traditional surfing platforms and SUP at our Hilo breaks which fosters safety and the balanced use of our wave resources by the many, not the few. The ideas which we have heard range from banning SUP at all of our heavily used breaks to the simple adoption of codes of conduct applicable to all. Neither end of the spectrum presents a practical or realistic perspective at the current time. However, similar discussions for places like Ho`okipa on Maui have resulted in SUP and windsurfer free zones. SUPs do need to recognize that if their use of Hilo’s wave resources becomes so lacking in respect that formal rules are required, there may be a result which no one wants to see.

Working Group Meeting

Our first working group meeting occurred on March 9, 2011. During that session, concerns were expressed by those who surf and whose families surf about occasions when the number of SUP in the water simply overwhelmed surfers or discouraged them from either going out or surfing in the same break. We discussed the responsibility to our many water users, kids and keiki to recognize this as a problem. Not doing so reflects a serious lack of consciousness of who uses our water every day and a lack of respect for the surfing tradition.

The SUP representatives in the working group presented a proposed code of conduct applicable to surfers, body boarders and SUP users, similar to the “Kook or Kool” list. While it is a good start, there remain functional differences between SUP equipment and more traditional surfing platforms, and when these differences are considered in conjunction with our unique Hilo breaks, it should become apparent that there is a need for SUP specific guidelines which we will be working out in our next round of discussions.

At the working group meeting, some very experienced SUP riders with extensive surfing backgrounds were asked at that meeting for their perspectives on what they do when they see a monopolization of an area by SUP or the potential for this occurring. Their practice was to not go out at that break at that time, paddle down the coast or go to another break, and SUP has this capability (We suggest another option, which is to go out on a traditional surfing platform).

Functional Differences Between SUP and Surfboards or Bodyboards

The SUP differences include (1) the size and weight of SUPs, (2) the increased potential for injuries which they pose, (3) the use of a paddle which prevents most SUP users from holding onto the SUP, especially in larger surf conditions (no such thing as duck diving or turning turtle in a large wave with an SUP), (4) the ability of relatively inexperienced SUP user to immediately paddle into the same lineup and create risks for others in the water, (5) the fact that SUP is simply not “kid friendly” (consider that kids and groms cannot afford SUPs or carry them to the water), (6) the ability of the SUP to range farther and to utilize wave locations not typically frequented by traditional surfers, (7) and the ability of one or more SUP users to monopolize a break by failing to “share” the waves, so that any more than 2-3 SUP who practice Kook or Kool at any one break can still be too much, depending on wave frequency.

We note here that the question has been raised whether SUP is considered to be surfing. We respond by stating that traditional surfing has been to paddle into a wave with hands or feet on a platform that requires speed and balance to stand or perform maneuvers on, and which takes countless hours in the water to master. On the other hand, most SUP platforms are so large and stable that one can stand motionless on an SUP. It is this different size and bulk of an SUP, coupled with a paddle, which allows an SUP to catch waves well before they break and which poses the enhanced safety risk.

Those with surfing backgrounds who now SUP have generally understood this difference and the advantage which an SUP has over any traditional surfing platform to catch waves from farther out and to monopolize any break. This awareness is key to understanding that on any given day and time, there is a certain balance of SUP/surfers which can work. Surfing with SUP who have this awareness can be fun.

Hilo Breaks

Each surfing location in Hilo also has its unique attributes which needs to be considered when suggesting specific guidelines which accomplish a balance of wave use conducive to safe surfing. This discussion focuses on the unique attributes of our the Honolii and Bayfront breaks. Similar discussions can be had for other Hilo or Keaukaha breaks.


First and foremost, Honolii is a beach park, where a large variety of body boarders, surfers, families, keiki, beginners and groms can be found on any given day. While there are several breaks, they are compacted in relatively tight zones that can include 50-75 surfers or more on a good day, or even on a weekend or holiday.

At Left Point, the takeoff zone is generally on first or second reef. Even experienced SUP need to be near the pit. When Left Point has size, only very experienced SUP should be in this Left Point area as getting caught inside can be trouble since an SUP has no ability to duck dive or turtle. Mid-channels is a heavily used break by intermediate and advanced surfers, and inside Mid-channels is often used by beginners and keiki, for whom SUP riders can pose safety risks. Mids and inside Mids should be left to surfers and beginners when it is apparent that SUP in this zone is unsafe. At Privates, occupied by body boarders and surfers, the area should really be SUP free. SUP do have the deeper water takeoff zones between left Point and Mids to catch waves, and the area between is generally used less.


On tradewind and small days, Bayfront can be the place for beginning SUP to learn the basics without endangering others. But when the waves get larger, the nature of the Bayfront wave provides SUP with an even greater advantage for catching waves given the type of ground swell that rolls in over a gradual bottom grade. The takeoff “pit” for SUP is much further out than the pit for surfers.

Speed down the line can be interrupted by SUP in white water, as SUP cannot duck dive or stay stationary in certain wave conditions. When a certain number of surfers and/or body boarders are in the water due to larger wave conditions which attract more surfers, SUP have the opportunity with their mobility to move to the right break, move up the coast to Bayshore Towers, Scenic Point or other SUP accessible locations.

SUP Specific Guidelines

This is where the rubber will meet the road, given these observations. We will be presenting our ideas of how to achieve a workable balance with the working group representatives and hope to arrive at a final set of draft guidelines to present at another public meeting thereafter. Your comments and suggestions on how to arrive at a workable balance are welcome.

More information on BISSA on Facebook

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