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Catching Bumps and Waves

Thu, September 22, 2022 8:40 PM | Adam Tischler (Administrator)

Originally submitted by Bruce Barry

Thoughts on Catching Bumps, Waves, and Other Sea Surface Anomalies 
Whilst Attempting to Balance Atop a Standup Paddleboard

This will be a fairly detailed look into some of the why’s and how’s of propelling a standup board onto bumps and into waves.   Generally bumps will be somewhat poorly defined chop while waves are more organized.  As an example,  what I call bumps are the kind of chop you might find locally when the wind is blowing around 5mph or greater (yes, you can find them at that level) while waves are either dredged up by something like the displacement wave of a standup paddleboard or chop that has had time and distance to grow into something more organized.

 OK, I grew up in Southern California and have never been far from water.  I have been riding waves in one form or another for nearly 62 years started at around age 10 and in somewhat of the following order:

  • Inflatable mats – age 9 or 10
  • Homemade belly boards – probably around age 11
  • Surfboards – around age 12
  • 22-29 foot keelboats starting around age 25 including 5 years on San Francisco Bay and 5 races from San Francisco to San Diego on boats 27 feet or less.   This was a 500 mile downwind race in frequently heavy winds including rounding Point Conception.   Surfing down waves at night in the pitch dark with the spinnaker up using the stars on the horizon in front of you to line your track down the wave is an experience never to be forgotten.
  • Windsurfing around age 40
  • Standup paddle including surf and DW around age 60
  • Finally windfoiling (windsurf sail on foil board) at 68.
  • It is conceivable that even though my wife claims I am a notoriously slow learner, that I have picked up a few things about wave riding along the way.

Bruce in the Columbia River Gorge
Photo credit: Joel Yang

So here goes.  The goal is to as easily as possible, break down some of the sequences involved in several different types of bump and wave catching categories.    We will do this in the following order:

  • Drafting a single paddler – harnessing a displacement wave
  • Riding the confused cluster of multiple displacement waves to the first mark or attempting to pass a draft chain or single paddler
  • More specific thoughts on catching actual wind generated bumps when unhindered by other close SUP’s
  • Finally, riding waves that aren’t in the surf zone.   True surfing is a completely different concept and wont be covered here. 


This is sort of the oddest type of wave riding as it would seem that the ripples coming off the board ahead are not waves.  The reality is that unless the forward board is traveling faster than hull speed (defined below) it is digging a trench that is slightly shorter than the boards waterline length.  The best way to see this is try drafting in smooth water and look for the faintly defined series of trenches that the forward board is digging up.  Paddle hard into them and before you know it you will have surfed right up to the forward board’s tail and need to go to (in smooth wind free water) about half paddle power to avoid climbing up over the forward board’s fanny.   Try this with a friend and the technique soon becomes apparent.   

From a technical standpoint, hull speed is defined by the equation of 1.34xsq root waterline length x 1.15 to convert from knots to mph.  So, for something like a 14’ Starboard Sprint which is designed to have 14 feet in the water you have 1.34xsq root of 14x 1.15 or 5.77mph / pace of 10:24 minutes per mile.   Your RS or Allstar not as fast in the flats as a Sprint?    Hah, that is because not only is the nose itself wider up front increasing resistance therefore requiring more effort, but you are losing about 6 inches of hull length meaning your hull speed is 5.66 mph / pace of 10:36 minutes per mile.  And as we all know a 12 second pace differential is huge. 

As boards get narrower it becomes easier to transit over the hull speed barrier – most folks on 24” or less can easily push over 6mph,  but it takes a whole heap more effort as you actually have to ride up and over the displacement wave the board is digging.  Which is why the nose lifts on a board planning in flat water.  But again the effort required to do this is fairly intense.   Ahh, finding someone to draft.  Yeah, that sounds like just the ticket.

Cluster of Boards Displacement Wave’s River

This doesn’t work well in choppy conditions, but in smooth conditions you can often find a channel of organized displacement wave junk that is actually a bit like bump riding but on a micro scale.   What you are looking for is a section where all the disturbances are lining up in the same direction.  Trying to ride a rooster tail in the middle of a pack of boards where the bumplets are converging into you from both sides is rarely a happy place.  You are looking to be off to the side a bit of the board ahead of you.  It may mean shooting a few degrees right or left of true course to the mark but often the speed increase can make up for the extra travel distance.    I will frequently use this when I am behind a draft train and do the cluster bump jump out to the side and ahead of the draft train in fairly short order.  

As we transition from riding displacement waves that are really more of a tactical discussion to actually riding bumps, lets review a few pics.

The first below is on a 12’6”.    In this smooth water you can see the leading edge of the displacement wave about a foot back of the nose – sort of at the edge of the red lettering,  the deepest part of the wave near the centerline of the board and about where the paddle is, and the end of the wave about a foot in front of the tail.     

In the second, this time on a 14’ All Star you can again see the fairly defined displacement wave about a foot in from the nose and tail with the deepest part at around the centerline.   You can also just make out the draft zone with a series of humps in the water getting deepest about a foot from the tail of the board.   Ride’em cowboy.

The third in this series shows an attempted transition.  I am sprinting to the finish line of a race and the board is trying to climb over the front portion of the displacement wave and onto a plane.  You can clearly see the bow rising as it tries to climb the leading edge of the displacement wave hump about a foot behind the word STARBOARD.  Tons of energy required to plane a 26” wide board.

The final shot marks our transition from riding board generated displacement waves into riding wind generated bumps and waves.  Here you can clearly see the board planning on a wind generated chop, didn’t even need to paddle at that point.  Note that I have moved a foot or two back from the centerline to maximize planning by reducing the drag of wetted surface.   This is a Joel Yang shot somewhere between Golden Gardens and Richmond Beach.  I believe we were discussing the physics of the Higgs boson.


To maximize your bumping enjoyment we need to discuss the Pogo Stick.  Simply put the Pogo moves by WEIGHTING down to load the force and UNWEIGHTING up to transfer the energy forward.   When you think of the kinetics of your paddle stroke you tend to think of it as forward motion generated by pulling the paddle aft against the water forcing the board forward.  Tru nuff, but this is a two dimensional model.  By adding the Pogo you transition this to three dimensions and significantly increase your bump catching ability.   

Like practicing drafting with a friend, try doing this by yourself on smooth flat water.   As you begin your stroke and move the paddle forward drop down on your knees slightly, paddle enters water at the most forward part of your stroke and as you pull back use the paddle pressure when it is about  a 45 degree angle in front of you as the time to relax your downwards knee push, let the paddle support part of your weight, and then what happens is that at the most powerful part of your stroke you UNWEIGHT and you have maximized the power at the same time as you have minimized the weight on the board.  Magic.

Now the secret is to work this into the timing of catching and riding a bump.   This simply comes from experience but the goal to catch bumps is to keep the nose displaced to maximize the waterline length of the board and therefore your speed at the same time you apply max stroke power and unweight, and then as you ride the bump be ready to move your bod aft enough to avoid burying the nose.   Which is dead ass slow, heretofore described as DAS.

Lots of ideas on this forward and aft body movement.  Some folks like to do an artsy walk - like nose riding a longboard.  I prefer the (at least for me) much more efficient bunny hop where I simply hop back and forth with both feet staying roughly parallel to width not length of the board. 

And of course in smaller bumps this whole dance repeats every couple of seconds.   You want the board roughly lined up in the direction of the bump, transition into it, then try to avoid burying the nose or going uphill into the bump in front of you which is another version of DAS.  Bumping is infinitely complex as tide or current, wind speed and direction, fetch – the distance the bump has had to build up in, all play a role.   Trying DW runs on Lake Washington with the Coulon to Enatai run being a favorite at least eliminates the role of tide or current.  The techniques don’t all come together immediately and the near infinite number of variables attached to each bump require constant adjustment.   But the more you do it the better you will get.  Just remember the Pogo Stick.

Next up is moving from bumps to waves.   The difference is largely fetch denominated as one bump gets gobbled up by another then gobbled by another then gobbled by another and eventually you will have a large enough bump that it begins to form a proper wave.   But it all takes fetch to do all this gobble up.

IT IS NOT this below.   We surf groundswell.  We downwind on wind waves.   You can clearly see there is no wind disturbance, no bumps, the next wave is about 10-15 seconds behind me.   Riding techniques are also almost completely different, in true surfing you WEIGHT and UNWEIGHT with each turn rather than doing this simply to get onto the bump or wave.  In the photo below I have clearly UNWEIGHTED after a sharp WEIGHTED cutback and am beginning to drop down to load WEIGHT into a carve coming back to my frontside as I hit the whitewater to my backside. 

Wind Wave Riding (do I hear the Hallelujah Chorus?)

OK, just like we use the Pogo Stick to increase energy kinetics on bumps we need to use the PARKING BRAKE to best manage energy kinetics on a true wind wave and avoid picking up the most points in the dreaded game of Lawn Darts.

There is another name for the PARKING BRAKE.  Some call it the PADDLE.   Here’s the thing.  It is really exciting to get on a wave that is a foot or three+ high and ride it all the way down to the bottom.  Problem is that you are now in a hole.  Literally.   The only way to get out is you have to dig your way out and either slow down enough for the next wave to lift you up again or paddle uphill like a fiend over the top of the wave ahead of you.   Either way is as you guessed, DAS.

Buddy Joel got a really good series of me at Mitchell Point in this year’s SIC Paddle Challenge.  In this series of shots – not necessarily in order and not always the same wave you will notice the following:

  • I have the Parking Brake engaged by dragging the paddle in the water to keep me at the steepest and most power laden part of the wave.  It makes the most pleasing hissing or shredding noise when you do this.
  • I am using the paddle not my weight to trim board direction as well as applying the brake
  • Most of the board is out of the water and level – I am maximizing planning power with minimum weighted surface, if I was turning and carving like a surfboard I would be potentially bleeding speed,  here I am maximizing the power by staying at the wave apex and not turning the board on its speed killing rail
  • I am avoiding dropping into the speed and energy eating wave trough.  I am also keeping the nose up to avoid a lawn darts score.  Burying the nose at this speed can lead to a picturesque catapult.   Much more fun for the viewer than the experiencer. 

Here I am releasing the Parking Brake for more speed.  The photo differences are more subtle than what you actually feel from paddle feedback.

With this next one we have another new transition coming up.   You can see that I have the Parking Brake applied hard, but I am also leaning back slightly although it does not appear that I am in danger of Lawn Darts.  What I am doing is a massive energy storing load up – this is just before I weight forward, nose down, and paddle like mad (whilst engaging the Pogo) to jump the bump just in front of me.  Enter the SLINGSHOT, the single most fun maneuver in this whole mess.  This Slingshot maneuver happens when you have a nice smooth wave series (we can call them Smoothies- readily distinguishable from a chopped up messy wave) in front of you and you can actually gain enough speed with the Slingshot to jump over one wave, two wave, three wave, more, etc.  Holy Cow time, maybe even Holy Grail.   

And finally we have the moves required to avoid the near death experience.   This wind blast has to be near 40mph as everything is froth – you cant even see the board.  Trust me, the board was there.  I have max Parking Brake applied – look how hard I am pushing down on the handle and the goal is to slow everrrrything down to have some level of control dropping into the wave rather than becoming Lawn Dart obliterated.

So as with catching bumps, to catch waves we need to (as much as we dare) have enough weight forward to engage the most length of board for the most speed, Pogo, and be ready to move back ohh so very quickly.   As I am engaging a wave I will literally have that needle nose skimming the water and then bunny hop back like mad as I am engaging the Parking Brake BECAUSE EVEN THE BUNNY HOP UNWEIGHTS THE BOARD AND PROMOTES SPEED.   So with each real wave think of how and when to applying the Parking Brake to maximize the power of each individual wave.  As noted earlier, holes suck. 

And with bumps and waves there are so many variables including current if you are on the mighty Columbia.  Wind blowing against the current makes the waves larger, but also makes them more difficult to get into.  My wife has video of me at the Hatchery seemingly dropping into a wave and then getting pulled backwards out of it like I was on a bungee cord.   That’s another reason why first DW runs are possibly better on a current free stretch of water.  The Columbia can also be somewhat uncompromising for the uninitiated.  Joel Yang runs a great guide service and is a good way to try out your first few runs.

So hopefully some of this was of benefit to you.   The only way to get better at any of these techniques is to practice.   Many of the flat water techniques like the  POGO and Bunny Hop can be done by yourself in flat water,  displacement wave riding is best done with a training partner and bumps and waves are obviously best done when gasp, there are bumps and waves.

My goal in all of this, whether it be a health related topic, gear review, or performance related article like this is simply to use my hard won knowledge to help others achieve their own goals.

Happy trails.     

 Bruce Barry     8/20/22

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