Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) has been around for thousands of years with ancient cultures making use of long paddles to propel their canoes, boats and boards through the water from a standing position. But the modern tradition follows its roots back to 16th Century Hawaii where Captain Cook witnessed the locals surfing the waves on boards so big that a paddle was needed to power out through the waves.
In 2013 the Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Participation report identified SUP as having the highest number of first-time participants of any outdoor sport in the USA that year. Since then it has continued to grow in popularity with standing paddlers enjoying touring on rivers, lakes, canals and the sea, surfers taking on coastal waves and river rapids, racers competing for their country in international competitions, and yogis displaying incredible strength and balance on their floating platforms.
Who can do stand up paddle boarding?
Anyone with basic physicality can have a go at SUP. It helps to have an OK sense of balance and obviously an appreciation of being submerged in water is fairly important! But you don’t need to be able to swim (a buoyancy aid will keep you afloat if you take a dip), and although helpful, prior experience on a surfboard or in a canoe is not necessary.
Recreational paddle boarding is ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy being on the water in a more low key way than surfing. If the sea is calm then it is an excellent way to explore the coastline and an alternative way to navigate rivers and other flat bodies of water, instead of canoeing.
If you’re already a proficient surfer, then paddle boarding can offer a great new way to take on the waves and is ideal for small wave days when you need to generate a little extra power to make a catch.
Where can you go stand up paddle boarding?
You can paddle a board on any body of water that is relatively flat and calm. Many do it on the sea and combine it with some cheeky wave surfing, whilst others prefer to stay away from the action seeking out calm waters behind the waves, or on lakes. You can also journey down slow moving rivers and small estuaries, or explore harbours and seafronts.
For your first time on a SUP, your best option is to seek out a place that rents the gear on a slow moving river, lake or in a calm and sheltered bay.
What to expect on your first session of stand up paddle boarding
Paddle boards are wider, longer and much more buoyant than surfboards, making them a relatively stable base to find your sea legs on. That said, if there is a bit of chop in the water, finding your feet can take a little longer, and you may unexpectedly find your way into the water sooner than you’d hoped! But with a little patience and perseverance, it doesn’t take long at all to adjust to the movement of the board.
Once you’ve got your balance, the use of the paddle will both help and hinder your progression initially, until you’ve properly got into the swing of things.
If it is your first time negotiating the waters by stand up paddle power, then you can expect to get a really good full body workout, with almost every muscle in your body working hard to keep your body upright. On top of that, you’ll walk away with pretty sore shoulders and a well worked core from generating all that forward moving power.
A really nice feature of paddle boarding is that you can do as much or as little as you like. There is no set way to do it, like riding a wave or completing a ski run. You might want to go as fast as you can for 10 minutes and then relax, or go on a slow-paced all day tour with your picnic on board. You might want to find flat water and just float or you might want to do it as an hour-long endurance workout. It really is up to you.
How to get started
As the popularity of SUP increases, so does the number of outfitters that have boards available to rent. So if you’re a ‘give it a go and see what happens’ type of learner, then you’ll have great fun just renting a board and getting out on the water. For some, this is a great way to learn.
For others however, a taster session or beginner course will be hugely beneficial to gain essential information on how to best find your balance and how to effectively paddle as straight as possible.
Whichever way you choose to learn, you will be provided with a paddle, buoyancy aid and wetsuit if appropriate.
What to wear when stand up paddle boarding
This is largely dependent on both the water temperature and the weather, but the place you rent from will recommend what is most suitable. Whilst in warm conditions you will need nothing more than your bikini or board shorts, less favourable conditions may require a full wetsuit, gloves and booties. A rash vest is a good addition to your top half in mild conditions. It will keep you warm if you get wet and will also help protect you from the sun.
Whether it’s warm or cold, you may want to consider wearing some water shoes. These will protect your feet if you jump or fall off in shallow water and will provide extra grip to help keep you on your board.
How to go straight on a stand up paddle board
A key skill that will heighten your enjoyment during your first time on a paddleboard, is the ability to make your board go in a straight line. This video shows three different techniques that will help with this.
Where to learn more about stand up paddle boarding
There are some great SUP online magazines that have loads of information on how and where to get started and also resources that are more specific to the various disciplines within the sport. Take a look at these to get you inspired for your first dip into the world of standing paddle power: