If you live near water, you might see people standing and paddling on what look like large surfboards. Some may even use their board as a balancing surface on which to practice yoga. A relative of surfing that doesn’t need big waves, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP for short) has taken off in the past decade as a fun, yet challenging way to get out on the water. It’s now being considered as a potential future Olympic sport.
Paddleboarding has its origins in Hawaii among surfers who wanted a way to still get out on the water, even when the waves were low. But many cultures, from Africa to South America, use small boats in which people stand to steer. Part of the reason for paddleboarding’s recent growth is that unlike surfing, which requires big waves, stand-up paddleboarding can happen in almost any body of calm water. It is a fitness option available to far more people around the world. Since it is best to keep the board quiet as one goes along, it can also be quite meditative.
Svea Witt-Trzebiatowski, a fiber artist from Wisconsin, USA, says, “I love it because it’s a better workout than canoeing, plus you can plunk down on your butt in the middle of the lake and meditate, too.” Meaghan Younker, a foster parent from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and an avid stand-up paddleboarder, says, “I enjoy the serene environment while exercising. It is therapeutic for the body and mind. There are private moments when you stumble across Great Blue Herons feeding or a curious seal and the moment belongs to you and nature.”
Investing in your own board and paddle runs to about the same cost as a good entry-level road bike. It is a commitment best made after you have already tried it and know you enjoy it. Fortunately, there are many SUP rentals all over the world in places that are conducive to starting out with the sport. Most also offer lessons and provide large stable boards that are optimal for beginners and recreational paddlers. (The smaller, more pointed, narrow or curved the board, the more it is suited to experienced paddlers, ready to trade stability for speed and surfability.)
Here are some key points for beginning paddleboarders:
Choose a location where it is easy to get into the water with your board and there are no strong winds.
Do not go paddleboarding when there is a strong wind that blows you away from the shore.
Paddle outward into the wind and back with the wind, so that you don’t struggle on your way back.
Always carry your board until you are knee-deep in the water to prevent damage to the finish or getting the fin stuck in the sand.
Use a leash to connect your board to your ankle, so that you won’t lose it if you fall.
If you do lose your balance, try to fall feet first away from your board, not onto it.
The more forward momentum you have, the more stability you will have, similar to bicycles. Use your paddle before you get up from kneeling to standing.
Keep your paddle straight up and down in order to steer straight. Emma Iserman, a medical researcher and recreational triathlete from Ontario, Canada, says, “It was easier to balance on the board than I expected (although not when I accidentally steered into the wake of a fast-moving boat). Of course, my 8-year-old jumped on a board and almost immediately could paddle circles around me!”
Your arms will get tired quickly if you try to use them to do all the work. Use your core to balance and stabilize you and to power your strokes. You will be able to enjoy longer periods of time on the water.
Yes, it’s a strong core workout!
Keep your gaze out on the horizon, not down at your feet.
Keep your knees slightly bent so that they can act as shock absorbers and keep you steady.
This summer, give paddleboarding a try and see if you can experience a vibrant peace amid the gentle waves.
Pranada McBurnie is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. In between times, she enjoys being active at the gym, on her bike, in the pool and on the running trail. She was competitive as a teenager in distance running, badminton and ringette. 20 years later she built her running back up from scratch and has finished races up to and including the marathon.