If you’re new to stand-up paddleboarding—SUP for short—welcome. You’re in for a mild ride. But, we’re definitely not referring to the workout! We only say “mild” because although you use a surfboard-esque board, waves, white caps, and great white sharks won’t be common occurrences. Whew—you can breathe easier now! Skyrocketing in popularity since the early 2000s, SUP is an awesome form of aquatic exercise that all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. All you need is a calm body of water, a little bit of gear, and some basic technique. But lucky you, our Beginner’s Guide To Stand-Up Paddleboarding has that all covered and then some!
Health and Wellness Benefits Of SUP
Why stand-up paddleboard when you could run, bike, or swim? Here are just a few of the health and wellness benefits that make Stand-Up Paddleboarding an amazing activity!
- Provides A Full-Body Workout: First, SUP provides an amazing full-body workout. Your legs are engaged to keep you balanced on the board. Your core is pulled in tight for added stability. Your upper body is paddling you through the water to strengthen your shoulders, arms and upper back – it truly covers you in strength from head to toe!
- Improves Balance and Stability: Balance and stability tend to decrease as we age. Ironically, that’s just when we need it the most. SUP is virtually an entire balance workout from the moment you step on the board until the moment you get off.
- Gives You A Cardio Fix: Though it may not look like it from the photos, once you get strong enough to stay up longer on the paddleboard, you’ll also find yourself wanting to move more on it which will get your heart rate up in the process. The SUP is one of those awesome activities that provides both strength and cardio all in one.
- Low Impact: So running and jumping activites have their place, but sometimes you need to get away and provide your body with a low impact alternative. Paddleboarding is a way to workout without putting so much stress on your joints, especially knees, hips and lower back.
- Strengthens Core and Lower Back: Speaking of your lower back, SUP required that you pull in your abdominals in order to stabilize and keep from tipping over. This gives you a stronger middle which includes a better lower back with fewer injuries and less back pain.
- Relieves Stress: Floating on water while enjoying the sunshine and outdoors is an excellent way to relieve stress and clear your head. Not only that, changing your workouts is important for the overall health of your body. One day a run, one day weight lifting, another day paddleboarding. Change is good!
Finding The Right Board
Let’s start with the biggest piece of the SUP puzzle, the board. Later on in the guide, we’ll share how to rent boards, but if you are looking to buy your own, there are a few different types to consider. However, SUP boards are expensive so be sure to buy your board from a paddleboard expert who can help you find the perfect fit for your body and your SUP goals. For most of you, fun and fitness are the main goals and not racing which requires a different shape and length board altogether. Medium-length boards (9’ to 12’) with a planing hull (vs a displacement hull) are great for all-around use on calm lakes and in small waves according to REI experts. Chris says, “My family owns three 11’ and one 10’ Hulakai boards. The 11’ is just a little more stable but seriously just a little.”
“We also own two inflatable boards that are amazing. I will go on record saying they are the bomb! I ordered off eBay from a company close to home located in St. Paul, MN.” Flash forward a year, there are hundreds of options online. They literally fit in a backpack, so you don’t have to worry about transportation. When you get to the lake or beach, you just blow them up with a pump and off you go. “We have an electric pump, but we use the hand pump most often,” says Chris. “It takes about 10 minutes to blow up which is no problem. The inflatable board feels exactly like a normal SUP board. My family and friends literally can’t tell the difference. You can throw them in the back of your car no problem. If you are looking to purchase a board and be mobile – I recommend the inflatable.”
However, what the board boils down to is preference. Some come in bright colors, some are lighter to carry down to the beach, and some are better for transporting in a car with ease (hence the inflatable). Like we stated early, talking to a stand-up paddleboard expert is a wise choice. You can also call the experts at sites like Hulakai and Isle Surf and SUP to find the right board before you order.
Choosing Your Paddle Length
The paddle is used to propel the board through the water. A paddle too short or too long will stunt your ability to SUP with ease. A good rule of thumb is that your paddle should be 10-12 inches taller than you for racing, 8-10 inches taller than you for cruising on flat water, and 6-8 inches taller than you for surfing, according to Eastern Mountain Sports. For the majority of those reading, go with the cruising height! If you’re buying a paddle or two for the whole family, an adjustable paddle like this KIAOLA Aloha Paddle is a smart bet. Or just cut it to be a “happy medium” for the whole family.
Life Jacket: The US Coast Guard requires that all paddleboarders must wear a life jacket or have it with them on his or her board.
Proper Clothing: Depending on the weather or whether or not you plan on jumping in, your activewear can vary. You can wear just a swimsuit, a swimsuit and rash guard combo, or just workout clothes. For added sun protection, we love Athleta’s line of SPF-added swimwear. DO NOT have your phone in your pocket. We’ve seen it happen more than once that someone who claims never to fall, falls off the board with their phone along for the ride.
Sun Protection: Sun beating down on water is just asking for a sunburn. Stay safe with a water-resistance sport sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. If you go for a swim, the hat and sunglasses will stay safe and sound on the board.
Will I Fall Off?
Ahh, the question you’ve been dying to ask since you’ve started reading. Here’s the deal. Unlike a pool floatie, the boards are very sturdy. You can stand up, sit down, lie down, paddle from your knees, and even do yoga on the board without falling in. Okay, yoga might make you fall in, but you get the point. Trust us, it takes a little practice, and starting on your knees may help, but most folks get the hang in a few minutes. It’s not that it’s hard to do, it’s overcoming the fear. PS: It’s very easy to get back on the board from the water if you do take a dive!
Perfect The Technique
We recommend taking a stand-up paddleboard lesson to learn the technique hands-on, or better yet, grab a friend who is a veteran. Nonetheless, here’s a basic form overview:
- Pull your board out into shallow water, lay your paddle on the board, and carefully climb on. Start paddling from your knees for a few strokes.
- Then, carefully stand up one foot at a time until you are situated in the middle of the board with your feet hip-width apart and parallel.
- Always keeps a slight bend in your knees, your toes pointed forwarded, and your eyes facing forward and not on your feet. This will help your balance!
- Watch the video below to learn the correct way to hold the paddle.
- You should keep arms straight and twist from your torso as you paddle. You have much more strength in your core muscles than in your arms.
- Stick the paddle in the water as far forward as possible, pull your paddle through the water to your ankles, and then lift it out of the water and repeat.
- Paddle four to five strokes on one side of the board and then switch to the other side in order to stay in a straight line.
SUP Strength Exercises/Yoga Exercises
If you want to take your SUP workout to the next level, put your paddle down and add in some strength moves on the board. These are our favorite strength exercises and yoga poses to do floating on the water. SUP yoga is so popular right now, you can easily find a class at your local beach or lake!
- Basic Squats
- Stationary Lunges
- Russian Twists (holding the paddle)
- Crescent Lunge
- Down Dog
- Warrior 2
Where To Get Your SUP On
You got the how-to, now you just need the locale. With the extreme popularity of this sport, your local lake or nearby body of water should have stand-up paddleboarding rentals and classes. Start by Googling to see what’s in your area. If you’re headed to a cabin, just like bike rentals, summer lake towns are now filled with SUP rentals. If you’re still struggling to find a SUP spot, swing by your local water sports store and ask the experts. They will guide you in the right direction!
SUP on, friends!