So what is this SUP craze all about?
Historians point to Duke Kahanamoku as the genesis, as shown in this 1939 video on YouTube. It continued to evolve through the 1960s when the “Beach Boys of Waikiki” would stand up on their longboards to photograph tourists who were learning to surf. Then in the 1990’s with surf legend Laird Hamilton standing up (pun intended), Stand-Up Paddleboarding was officially the new hotness. Since, it has continued to grow through California and now has penetrated the U.S. east coast shoreline, rivers, bays.
There are various types of stand up paddling, including flat water paddling for outdoor recreation, fitness, or sightseeing, racing on lakes, large rivers and canals, surfing on ocean waves, paddling in river rapids (whitewater SUP), and even SUP Yoga. Unlike traditional surfing where the rider is sitting until a wave comes, stand up paddle boarders maintain an upright stance on their boards and use a paddle to propel themselves through the water. Turns out, between the necessary balance and paddling, it’s a killer core workout and a surprisingly meditative experience.
If you’re nervous about your balance, strengthening your core and back muscles through planks, side planks, and even dolphin pose to target your shoulders, arms, and upper back, before getting in the water will help you to be more secure on the board. Another great gym workout to practice your SUP muscles is standing on the bosu ball with the rounded part towards the floor. It may be a little scary at first as your central nervous system wakes up to activate the necessary muscles to allow you to balance. As this happens, my clients and I will often experience involuntary shifting side to side. Though it will feel strange as your body finds its equilibrium, it’s no reason to hop off. After a little bit of practice, you will be able to do air squats atop the bosu ball, and once those are too easy, pistol squats.
With all that being said, don’t be afraid to give SUP a shot. One of the reasons it is so popular is its accessibility. Even if you have been inactive lately, you’ll find that your body will adapt quickly.
Once you are ready, mount your board and stand up straight with your feet in a wide, evenly spaced stance. Your weight should be relatively centered on the board as youl maintain an upright position with your back straight. Then, maintaining this posture, you will paddle a few strokes on one side to then switch to the other if you feel you are turning. That’s it!
It doesn’t sound like much, and to watch someone do it, it doesn’t look like much. But the secret is in what is going on within your body. The work behind SUP is all isometric and resistance. Your legs and your core muscles are working at all times to keep you balanced on your board. At first you will feel it! Your body is working many large and small muscles to hold you upright and stabilize you, as you and your board move over the water. These movements are not favoring left or right, front or back, but working your whole body evenly.
Like any other outdoor activity stand up paddleboarding deserves respect and attention, as it challenges you both physically and mentally. The more you delve into this rich world and the more you become aware of its intricacies, and the more fulfilling it will become for you and your friends.
So much so, it has provided the opportunity for many enthusiasts to launch new businesses to make the sport more accessible. I speak from experience, as this Spring, I will be launching Balance Paddleboarding in Alexandria to experience the Potomac River and her tributaries like never before.
If Alexandria isn’t convenient, Travel channel made a slide show on the best places to SUP. A few places of note are Santa Barbara Harbor’s calm waters, ideal for learning the sport, or the clear waters along Abacos in the Bahamas. In Costa Rica, SUP has become an increasingly popular alternative to surfing, as paddle boarders can enjoy the marine life along with continually calm, warm waters. Not featured by Travel Channel, but one of my personal favorites is Lake Austin in Austin, TX.
Read more: How To Paddle Board Out In The Ocean