How to get into stand up paddle boarding: the ultimate water sport
It's a pretty safe bet that if you get yourself down to the nearest bay - or any bay for that matter - within a few minutes you're going to see someone gliding effortlessly along on a stand up paddle board, aka a SUP. And there's more than a few reasons this simple pastime has become so popular. For a start: it's easy to learn, they're surprisingly versatile, and it won't break the bank to get a half decent SUP of your own.
SUP is sometimes referred to as 'surfing for the meditative type' and we reckon this is pretty spot on. Get out there first thing in the morning when the sun is just rising and the water is smooth as glass, and you'll be hooked before you know it. In fact, still water is the ideal environment for beginners to find their 'SUP legs'.
If waves are more your thing, a SUP can be a perfect alternative to your regular board. When the waves are too small to get a decent ride on a surfboard, get the SUP out and cruise around on even the tiniest waves. Sure, it's a bigger board, so you're not going to go as fast, but you will ride for longer.
Whatever your ideal environment, there's no question that if you like getting outdoors and on the water, you're going to love stand up paddle boarding. You can take it as fast or slow as you like, and it won't take years of dedicated practice to get the hang of it either. Because of their size, SUPs are relatively stable.
It does take some practice to learn to manoeuvre with any kind of precision, but hey - you'll be out on the water with plenty of space!
SUP tips for first timers
- Choose flat water like lakes, sheltered bays and inlets with minimal waves - give it some time before working up to your first surf break
- First up, try kneeling while you get a feel for the board and paddle before you transition to standing
- Remember to relax and look out at the horizon to get your balance
- Position your body in the centre of the board, with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability
- Engage your core muscles to stabilise your body. This will also help to stop the board wobbling
- Your knees should be slightly bent with your shoulders relaxed and centred
- Don't slap the paddle down on the water - cut in and follow through with a smooth paddling action. This will see you gliding over the water like a pro
- Practice falling off your board and getting back on in deep water (it can be tricky the first couple of times). This way, you'll know what you're in for when you try your hand at paddling in rougher conditions or on a small surf break.
What to do on your SUP
One of the great things about SUPs is their versatility. Sure, just taking your board out for a chilled-out paddle is pretty magical but (once you get the hang of it) it's also super easy to step it up a notch and mix SUP in with other fun activities.
From fishing, to yoga and practically everything in between - you can even go camping on these things if you're feeling adventurous - there's absolutely no reason not to mix it up and combine stand up paddle boarding with other activities you love doing.
It does pay to have a good think about what you'd like to use your SUP for before you splash out and buy one though as this will impact which kind of board is best for you.
What kind of SUP is best for me?
There are three major types of paddle boards: inflatables (aka iSUPS), flat water/cruise and surf. And while there's no clear 'better or worse' it is important to get the right paddle board for your needs. How you plan on using your SUP should be your primary focus when choosing a board.
- Inflatables: Generally speaking, inflatable boards are more versatile than hard boards. They're easy to inflate wherever you are, they're lighter and won't take up as much room to store. iSUPS are perfect if you're looking for a stable board that's easy to use in gentle conditions.
What's more, with an inflatable paddle board you don't need to worry about roof racks and tie down straps, just throw it in the boot and away you go. Many iSUPs will also come with a large bag or backpack, which makes it super easy to get down to the water - even if it's a fair distance from where you parked the car.
They're not for everyone though. They're not as rigid as hardboards and this means they're probably not ideal if you're going to be out in the surf a whole lot. While they'll handle a small break just fine, a surf SUP is going to perform much better out in the waves.
- Flat water SUPs: Being made from fibreglass, a flat water or cruise SUP is going to be heavier than an iSUP, so they'll take more effort to transport and will need a little more care as well - they'll be less forgiving of knocks and bumps than an inflatable. They will give you a smooth, stable ride once they're out on the water though, and for this reason they're a popular choice. Just make sure you've got some roof racks and enough space to store it if you're going to go for this option.
- Surf SUPs: Shorter and lighter than other SUPs, surf SUPs are made for catching waves and manoeuvring in the surf. They're a heap of fun but, if you're not an experienced surfer, they will take more getting used to than other models as they're not as stable in the water.
Paddling strokes for beginners
It's sound advice to get a clear idea of how to move the board before venturing out on the water. As a general rule, always try to paddle from your core, as opposed to your arms - it'll help with stability and you won't tire as fast. It's also helpful to think about how much noise you're making - if you're paddling quietly without splashing, you're far more likely to be paddling efficiently.
To begin, stand with your feet facing forward (unlike a surfboard) and make sure the curved part of the paddle is facing away from you. Here's a couple of strokes to get you started:
- Forward: Start by rotating your hips and shoulders forward, angle the paddle forward, put the blade fully in the water and pull it back towards you. Remember, the power is coming from your torso, not your arms, so try to keep your arms relatively still. Repeat!
- Backward: For this stroke you're basically doing the reverse of the forward stroke. Submerge the blade of the paddle in the water behind you then twist forward with your torso. The nose of your board will move towards whichever side you're paddling on.
- Sweeps: Sweep strokes are used for turning your board. To perform a forward sweep, bend your knees slightly more than you would when doing a regular forward stroke. Place the blade of the paddle in the water at the front of the board so the flat of the paddle is facing the board, then make a wide arc away from the board - imagine you're drawing a semi-circle in the water. For a reverse sweep, just do the same thing, but starting from the back of the board.
- Draw: These strokes move your board sideways. They're great for pulling up beside another board, wharf or pontoon. To perform a draw stroke, pivot your feet slightly in the direction you'll be paddling. Place the paddle in the water directly to the side of the board and pull it towards you through the water.
When choosing a paddle, it's important to get one that is right for your size, ability and intended uses. As a guide, your paddle should be about 20cm higher than you are, unless you're on a surf SUP, in which case the safest bet is closer to 15cm above your height. Adjustable paddles are also a great option if there will be more than one person using the SUP and for easier storage and transport.
Blade size is another important consideration: you'll want to match this to your physical ability and the speed of your board. As a beginner, a good rule to follow is - the bigger you are, the bigger your blade can be!
The blade shape affects how the paddle moves through the water and the power it generates. The performance differences between blade shapes can be subtle, but as you get more experienced you may develop a preference for one shape over another.
The two most popular shapes are:
- Tear-drop: these are often preferred by people who prefer a slower-cadence and a more powerful stroke.
- Rectangular:These blades can enable a gentler stroke and can be easier on your body. They also allow for a higher-cadence stroke.
Depending on what kind of paddle boarding you plan to be doing (and where), you may want to deck your board out with some accessories. For starters, a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is never a bad idea - especially if you're not super confident on the board yet and/or you plan to be using your board in the ocean. A leash will also provide a safety line to your board and prevent you getting separated from your SUP if you come off out on the water.
If you like the sound of spending a decent amount of time out on your board (and, let's face it, that's most of us) a deck bag is a great way to store any gear like fishing tackle, camping essentials as well as food and water, on the board instead of on your back. These bags can be fastened to the front of the board to safely store your kit.
Give SUPs a go
If you love getting out on the water - whether that's a lake, bay or out in the surf - you should absolutely do yourself a solid and give stand up paddle boarding a go. It's a heap of fun and it'll keep you active too.
There's no other unpowered water sport that gives you such a good vantage point. Because you're standing, you can look out across the water in a way that's just not possible from a kayak or canoe. Add to that the fact it's a great cardio workout, and we reckon you've got yourself one of the best pastimes going around.