Combine surfing with kayaking and you’ve got stand up paddleboarding (SUP). SUP is the fastest- growing water sport in the world with gear sales up by about 200% in the past year, according to Cody White, certified PaddleFit instructor and co-founder of Finger Lakes Paddleboard. “The reason so many people are drawn to paddleboarding is that it’s an amazing full-body workout that improves your core strength, cardio fitness, balance, and flexibility with virtually no impact,” says White. “Plus, it’s fun to get out on the water and enjoy nature, so it hardly feels like exercise.
Even though paddleboarding is a total-body workout, people of all ages and fitness levels can try the sport. Unlike surfing, you don’t need waves to paddleboard, and very calm, flat water is best for beginners. “Surfing didn’t take over mainstream America because the majority of us don’t live by the surf, but the beauty of paddleboarding is that you can do it on an ocean, lake, and even a river,” says White.
Paddleboarding got its roots in Hawaii in the 1960s when the Beach Boys of Waikiki started standing on their longboards and using outrigger paddles to paddle out for a better view of the surf. The sport didn’t take off until the 2000s when pro surfers such as Laird Hamilton used SUP to continue training when the ocean was too calm to surf. Today SUP has gone mainstream, and the World Paddle Association (WPA) makes it easy to find races, meetups, and classes across the country. Try White’s tips on how to get started with this exploding sport for yourself.
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Take a lesson
“The key to mastering paddleboarding isn’t about how strong you are, but rather it’s all about technique,” says White. To avoid common beginner mistakes (think: standing with straight legs looking down rather than with legs slightly bent like in skiing for better balance and for gazing ahead at the horizon), paddleboarding virgins should sign up for a lesson from a PaddleFit- or WPA-certified instructor. Finger Lakes Paddleboard, for example, offers an intro to SUP class that shows you how to correctly size and hold a paddle, proper paddling technique, basic turns on the board, how to stay safe in wind and waves, and how to fall and remount. The one-hour class starts at just $25 including equipment rental.
Focus on your core instead of your arms
Your first instinct when paddling might be to focus on your arms. “Beginners may not realize that you won’t last long by using your arms more than your core,” says White. “That’s because your core is a bigger and stronger muscle group, and the water constantly changes so you have to be mindful about keeping your midsection engaged for better balance and endurance.
Get the right gear
One of the worst things you can do when starting any sport is to get the wrong equipment,” says White. “If you get a board that’s too small for your weight or ability, it will be unstable and you’ll think SUP is too hard or that you suck.
Here is the gear you’ll need to start:
A stand up paddleboard: “The key to finding a good fit is to talk to a certified paddleboard expert and try out the boards in the water before you buy them to get an idea about how they handle,” says White. Wider, flatter boards are more stable, and a basic, all-around board for most guys tends to be about 12 feet to 12 feet 6 inches long, such as the Riviera Voyager. You’ll be spending at least $800- $900 on a basic-but-quality board. Buying a paddleboard is an investment, as is buying, say, a road bike, but it won’t lose its dollar value because you can always sell later, says White.
Paddle: Stand up paddles vary, but most have a straight shaft with an angled blade whose size is specific to each individual. “A good rule of thumb is to choose a paddle that’s about 10 inches taller than you if you’re flat-water paddling,” says White. “The grip should be at midpalm with shoulders square and hand extended overhead.” A good paddle will cost you about $300-$400, but you shouldn’t have to ever replace it.
Personal flotation device: The Coast Guard requires that all paddleboarders have a life jacket or other PFD onboard. White says he and his students use leashes, too. “This keeps the board from floating away if you fall off and makes it easier to pull the board back so you can also use it as a flotation device when you need a rest.