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. 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. Plus, it’s fun to get out on the water and enjoy nature, so it hardly feels like exercise.
The key to mastering paddleboarding isn’t about how strong you are, but rather it’s all about technique. 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.
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. 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.
One of the worst things you can do when starting any sport is to get the wrong equipment. 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. 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.
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. 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.