Look, there in the water. Is it a surfboard? Is it a canoe? No, it’s a stand up paddleboard! Whether you’re a mindful meditator, wave chasing thrill-seeker or just a weekend cruiser, the stand up paddleboard (SUP) phenomenon has massive health benefits on par with its mass appeal.
What is it?
The clue is very much in the name. Take a long single-bladed paddle and what looks like a longer and wider version of a regular surfboard, then find a sizable body of water, don the appropriate attire and you’re all set to… stand on a board and paddle. For first-timers, simply being able to stand while afloat is a noble achievement, but once you’ve got the knack it’s really a case of do as you please.
Many SUPers are content with a casual paddle and a chance to reflect and most seem to enjoy it as a social rendezvous, instead of just meeting at the latest hip coffee joint. But there’s more to SUP than merely killing time. As a sport, SUP has its sponsored athletes, several dedicated online magazines and, due to it’s appeal and accessibility, some are even speculating it could become an Olympic event.
Where did it come from?
SUP has a shared history with surfing. It was first jotted into history books in 1769 by Joseph Banks of the HMS Endeavor on the third voyage of Captain James Cook, and was later found to be a part of ancient Polynesian culture. SUP as we now know it burgeoned in popularity in California during the mid-nineties and spread elsewhere like wildfire, particularly in places where waves weren’t available. It definitely helped that American surf legend Laird Hamilton helped popularize paddle surfing from the late 90’s onward.
A report by The Outdoor Foundation revealed SUP was the most popular first-time outdoor activity in 2013. The report noted that stand up paddle boarding beat out boardsailing, kitesurfing and other similar aquatic endeavors and was particularly popular with men and women in their late 20’s. Hence the perception of SUP being such a new-fangled thing when it’s nothing new – Venetian gondoliers have been ahead of the curve for almost a thousand years.
Is it easy to learn?
Easy to learn and difficult to master would be the best way to sum it up. Unless you’ve surfed, skateboarded, snowboarded – or done any other form of boarding – the ability to stand gracefully on a 11′ board can be a little elusive to some. Most first time paddlers can become acclimated with it within the first session.
Is it competitive?
If you want it to be. Just like you can hop on a bike without training for the Tour de France or wear boxing gloves without having to get punched in the face, with SUP you can hop on a board without anyone expecting you to race or “hang ten” on a wave. That said, SUP races take place around the world and throughout the year. The Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association is generally considered to be the overall governing body, with various national bodies located where the sport is most popular. There are also many recreational events held throughout Rhode Island each summer such as the Providence Paddle Battle and Race the State.
One of the first things that gets touted about SUP is the benefit for your core muscles – the central part of your torso around your stomach and mid and lower back. That’s because of the myriad adjustments made in your legs, hips and body to stay balanced, which is made tougher depending on the width of the board and whether or not there are any waves. Then comes paddling, which is a great workout for your arms, back and shoulders, all working together to propel you through the water.
One of the unsung bonuses of paddle boarding is that it’s low impact. Anyone who runs roads, plays squash or partakes in rougher sports will tell you that muscles, joints and ligaments will eventually suffer wear and tear from sudden jolts. The latest craze is to combine yoga with stand up paddle boarding, for an even greater balance exercise with all the benefits of yoga. It’s also important to mention that just being out on the water has a stress relieving effect for many people.