Looking for an easy-to-learn yet physically demanding sport you can practise in the open air while on summer holiday? Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is the perfect choice. Whether you decide to paddle alone or with a group of friends, in the calm waters of a lake or the more challenging waves of an ocean, a SUP-session is bound to leave you with the pleasant sensation of a thorough work-out, without damaging pressure on your joints, muscles or bones. And, to top it all, it is one of the few water sports you can master after only a few hours of practice. Convinced already?
Follow the example of these midlife bloomers
SUPping attracts women worldwide and several well-known midlife bloomers have been photographed while paddling. Kate Hudson, Pink, Denise Richards, Jennifer Garner, Cindy Crawford and Jennifer Aniston, only to mention a few, seem to relax and get their daily exercise while gliding on the water. Following their example might be a good idea since SUPping is good for both body and mind: exercising while relaxing in the outdoors truly restores you after a stressful workday.
The long history of paddling
Stand up paddle boarding is a fast-growing sport and it originates from surfing. It was listed in a US-report in 2013 as the outdoor sporting activity with the most first-time participants that year. The origins of stand up paddle boarding – that is, gliding on the water on a floating platform with the help of a paddle or a pole – go back thousands of years and across many continents, but the current form and fame started in Hawaii in the 1900s. Once paddle boarding reached California in the early 2000s, four epicentres were formed, each with its own charismatic leader. The sport soon gained huge popularity and enthusiastic paddlers invented new, related activities such as river gliding, paddle racing, paddle touring, paddle yoga, and even SUP fishing. These variations have made SUPping interesting and accessible to people of all ages in every corner of the world, making it the sport to practise.
Exercise for the entire body
Although it seems like paddling mainly involves your upper torso and limbs, it actually trains the entire body. Your arms and shoulders get exercise through the paddle movement, but without even noticing, every muscle of your body, from your feet up through your legs and your back is working to keep you balanced and stable on the board. In fact, according to the 2015 Report on Paddle sports, the majority of American SUPpers get on the board regularly to get exercise and to keep fit.
A strong core is crucial at any age, but it’s something we should focus on as we get older. The way your entire body —especially the core muscles — engages during stand up paddling makes this sport particularly adapt for midlife. Trained core muscles – abs, glutes, obliques and back muscles – help you balance your walk and keep your posture erect and straight. Correct posture will keep common mid-age back pains away and avoid harmful pressure on knees and ankles. Balancing yourself on the paddle board trains all your core muscles and while you are viewing the sights around you, it does not seem strenuous or tiring like other postural training might.
Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages, with or without particular athletic abilities can get involved in SUPping as a recreational fitness activity. Balance, strength, and endurance are exercised whether you are paddling or simply standing and balancing on the board. Also, women have a lower centre of gravity and therefore balance better on the board than men.
Where to start?
You can try your first paddling experience by renting a board in one of the waterfront locations in almost any travel destination in the world these days. If you are in the UK, SUP Hire UK will send a board to you by national courier and the prices go from 15 to 30 pounds per day depending on the duration of the rent.
When you try paddling for the first time, you should find a fairly still, shallow body of water where to practise your balancing, paddling and falling skills. There are lots of training videos you can watch online to get a better idea of the basics. You can also find support groups online, for example, this newbies group on Facebook in which to exchange experiences and ideas.
Once you get comfortable and know you’ll be paddling more often, you can invest in your own board. In that case, it is important to decide which kind of a board to purchase. All-around boards are wide and round, and ideal for beginners. There are also longer and narrower paddle boards made for touring and racing that guarantee more speed, but require familiarity with the sport. Inflatable boards come with a handy backpack and a pump that you can easily carry with you anywhere. The poles are telescopic and therefore “fold into” the backpack. This is a good solution if you plan on travelling and exploring different waters while practising the sport.
The other SUP equipment you need includes a life vest for safety and possibly a warm-suit, depending on the temperature of the environment in which you’ll paddle.
SUP in different sauces
As SUPping has become more popular, variations of the sport have been invented, in order to exercise in different places and with diverse objectives.
First of all, you can get on the board with your dog and explore the scenery and waters near and far. SUP boards are fairly large and easily leave space for your best furry friend to join in on your adventures. The longest Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) ride covered is 1,690 metres and it was carried out in Brazil by Ivan Moreira in the company of Bono the surfing dog. No doubt cats can do it, too. In Singapore, a cat called Noodle joins her owner for long rides almost daily, and to get a better view she even jumps on his shoulders.
You can do yoga on the SUP-board, both standing up as well as sitting down. Nothing will calm you more and help you meditate better than getting away from the city noise and listening to the sound of the waves. Imagine doing the sun-salutation on your board at sunrise, epic!
More stable boards have been developed to do fishing while paddling. Fishing SUP boards are wider and have more space for the fishing equipment you need to bring along. On this quick video, Bri Andrassy shows you the gear to bring along to catch some giants.
If you want to make your paddling experience more challenging, you can try imitating some of the tricks enthusiastic SUP experts show. Just make sure to get your basics fluent first.
Epic SUP destinations to try out
Stand up paddling is also a great way to explore new horizons, countries and even continents. If you want to travel a bit further away, New Zealand with its clear waters and majestic scenery is ideal for enjoying a relaxing paddle trip, visiting lakes, rivers, beaches and bays. The beautiful Bay of Islands that lies North-East of the Northern Island is one of the favourite destinations for SUPpers, as well as the Raglan and Auckland seasides.
With its long coastline of over 14,500 kilometres, crystal clear waters and white, sandy beaches, Mexico is one of the most popular surfing and paddling destinations worldwide. Puerto Vallarta has beaches for all levels of paddlers and Los Muertos Beach and Sayulita are considered SUP capitals of the country. Cancun and Punta Mita are excellent locations too, great for the whole family as they have calmer waters, too.
British Columbia in Canada also offers scenic waterways, coasts, lakes and rivers that guarantee an epic SUPping experience. Muncho and Emerald Lakes, as well as the Vancouver waterfront, are some places worth paddling through.
In Europe, you can try the coastline of Portugal or Luiz Saldanha Marine Park, a real-life aquarium with more than 1,000 species and magnificent visibility of over 20 meters deep. If you get lucky, you can even paddle along with a group of bottlenose dolphins.
Finally, nothing can beat the birthplace of stand-up paddleboarding. Hawaii. Sunset Beach on the north shore of Oahu island is famous for its big wave surfing during winter months. During summer, the waves are smaller and friendlier, ideal for paddle boarding.
Are your plans for the summer holiday still up in the air? Search online for the closest SUP rent-place and go for it. You might just fall in love and become a SUPper yourself!
Words and Illustration by Hanna Suni – Hame Design Studio. Finnish graphic designer and illustrator, Art Director of L’Iguana editrice, with great expertise in public relations, marketing and communication, Hanna has joined CrunchyTales as ‘artist in residence‘