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Beginners Guide To Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

What’s the newest craze in water sports, that’s actually been around since the 1960s? It’s stand up paddle boarding, (SUP). The sport caught on in popularity in the 2000s when surfers wanted to continue to train even when the ocean was too calm. So if the surf’s ‘not up dude,’ then the dudes go paddle boarding.

One attraction to this fun new sport is the whole body core workout and the ease to do it even if you don’t live by an ocean. You can SUP on still calm lakes, rivers and of course the beach. Just about anywhere you find water you may find a SUP guy or gal having fun. But, before you go and jump on the board, you need to know a few essential techniques.

SUP boading on the sea

What’s SUP?

SUP is one of the hottest sports right now with gear sales up over 200% in the last year. The intense full body conditioning is all the best workouts combined in one, and it doesn’t feel like you’re working out. It works your core, it tones you, increases flexibility, balance and provides a cardio workout too.

It is surfing and kayaking combined together and done easily by most everyone, even if you don’t live near the beach. Practically any body of water will work, and after investing in the equipment, it is free for the doing. Where and how do you get the right gear? Do you need lessons and what should you know before getting out there for the first time?

Choosing The Right Gear

According to the pros, using the right gear, especially the first time, is critical in learning to do it right and to have the most fun. It is an investment to buy your own SUP gear, so it is best to have tried some different boards, paddles and had a few lessons under your belt before purchase.

There are various types of boards, and they work perfectly for the kind of SUP you want to do. There is SUP surfing, SUP touring, SUP fishing, SUP racing or SUP yoga. Each board comes with options needed to make your choice perfect for your intended SUP. Depending on how you will sit, stand, paddle or sprint the board will accommodate you with straps, holders, clips or storage. You can begin to see the importance in understanding what you want in a board before you purchase one.

The Board

You’ll find that boards are between 10′ to 12′ 5″, depending on your experience and level of expertise your board will vary in size, a beginner board will be a bit wider and thicker, and the length of the board will be a little longer. The board length may also depend on your weight.

Average prices for a board will run between $600 to $1,500. The choices and options are many, and it is best to know a bit first and take some lesson and get out there on the water before making your final purchases. It is recommended that you use a leash to tether your board to your leg, when, not if, you fall off. Beginners and experts alike will fall off, and the first thing to master is how to fall properly. You don’t want to get smacked or hit another person near you when your board shoots out.

SUP surfing

A shorter and lighter weight board is recommended for women. Usually, 10′ boards work best and are recommended. Hull types come in two main choices which are a planing hull and a displacement hull, and these will apply depending on how and where you will be using them.

Hard boards are constructed of fiberglass and epoxy with some type of veneer that covers the board. There will be an area that is made to place your feet, made with some type of non-slip surface.

The other kind of board is an inflatable, these are very popular, and most will fit inside a special backpack to easily transport. The inflatable boards usually come with a high-pressure pump, gauge, attachable snap-in board fin, a collapsible paddle, pole, and a 12ft coil leash. The best inflatable SUP will inflate to a hard 20 psi and feel and act very much like a hard board.

The Paddle For SUP

Your paddle choice is really a matter of taste. Ranging in price from $60 to $400, buying a paddle for a paddle board should be done after having a few lessons and using a few different kinds. You will want to purchase a paddle that is 8″ to 12″ taller than you, and the longer the paddle, the more control you have.

The blade size and material are yet another choice in a paddle. A small to medium size paddle blade is used for calmer water and for touring, a larger paddle is used for surf and rougher waters and gives more control. A larger paddle in calmer water is overkill, so knowing where you will use your paddle most is important.

The last decision in a paddle is the shape. The straight shafts are common, but the newer shafts have a slight angle, sometimes called an elbow which reduces pressure on the wrists.

SUP Technique For Beginners

When it comes to learning the right technique, it is best to take just a few lessons first. They are affordable and generally around $25, it is much easier to learn the right way with the right equipment than to try and unlearn incorrect habits. It’s recommended that you try and rent a few different pieces of equipment before making the investment. Your success will depend on doing it the right way, it will not endear you to paddle boarding if you are having difficulties due to unknown issues with the gear or technique.

Begin in clear calm waters, with few obstacles. You may feel more confident at first by kneeling on the board and work up to standing. Start with a shallow area and put your paddle across the board with the paddle in the water and hooked over the side of the board, it will help you steady it.

Then climb on the board in the middle, you want to see if the nose comes up slightly and the back of the board goes down into the water a bit. If so, you know you’re in the right spot on the board. Grab the board on both sides to stabilize it, then slowly try to stand up one foot at a time while paying attention to your balance. Don’t’ worry, even experts fall off the board and if you don’t feel like standing up right away, try paddling around a bit while you are still on your knees.

When you do feel confident enough to stand up remember to keep your feet parallel, not one in front of the other, and about shoulder width apart. You will feel more control of the board when you are doing it right.

You are not going to want to stare at your feet, much like dancing or skating, you need to look up. Keep your head and shoulders upright and shift your weight by moving only your hips. Still sounds like dancing a bit right? Importantly, keep your eyes up and forward looking to the horizon. And remember to keep a forward momentum, just like bicycling, you wouldn’t look at your feet or expect to stay upright if you weren’t moving forward on a bike.

A few other things to remember is after you try these tips a while they will become second nature. But in the beginning, you have to train your muscle memory. Begin paddling on the right side of the board, your right hand will be lowest on the pole, and your left hand will be at the top. Don’t worry it will feel natural in a short while. Switch sides of the board with the paddle, after about 5 small strokes, then change hand positions, left lowest, right hand on top.

A big mistake that everyone makes at first is the position that the paddle faces, it will be the reverse of what your instincts tell you. The elbow or angle of the paddle faces away from you, so you are not using the paddle to ‘scoop’ the water. When switching to the other side of the board only twist from your torso and keeping your arms straight. Your core is stronger than your arms, so if you are doing it wrong, your arms will begin to tire out.

Learning the right way, in the beginning, will teach you correct habits that will increase your success and joy in participating in this new water sport craze called SUP.

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