The sport of stand up paddle boarding may have its roots in Polynesian culture, but its popularity has spread globally. Surfers and non-surfers alike are being drawn to the water and getting to their feet.
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It's fun; it's good fitness; and you should definitely give it a try!
The act of doing it requires concentration, and your mind is focused so that it occupies your mind throughout your workout, unlike anything I’ve done before.
Blane Chambers, owner of Paddlesurf Hawaii
Get Hooked on Board and Paddle
Sure, boards and paddles have been used together for centuries, but stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is altogether contemporary and emblematic of timeless travel connected to a sport with grass-roots appeal.
“You’re going to get hooked," says Nate Burgoyne, editor and founder of Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine. "All you have to do is try it once."
And there isn’t much to it. All you need is a board, a paddle and a body of water, but in that simplicity lies its true beauty. Or so its devotees will tell you.
“The act of doing it requires concentration, and your mind is focused so that it occupies your mind throughout your workout, unlike anything I’ve done before,” says Blane Chambers, owner of Paddlesurf Hawaii.
In fact, that's why Chambers started — the way it occupies the mind and plants the seed of a healthy obsession.
Blame It on Laird
Though surfing legends Gerry Lopez and Laird Hamilton give credit to Duke Kahanamoku for being the link to stand up paddling's past, it was Hamilton, generally regarded as surfing's greatest big-wave rider, who helped to bring the sport to the masses.
Hamilton told Lopez in a SUP magazine interview that he initially used the paddle board to surf with his daughter, but later found with fellow big-wave surfer Dave Kalama that it was far more than a mode of transportation or a way to catch a wave.
"Most surfers really are leg weak. We’re more like swimmers where we have big upper bodies and bird legs. And when you get a wave that’s a minute long, you’re shot, your legs are like rubber," Hamilton told SUP.
"I feel like I’ve never been stronger. There’s not one thing I could’ve done in my life that enhanced my surfing like standup has. I just feel the benefits instantly."
"Anytime Laird does something, everyone thinks it’s a pretty cool thing to do, and it just sort of blossomed from there,” says Chambers, who designs and shapes paddle boards.
Work Out on the Water
Whether you're doing a SUP class or striking out on your own, you can expect to burn between 250 and 1,000 calories per hour, depending on the level of exertion. Plus, it works the body's major muscle groups, including shoulders, arms, legs, back and core.
“The benefits I’m seeing are people are improving their balance; they’re improving their stamina. People are losing weight naturally because they’re finding a way they like to move around. It is very stimulating visually and physically,” says Jodi Kealoha, a personal fitness trainer who teaches stand up paddling for Rainbow Water Sports in Maui.
She says she gets students in all ages and body types to her classes, and most students pick it up in less than a day, especially if they practice first in flat water like a slow-moving river or lake. Some water and a good instructor can make it part of any fitness routine.
“That is a great thing; you can use it in any body of water,” says Kealoha. “When you’re surfing, you might need perfect conditions. But when you’re paddling, you can be on flat water or sunbathe or do your workout. The options are kind of limitless, so that is great.”
Get on Board
Today’s paddle boards are not just your old man’s castaway log, but specifically designed to maximize stand up paddling's nuances.
A paddle board is noticeably wider with a standard of 33 to 34 inches recommended for an entry-level board, but a racing board can be 28 inches or fewer. Board lengths range from 10 to 12 feet for beginners and 18 feet for racing.
The main issue for a paddle board is stability, and the wider and thicker platform gives the paddler a better base on which to stand. One can paddle on smooth water, compete in long-distance races or get a little of both by paddling into waves for a more traditional ride.
“It is a unique industry," Chambers says. "There is nothing like it.”
And that, too, can be said for a sport that has withstood the test of time.
Wanna Try? Take a Lesson
It's fun to tackle an activity on your own, but the bad habits you learn can die hard.
If you're thinking of giving it a try, consider taking a lesson. Jodi Kealoha teaches stand up paddling for Rainbow Water Sports in Maui and says lessons can shorten your learning curve considerably.
"When you get a lesson, you’re going to learn the basics of where to stand on your board, how to be in the center for the most stability, how to carry your board and your paddle. They are a little heavier than surfboards, and people don’t realize how heavy they are.
"Then how to get on and off your board. That is important, and that is always the same, even when your feet can’t touch.
"As far as paddling goes, we teach them how to stand up. We teach them how to paddle on their knees and then different strokes. They can be in a pretty standard stance, which is pretty much your feet at least shoulder-width apart and your toes forward and just paddle with your arms. The top arm is pretty straight, that is the basic paddler’s arm.
"We also teach turns — tail turns, nose turns some technical stuff. How to walk on their boards so they get comfortable moving their feet and don’t feel glued to their board."