Standup Paddleboarding

Standup Paddleboarding
Photo by Grace Ho / Unsplash

Historians believe that Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has its roots in Hawaii, Africa, South America, and the ancient Polynesian culture. It began in the 1960s when the Beach Boys of Waikiki stood on their longboards and paddled using outrigger paddles to ride the surf. The sport was not popular until the 2000s when Laird Hamilton-a pro surfer, trained using a SUP when the ocean waters were still. Today SUP is an international sport governed by bodies like World Paddle Association (WAP), which organizes races, forums, and classes worldwide.

SUP is not only a fun way to play on the water but also a form of physical exercise. Paddling offers a full-body workout, whereas standing on the board gives you a better view of the water horizon.

Before trying out SUP for the first time, it is critical to know the basics and the gears to bring. Here are the things you will want to learn about standup paddle boarding:

  • How to gear up for SUP
  • Basic SUP techniques
  • SUP Strokes

Gearing Up for SUP

Gearing up for standup paddling is easy: grab your paddle and board, and then head out for quick surf or a full-day adventure. But before that, there are pieces of equipment you need for a safe and enjoyable SUP experience.

1. SUP board: Choosing the right SUP board depends on factors like paddler weight, skill level, and intended use. The boards also serve specific purposes like recreational paddling, racing, surfing, and SUP yoga.

TIP: You might consider borrowing or renting a SUP board on your first SUP adventure. If the experience is worth it, you can proceed to purchase your own.

2. Paddle: A SUP paddle resembles a stretched-out canoe paddle. Its angles are tear-drop-shaped to allow maximum forward movement when paddling. To know a paddle's correct measurement, stretch your hand above your head, and place the paddle upright against your body and hand. A paddle measures about six inches above the head- the exact length of your wrist on a full stretched hand.

life jacket

3. Personal Floatation Device (PFD): Did you know that the U.S Coast Guard considers a paddle a vessel? That means you should always have a life jacket and a whistle when standup paddleboarding, swimming, or surfing.

PFDs available in the market are comfortable, easy to wear, and do not limit your movement. I would recommend an inherently buoyant life jacket if you cannot swim. But if you are a pro swimmer, settling for inflatable jackets would do the job. The most common standup paddling life jackets include belt packs (worn around the waist) and vests.

4. Appropriate clothing: You can wear a swimsuit, board shorts, or short or long-sleeved rash guard during summer. A dry suit or wet suit will serve you well in colder weather.

5. Leash: A leash is sold separately as a SUP accessory. It tethers your SUP to you, keeping it close whenever you fall off. Always ensure that you purchase the right leash depending on the intended use.

standup paddleboard

Basic SUP Techniques

By learning these techniques, you are likely to SUP like a pro on your first outing:

1. Standing up

How to stand on your SUP;

  • Stand alongside the board on shallow waters-about knee-length deep. Ensure that the fins on the board do not touch the floor.
  • Hold the board on the edges and try to mount it when kneeling. Position yourself behind the center line of the board at the carry handle.
  • Stabilize the board by keeping your hands on its sides, then move one foot at a time to step where your knees were.
  • Do not stand up immediately. Instead, begin by raising your chest while bending your knees. Stand up once your upper body is vertical.

2. Balancing SUP

There are a few things you can do to maintain your balance once you are standing on a board;

  • Adjust your fit into a parallel position at the center of the board (on the edges), a hip-width distance apart
  • Your toes should point forward, your knees slightly bent, and your back straight.
  • Try to keep your head and shoulders upright and steady. Shift your weight by moving your hips.
  • Avoid looking at your feet. Look at the horizon.

3. Holding a SUP paddle

Mater these techniques to avoid holding your SUP paddle the wrong way like many beginners.

  • The paddle blade should angle towards the shaft at the nose of the board.
  • Your left hand should be on the T-grip when paddling on the right side of the board. Repeat the same when reversing your hand positions.

4. Falling off the SUP and Getting Back On

Do not be discouraged when you fall off your SUP because, at some point, even experienced paddlers fall into the water.

To regain your position when you lose your balance:

  • Push yourself to the side to avoid falling on the board.
  • Hang onto your paddle when you lose your balance. When you plunge into the water, retrieve the board first and mount it, then paddle using your hand to recover your paddle.

After falling:

  • Reach the board and position yourself next to it at the center.
  • Grab the board handle with one arm, float your legs, then kick them while pulling the board handle to swim onto the board.

SUP Strokes

Phase One – The Reach

All SUP strokes begin with the reach- extending the paddle forward for placement. To complete the reaching process with maximum efficiency:

  • Twist your shoulders slightly by moving your core. Hinge your hips and lean forward to extend the paddle blade towards the nose of your SUP.
  • Create an A-frame between your body, the shaft, and your lower arm by aligning the shaft parallel with your SUP’s rail. Then set the blade next to the board’s nose forward as far as you can.
  • Ensure that your back is straight and your knees are bent slightly for a maximum extension before immersing the paddle into the water.

Phase Two – The Catch

Proceed to the catch- the second phase of a quality stroke, where the paddle meets the water. Immerse the blade in the water while aligning it perpendicularly to your SUP’s rail for maximum water resistance.

TIP: Try to make the process as smooth as possible. Avoid splashing water because it reduces your resistance.

Phase Three – Power

The power face determines your speed as you propel the standup paddle board past the submerged paddle blade. A powerful stroke means faster paddling.

Find the right body angles to accommodate the force of the coming pull by keeping your lower arm straight and the paddle shaft vertical.

Pull your body forward instead of pulling the blade towards your body and end the stroke at your feet. Extending the stroke beyond your feet decreases efficiency and reduces your speed.

Phase Four – Release

In the release phase, the blade leaves the water after the power phase. Begin by removing the paddle blade from the water close to your feet to minimize deceleration between strokes.

You can complete this stage by dropping your upper hand down and inward to lift the paddle. Also, avoid twisting your paddle before removing it from the water, as it offsets the flow and shakes your balance.

Phase Five – Recovery

Phase five is the transition phase between one stroke and the next. It is an opportunity to rest your muscles, so you should be relaxing your shoulders as you swing the SUP paddle back to the reach phase.

Once you release the blade, twist your wrist inward with your left-hand thumb rotating back to turn the shaft. Executing this stage as required will allow a smooth and fast recovery.