While some frustrated commuters are inching along on rush hour highways, hoping to afterward work off stress at overcrowded gyms, others are stopping off at the nearest lake, river or bay for a workout that many call therapeutic. Promoted by Olympic athletes, moms
and septuagenarians alike as an effective total body workout and mental release, stand up paddling, or SUP, is the fastest-growing sport across the nation, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
Stand up paddling was first developed by improvisational Hawaiian “beach boys,” that would stand on surfboards and use outrigger paddles to navigate alongside tourists learning how to surf. However, the sport can be enjoyed with or without waves, or wind on virtually any body of water because the paddler, rather than Mother Nature, provides propulsion. It’s luring enthusiasts of other water sports as well; surfers, kiteboarders and windsurfers appreciate new opportunities to get on the water more often, while canoeists and kayakers enjoy the alternative of standing.
SUP is equally adored by nonathletes. “This isn’t the kind of sport that requires a lot of lessons to enjoy,” advises Jeff Robinson, owner of Olde Naples Surf Shop, in Naples, Florida, who offers a 15-minute tutorial on the basics with each rental.
Exercise in Disguise
“One of the best aspects of SUP is that it is low impact, making it a lifetime sport,” emphasizes David Rose, owner of Paddleboard Orlando. In fact, that’s why just about anyone over the age of 5 can participate. The paddler controls the speed and intensity of the experience, from recreational cruising to aerobic athletic training.
“We call it exercise in disguise, because there’s so much going on that you don’t realize when you’re doing it,” explains Mike Muir, president of Riviera Paddlesurf, in San Clemente, California. The 54-year-old took up SUP after a hip replacement and credits it for relieving him of chronic lower back pain, as well as excess pounds.
“It’s the cardio and calorie-burning equivalent of swimming or running,” explains Brody Welte, owner of Stand Up Fitness, in St. Petersburg, Florida. “But unlike either of those, SUP combines low-impact and weight-bearing exercise; and it includes balance and strength training.”
“My balance has improved 100 percent; I can stand on a board today that I could not stand on one year ago,” affirms 73-year-old renowned surfer and board shaper Mickey Muñoz, of Capistrano, California, who paddles with his 65-pound dog aboard.
More than a Workout
Payoffs, however, go well beyond the physical. SUP fans that characterize it as a great escape from their daily milieu mention social, psychological and spiritual benefits, as well.
“When you’re out paddling, it’s easy to find solitude,” muses Hawaiianborn Dave Chun, founder of Kialoa Paddles, in Bend, Oregon. He suggests that its Hawaiian roots imbue stand up paddling with a spirit of aloha, humility and respect.
At the same time, “It’s one of the few sports that allows people to maintain a conversation,” says Dan Gavere, co-creator of SUPInstruction.com. Having discovered SUP in the paddling mecca of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, he considers it an ideal family recreational sport.
In any case, the activity remains mentally engaging because the standing position allows views in every direction, including into the water. “It’s like walking on water. You really get to see what’s around you,” observes Shelly Strazis, a 43-year-old Long Beach resident who began paddling after having multiple accident-related surgeries on her left knee and right shoulder.
“It’s such a relaxing workout. I used to mountain bike, but I can’t do that with the kids,” explains Francine Adams, the mother of 5-year-old twins. “I’m afraid of waves and some ocean creatures, but these boards are so stable that it doesn’t matter.”
After her first SUP outing with a moms’ group, this Orlando, Florida, resident introduced her husband to the sport. Within three months, the couple had purchased their own equipment. They now paddle together with one of their twins on each of their boards. Adams adds, “As part of our vacation planning now, we scout locations where we can bring our boards.”
Most likely, the Adams family will be able to enjoy their boards almost anywhere in the country. SUP groups in locations as unlikely as Idaho and New Mexico can be found on Meetup.com. “No body of water is off limits for stand up paddling,” says Gavere, citing its biggest growth trends in the Rocky Mountains, where kayakers and whitewater rafters are using inflatable boards on rivers and lakes; the Great Lakes, where people do yoga on boards on flat water; and Texas, where some folks fish from their boards or ride small Gulf of Mexico waves.
SUP enthusiast Lauressa Nelson is a freelance writer in Orlando, FL.