Easier than sailing and more exciting than a swim, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has exploded in popularity over the last 10 years. This fairly new activity has quite some benefits. And we’re not talking about health boosters only here. Let’s have a look at what this outdoor activity can do for you.
1) It’s a great activity for everyone
The appeal of SUP is that it offers a variable level of intensity. Cruising on a paddleboard can mean anything from a gentle drift across a glassy lake, to a heart-pounding paddle against the current of a river.
At the beach, boarders often paddle out to sea to catch the biggest waves; but it’s equally suitable for small children to play in the shallows.
SUP is probably the only activity which can be equally enjoyable for both senior citizens and extreme sports junkies.
2) Stand up paddling can be done anywhere
Though it’s usually thought of as a beach activity, it works just as well on a lake or canal. This makes it popular with water-sports fans who live inland, as they can train on a local river rather than driving hours to the shore.
Paddleboards are lighter than kayaks or canoes, and inflatable ones can be packed into a rucksack, meaning that they are easy to carry when you travel.
3) It’s easy to pick up
Another handy thing about SUP is that it’s quick to get started. The kit can be rented cheaply at most beaches, and it doesn’t take much practice to master the technique – once you’ve got to grips with standing up and turning your board around, there’s not much more to learn.
You can control your speed easily, meaning it’s less intimidating for beginners than sports like windsurfing. And if you do fall off, it’s easy to get back on.
All this makes SUP America’s fastest growing outdoor sport, with more first-time participants than any other sport.
4) You can join races
There are regular SUP races during summer, aimed at experienced boarders – both simple sprint races and skilled obstacle courses.
Because SUP is easy to pick up, it’s also a popular activity for charity activities and fun races. Paddle for Pink, held in the Hamptons every summer, is probably the best-known SUP fundraiser, raising over £3m for breast cancer research in the last three years.
5) It’s an outgoing activity
In fact, SUP stands out amongst watersports for being a very sociable activity. It’s easy to chat to a friend paddling alongside, and if you have small children they can sit on the board with you. This makes it a lot more welcoming than sports like surfing or waterskiing, which are very much one-person activities.
6) It’s an excellent workout
Though SUP is simple to learn, it’s a fantastic form of exercise. The gentle turning motion as you move your paddle strengthens your core muscles, especially the obliques and inter-vertebral muscles. Your shoulders and arms work to propel your body weight with the paddle, and your legs are constantly tensed to keep your body upright.
7) It’s an incredibly effective way to stay lean
It can also burn 400 or more calories an hour, building lean muscle which will eat up energy even when you’re out of the water. Burning off excess weight in this way will help to reduce strain on problem areas like lower backs and knees.
On flat water, SUP provides gentle strength training, which is effective without being strenuous. If you’re racing or chasing waves, it’s a heart-pounding cardiovascular workout which builds lung capacity and stamina. SUP is a low-impact exercise, building fitness with a low risk of injury and no excessive strain on the muscles.
8) It improves your balance
The unstable board is what makes it such an effective workout. Although it might feel like you’re standing still, the wobbling of the board means that all your muscles are constantly working to keep your body upright.
With regular practice, you will find that your balance is better even when you’re off the water. This can improve your performance in other sports, and can even help if you do a physical job like decorating. It’s also fantastic for seniors, to offset the loss of balance which often comes with age.
9) You’ll train all your muscles
Standard strength training techniques, such as push-ups, tend to work one large muscle group in isolation; SUP trains all the muscles to work together, so it also trains the smaller muscles which are often missed by a gym session.
In this way, serious athletes can build stamina without overtraining; out-of-shape beginners will feel less fatigue, as the work is ‘shared out’ between different muscle groups.
Funnily enough, SUP is especially recommended for golfers, as the muscles used while you paddle are all the same muscles needed for a powerful golf swing.
10) You can do yoga poses on your SUP board
To push your training even further, you can combine yoga and SUP – though it might sound like an unexpected combination, it makes sense to mix two low-impact activities with a similar focus on core strength and posture.
Beginners can try simple balances like the downward dog and mountain pose, whereas expert yogis might attempt headstands and inversions.
Doing yoga poses on a SUP board is more challenging and, because out in the open, more calming. You’ll refine your technique and the ‘ocean sound’ will let you focus more on your breath. It teaches you to get back up, may be a touch scary but a whole lot of fun!
11) You’ll enjoy the health benefits of sun, sea water and the sea breeze
SUP can improve your health in ways beyond just cardiovascular fitness, especially if you board at the beach. Since the time of Hippocrates, seawater has been considered to have a purifying effect on the body; recent research has proven that exposure to salt water can ease dermatitis and dry skin conditions
Salty sea air has also been shown to help clear the airways as you breathe, and an energetic workout like SUP will leave you breathing deeply and clearing your lungs right down to the bottom.
Exposing your skin to sunlight while you board means a boost to your body’s vitamin D production, and UV radiation is recommended by doctors as a treatment for psoriasis and acne. Sunlight improves your mood and helps you sleep better at night because it improves the secretion of serotonin and melatonin.
12) Stand up paddle boarding is a powerful stress buster
Some of the benefits of SUP are psychological rather than physical. Any form of exercise will make your body release endorphins, providing a short-term burst of happiness and eventually leading to better sleep, improved mood, and less anxiety.
So, why paddleboard when you could walk around the block instead? Simply being around large bodies of water has been shown to have a relaxing effect – even recorded wave noises or a photograph of a lake have been scientifically proven to reduce stress.
“Recent research has found that ‘blue space’ including sea, rivers, lakes and even urban water features can have a positive impact on wellbeing”. Combine the relaxing effect of water with the healing effect of exercise, and you have a powerful natural stress buster.
13) Now you can walk on water too
Laird Hamilton, one of the world’s top surfers, took up SUP in 2000 and compares it to ‘walking on water’. And that really is the best comparison. It gives you a chance to explore the water in the same way you might roam around on dry land.
Whether you’re on ocean, lake, or river, you’ll have the chance to see the local scenery from a new angle. SUP gives a better view than you’d get on land, and you can get closer on a paddleboard than you could ever get on a boat.
In London, for example, there are several SUP companies offering tourists a chance to see the hidden side of the city from the river Thames.
14) It will expand your horizon
The chance to see the scenery from another viewpoint has led to a growing number of SUP holidays. Unlike most watersports, SUP doesn’t require big waves or high winds.
This means it’s increasingly popular in places like Thailand and the Caribbean, where the beautiful beaches are too placid to attract surfers.
Some holidays are simply family fun, with free board rental in addition to other beach activities, while others are aimed at fitness fanatics who want to improve their technique.
15) It has zen-like feel to it
During a good session on your board, outside worries fade away until it’s just you and the water. You’re fully absorbed in the experience, totally aware of every muscle in your body as you propel yourself forward.
Psychologists have referred to this state as ‘flow’, where you’re perfectly absorbed in something which is just difficult enough to require your full attention.
It’s the same feeling of mindfulness which is the goal of Zen meditation; and mindfulness has been linked to a whole host of health benefits, from improved memory to greater creativity and increased empathy.
Some even say that since the ocean was the place where life began on earth, riding on a wave allows the surfer to momentarily connect with this living memory. In Jungian terms, surfing gives you access to the collective Gaian mind of the planet. Fuzzy or not, if you tried it you’ll know it’s a spiritual activity.
Wrapping it up
In the end, SUP is all about exploration, both on the water and in your own mind. On the board, you can get closer to nature and see things in a new way. You can practice on any stretch of water, from the ocean to an urban canal.
The roll of the waves and the tug of the wind lull you into a state of total focus, melting away the worries you feel on land and freeing your thoughts.
Thinking about buying a SUP? Here’s how to decide on a solid or inflatable sup.
What’s your take on stand up paddle boarding? Speak up below.
- Salt water and mucus clearance: New England Journal of Medicine.
- Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise: US National Library of Medicine.
- The benefits of mindfulness: The American Psychological Association