Get Up, Stand Up

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No doubt you have seen someone riding one by now, maybe from a distance so it appears as if he or she is walking on water. Up close, it looks like something an ancient Polynesian fisherman would have used. Honestly, that’s not far off. Stand-up paddle boarding is the throwback sport that’s starting to make waves.

“Prone paddle boarding has been around since the 1930s,” says Christian Shubin, owner of Poseidon Stand-Up Paddle Surfing in Santa Monica, Calif., (poseidonstandup.com). “All over the world, stand-up paddle boarders have been entering traditional paddle-board events. Now there are more stand-up boarders than prone boarders.”

Stand-up paddle boarding (often referred to as “SUP’ing”) can be traced back to ancient Hawaiian paddle surfing. Modern SUP’ing also began in Hawaii, in the 1960s, as a way for surfing instructors to teach whole classes of gremmies. In recent years, pro surfers like Laird Hamilton have helped push the SUP renaissance, a surge in popularity that is likely because of the sport’s versatility. Thrill seekers can ride waves just like traditional surfers. Endurance athletes love putting in competitive miles, such as in Southern California’s Battle of the Paddle event, which attracts 1,000 paddle-board racers every year. And those attracted to SUP’s leisurely touring qualities find a laid-back noninvasive way to commune with the sea, river or lake.

And no matter why you paddle, you’ll get a great workout. “You end up engaging all your core muscles as well as your upper and lower body,” Shubin says. “Every time you paddle, it’s like doing a little crunch.” It’s also highly accessible to beginners. You might hit the drink a few times, but even the first try will be enjoyable. Still, Shubin recommends staying out of the waves on a maiden paddle-board voyage, getting your feet wet in a marina or lake instead. He offers these other useful tips for newbie paddlers.

The Stance: Unlike surfing, both feet should be pointed toward the nose of the board. In the very middle of most boards is a handle. Stand over that spot with your feet about shoulder-width apart. “You can stagger your feet a little bit. Sometime that gives you more balance. But for the most part, you want to keep them pretty even,” Shubin says.

The Grip: Grab the paddle with two hands, one on top of the grip and one halfway down the shaft. The paddles have a bend in the shaft just above the blade. Hold the paddle so the blade is angled away from you rather than scooping toward you.

The Stroke: Keep the arm that’s holding the top of the paddle extended the whole time. Reach out as far as you can, fully submerge the blade in the water and stroke. Pull back with your bottom hand at the same time, bending at the waist and digging into the water. It’s a gross motion made up of many smaller moves. “You are bending everything just a little bit,” Shubin advises. “Your arms are moving a little, you’re bending at the waist a little bit and twisting your body just slightly with your shoulders.”

New paddlers should expect legs and shoulders to tire out the quickest, but you don’t have to be in ridiculous shape to enjoy your first time on a paddle board. And broad sports skills can make the learning curve even shorter. “Surfers tend to do well because of their ocean experience and confidence in the water, and skiers do well because of their balance and leg strength,” Shubin says. “Women who do yoga pick it up very quickly, too, because of their balance and flexibility.”