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Is SUP a sport?

Hands up if you think the answer is yes?

By answering yes then maybe you think that stand up paddling has a competitive edge. After all, one of the definitions of the word ‘sport’ according to an online dictionary is:

an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

There are two things within this sentence that may offend your idea of what SUP is. Firstly ‘competing’ may not be (and may never be) on every paddler’s mind. And secondly, participating in an exercise for other’s entertainment couldn’t be further away from what many SUPers are looking to achieve.  Although, let’s be honest, everyone has had their share of moments where their paddling has been entertaining to others.  In fact, most of us have probably had unwitting moments of out and out slapstick comedy:  Embarrasing for us maybe, but great entertainment for anyone lucky enough to be watching from the sidelines. 

SUP racing – coastal

all the fuss is about.


As many will be aware there are various competitive stand up paddle events in the UK, across Europe and indeed all around the globe.  Whether they be sprint race, endurance events, Sup bike run, white water or polo  (to name check but a few). The ‘sport’ element of SUP is most definitely covered. And yet, even with stand up events as established as they currently are, we’ve often been contacted by customers who’ve bought our kit who are wondering ‘what next’?

Marketing execs love to push new fads, suggesting the latest thing is ‘the best ever’, ‘a way to enhance your life’, and encouraging you to ‘live healthy’ ‘achieve your dreams, and ‘be the best you can be’.  Of course, seasoned paddlers will know the benefits of SUP, but if you’ve bought into the whole stand up hobby off the back of media hype you may end up wondering what all the fuss is about.


Inflatable stand up paddle boards are absolutely the go to gear for anyone wanting to swing a paddle on a board for the first time. But having enjoyed a fun, albeit brief, spell in the summer sun we’ve heard sad stories of a lot of this kit ending up unloved in garages and sheds, getting dusty, being eaten by mice, and only seeing the light of day during family trips to the beach. And this is particularly true for people who’ve been seduced by low quality cheap gear.  Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. (Well the being eaten by mice is. TIP: Don’t keep any inflatable gear at ground level in outhouses unless you are rodent free and rodent proof).  People are free to do as they please. But yet, it’s a shame that many of these new recruits haven’t had the info needed to inspire them and see the huge opportunities SUP has.

Media outlets, blogs such as this, social media groups and information portals do their best to promote stand up paddling and its potential. Unfortunately if you’re not looking for this kind of thing, i.e. performance, then it won’t pop upon your timelines (for want of a better term).

So how do we combat this?

As with many new ‘products’ stand up needs its podium moment, or time in the sun. And articles in the Waitrose magazine, and stories on countryfile are all good exposure, but it’s not the massive explosion of interest it would get from becoming an Olympic discipline for example.

SUP media broadcasting during prime times across multiple platforms would also help. No longer is this TV’s sole domain. ‘On demand’ content is now taking over from scheduled TV listings as the way that most people now get their content.  And maybe the collaboration of brands, mags, event organisers and practitioners to create a single ‘go to channel’ that aggregates the best of the content is needed.  But this requires corporate egos to be abandoned, which is no easy hurdle to cross.

If we look at the sport of cycling as an example.  Cycling has been around for ever, or so it seems.  You’ve probably seen photos of your grandparents or great grandparents cycling to work.  Or of family holidays on bicycles.  But for many years the bicycle was just a means of transport.  And in many developing countries it is still that.  But in the UK and the developed world, cycling is now big business.  It’s one of the UKs biggest and most successful sports, with nearly two million regular cyclists.  Yet only two decades ago it was a minority sport, neglected by the masses and in terminal decline.  It took a concerted effort by two individuals, Peter Keen and David Brailsford to gain UK Olympic success and success in the landmark event for road racing, the Tour De France to raise the profile of road racing.  And two decades later the rest is history.

Unfortunately there’s no real landmark event for SUP to help gain that mass market appeal. There’s the newly formed APP World Tour (previously the Stand UP World Tour/Stand Up World Series), encompassing paddle surfing and racing, but this is a fledgling venture and in the past has been marred by issues. Which is not to say the event organisers are doing a bad job, it’s simply a really difficult job getting financial support and sponsors, and getting the message out in a new sport and new event.  Unless advertisers know that people are going to be watching, they don’t want to invest, and unless the event has the support of advertisers and sponsors, the message doesn’t get out.  And financial support, and a streamlining of the competitive side of SUP is one thing that’s needed.  Not more events necessarily, but better coordinated, organised and supported events.

But this would come at a cost for some paddlers.  Some enthusiasts are drawn to SUP because they see their activity as non-

SUP yoga for the soul

SUP yoga for the soul

competitive, because it’s social and friendly, because it’s different.  Many sports when they’ve become mainstream have had challenges as well as success.  Drugs in cycling being a case in point.  And the increasing tension between drivers and cyclists with more and more of our two wheeled friends on the road.  So mass market success may not be to everyone’s tastes. 


SUP is still in its infancy compared to cycling and compared to watersports in general, and the number of paddlers is increasing every day. As everyday paddling skills improve ridall types of physical activity that people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment:ers will look to step up progressively naturally, taking on surf for instance, or longer distance routes. And as the sport grows, it will become easier for new practitioners to find inspiration from their peers. In tandem stoke will spread and permeate organically through social groups, mainly by word of mouth but also through social media. Albeit in a slow burn manner, Joe Public will hear the siren call of SUP (hopefully), buy that quality SUP and paddle, and know what he/she is meant to do with it.

We can all do our part as ambassadors for the sport. We’re always amazed with just how many people stop us and ask about SUP, about our boards, about whether it’s safe for kids,  about how difficult easy it is, about how cool it looks, about how happy our boys look.  And we often lose many hours at the start or end of paddles just chatting away.  But these hours aren’t lost.  They’re all in aid of promoting the sport.

And being the happy friendly community that SUP is, I’m sure the rest of you are all doing your bit at your local put-ins, and in your social lives.

And if you’re the type of paddler who sees SUP entirely as a fun, social, low impact way of enjoying the environment and the pleasures and health benefits of simply spending time on water, does that mean that you’re not partaking in a sport?  No, there’s an alternative definition of sport according to the Cambridge dictionary:

a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job: a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job: a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a ja game, a competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for entertainment, and/or as a job.”


“All types of physical activity that people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment

So, to answer our original question, is SUP a sport? Absolutely yes. Even if you don’t compete.


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