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Why is stand up paddle boarding so popular at the moment?

Standing on a big floaty board with a paddle in hand – there’s nothing overly complicated about it (in general terms, once you’ve past the initial learning phase). That’s pretty much why it’s proved so popular of late. Or at least one of the main reasons. There are a number of factors, however, which have helped SUP’s accelerated growth over the last year and a bit (with no signs of it slowing won just yet). But before we get to the COVID cocktail there are other things that have possibly been bubbling under in people’s minds. The COVID situation only accelerating the process and pushing people towards the final decision of getting involved much quicker. Perhaps…

Recreational paddling.

The simplest way to enjoy SUP is putting in, getting afloat and stroking round your local stretch in mellow fashion. No ‘extreme gnarliness’, no ‘yeah dude isms’ and no over the top bravado. Just paddling whilst standing and enjoying the outdoors. Although mostly on fair weather days for the majority. Some do (have) take (taken) this further and now SUP in all weather but still in recreational fashion.

When SUP first came about it was all about open ocean sweeping, miles from shore; big waves, late drops and massive hacks; gale force winds, huge rolling swell and long distance; winning races, vying for the podium and taking first prize. Recreational stand up paddle boarding has none of this really. A comment from a while back by the one and only Laird Hamilton suggested SUP could become the equivalent of cycling on water. And looking at stand up in 2021 this seems to have come to fruition.

Stand up paddle surfing.

Rewinding a little, an initial reason SUP started to resonate was the ability to surf with a paddle in hand. At first looking ‘kooky’ many hardcore surfers dismissed it as a fad and a dangerous addition to the world’s lineups. And for sure there have been plenty of incidents with marauding stand up paddle boards tearing through packed surf zones causing problems. Add the increased amount of drop ins (riders snaking waves) – at least during the early days – were all too common. It’s no wonder SUP has had its fair share of critics.

These days though everything’s simmered down a lot. While SUPs can still be found at some headline surf spots around the world paddlers have discovered that to not explore would be limiting. Standing aloft with added paddle propulsion gives riders the chance to access all manner of once off limit waves – the junkier the better. Open ocean bombies, cruddy hidden slop fests, small (too small to prone surf) wave locations, river waves, boat wake spots, tidal bores and every other conceivable wave type are more applicable with a stand up paddle board. Riders are now hitting these spots regularly.

Once at the take off other benefits for stand up paddlers are being able to pick up waves earlier – due to the extra oomph delivered by the paddle – and ability to ride swells longer because of the board’s additional momentum and combined paddle vroom. With traditional surfing there’re a whole bunch of initial skills needing to be learned before you’re anywhere near a peeling set – paddling out, duck diving and popping up being the obvious key areas. With SUP paddle surfers are already on their feet, can get out back more efficiently (in small conditions) and don’t have to learn how to catch waves prone (well, not at first, although having this skill can be gold if you break and/or lose your paddle). Picking a small wave up and gliding (not even carving) is far easier to accomplish than surfing. Yet these days paddle surfing isn’t the biggest area for SUP participation, as already mentioned above.

Downwind SUP.

An offshoot of stand up paddle surfing and outrigger canoeing downwind SUP utilises blowy conditions propelling riders, in conjunction with paddle strokes, onto rolling open ocean swells thereby allowing wave riding – drift surfing if you will whereby considerable ground will be covered.

Being able to make breezy days something special is another reason SUP’s popularity has grown (for those who are open to the concept. A good many SUPers don’r really understand how to paddle in wind, yet, but that’s changing as skills increase). Scour social media and websites for examples of downwinding and you’ll come across pro paddlers hitting the azure blue waters of Maui’s infamous Maliko run, or other such tropical destination. One of the best downwind routes in the world summer time in the ‘Valley Isle’ has become synonymous with this activity. But those in less than sizzling climates are also making the most of blustery weather.

Downwinding isn’t simply confined to the coast. Anywhere paddlers can find breeze on their backs and an open stretch of brine in front is where downwind SUP is being practised. No longer waiting it out due to unfavourable conditions downwind paddling, while still being niche, is another example of SUP’s versatility and there are those still practising the art in 2021. Some even attached hydrofoils to their hybrid style SUPs for even more futuristic glide.

SUP fitness.

The health (mental and physical) benefits of stand up paddling have been widely promoted over the years. Whatever type of stand up paddling you enjoy you can be sure you’re getting an all over workout. In particular, it’s rider’s cores that benefit from balancing on a board with a paddle the most. Core muscles are probably the most neglected bodily area. Athletes pay particular attention to their core considering it to be the Holy Grail of performance – a strong core can equal good results. SUP can help with developing an efficient core and is the reason mainstream media outlets have abundant images of recognisable faces SUPing plastered across their publications. The media love to sell SUP’s physical benefits. Some celebs as well, who also utilise the sport to help tone and keep their figures in check, have been heavily photographed and published – all with the banner: core, core, core!

Simply paddling around is great for you muscles and fitness in general though. Put in some miles, however, and you’re all set to sculpt your Adonis physique (in conjunction with a balanced diet and all round healthy lifestyle that is). Well, that’s the hope at least!

Stand up paddlers who aren’t looking for ultimate performance will also see the benefits of SUP. There are plenty of stories – online and in the press – of everyday enthusiasts enjoying stand up’s health benefits. Stand up paddling is as much food for the soul and exercise for the mind as it is physical.

Periphery and glide.

The elevated peripheral vision riders get when paddling is another attractive prospect and reason people hear the call. It may not be obvious for non-SUPing onlookers but standing tall on a board gives a whole new perspective and way to breathe in your surrounds.

For paddle surfers the ability to spot sets coming in from afar gives a fantastic advantage. Being able to set yourself up for the drop in early means riders have time to choose a line. Those into touring SUP will see more of the world they’re sweeping through. This paddling position is one reason SUP sees riders from other sports – such as kayaking – make the switch and take SUP to their previous sit down environment.

Add the glide properties of stand up paddling to the mix – which is incredibly addictive – and you have an interest pricking scenario that’s akin to lightbulb moments having stepped aboard and paddled a few strokes for the first time.

SUP: a new challenge.

As humans we’re always looking for new challenges. There’s an inherent desire to climb mountains, take on Mother Nature and overcome obstacles put in our path. Stand up paddle boarding offers a seemingly accessible way to achieve this for the masses.

SUP looks cool and accessible but is technical enough to keep interest levels high. Once initial hurdles have been vaulted stand up has enough progression to keep it a sport at the forefront of your mind. Before long stand up paddling will have become a positive addiction.

As stated at the beginning of this article stand up paddle boarding is simply standing on a board with paddle. Yet there are many positives to being a SUPer – some of which are listed here. And while paddling may be a simple thing at heart there’s plenty of pathways to follow with riders free to take the sport where they seem fit.

The (SUP) COVID connection.

We hate to mention COVID as we’re all too aware of how the pandemic has played out the past year and a bit. But the fact is: with COVID enforcing more time at home, less time in the office, giving some a degree of additional disposable income (furlough) and the want/need/desire to make use of all this (combined with the interest pricking elements of above) SUP has been one of the ‘winners’ (if you can describe it that way) of the last few months – particularly inflatable stand up paddling.

So many riders, from many different walks of life, are now out regularly paddling and enjoying SUP. All we can hope is that once we’re back to a more open, more ‘normal’ way of life this continues and a good percentage push on and progress. SUP is so accessible, so fulfilling and so beneficial to every participant’s mental health and general well being that it’d be a shame if this wasn’t the case.

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