When the sun’s shining and it’s stiflingly hot indoors, there’s no place better to be than the water.
But if the thought of submerging yourself in a layer of slimy pondweed at a local lake doesn’t appeal, you might want to try gliding across the water instead.
Stand-up paddleboarding – or SUP – has been growing in popularity over recent years and stockists have reported a major boom during lockdown, with Red Paddle Co seeing a 300% rise in board sales.
The leisure sport has long attracted a glamorous string of celebrity fans (Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, to name a few), plus there’s a whole legion of Instagram influencers who have boosted its credentials by endorsing it on their feeds.
With staycations firmly on the cards, and many of us are clamouring for a bit of adventure on home soil, stand-up paddleboarding is emerging as a standout activity for summer.
What exactly is SUP?
Stand-up paddleboarding involves standing on a large board and using a single blade paddle to propel yourself forward and navigate your way along lakes, rivers and coastlines.
The sport was developed as an offshoot of surfing in Hawaii, but unlike traditional surfing – where the surfer sits and waits for a wave to come – paddle boarders are on their feet the entire time and don’t need waves.
SUP boards are longer, wider and more buoyant than surfboards, which means you can quite easily balance on them without fear of toppling into the water, and you can take in the scenery around you at the same time.
Many converts love paddleboarding because it can be very gentle and slow-moving, making it less adrenaline-soaked and more low-impact than other water sports.
What are the fitness benefits?
“Paddleboarding has two main benefits on the body,” explains physiotherapist Tim Allardyce from Surrey Physio (surreyphysio.co.uk). “Firstly, it’s excellent for improving balance, coordination, and preventing falls.
“Because of the unsteady nature of a paddleboard, you have to use small intrinsic muscles around your feet, ankles, knees and hips to maintain stability on the board.”
Over time, he says this helps improve balance and stability and can prevent injuries caused by trips and falls, such as sprained ankles and knee problems.
Paddleboarding is also a fantastic whole-body strengthening method, toning the legs, core, spinal muscles, neck, arms and glutes.
“Paddling involves pulling backwards against the resistance of the water, but because you’re standing up, you need to engage your core as well as your spinal muscles and latissimus dorsi (large muscle of the upper back) during the movement.” Although it looks gentle, paddleboarding is secretly a tough strength workout that can leave your obliques and thighs aching for days.
Getting out in nature is also a big bonus. Allardyce says paddleboarding is also a great way to up your intake of vitamin D, aka ‘the sunshine vitamin’, which is essential for keeping teeth and bones healthy, regulating mood and supporting resistance against bugs.
Paddleboarding is also a great mindful activity with a host of benefits for mental wellbeing. It’s even been described as a kind of ‘moving meditation’ that requires full concentration, helping you clear your mind of stresses and focus on the here and now.
How can I do it safely?
British Marine says if you have some experience and own a SUP, you can explore permitted waterways without any instruction. They do highlight, however, that it’s best to start on calmer rivers or canals before you attempt a spot with a stronger current (and always check whether there are any restrictions in place in the area).
There are also loads of companies offering guided SUP tours and group or one-on-one instruction sessions, which are definitely a good idea.
And before you head out on the water, it’s helpful to know a few basic safety tips.
1. Check your kit
“Make sure you have the correct board for the conditions and the type of SUPing you’re attempting,” says John Hibbard, co-founder and CEO of Red Paddle Co (redpaddleco.com). “It’s also important to carry a personal floatation device and a mobile phone in a waterproof case, in the event of an emergency.”
Wearing suitable clothing for the weather and conditions – whether board shorts and a rash guard, or a full wetsuit in colder conditions – is also important. You might also want to take spare clothing and towels in case you’re unfortunate enough to take a tumble.
2. Plan your route
If you’re new to paddleboarding, select a calm place to paddle with easy access in and out of the water.
“Plan the route and make sure you check the weather conditions, wind direction and tides,” says Hibbard. “Even a gentle headwind can be hard work, especially when establishing your SUP technique and building your confidence back up on the water. Never venture further than you feel comfortable and remember to conserve your energy for the journey back.”
If you’re launching for the first time (setting off from the shore), Hibbard says you should check if you’re actually allowed to use the stretch of water, as in some spots you may need a license.
3. Be mindful of nature
“With on-water activity significantly reduced, wildlife has reclaimed much of its habitats,” says Hibbard. This means paddlers should take extra care not to disturb nesting birds (it is an offence to disturb wild birds when nesting) and other wildlife that may have returned to the water, such as ducks, swans and fish.
4. Be responsible
Ultimately, paddlers are entirely responsible for their own safety at all times, so it’s important to make sure someone knows you’re on the water and when you’re likely to be back.
“Currently, the resources of the waterways authorities and the emergency services are very limited, so have fun but always try to stay safe,” says Hibbard.