Stand Up Paddling

Download the free chapter called "River and Tidal Rapids Paddling" from Stand Up Paddling

Stand up paddling, or SUP, is the fastest growing paddle sport in North America. Balancing on those boards might look intimidating, but SUP is actually an easy-access sport for people who are just starting out. With the right gear, even beginners can cruise the flatwater like sea-savvy pros. Check out these five gear must-haves for SUPing:

  • Your board: If you're just starting out, find a stable, user-friendly board. An 11-foot or longer board, with a width of 30 to 36 inches, will minimize your beginner wobbles. Make sure it has a leash. In case of spills, the leash will keep your board from floating away. The ideal leash should be about the same length as your board and have a Velcro strap to wrap around your ankle or thigh. Beginner tip: SUPing is so new that board designs change monthly--so talk with your local shaper (surfboard builder) to find the best style for starting out.
  • Your paddle: Don't just use the canoe paddle that's sitting in your garage! SUP paddles need to be SUP-specific, especially for beginners, to withstand the demands of tension and forward reach and the longer distance between hand and water. Your SUP paddle should be 8 to 15 inches taller than you. Hold your paddle with your hands two feet apart. Not sure if you're starting out right? When you raise your paddle above your head, your arms should create three sides of a box, with your elbows at 90 degree angles. Beginner tip: Wrap a strip of reflective tape around the blade of your paddle for visibility.
  • Your PFD: With the growing popularity of SUPing the Coast Guard has reclassified the boards as "vessels", which means that life-jackets are required by law when paddling outside the surf zone. PFDs might seem too hot or restrictive, but ultimately provide both flotation and insulation in case of an emergency, especially when you're just starting out. A Type 3 PFD is a great option as it offers thermal protection, and comes in a vest style, so it is easy to wear while paddling. If you live in a warmer climate look for a Type 5 PFD as this is co2 inflated and therefore a cooler option. Beginner tip: If you paddle in salt water, wash your PFD with fresh water regularly to protect from corrosion.
  • Your clothes: Speaking of thermal protection, you'll need some SUPing clothes. For warm-water paddling, you should have a waterproof shirt with an SPF of 30, paddling booties, and a brimmed hat. Cold water paddling requires more gear to stay warm and safe: make sure you have a wet or dry suit, a neoprene hood, neoprene gloves, a fleece hat, and Gore-tex booties. Beginner tip: Make sure you're not already chilled when you're starting out for the day. Carry extra clothing in case of emergency or chilly conditions!
  • Extra must-haves: Like hiking or backpacking, SUPing has its own list of 10+ essentials for beginners and experts alike. Keep these must-haves in waterproof zip-locks, the pockets of your PDF, or a dry bag: a VHF radio, handheld flares, whistle, cell phone, energy bars, waterproof LED light, compass, sunglasses, sunblock, a tide table, camera, emergency blanket, and duct tape. Starting out with just a board and a paddle just isn't enough. Beginner tip: Attach these items to a string to prevent loss during immersion.

With a stable board, the right paddle, a PFD, and weather-specific clothes, you'll be starting out in no time and viewing local lakes or ocean surf from an entirely new perspective. But stand up paddling gear is just the beginning, and Rob Casey's guide has lots more information about basic strokes and techniques, flatwater and surf paddling for both beginners and experts. Check out Stand Up Paddling by Rob Casey, or his four part video series and you'll be on your way to becoming a SUP master.

Be safe. Have fun. Get your SUP on!


--Article adapted from Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers by Rob Casey, The Mountaineers Books

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