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What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

Stand up paddle boarding is several sports that are great on their own combined into one incredible experience. Part surfing and part paddle sport, stand up paddlers stand on their board and propel themselves through the water with their paddle. Stand up paddle board, known better by the acronym SUP is a sport that anyone can do anywhere there is water.

A Brief History of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

People have been propelling themselves across the water either with a paddle or pole for thousands of years. In the early 1900’s Hawaiians start to use large surf boards and paddles, however SUP as we know it today really picked up steam in the early 2000’s when professional waterman Laird Hamilton was spotted paddling a stand up paddle board both in Hawaii and along the California coast. Since then SUP has exploded in popularity not just in oceans, but in lakes, rivers, streams and ponds all over the world.

A pair of stand up paddle boarders on a calm lake

Why Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding So Popular?

Paddle boarding is a sport that nearly anyone of any age and athletic ability can enjoy anywhere there is water. While images of surfers riding giant waves are what many associate with SUP, the fact is that SUP is most popular in calmer waters. Paddlerboarders can learn quickly, and unlike kayaking or canoeing, can enjoy a unique perspective on the water that can only come from a standing position.

Paddleboarding is also a great workout, improving not only your balance, but also burning lots of calories while you do it. If you want to read more about just how many calories, check out DOES STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING BURN CALORIES?

The options of paddling styles and locations is endless. You can cruise your local lake, learn to do SUP Yoga, paddleboard with your kids or dog, explore places you have always wanted to, or tackle the waves and learn to SUP surf.

The popularity of paddle boarding stems from the fact that it relatively easy to learn, can be done anywhere, and offers a watersports experience like no other!

A large group of friends paddleboarding on a river

Where Can I Stand Up Paddle Board?

You can SUP pretty much anywhere there is water, with the most popular locations being lakes and oceans.   We generally refer to anything that is not surf or wave riding as flat water paddle boarding, and if riding breaking waves like a surfer, you are SUP surfing.

Flat Water Paddleboarding

If you have access to water that is at least knee deep, you can SUP. Lakes, rivers, streams, inner coastal waterways, and bays are just a few of the great bodies of water you can flat water SUP. When SUP’ing on a lake you do not have to be concerned about tides, but do want to pay attention to things like wind and wave direction, as well as obstacles such as rocky shoals. To paddle in a lake, all around paddle boards or touring paddleboards are always the best option!

SUP Surfing

If you are lucky enough to live in a coastal area with surf, you can take your SUP off the flat water and start catching waves. Before heading out you do want to sure you are familiar with local tide information, as well as local etiquette when it comes to how surfers and SUP surfers respect each other in the water. SUP surfing is best not attempted until you have mastered your balance and paddle technique in calmer waters. For SUP surfing, the best style SUP boards are all around paddle boards, or for those looking to increase their SUP surfing performance, more dedicated SUP surfing paddleboards.

A man stand up paddle surfing in California

What Are the Different Kinds of SUP Boards?

The two most common shapes of stand up paddle boards are planning hulls and displacement hulls. As well, each of these styles are available in both inflatable paddleboard styles called iSUP’s, and non-inflatable styles most often referred to as rigid paddle boards.


Planning Hulls

By far the most common shapes, planning hulls look very similar to long board surf boards. Easily identified by their rounded nose, planning hulls are the choice of paddleboarders looking to have a board that is stable, easy to paddle, and versatile to allow you to experience the many different aspects of paddle boarding all the way from flat water cruising to SUP Yoga!

Displacement Hulls

For those racing, or looking to paddleboard longer distances at great speeds, displacement hulls are very popular.   Displacement hull stand up paddleboards have a distinctively pointed nose, and tend to be longer in length than planning hulls. Generally, displacement SUP boards are for more experienced paddlers looking to take their speed and glide to the next level.

Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards

Inflatable paddleboards tend to be popular due to their portability, ease of storage, and ease of transport. When deflated, iSUP’s fold into a back pack sized carry case and do not require a large amount of space for storage. However, there are both pro’s and con’s to inflatable stand up paddle boards

Pros of Inflatable Paddle Boards

  • Easy to store
  • Easy to transport if you do not have a vehicle with roof racks
  • The only option for white water stand up paddle boarding
  • Great for travelling by airplane as they can be checked luggage
  • Ideal for accessing remote locations that may require a bit of a hike to get to.


Con’s of Inflatable Paddle Boards

  • They can be hard to inflate, taking both time (10 minutes) and a fair bit of physical effort. Women and kids do struggle to properly inflate iSUPs.
  • The set up time once arriving at the water to when you actually start paddling is longer than rigid boards.
  • They do not offer the same level of performance in terms of glide and speed when compared to rigid boards
  • It is possible to puncture them on sharp objects
  • Safety issues around loss of air pressure while paddling off shore
A man and woman using inflatable stand up paddle boards

Rigid Stand Up Paddle Boards

When it comes to performance, nothing beats a good quality rigid SUP board. In nearly all cases, they glide better, track straighter, and offer increased performance in all conditions. The advanced paddleboard design options in terms of shapes and design that make rigid SUP boards so great are just not possible in an inflatable SUP. As well, as they tend to be thinner, they offer a lower center of gravity making for a more stable platform on the water. However, like inflatables, there are pro’s and con’s of rigid paddleboards as well.

Pro’s of Rigid Stand Up Paddle Boards

  • They offer the best performance, without question
  • No set up time – just grab your board and hit the water
  • The options in terms of sizing and performance characteristics are virtually unlimited
  • There is no need to worry about air pressure, or air leaks


Con’s of Rigid Stand Up Paddle Boards

  • They do take more space vs iSUP for storage and transport

There are a lot of varying opinions regarding which board style is better. If space or transportability limit your ability to have a SUP board in general, then by all means go inflatable. However, if you have the space to store a rigid board, and want to get maximum SUP performance out of your new board, rigid is the way to go!

A man and woman paddle boarding on non-inflatable stand up paddle boards

What Can I Do on Stand Up Paddle Board?

The options are literally endless. Here are just a few ideas:

SUP Yoga – just as it sounds! Doing a Yoga practice on your board

SUP Fishing – taking your rod and reel out on your board to access new fishing hot spots

Flat Water Cruising – just explore your local lake or river

Paddling with your Dog – your dog will love riding along on the nose of your board with you.

Paddling with your Kids – get them started young by taking them out with you.

SUP surfing – riding waves on your SUP board. Generaly, easier to learn than prone surfing as you are already standing up.

Want a couple more ideas – check out What Else Can I Do On A Stand Up Paddle Board Other Than Paddle?

A woman doing SUP Yoga on the CruiserSUP Yoga Mat stand paddle board

How Do I Buy A Stand Up Paddle Board?

Generally, the best option is consult a SUP industry expert like ourselves. We have started thousands of new paddle boarders in the sport, and have been in SUP since it started! Reach us by phone, email, or Live Chat and we will gladly help you pick the best board for your needs.

We have a great buyers guide and additional resources section as well if you want to research on your own:

SUP Buyers Guide

Top 5 Tips for Stand Up Paddle Boarding Beginners

5 Novice Paddle Board Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make

What Size Paddle Board Do I Need for My Weight

Friends relaxing on the shore after paddle boarding

How Do I Stand Up Paddle Board?

Once you have picked the proper paddle board for your needs with the help of a professional, leaning to SUP can be quick and easy if done correctly.

You can consider taking a lesson locally if the option exists, however we have a great instructional section of helpful videos that will make learning to SUP a snap.

You do want to pick the conditions you learn in carefully, keeping mind:

  • Learning in calm water is safest and easiest
  • Make your first outing on a day with mild temperatures and light winds.
  • Wear a leash for safety
  • Try to paddle with someone else. If you have to paddle alone, be sure to let others know your plans
  • Be prepared to like get wet the first time out
Three paddle boarders paddling near a rocky shore

What Do I Need To Stand Up Paddle Board?

Aside from your paddle board and paddle, some other things you will want is:

  • Water to stay hydrated, and a healthy snack to stay fueled
  • The right apparel for the conditions
  • A leash
  • Sunscreen
  • A PFD
  • A towel and change of clothes.

When Can I Start To Stand Up Paddle Board?

The better question is “why haven’t you started stand up paddle boarding already?”. There is no other sport like it. With endless locations and conditions to paddle in, SUP is a fun and heathty way to get out on the water alone, or with family and friends.

Have questions for us? Just let us know by phone, email, Live Chat, or by commenting below!