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To pick a board you need to consider your goals. Do you want to travel with it? Run rivers? Race? Surf? Just have fun? What is your fitness level and how is your balance?
Gleich recommends trying a bunch of boards before buying. Many shops carry rental or demo boards. If you live in the mountains, check with your local whitewater kayak shop or try a Google search. Another option is visiting supconnect.com to see if there are free demos, anyone in your area to paddle with, or local events. Ask your SUP friends if you can try their boards. The most important rule for starting is to find a board you love.
For sizing, a 10-foot board is good for most people—the wider and thicker a board, the more stable. If you want to enter races or paddle long distances on flat water, consider a longer, 12-foot board, which will be the most efficient. For surfing, you’ll want to downsize, so you can turn easier on waves. For running rivers, look for a board that can handle unforeseen impacts, like hitting rocks. For portability and travel, inflatable boards are the best option, although you will sacrifice performance on flat water and surf.
Take a class or go with someone who will teach you the basic techniques. Because SUP is becoming more popular, you can usually find a class and camp if you’re close to water. You can also buy instructional DVDs or even watch a YouTube instructional video to learn more about paddling technique on your own. If you decide to learn independently, make sure to incorporate partners at some point during the learning process. “I almost always paddle with a partner for safety and to have more fun,” says Gleich. “Water sports are dangerous, so it’s good to have a buddy or two.”
You will need a board, paddle, and PFD to get started. Also, for first timers a wetsuit is recommended if the water is cold. Most states require a personal flotation device on your board. “You will get ticketed without a PFD, so just get one,” says Caroline. “You’ll save money and time in the end.” If you want to venture outside of flat water, a few more pieces of equipment will be necessary. For ocean SUP surfing, add a leash to the kit. For whitewater, a helmet, quick release belt for your leash, partner, and whitewater skills are all required.
Start small and work your way into feeling comfortable on the board. Try paddling on your knees before you stand up. Once you can stand, keep your eyes up and look straight ahead. If you look down, you will probably fall. Go with other people and create a SUP posse. You will motivate each other to progress faster.
Start with flat water. Find any lake or reservoir near you, drop your board, and start paddling. “I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, so paddling the Great Salt Lake, Jordanelle Reservoir, and Causey Reservoir are some of my favorites,” says Caroline.
Deep rivers with rapids from class one to three are the best options for SUP outside of flat water. “I’ve run sections of the Snake, Truckee, Provo, Weber, and Bear Rivers. One of my favorite places in Salt Lake City is the Jordan River, which runs right through the middle of the city,” says Caroline when discussing her favorite river zones near home. “I paddle a mile or two upstream and get an awesome workout just 15 minutes from home.”
If you live near the coast or just want to try some SUP surfing, check out a place like San Onofre in San Clemente, California, where there is a designated SUP spot for surfers.
As SUP becomes more prominent in athletic communities, competitions are starting to pop up all over the world. A few of Caroline’s favorites include the SUP surf competition in San Clemente, California, and a whitewater race in Boise, Idaho. “There is an elite race in Northern California and an event in the Netherlands I am doing soon. SUP is everywhere,” she says.
One of the major races, Battle of the Paddle, is held every spring in Hawaii and at Dana Point, California, in the fall. Also, check out the race at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City this summer.
Standing while paddling through class three rapids or surf waves targets all the major muscle groups in the body. Plus, you’ll be working on your core strength and stability. “I can’t imagine a better way to train in the off-season,” says Gleich. “The skills translate seamlessly to skiing.”
Midway through the summer is a great time to try your SUP in the ocean. Then in the fall, stay out on the ocean or head inland towards the mountains and SUP at the nearest lake until the snow starts falling.
“SUP is an intense whole body workout—especially good for core,” says Caroline. “It’s really taken my skiing to the next level by challenging my balance.”