Everything you need to know about Stand Up Paddleboarding

SUP is quick to learn, offers a yoga-beating core workout and opens up endless possibilities. Steve West of Kanuculture.com tells us  everything you need to know about the perfect adventure sport

Stand up paddle boarding is a clumsy mouthful and hardly an intelligible construct the world can immediately embrace. Which is why its acronym, SUP, has become the sport’s alias.

Since around 2005, SUP’s been jettisoned by popular global demand, welcomed by an ailing windsurfing industry looking for the next big thing. In the UK, the sport had an initial bumpy ride, but has now gained traction.

With its contemporary origins in Hawaii, an extended outrigger canoe paddle and large volume surfboard ingeniously combined two Hawaiian ocean sports – that of surfing and outrigger canoe paddling.


SUP gets you afloat quickly and relatively cheaply and avoids some of the inherent dangers associated with kayaking or canoeing, or the requirement for a vast array of extraneous clobber. It offers a near vertical learning curve, which hits a ceiling point early on, at which point you need time on the water to improve your skills, while broadening your SUP experiences.

While some of the marketing banter around SUP has focused on the health benefits (core fitness in particular), the sport offers much more than a workout: it’s a portal into a world of adventure and possibility that can offer a genuine alternative to kayaking or canoeing.

A SUP board can take you into some amazing situations and it’s important to remember that, despite the name, standing is only an option; paddling on your knees into tight situations or when tackling moving water can be a good idea.

There’s no fear of entrapment and with the right board, you can even lug all that you need for a
day trip or an overnight adventure. For the adventurer in us all, and with logistical forethought, the
SUP as a vehicle for adventuring is yet to be fully appreciated, though the shift is now beginning.


While some of the marketing suggests the sport’s easy, the level of physicality required is directly proportional to the conditions. You don’t need to be super fit, but it’s a good idea to be confident on and in the water. You could attempt to teach yourself, but for around £55 it’s worth seeking out a good SUP instructor or school in order to gain some safety tips and pointers, especially if don’t have a strong paddling background.

If you’re physically fit, have good balance and enjoy extreme sports, you may make the mistake of believing SUP looks somewhat pedestrian compared to jumping off a cliff (for example). However, few things beat it as a secondary sport for cross-training.


Inflatable boards (iSUPs) offer the most versatile, utilitarian solution for travel, storage and durability. Outstripping laminated hardboard sales by a huge margin, iSUPs are rapidly defining the sport’s raison d’être. Legendary windsurfing brand Mistral currently manufactures the world’s lightest iSUP boards, weighing in at a mere 6-7kg, making it possible to hike up a mountain pathway and glide down a river all in one outing.


The growing health and fitness market has embraced the emergence of SUP yoga- and Pilates-styled workouts, utilising iSUP boards as floating gyms or mats. Trainers and companies are now creating specific routines and boards fit for purpose.


Board – ranging from 8ft-14ft lengths for varying purposes; shorter for surf, longer for cruising, racing and touring. Consider your weight, ability and aspirations and always seek out professional advice when buying. If storage is an issue, or you intend to travel, an iSUP board offers the best solution and usually comes complete with backpack and pump. Hardboards are rapidly becoming the domain of racing, down winding (paddling with the wind behind) and sup-surf.

Paddle – it’s vital to get a good stick. Buy a lightweight, reputable design, and if you’re travelling, a two or three piece adjustable (length) carbon paddle is best.

Leash – an essential bit of safety equipment, this keeps you secured to your board. A coiled leash for regular paddling, attached just below the knee, or waist-worn systems are preferable. Seek expert advice and invest in quality. 

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