On a recent river trip through Utah’s Ruby Horsethief Canyon on the Colorado River, I jumped off our packed-to-the-brim family raft and onto a paddleboard. The sudden change in perspective was startling: From a standing position on my board, I suddenly became more intimate with my surroundings. I could see the eagle’s nest perched on the edge of a cinnamon red cliff and the petroglyphs etched into the rock. I could feel the water roll beneath my feet as the gentle current coaxed me downriver, and I could feel my arms, shoulders, and core muscles engage with each stroke. With my water bottle and snacks strapped to the nose of the board, I was ready for a day-long voyage—and thanks to the board’s stability, I could enjoy it without having to get wet.
Chances are you’ve heard of stand-up paddleboarding, SUP for short. The beautiful thing about SUP, and the reason it’s become enormously popular, is that virtually anyone can do it, and you don’t need actual surf to ride.
In the mountains near Aspen, Colorado, SUP opens up a whole new way to explore the rivers, mountain lakes, and reservoirs. In South Florida, SUP offers a novel way to navigate the Intracoastal Waterway or get out on the ocean without being pounded by the surf. In fact, paddleboards are a great way to experience the water in any number of locations—and you can use them for everything from fishing and yoga to endurance training and, yes, surfing. “The freedom you get on a paddleboard is amazing. You’re really immersed in nature and able to see the water on a more personal level than on a boat,” says Matthias Fretz, a Jupiter, Florida–based Douglas Elliman realtor associate who recently paddled 82 miles from the Bahamas to Florida in the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis paddle challenge (crossingforcysticfibrosis.com).
Much bigger than the average surfboard, stand-up paddleboards have a lot of flotation and are easy to balance on. Riders use a single paddle to propel and steer the board. This makes SUP suitable on almost any body of water. The sport is basically a hybrid of surfing and kayaking, but at a more relaxed pace and with a much faster learning curve. “You can learn in less than 10 minutes,” Fretz says.
All you need is a board and a paddle, and you’re ready to hit the water. Many stand-up paddleboards
are inflatable, so they’re easy to compress and store or toss into the car; there’s no need for a complicated roof rack. Paddleboards cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 (paddles aren’t always included); rentals average $50– $75 a day. A personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket is required in some places and always recommended; PFDs are usually included with rental paddleboards.
It’s also a good idea to wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, a shirt made of sun-protective fabric, and a good water shoe to navigate rocky bottoms.
“If it’s your first time, go to a reputable shop and hire an instructor to make sure to do it the right way,” advises Fretz. Also, “you want a guide who knows how to read the currents and changing tides.”
Whether you’re on the coast or in the mountains, SUP can transform any body of water into a playground—or an outdoor fitness studio. In Southern California, a stand-up paddleboard is a huge advantage for surfers because paddling lets them reach bigger waves much more quickly than they can on a traditional surfboard. In Glenwood Springs, Colorado, surfers brave ice-cold river water to ride the endless wave created by a big rapid. Not far away, yoga instructor Emily Longfellow uses a pond near Aspen to teach SUP yoga classes. “Balancing on the board activates the smaller, balancing receptor muscles that we don’t always tap into on the mat,” she says. “It enhances your yoga practice, and it’s a lot of fun.”
SUP is equally popular in East Hampton, New York, where Paddle Diva owner/instructor Gina Bradley offers SUP instruction for all levels, dance-focused paddle workouts, and more. She promises a transformative mind-body boarding experience with benefits “that reach beyond the board”—among them, a strong sense of accomplishment, clarity of mind/spirit, and feelings of contentedness and empowerment.
—by Alison Margo