• Terra Observer

What's up, SUP life?

A guide to Standup Paddleboarding (SUP) for a beginner, from a beginner.

Laurel Bury, Contributor

Hint: It's not as easy as it looks. (Holly Mandarich / Unsplash)

I've always loved the idea of standup paddleboarding—or as the paddle world calls it, SUP. It looks so flipping cool when I see Cindy Crawford paddleboarding on magazine covers in the rack by the grocery store check-out line. But being tragically clumsy with a questionable centre of balance, my paddleboarding attempts would likely land me in the embarrassing stories section of J-14 Magazine.

During my summer living in British Columbia last year, I had resolved myself to try paddleboarding at least once.

The scenery is gorgeous and, magically, everyone out there is athletically-inclined. This was my big chance. Did I actually do it?

No, of course not.

A pesky fear of falling and looking foolish dashed that dream, in the end. But this summer—thanks to an unhealthy dose of alone time in quarantine and a renewed vow to adventure outside—I've decided it’s now or never. To date, I've searched, googled and watched about three and a half hours of SUP'ing footage. At this point, I'm a self-proclaimed YouTube expert on paddleboarding and I'm here to share all the tips and tricks I've learned with you, my fellow novices.

Paddleboarding in sunset
I mean, doesn't this look cool? (Tim Vanderhoydonck / Unsplash)

Though paddleboarding has existed in one form or another for thousands of years across cultures, it was rediscovered in the 1940s when surf instructors in Waikiki, Hawaii began steering with paddles while standing on their boards to get a better look at surfers. Surfing instructors would also paddleboard as a way of training their students. Paddleboarding's leisurely pace makes it a great low-impact workout that can improve core strength and balance. It's also the perfect COVID-19 activity—the boards are so massive and the lakes here are so large that you can socially distance while being outdoors and getting exercise.

Having a low centre of gravity is an advantage when it comes to paddleboarding—lucky for me, I'm 4'11, so this might just be the perfect sport for me. Watch out, leggy people! I'll never be tall, but I just might balance better.

How to SUP

Don't be fooled by the Cindy Crawfords of the world, like I was. Paddleboarding doesn't seem to be as easy as it looks in magazines. It requires intense balance, focus and endurance. If you're a beginner, first make sure that your board is right-side up and use a leash. When you inevitably lose your balance as you're learning, the last thing you want is for your board to slip out from under you. You might end up chasing it. Check the wind direction before you paddle out and be wary of drifting too far with the wind, since you'll likely have to paddle against it to regain your course. When you're on the board, engage your core and stand in the middle of the board. Don't stand to the back, as that'll cause you to lose balance. If you're struggling to stand and balance, there's always the option to kneel and paddle.

Now, for the paddle. Grip the end of the paddle and make sure both arms are holding it at a 90-degree angle. The paddle direction is a bit counter-intuitive; you'll want the paddle to curve forward, not backward. To make your life a little bit easier, avoid choppy water on your first few trials.

Where to SUP

Toronto Island SUP is a popular option for prospective SUPers in the GTA or downtown. This paddleboarding company is just minutes from Toronto's centre and offers a unique way of experiencing the island and connecting with the water. Toronto Island SUP also offers SUP yoga, a SUP eco-tour and night SUP adventures. There’s something for everyone whether you’re a yogi, an earth child or a nightcrawler. But the SUP experience isn't exclusive to Torontonians—you can also try out the sport with SUP Hamilton, Northern SUP (Barrie), Paddleboard Addict (Scarborough) and other retailers that offer the experience.

Why SUP?

Not only will you get to soak up the vitamin D we’ve all been missing during lockdown, but you’ll get to do it with a view while staying active—a win-win situation. You can also get creative with paddleboarding. Paddleboarding meditation is a popular SUP activity that a number of SUP’ers have blogged about.

Now that I am fully prepared and have shared this knowledge with the rest of you, I’ll catch you all on the flipside this summer! Happy SUP’ing!