Many believe that Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, who is also credited with popularizing the sport of surfing, developed something that relates closest to what we know today as stand up paddleboarding or SUP. However, according to Rob Casey’s Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers, the Peruvians could also lay claim to the sport’s origins with the reed paddle boats they used thousands of years ago. But while the contested origins of SUP go way back, the sport only truly gained popularity in North America over the past few years. “After the US Coast Guard classified SUPs as vessels [in 2008], it became kind of a Hollywood fad,” says Matt O’Brien, a stand up paddleboard instructor at the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre in Toronto. “You could find pictures of Sean Penn doing this, Ben Stiller—it became a very trendy thing to do.” But SUP is more than just a fad. As of 2009, SUP was the fastest growing watersport in North America. Not only does stand up paddleboarding have a relatively low learning curve, it’s also highly accessible. From surf to lakes and rivers, it can be done anywhere—well, anywhere with water, of course.

The cost and benefits of SUP
Though you can take an introductory course to SUP for less than $80 at locations such as Stand Up Paddle Vancouver and Toronto’s Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre, to get started on your own, “You’re looking at about $1500 as a starting cost,” says O’Brien. The initial cost of getting into SUP may seem high, but it doesn’t take long for the sport to show its value. SUP is simultaneously Zen and stimulating. Not only does it give you a unique vantage point out on the water, “It’s a great full-body workout,” O’Brien says, “especially for your core.” Problem is, you won’t benefit without the proper technique. Instead, “You can end up moving all of your body weight, plus all of the board’s weight with just your arms. That’s a lot, and you could end up injuring yourself,” he says. If you want to get into SUP, and do it right, here’s everything you need to know to get started:

What you’ll need
-A regulation PFD.
-A signaling device (e.g., a whistle).
-A paddle (approximately 10 inches taller than you, give or take a few inches depending on your comfort level).
-A leash.
-A board (between 10 to 12 feet long, depending on your size, and approximately 4 to 5 inches thick).
-A wetsuit and water shoes (optional).
-A long-range flashlight (if you plan to paddle at night).

Getting started
Pick a low-wind day, since it will be easier to work on your balance in calm waters. Before you begin, don’t just throw your board in off the beach without a care. The board’s fin(s) tend to be fairly long, so you want to be careful not to damage them when you’re getting in the water. Wreck a fin, and you’ll be going nowhere but in circles. Once you’re out into water about 4 feet deep, climb onto the back of your board on your stomach, as you would on a surf board. From there, pull yourself up onto your knees. It’s a good idea to do some paddling on your knees, so you can get a sense of how the board moves. Starting on your knees will also give you an idea of how far back you can move on your board without wiping out. Moving back on the board helps you turn easier; it’s an important part of a pivot turn, which is a slightly more advanced move.

To stand up, start with your paddle laying flat across the front of your board. Lightly place your fingers on it to hold it in place, but be sure to keep your palms on the board for balance. Kneeling at the centre of the board, step up one foot at a time, moving into a squatting position and then extending your legs until you’re standing with your knees bent and your back straight. Your feet should be placed at the same spot your knees were, shoulder-width apart. If your board has a handle on the front side for carrying, it’s usually a good indication of the centre of the board, says O’Brien, “That’s your home base.”

With one hand gripping the top of the paddle handle and the other on the shaft (as you would with a canoe paddle) your hands should be about two feet apart. When you hold your paddle above your head with your arms bent, they should be at a 90-degree angle. When paddling, try to keep a somewhat loose grip on your paddle, it will help you focus your energy elsewhere, so you’re not putting all the strain on your arms. Try these two basic strokes to start:

The forward stroke: Put your paddle in the water along one side of the board, about 2 to 3 feet in front of you. Do so by twisting your upper body toward the side you’re paddling on to ensure you’re using your whole body. You also want to make sure you’re fully extending your top arm. One of the most common beginner mistakes O’Brien sees is what he’s dubbed “T-Rex paddling,” in which people hold their paddles too close to their chest. Try to pull your paddle out of the water just as it passes by your ankles. It may feel more natural to follow all the way through, but it’s good to get in the habit of this, because if you plan on travelling long distances, following through can be another big energy-waster. Switch sides when necessary to correct your course.

The sweep stroke: Twist your torso about 90 degrees, moving your paddle to the back side of the board. While keeping your lower arm as straight as possible, untwist your torso. Pull your paddle in an arc-shape or half-circle along the side of your board, pulling your paddle out of the water a foot or so before it reaches the board’s nose. To turn with more ease, move away from the centre of the board. However, if you’re hoping to maintain a bit more stability, bring just one foot back and assume a surfer’s position. This stroke can be done on either side of the board, and in the reverse direction.

“What’s the natural thing to do when you’re about to fall?” asks O’Brien. Usually, it’s to throw your hands in the air or completely stiffen up, but there are better ways to stay on your board. If conditions are cold and you’re determined to stay dry, try bracing yourself by putting your paddle in the water at a 45-degree angle. You can steady yourself by either moving your blade back and forth across the water’s surface and applying moderate pressure, or merely exercising a static brace, which means pushing down on the paddle shaft with your lower hand to use it as an extra point of contact. And while both of these tactics work well if you’re feeling a little wobbly, one of the great things about stand up paddleboarding is just how easy it is to get going again after you’ve fallen off!
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