"Wassup!" With SUP?

By Ted Sensenbrenner

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) can be enjoyed with minimal equipment and minimal cost, and any age can participate. It's also a great workout. Grab the paddle — but not just any paddle.

Photo of a group of stand-up paddleboarders on the beach
Courtesy of MTI Adventurewear, Bethany & Dan Photography

A stand-up paddleboard is wider than a surfboard, usually greater than 30 inches wide, and is typically thicker and longer to give it the flotation needed for a participant to stand, even when not moving. SUPs typically have a foam core wrapped with epoxy resin or fiberglass cloth and have rigid fins to help track a straight line in the water.

Paddles are made of carbon, aluminum, or wood and will float if dropped in the water. The paddle should be six to 10 inches taller than the participant and should be of good quality. Some paddles come in adjustable sizes but should be stiff so your stroke converts the power exerted into forward motion instead of flexing the paddle.

Stand-up paddleboarding has been evolving slowly with surfers in the last 10 years but has really boomed in popularity with water lovers and paddle sport enthusiasts of all types in the last five. Initial growth started near ocean surf zones where surfers found it could help them catch larger waves and extend their overall number of days spent on the water. Initially, there were no rules other than to respect Mother Ocean and share the waves, typical surfer etiquette.

Rules of the Water

As others recognized the obvious fun, the workout benefits, and the potential to paddle in areas other than in the surf, stand-up paddleboarding exploded in popularity on lakes, bays, and rivers. Anywhere there was reasonable access and navigable water, these areas began seeing more enthused participants and further evolution of the sport.

The increase in popularity and the fact that SUPs and other recreational boat traffic now share the same waters prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to classify SUPs as "vessels" in 2008. This subjected them to the same regulations as canoes and kayaks when operated outside of surf zones. As such, SUP participants must comply with the equipment regulations as set by the U.S. Coast Guard for non-motorized craft and for boats under 16 feet in length.

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Did You Know ...

Photo of boy standing on a paddleboard Photo by Laura Davis

  • That Hoe He'e Nalu is Hawaiian for surfing with a paddle?
  • Or that the elbow bend in the shaft of the paddle is designed for efficiency. It gives you a slightly longer forward reach, and aligns straight up and down when it comes alongside, which is the point where the stroke is most powerful.


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