A sense of freedom and peace
By Beth Poliquin
My love for the water goes back to my earliest days growing up in Virginia Beach. Later, when I started canoeing and whitewater kayaking in college, something clicked in my soul. Then, living in Hawaii for three years solidified my connection with being on the water. It is on the water where I experience a sense of freedom and peace, even if the conditions are less than peaceful.
Several people have asked me about Stand Up Paddling (SUP) and want to know what the big deal is. The sport has exploded in recent years; people from all over the world are enjoying the activity on their respective lakes, rivers, or seas. It’s a more recent addition to my water-based repertoire and one I’m happy to tell you about.
People have been paddling out to catch waves for at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. Stand Up Paddling as we know it likely has its roots on Waikiki Beach. Although Hawaiians weren’t the first to paddle standing up, they were the ones to popularize it on a board. Surf boards in Hawaii are much bigger than standard ones you’ll see on the mainland US, making them more stable and allowing the user to stand up even when not being propelled by a wave. Most adult SUP boards are between 10 and 12½ feet long and around 5 or 6 inches thick. The bigger the board, the more stable it is and the more weight it can hold. This takes the romantic but challenging surfing and makes it accessible to most people.
Stand Up Paddling is a fun way to enjoy being active outside. It offers a better view than sitting close to the water and can also provide a great workout. Proper paddling technique involves keeping your knees bent slightly and keeping your leg muscles engaged. Being on the water challenges your balance, giving your core a much better workout than doing any number of crunches. Talk about functional strength! It doesn’t get more functional than having good balance. Of course your arms also get in on the action, and by paddling on both sides, they get worked evenly. Strength and fitness excite me because they let me enjoy the great outdoors more fully. When I’m feeling especially ambitious, I can step up the challenge with some yoga practice on my board.
Fun is great, but safety is paramount. US Coast Guard regulations mandate that paddlers have a life jacket with them, and paddlers under 13 years of age must wear one at all times outside of surf, swimming and bathing areas. When it comes to cold water, don’t mess around–wear your PFD. Have a signal whistle attached to your person and carry a light if you’ll be paddling in low light or the dark. A leash to keep your buoyant board close to you is recommended. Another great safety measure is company, so bring a friend with you!
Regarding people’s question about why SUP is so popular, my answer is that it is simply another way to be on the water. Some days, that’s really all I need.