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The full body core workout of paddle boarding is quick to master and a great way to explore the outdoors. All you need is a stand up paddle board, a paddle and an energetic attitude to get started. A little instruction will take you a long way too. (Photo: Andrew Drake/Surf Ballard)

A Beginner's Guide to SUP (Paddle Boarding)

Legend has it that paddle boarding or SUP was introduced to the US in 2004 with Maui surf legend, Laird Hamilton. Hamilton was looking for ways to cross train when he grabbed a canoe paddle and a long surfboard to paddle board, something Hawaiians had already been doing for thousands of years. They called it Hoe He’e Nalu. The ancient Peruvians and Africans all did some form of paddle boarding on the ocean. Now days you can see paddle boarders on nearly every body of water.

Paddle boarding’s popularity quickly grew in the US and can be seen on nearly every body of water from lakes to rivers, oceans and bays. The full body core workout is quick to master and a great way to explore the outdoors. All you need is a stand up paddle board, a paddle and an energetic attitude to get started. A little instruction will take you a long way too.

Last summer, I embarked on my first paddle boarding experience and was hooked. My family and I headed down to the Oregon coast and I was introduced to paddle boarding though SUP Manzanita. Owner Janice Gaines took me out on the Nehalem River for a glassy smooth ride. I was initially nervous about falling in and while pushing off from the dock was unsteady, I quickly focused my energy and steadied my feet. My first few strokes were shallow, quick and ineffective but before I knew it, I was gliding through the water. I joked that I was a natural and Gaines let me in on a secret about paddle boarding. “SUP has a nearly vertical learning curve,” she said.

When we talked later, I asked her again about the learning curve and paddle boarding. “SUP is very base,” said Gaines. “The movement is standing there and pressing down on the paddle. Balance is required and the boards I have are very stable. Given those two parameters, SUPing is as easy as going for a walk.”

We spent nearly 90 minutes out on the river, at first paddling upstream before turning around and flowing with the current around the inlet and back to the docks. I quickly learned that holding steady and paddling was the key to an enjoyable SUP ride. I also like the idea that paddle boards can accommodate smaller riders like dogs or children.

I recently reached out to Andrew Drake of Surf Ballard to learn more about paddle boarding in Seattle. Surf Ballard is located along Shilshole which provides an excellent place to SUP. The bay is protected and while the winds sometimes kick up, it tends to have smoother water than Greenlake or Lake Washington.

I asked Drake what made paddle boarding such a great sport to try and like Gaines, he commented on the quick the learning curve. “Almost anyone can do it after 5 minutes of instruction,” Drake said. The ease of accessing almost any body of water was another reason that made paddle boarding awesome in Drake’s mind.

SUP is an easy sport to learn. After my experience, I felt extremely confident about heading out alone. My only complaint was that my feet were so sore afterward. Both Gaines and Drake nodded their head in agreement when I asked them about my sore feet. Gaines noted that the first few times you head out on a paddle board, all the small muscles in your feet tense up because they are not used to balancing on the board. However once you’ve gone a few times, your muscles learn not to work so hard and the soreness goes away.

SUP (Paddle Boarding) Tips:

  • Dressing for paddle boarding is easy, depending on weather conditions. In colder conditions, a wetsuit is advised but in summer weather, a bathing suite or yoga gear is ideal. Wearing something that allows movement is key.
  • When selecting your paddle board, ask a professional shop like Surf Ballard or REI for assistance. They’ll get the ideal board for your size and experience.
  • When starting out with SUP, selecting calm water is the way to guarantee success. Some people find it easier to kneel on the board rather than standing upright in the beginning. To get on the board, stand alongside it in shallow water and place your paddle across the board. Grab the board by the rails and climb aboard in a kneeling position. After you find your balance point, move from the kneeling position to an upright one.
  • Once on the board, keep your gaze forward at the horizon and balance with your hips. Your feet should be parallel and hip-width apart. Use strong and even strokes to move forward. Momentum will help with your stability as you glide along the water.