We’re all familiar with that iconic 1950s imagery of stand up paddle boarding; scores of ripped, golden surfies riding the swell against a hazy Hawaiian sunset. But now, thanks to a sudden and rapid surge in popularity, you can pop on down to your local bay – or any bay – and witness the very same scene in real time. Like what you see? Yeah, us too. And every other ocean-goer north of Antarctica it would seem!
The only surprising thing about the stand up paddle boarding (SUP) craze is that it’s taken this long to catch on. SUP isn’t a new and novel 20th century idea. The contemporary form that originated in Hawaii dates back to the 16th century. But many historians trace its roots back even further. The first SUPs were upturned canoes, ridden by African warriors who would push themselves along waterways with spears in order to execute stealthy attacks on rival tribes.
Thankfully, the motives of today’s paddlers couldn’t be more different. Among other things, we’ve heard SUP called “surfing for the meditative type” – and we couldn’t agree more. Go early in the morning when the sun is low and the water smooth as glass, and you’ll be challenged to find a more therapeutic, soul-nurturing way to start the day. Ready to get on board? Here’s what you need to know.
How do I get started?
Before you splash your cash on a board and paddle, we recommend learning the SUP basics by booking a lesson. During your first lesson, you’ll learn how to choose the correct board; how to stand up; how to position yourself properly; how to use the paddle correctly and adjust it for your height. You could also hire your gear and have a go at teaching yourself with our beginner tips further down.
If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person and want to jump in all guns blazing, check out a good SUP/surf shop and get advice to find the right size board and paddle based on your height and weight.
What type of SUP is right for me?
There are three main types of SUP: inflatable, cruise / flat water, or surf. Each has its uses and pros and cons, and each comes with a different price tag.
- Inflatable stand up paddle boards (iSUPs) are easy to inflate at the beach, take up less room in the garage, pack down into a backpack, and are usually lighter than other board types. But, they have their drawbacks too: they are not as rigid as fibreglass boards, they are not as manoeuvrable on the water, and they have been known to suffer “sinkage” in the middle, especially with heavier riders, although with correct inflation, this is less of an issue. Inflatables are best for riders who prefer lakes and gentle rivers, for travelling and touring, or for those summer stand up paddlers who would like to SUP more, but generally only get out during holidays.
- Cruise / flat water SUPs are usually made from fibreglass and are available in both soft and hard top models. They tend to be heavier than iSUPs and are longer and wider than surf models, designed to offer a smooth, stable ride in calm conditions. Of course, they don’t require inflation, but they do require a bit of muscle to transport. Also, they don’t like being knocked around; your fibreglass board will need a bit more TLC than an iSUP. ‘Soft top’ flat water SUPs are usually mostly fibreglass with a soft outer shell, perfect for when kids are going to be using the board too (it won’t hurt as much when they fall off!). You will need to figure out how you will transport the board – a set of roof racks and tie downs is a must. Adult boards start at around the 10-foot mark, so you will also need to consider where you’re going to store it.
- Surf SUPs are shorter and lighter than flat water models. They’re suitable for experienced riders, designed for catching waves, making fast turns on the way into the beach.
Quick tips for SUP beginner success
- Choose flat water with minimal wave action such as lakes or protected bays.
- Before you transition to standing, try kneeling while you get a feel for the board and paddle.
- Remember to relax, and look at the horizon to get your balance.
- Position your body in the centre of the board, with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability.
- Shoulders should be relaxed and centred, with your knees slightly bent.
- Engage your core muscles to stabilise your body (this also helps stop the shaking of the board).
- A smooth, gentle paddling action will see you gliding over the water, and it won’t be long before you’re feeling on top of the world.
- Practice falling off your board and getting back on in deep water so that when you try your hand at paddling in rougher conditions or on a small surf break, you’ll be able to jump back on without any problems.
Where can I go stand up paddle boarding?
You’re probably keen as mustard to get out there now, and you’ll find no shortage of prime locations in just about every state. We’re a nation of endless coastline, after all, not to mention all the rivers, lakes, basins and even canals. To help you narrow down your options, we picked out our top locations for your next SUP session.
New South Wales
- Sydney, with its countless nooks and crannies in the coastline, is a paddler’s paradise. Manly, Balmoral, Cronulla, Bundeena – you’re seriously spoilt for choice.
- Famed for its pure white beaches, rolling green hills and turquoise water, the South Coast is a mecca for stand up paddlers of all abilities. For a calm and cruisy ride any time of day, you can’t look past the beaches of Jervis Bay.
- Similar to the South Coast but a fraction warmer, Port Stephens offers a handful of calm, protected bays. Give Shoal Bay a whirl, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for dolphins!
- There’s more to Port Douglas than world-class snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Hit up Four Mile Beach for a gentle paddle (in between naps under those spectacular palms). Be sure to visit outside of the summer months. This is stinger season in the wet tropics, and the beaches tend to be off limits.
- Fancy a freshwater experience? Venture deep into the Daintree for a magical ride on the Mossman River.
- Heading to the Sunshine Coast? Noosa’s main beach is always popular for a paddle when the conditions are calm.
- Perth’s wave-free beaches are perfect for a quick SUP session, but for something a little more interesting, you can hop on a SUP tour and paddle across to Seal Island for some quality time with the resident sea lions.
- If you’re partial to a little wining and dining between SUP sessions, drive south of Perth for a couple of hours to the glorious Margaret River.
- Head north along the Coral Coast for your choice of SUP spots that are unlike anywhere else. If you’re stopping in at Monkey Mia to see the famous (super friendly) wild dolphins, Shark Bay is a great place to also have a paddle. Or head further north to Exmouth where you can paddle from the beach over Ningaloo Reef.
- Melbourne’s city beaches are sheltered by the arms that make up Port Phillip Bay, so places like St. Kilda are popular spots to pick up a paddle. If you ask a local they’ll be quick to suggest some real gems, such as the always glassy Maribyrnong River.
- With bucket loads of world-class SUP destinations, the Mornington Peninsula is worth the hour-long drive from Melbourne. Flinders Beach, Safety Beach and Blairgowrie are just a few options to keep you busy.
If you love the sea, sand, sun and surf (but prefer a calmer ride), then we reckon you and a stand-up paddleboard could very well be a match made in heaven. It’s a whole lot of fun for not too much effort, though don’t be surprised if you feel it in your core, glutes, calf and lower back muscles the next day. But hey, we reckon getting back to nature beats 100 sit-ups at the gym any day!