What is SUP?

Stand up paddle boarding or SUP for short has become a very popular outdoor water sport over the last decade. Not only is it an easy sport to learn, but it’s a good workout and the gear is readily available for rent and purchase. There are so many health benefits to getting outdoors!  Plus, you can practice your SUP skills on almost any body of water – from calm lakes and rivers to the ocean’s coastline and secluded bays. In this practical stand up paddle boarding guide, you will learn about stand up paddle boarding equipment, attire, and the best places in the United States to hone your SUP skills. As a bonus, this stand up paddle boarding guide will steer you towards trusted outfitters that possess the best insider’s knowledge as well as SUP gear rentals, guided paddle board tours and SUP lessons.

albuquerque sup rentals
MST Adventures, Albuquerque NM


Paddle Board Equipment

The reason why so many people enjoy stand up paddle boarding is because you don’t need a lot of heavy gear to do it. All you really need is two to three pieces of equipment: the stand up paddle board, a paddle, and an optional leash. SUP boards come in various sizes and weights. Generally, the longer and wider the board the more stable.  That makes long, wide boards good stand up paddleboards for beginners.  The shorter and more narrow the board means it is better for surfing and carving waves. As far as the paddle, a SUP paddle is a single blade paddle that is adjustable for your height. A good rule of thumb is to stand the paddle vertically with the T grip on top. Extend your arm up to meet the T grip with your wrist. Shorten or lengthen the paddle until both your wrist and T grip are at the same height.

inflatable SUP

Hard Paddle Boards vs Inflatable

Both hard (composite) SUPs and inflatable SUPs have their advantages. Inflatable SUP boards are great for portability. With an inflatable, you can deflate and carry in a bag, some even come with a backpack. There is no need for a roof rack nor a large storage space. Additionally, inflatable boards are durable. If you drop it, you won’t damage it. Because of this, inflatable SUP are ideal for white water boarding and rocky rivers. On the other hand, hard (composite) paddle boards are the best for overall performance. They are designed to catch waves and are great for SUP surfing. Hard paddle boards can be transported with a roof rack and tie down straps. Thus, they are ideal for local trips to your favorite lakes, beaches, and bays. Remember that you will need to have space to store your hard paddle board after use.

If you are new to stand up paddle boarding, and want to learn how to stand up paddleboard, taking a SUP lesson for your first time is a great start.  It’s easy to catch on after you learn the basics from an experienced instructor.

If you are trying to decide how to choose a stand up paddleboard, whether hard or inflatable, and a perfect paddle, one of the best ways to find out what style of SUP and paddle is best for you is to rent a SUP or take a guided SUP tour. This way you can test different boards and paddles, all while practicing your balance and SUP paddling skills.

what to wear paddleboarding

What to Wear Paddle Boarding

Depending on the destination and weather conditions, your paddle boarding clothes and footwear will be different. Some people choose to wear foot protection in the form of a water shoe or sock, and some prefer to go barefoot on the board. Most paddle boarders choose to lather up with SPF sunscreen and a hat. For sun protection as well as warmth, many paddlers choose to wear a long-sleeve rash guard. Of course, since you will be on the water, you can opt to wear your swimsuit or dry-wicking clothing.

Paddle Boarding Accessories

As with any sport, you have the necessary equipment and then the accessories that enhance the experience. Almost all of us like to bring our phones and cameras with us on adventures. Whether for communication or to snag the perfect Instagram shot, you want your phone or camera close. To keep your technology dry and safe, the best accessory is a drysack or waterproof phone case. You can choose from a small bag that attaches to your SUP or a backpack that you wear.

Where to Paddle Board – Best US Destinations for SUP

Our stand up paddle boarding guide wouldn’t be complete without helping you decide where to go.  There are some fantastic places for SUP in the US – here are some of our favorites!

honolulu surfing & sup
Surf HNL, Honolulu HI

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Oahu, Hawai‘i

For some of the best ocean SUP sessions with a dose of aloha, head on over to Oahu. You can choose to stand up paddle board right in Waikiki with views of Diamond Head or head to the North Shore for more gorgeous, warm water and lots of marine life.  Don’t forget to grab local grub (aka grindz) pre and post paddle. Recommended dishes include poke bowl (ahi tuna and rice bowl), fish tacos, malasadas (pudding filled donuts), shaved ice (Hawaii’s version of a snow cone), and spam musubi.

Charleston SUP Safaris
Charleston SUP Safaris, Charleston SC

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Charleston, South Carolina

In South Carolina’s Low Country, you can get up close and personal with wildlife. From dolphins to otters and countless birds, an adventure via SUP is priceless. For pristine paddle boarding in swamps, marshes and rivers, it doesn’t get much better than around Charleston. Plus, there are plenty of TripOutside’s vetted outfitters to choose from.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Door Country, Wisconsin

With over three-hundred miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin has countless great paddle locations. Choose from Pebble Beach in Sister Bay, Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island, or Kangaroo Lake. Discover the best Door County SUP rentals and guided tours complete with caves, bluffs and lighthouses.

tempe az kayak rental riverbound sports
Riverbound Sports Paddle Company, Tempe AZ

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Tempe, Arizona

Explore the lakes and rivers around Tempe and Phoenix on a SUP to enjoy the views, get a workout in, and cool off. Some local favorites include Tempe Town Lake, Saguaro Lake (the name hints to its surrounding flora), Canyon Lake, and Lower Salt River. You don’t have to go far to find an excellent place to paddle in and around the Valley of the Sun. Get the best gear rentals and guided tours with these four-star and above rated Tempe outfitters.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Bellingham, Washington

For some of the most stunning scenery, seal sightings, and sunsets, set your GPS to Bellingham, Washington. The Bellingham area is a mecca for paddlers – seasoned SUP paddlers in the area recommend Wildcat Cove and Chuckanut Bay.  The quiet coves around Bellingham are the perfect place for SUP lessons and guided tours.

Dillon SUP rentals
Stand Up Paddle Colorado, Dillon CO

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Dillon, Colorado

Can’t choose whether you want to escape to the mountains or to the water? Well, you can do both if you pick Dillon, Colorado. Stand up paddle boarding on Dillon Reservoir is a perfect combination of alpine lake mixed with the dramatic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Locals recommend bringing your camera for the countless picture opportunities on Lake Dillon.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding San Diego, California

With a variety of stand up paddle boarding opportunities, San Diego has it all from beginner to advanced routes. The perfect starting point for your San Diego paddling experience is in Mission Bay. It is ten minutes from downtown with minimal wind and plenty of spots for putting in your gear. For the best insider’s knowledge and gear rental, head check out our recommended and trusted local outfitters. 

Ready and Excited to Power Your Next Outdoor Escape?

After getting our SUP tips and curated outfitters in the best U.S. paddle boarding destinations, isn’t it time to power your next adventure via SUP? We certainly think so. Make the time for a much needed liquid road trip! Live life one paddle at a time.

Happy Paddle Boarding!


Post contributed by Author and Adventurer, Heidi Siefkas. Her favorite SUP destinations listed above are in Hawaii as well as Door County, Wisconsin.

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