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Ultimate Guide to Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

Stand up paddle boarding (or SUP for short) is one of the fastest-growing paddling activities.  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 on a SUP!  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

Paddle boards are easy to transport, and super fun to use. The major benefit of a paddleboard over kayaks or canoes is the vantage point that you get when you’re standing up. You can see so much more and take in not only the surrounding sights, but also see more in the water below you.

Another 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 transportability. With an inflatable, you can deflate and carry it in a bag, some even come with a backpack. There is no need for a roof rack nor a large storage space. Inflating only takes around 10 minutes.  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.  These hard shell boards are more rigid and don’t flex or ‘give’ as much so they are faster, are better for larger paddlers, or if you have gear that you’d like to carry. 

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

Other Types of Paddle Boards

Surfing SUPs are typically rented at beach locations like California, Hawaii and Florida which are popular for SUP surfing.  SUP surfing, or stand-up paddle boarding surfing, is a mix of surfing and paddle boarding. Here’s the beta: you’ve got a board that’s much larger and more buoyant than your typical surfboard, and you stand up on it right from the get-go. Using a long paddle, you cruise through the water, which makes it a bit different from traditional surfing. Because you’re already standing, you’ve got a better view of incoming waves, making it easier to catch them earlier. SUP surfing is a killer core workout and can be enjoyed on both gentle rollers and bigger surf.

Group SUPs – these are oversize paddle boards that allow 4-8 people to paddle together and have a paddle party!  They’re great for team-building, family outings, or just a bunch of friends looking to have an epic time together.

Paddle Board Sizing

Length

  • Longer Boards (12-14 feet): These boards are designed for speed and efficiency. They cut through the water and maintain a straight course better, which makes them perfect for long-distance paddling and touring. They’re great if you’re looking to cover more distance or if you’re paddling in straight lines, like across lakes or down long, calm river stretches.
  • Shorter Boards (under 10 feet): Shorter paddleboards are more about agility and fun. They’re easier to turn and maneuver, making them ideal for surfing waves or for more playful activities on the water. They’re also easier to handle for beginners in calm waters but can be challenging when trying to paddle straight over longer distances.

Width

  • Wider Boards (31 inches or more): The width of the board plays a huge role in stability. Wider boards offer a more stable platform, which is especially helpful for beginners, larger paddlers, or when you’re doing activities like yoga on your board. They can feel a bit slower and bulkier but are less likely to tip over.
  • Narrower Boards (29-30 inches): These are typically faster and offer more streamlined paddling. They’re better for more experienced paddlers who are looking for performance and speed in their paddleboarding. They can be a bit trickier to balance on, especially for newbies or in choppy water.

Thickness and Volume

  • Volume: This tells you how much weight a board can support. A higher volume means more buoyancy, which can support more weight without sinking too deep into the water. This is crucial if you’re carrying gear or if a larger paddler is using the board.
  • Thickness: Standard boards are usually about 4-6 inches thick. Thicker boards provide more buoyancy and are more rigid, which is beneficial for stability and carrying capacity.

When choosing a paddleboard, think about where you’ll be using it (ocean, lake, river), your experience level, and what kind of paddling you plan to do. Matching the board size and type to your intended use and conditions will make your time on the water way more enjoyable!

What to Wear Paddle Boarding

Depending on the destination and weather conditions, your paddle boarding clothes and footwear will be different.  Having a PFD on the board with you is an important safety measure, and required in some places. 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.  Lastly, a waterproof dry bag is always helpful to bring water, snacks, towel and other necessities.

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 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.

SUP door county

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.

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 vetted outfitter recommendations 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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