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Need a new fun activity? Try stand up paddleboarding

Whether you’re a mindful meditator, thrill-seeker or just a weekend poser, the stand up paddleboard (SUP) phenomenon has massive health benefits

Steven Bond

Published: Updated:

Is it a surfboard? Is it a canoe? No, it’s a stand up paddleboard. Whether you’re a mindful meditator, thrill-seeker or just a weekend poser, the stand up paddleboard (SUP) phenomenon has massive health benefits on par with its mass appeal

What is it?

The clue is very much in the name. Take a long single-bladed paddle and what looks like a wider version of a regular carbon fibre surfboard, then find a sizeable body of water, don the appropriate attire and you’re all set to… stand on a board and paddle. For first-timers, simply being able to stand while afloat is a noble achievement, but once you’ve got the knack it’s really a case of do as you please.

Many SUPers are content with a casual saunter – a chance to reflect as if you were taking a stroll – and most seem to enjoy it a social rendezvous, instead of just meeting at the latest hip coffee joint. But there’s more to SUP than merely killing time. As a sport, SUP has its sponsored athletes, several dedicated online magazines and, due its appeal and accessibility, some are even speculating it could become an Olympic event.

Where did it come from?

SUP has a shared history with surfing. It was first jotted into history books in 1769 by Joseph Banks of the HMS Endeavour on the third voyage of Captain James Cook, and was later found to be a part of ancient Polynesian culture. SUP as we now know it burgeoned in popularity in California during the mid-noughties and spread elsewhere like wildfire, particularly in places where waves weren’t available. It definitely helped that American surf legend Laird Hamilton helped popularize paddle surfing from the late ‘90s onwards.

A report by The Outdoor Foundation revealed SUP was the most popular first-time outdoor activity in 2013. The report noted that stand up paddle boarding beat out boardsailing, kitesurfing and other similar aquatic endeavours and was particularly popular with men and women in their late 20s. Hence the perception of SUP being such a new-fangled thing when (at least in principle) it’s nothing new – Venetian gondoliers have been ahead of the curve for almost a thousand years.

Is it easy to learn?

Easy to learn and difficult to master would be the best way to sum it up. Unless you’ve surfed, skateboarded, snowboarded – or done any other form of boarding – the ability to stand gracefully on a three-metre (ish) board can be a little elusive to some. Even then, it takes getting used to and that’s before dealing with choppy water or attempting to catch waves.

Is it competitive?

If you want it to be. Just like you can hop on a bike without training for the Tour de France or wear boxing gloves without having to get punched in the face, with SUP you can hop on a board without anyone expecting you to race or “hang ten” on a wave. That said, SUP races take place around the world and throughout the year. The Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association is generally considered to be the overall governing body, with various national bodies located where the sport is most popular.

Health benefits?

One of the first things that gets touted about SUP is the benefit for your core muscles – the central part of your torso around your stomach and mid and lower back. That’s because of the myriad adjustments made in your legs, hips and body to stay balanced, which is made tougher depending on the width of the board and whether or not there are any waves. Then comes paddling, which is a great workout for your arms, back and shoulders, all working together to propel you through the water.

One of the unsung bonuses of paddle boarding is that it’s low impact. Anyone who runs roads, plays squash or partakes in roughers sports will tell you that muscles, joints and ligaments will eventually suffer wear and tear from sudden jolts. The latest craze is to combine yoga with stand up paddleboarding, for an even greater balance exercise with all the benefits of yoga. It’s also important to mention that just being out on the water has a stress relieving effect for many people.

Where can I try it?

There are places to SUP in Abu Dhabi, and if you’re in Dubai, you can’t seem to avoid the phenomenon. Even if you love the idea of going for a SUP, it may be a little rash to go out and immediately buy a board, but thankfully there’s a host of venues that will rent you the necessary gear. Surf House Dubai, off Sunset Beach, charges by the hour but also has a day rate if you’re really keen to put the practise in. For almost guaranteed flat water conditions, the more sheltered Riva Beach on The Palm also offers lessons, including ladies only sessions.

And if you really want to make it a work out, SUP-Fit at Eden Beach Club takes place on Wednesday and Friday mornings, comprising bootcamp-esque exercises with the act of balancing on a board. Across the region, it’s a case of enquiring about the equipment available at beachfront hotels and water sports centres, though retailers like Surf Shop Arabia are able to ship goods around the Gulf. Just make sure you apply sunscreen and drink plenty of water, if the sun’s out. Other than that, what are you waiting for?