Madison hosted the Midwest Stand Up Paddle Festival in 2013. Stand up paddleboarding, known as SUP to the sportís enthusiasts, is one of the
fastest–growing water sports in the United States.
Take a stand
Stand up paddleboarding popularity is on the rise.
Self–propelled and a view that before could only come from walking on the water — stand up paddleboarding is catching on across the Midwest.
The sport was invented by Hawaiian "beach boys" in the 1950s when tourists would try their hand at surfing and ask the locals working on the beach to take their picture. These "beach boys" would ride out with the novice surfers, and when an opportunity for a picture came, they would stand up on their boards to get a good shot. To maneuver around waves, they would use a paddle while continuing to stand.
Since that time, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has spread to the mainland United States and has become more popular through the decades.
Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Monona, which is one of the biggest distributors of paddleboard equipment in Wisconsin, provides insight into why people are becoming more interested in SUP.
"Stand up paddling is growing for many reasons," Bush says. "It's economical; once you buy the equipment, you're done. No lift tickets, no greens fees. It's simple; just a board, a paddle and a life jacket. It's easy; the equipment is light and easy to haul around on top of the car or stick in the back of a truck. It's great exercise; it's super low–impact, but you still get a great workout for your legs and core. A lot of folks are doing yoga poses on their boards to add a whole new level of challenge."
Most sports stores today sell the equipment needed to get started. Some shops, such as Rutabaga, even offer beginners' classes.
"It may seem like a very simple activity, but a short lesson in the basics of stand up paddling can really give you a jump start," says Bush.
Beginners should steer clear of rapid or choppy waters until they get a good handle on stand up paddleboarding. Paddlers should wear a life jacket as the same risks as any water sport apply.
"The majority of injuries and fatalities in water sports occur because the victim isn't wearing a life jacket, has been drinking, or both," says Bush. "Another risk factor is paddling alone. Paddling with a friend is much more enjoyable anyway."
Paddleboards are considered boats and SUP participants need to at least have a life jacket on their board. But DNR Chief Warden Todd Schaller strongly recommends wearing the jacket. "Wearing a life jacket significantly reduces the chance of injury or death," says Schaller.
Not practicing safety out on the water can have fatal consequences.
Rutabaga offers group and private lessons for stand up paddleboard beginners with instructors who are certified by the American Canoe Association.
REI offers a great beginners' guide to stand up paddleboarding that can be found at rei.com/learn/expert-advice/paddleboarding.html.
The guide explains that, just like any other sport, you'll want to make sure you're well prepared to head out on the water.
The price range for basic gear needed for stand up paddleboarding can be between $1,100 and $2,100.
Paddleboards come in a variety of sizes and should be matched to a paddler's weight and experience. Generally, beginners should stick with wider boards until they can build up their balance.
When you choose a paddle, keep in mind that professionals suggest using one that is about six to eight inches taller than you, and some even suggest using one that is up to 10 inches taller. Whatever feels comfortable should be a good rule of thumb for paddle selection.
When you head out on the water, take notice of weather conditions. As a beginner, you will want to practice a few times on calm, steady water. More advanced paddleboarders can handle waves and choppier water, but it's better to play it safe if you are less confident in your paddleboarding skills. It is also important to pay attention to who else is on the water and other factors that might pose a threat to your safety.
Hopping on the board once you are in the water can be a little tricky. If standing up right away is difficult, many beginners will rest on their knees and work their way to finding their balance as they attempt to stand up straight. If even getting on the board is proving difficult, it could be helpful to have a friend wade out to shallow water with you and hold the board steady as you mount.
Once you establish your balance on the board, keeping your balance is important. First, do not stand too close to the edges of the board. Your feet should be about hip–width apart, your knees should be slightly bent and your back should remain straight. Your power is in your hips, so use them to keep your balance. Do not stare at your feet ó it's tempting at first, but it will throw your balance off. Keep your gaze along the horizon. The faster you go, the easier it will be to maintain your balance.
The next step is to use the paddle to get moving. When you paddle on the right, your right hand should be on the shaft of the paddle with your left hand at the top, helping push the paddle under the water. Paddling uses the same basic concept as when you canoe; push the paddle under the water, using your abdominal muscles to push, follow through in one motion to propel water behind you, lift the paddle out of the water and bring it back to the front to repeat the process.
Rising in popularity
As the popularity of stand up paddleboarding increases, so do events for the sport.
"The recreational races are around three miles long, and the professional races run around six miles," says Illya Fiuty, Communications Director of the Midwest Stand Up Paddleboard Championship and Festival Series. Last summer the organization hosted the Midwest SUP Festival in Madison after a story in USA Today recognized Madison as "one of the 10 great places to try stand up paddleboarding."
"Through racing, participants accumulate points, and at the end of the year, the top six scores count towards the regional championship, where top scorers can win a prize, like a trophy," says Fiuty. Registration for these events can be done on the day of the race at the event.
"The development of a one–design race series allows anyone to show up and race and have all else equal," says Bush. "Sailboat races have been like this for a century, and we're glad to see the [stand up paddleboarding] community take that direction."
Not only is the sport fun, it can also be a great and easy way to get exercise.
"The benefits of stand up paddleboarding are similar to those from paddling canoes and kayaks; core strength, flexibility, and improved proprioception," says Bush.
Many outdoor enthusiasts are also seeking relaxing ways to connect with nature.
Explains Bush, "The mental and emotional benefits are different for different people, but everyone I've taken stand up paddleboarding for the first time has come back and said, 'That is so relaxing.'"
Amanda Laurenzi is a regular contributor to Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.