What is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)?

Stand-up paddleboarding: a racing, cruising and wave riding water sport | Photo: Starboard

Stand-up paddleboarding is an outdoor water sports activity in which a rider stands up on a large board and uses a paddle to move through the water.

Stand-up paddleboarding, also known for the acronym SUP, is one of the fastest growing boardsports in the world.

SUP is a subclass of paddleboarding, a broader concept that also includes the use of arms while kneeling, lying or standing on a narrow and long paddleboard to move around in the water.

Paddleboarding has its roots in Africa, South America, and the ancient Polynesian culture. Historians believe that wooden paddleboards were used by 16th-century natives to move from one place to another, and also to catch waves for fun.

Tom Blake is the pioneer of modern paddleboard construction. In the 1920s, the American helped restore old Hawaiian boards; a decade later, Blake was already building hollow boards with half the weight of the historical models.

Stand-up paddleboarding: a sport for the waves and flat waters | Photo: Reed/ISA

Between the 1930s and the early 1990s, paddleboards remained in the shadows of surfboards and surfing, as smaller and lighter boards took over the market.

The rebirth of paddleboarding occurs after several successful and highly attended long distance races that put the sport in the spotlight.

Today, the paddleboard ranges between 12 and 20 feet in length, it is about 20 inches wide and weighs between 20 and 40 pounds.

Stand-up paddleboarding quickly emerged as an accessible alternative, especially for (older) surfers who have never given up on catching and riding waves.

The industry quickly answered with the launch of hundreds of more or less surfboard-inspired models, which could be used in various situations. Brands that until recently were locked up in niche windsurfing and kiteboarding markets found new opportunities in SUPing.

SUP: all you need is a paddleboard and a paddle | Photo: Shutterstock

Today, SUPing can be enjoyed is flat oceans, surf zones, lakes, rivers, canals, inland waterways, and even in large swimming pools.

With the advent of inflatable stand-up paddleboards, the sport became even more popular and accessible - the SUP board now fits in a backpack.

Stand-up paddleboarding not only is an excellent workout and pastime, but it can also be a smart mean of transportation, allow you to carry small bags and objects onboard.

SUP For All

SUPing also opened new and unexpected opportunities outside of surfing. Stand-up paddleboards are also used by yoga, pilates, fishing and swimming enthusiasts to perform specific training.

There are several types of SUP boards for different purposes. You'll find models for racing, surfing, flat water cruising, and crossover versions.

The size of a stand-up paddleboard ranges between 9 and 13 feet. The paddle has three components - the handle, the shaft, and the blade - and ranges between 6 and 12 inches.

SUP Yoga: stand-up paddleboarding serves multiple alternative purposes | Photo: Shutterstock

Today, stand-up paddleboarding is mainly a recreational activity, but there are also several competitions taking place all over the world.

The International Surfing Association (ISA) organizes the World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship (WSUPPC). The event features four SUP divisions (SUP Surfing, SUP Racing Technical, SUP Racing Sprint, and SUP Racing Distance) and two paddleboarding categories (Paddleboard Racing Technical and Distance).

Just like with a surfboard, the SUP rider stands in the upright position, centered on the board. Then, the user plants the blade fully in the water before starting to pull. This applies to every stroke he or she takes.

Because SUPers can catch waves sooner than anybody else, they are invited to follow an informal code of conduct which aims to promote a safe and healthy environment in the lineup.

In 2008, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) officially classified stand-up paddleboards as vessels, but they must give way to motor powered boats and large watercraft.

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