Paddle Boarding Kit Guide
Stand up paddle boarding (known as SUPing) is one of the UK’s fastest growing watersports. Just a decade ago, the sight of someone gliding along our waterways atop what looks like a surfboard whilst brandishing an unusually long paddle, was a rare one. Now it’s commonplace – and for good reason. SUPing is an activity almost anyone of any age or fitness level can enjoy.
The repetitive nature of paddling is almost meditative, requiring concentration and effort that, whilst sustained, is not backbreaking. Couple that with the simple pleasure of being on (and sometimes in!) the water and the appeal of this slowed-down form of travel becomes obvious. Get into SUPing and you’ll find it offers its own unique form of escapism. If you are new to SUPing, or intrigued enough to give it a try, our expert guide will give you all the info you need to get you started on your water-bound adventures.
What is SUPing and where can you go on one?
SUPing or paddle boarding is a mix between surfing and kayaking. Simply put, it involves standing upright on a board (about 10-12ft long) and then propelling yourself along using a paddle. What makes SUPing so popular is its versatility. Many people use their SUP simply to have fun and pootle around on, socialising with friends whilst splashing about on a small local stretch of water. But SUPs are also great for short bursts of exercise, providing a great workout of anything from 20 minutes to over an hour of strong paddling after work instead of your usual walk or run. You can even do yoga on a SUP (yes, it’s a thing!). It’s also entirely possible to spend a whole day (or even multiple days) on a SUP, and with an average leisurely paddle speed of 3-4MPH (similar to, or slightly faster than walking) you can cover a decent amount of distance, making them great for mini expeditions too.
They’re not just great on rivers either. You can take your SUP on lakes or even coastal areas of the sea in the right conditions. And although they are most commonly used in the summer, their use isn’t necessarily confined to the warmer months. With the addition of a wetsuit and other equipment, there’s no reason why you couldn’t be getting good use out of your SUP practically all year round.
Is stand up paddle boarding good for you?
Undoubtedly yes. Take part in SUPing and you’ll be giving yourself a full body workout, but less in a full-on, circuit-training-in-a-gym way that puts most people off. It’s more subtle and less intensive than that – that’s why the yoga angle should now start to make more sense. Being out on the water means you’ll need to stay mentally focused and work a little to stay balanced and upright, all of which is good for your core strength, and your back, shoulders and arms will all benefit from the paddling too. It’s also wonderful for the mind. Be it from the fun, social aspect of SUPing, the act of concentrating, the soothing repetition of a paddle stroke, or just the sheer amount of rare wildlife you’ll see and new perspectives you’ll glean from travelling on water, SUPing provides nourishment for mind, body and soul.
What kit do I need to go stand up paddle boarding?
The good news is you only need a few pieces of equipment before you can get out paddling. Firstly, and crucially we’d say, you need a SUP… and a paddle. Without these two items, you are undoubtedly going to get more wet than you would otherwise intend to! But what kind of SUP do you need?
To find the right SUP, you’ll want to consider how you're going to use it and how you want it to handle in the water. The hull shape of your SUP will determine how the board performs; most SUPs have either a planing hull or a displacement hull. Either hull shape can be enjoyed by beginners, but there are differences worth knowing about that make them better for some activities than others.
SUPs with planing hulls are flatter, wider and rounder at the bow (the front end). Designed to ride on top of the water and be very manoeuvrable, they are a great all-rounder – a solid choice for any SUP activity but especially social paddling, SUP yoga, shorter trips, sea trips, and on gentle waves and white-water. Think of them a bit like the mountain bike of the water. If you’re looking for a board with unbridled access to any condition for unlimited fun, there is no better design.
SUPs with displacement hulls have a more pointed nose more akin to that of a kayak. This helps the hull slice through water better, pushing the water around the bow to the sides more efficiently to create a faster, smoother ride. As such, displacement hulls require less effort to paddle, allowing you to go longer distances at faster speeds. They also track nice and straight but are generally a bit less manoeuvrable than planing hulls. Again, you can use displacement hulls for most activities, but if paddling efficiency and speed are key to your paddle boarding experience, go for a displacement hull. The road or touring bike of the water, they’re perfect if you use your SUP predominantly for longer fitness paddling, full and multi-day touring or racing.
Solid vs Inflatable
If performance or paddling fast and far is your top priority, then solid boards offer the best results on the water because they travel faster, smoother and with slightly less effort than an inflatable. However, solid SUPs are big items of kit, so you need to be sure you have sufficient room at home to store it and suitable means with which to transport it, such as a roof rack on your car.
For this reason, it’s hard to beat the versatility that an inflatable SUP offers. Bought as a kit, they come with a storage bag for when it’s not in use, making it easy to store at home, stow in a vehicle whilst travelling, or even carry on your back if you are walking in or out of the location you intend to paddle on. They come with a pump, still feel very rigid when fully inflated, and although slightly softer than a solid board, are more than capable of covering long distances if required. They are also better suited than solid SUPs to activities like going over bumps in white-water and offer more comfort if you intend to use your SUP to pull some of those yoga poses.
Paddles and other accessories
Once you’ve chosen your board, there are just a few more things to consider, first and foremost being your paddle. Because you are standing upright, SUP paddles are longer than those used for canoeing. To get the right length, if you stand with the blade resting vertically on the ground and your arm raised slightly bent above your head, the t-grip of the paddle should sit in the bend of your wrist. Adjustable paddles are great because they can be tweaked to suit different users, and paddles that have a tear-drop shaped blade provide lots of surface area which translate to a more powerful stroke.
A single fin on the underside of your SUP helps provides good tracking and minimal drag so you can maintain a straight course on the water, whilst an ankle leash means that when you do inevitably take a plunge, your SUP will remain tethered to you and not float away. Having a SUP that allows you to secure a waterproof dry bag to it to carry some lunch, camping supplies , or even just a waterproof phone case, are also nice additions that can help expand your SUP horizons.
What should I wear whilst SUPing?
In the hot summer months on a warm body of water, a combination of swimwear like swimsuits or board shorts, coupled with either a short or long-sleeved rash guard for protection against the sun is sufficient. Sun cream, a cap or sunglasses are also useful for longer stretches on the water but be mindful to make sure they are secure enough to stay on should you take an unexpected plunge. In cooler months or conditions, a wetsuit or dry suit are perfect to keep you warm and paddling all year round.
Paddling barefoot is common (you can stow your sandals on the bank or in a drybag on the board if you are going longer distances) but investing in a pair of water shoes can help avoid bruised feet on rocky riverbanks, protect your feet from sunburn and provide extra traction to help you stay upright on your board. If you’re not a confident swimmer, a lightweight life jacket can also offer extra peace of mind in addition to the buoyancy aid that your board itself provides.
Ready to give it a go?
You might like to try out paddle boarding first to see if you like it and to help you decide what type of SUP to invest in. Luckily there are many places in the UK where you can hire a SUP for relatively little cost. If you love it (and let’s face it, you’re going to) you’ll be better prepared to buy the SUP you want in confidence afterwards. Buying a good quality SUP can be quite a significant investment but the good news is, you’re very unlikely to regret it. SUPs are versatile, long-lasting, durable, robust and pretty much guaranteed to bring you endless hours of fun for many years to come.
If you’ve already got in on the SUP action, or recently bought one, here are some simple tips for planning your first SUP outing:
- Choose a small, calm body of water, like a lake or pond or quiet stretch of gently flowing river, that’s free of obstacles like boats, weirs and buoys.
- Look for an easy place to launch your SUP like a shallow sandy beach or bank you can wade into the water.
- Choose a sunny day with little to no wind, or if your route requires that you paddle into the wind, paddle into the wind first so you can get a boost from the wind on the way back when you’re getting tired. Plan to paddle for about one hour.
- Go with a friend so you can keep an eye on each other.
- Practice falling in and getting back on until you can do so confidently.
Lots of waterways in England and Wales do not require a licence to paddle and many others do. GoPaddling is a great resource to use to check if the waterway you plan to use requires a licence or not. The easiest and simplest way of obtaining a licence and secure paddling insurance is by joining British Canoeing which also has a helpful guide around the waterways licence - explaining what it is, when, and if, you need it, and how to get your hands on one!.
Once you’re up to speed, make sure to check out our best UK SUP locations for more ideas about how to get the most out of your SUP adventures.
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