Paddleboarding is a sport in which a person rides on the surface of the water, in a prone or kneeling position on a surfboard-like board (prone paddleboarding or kneeling paddleboarding) or standing and using an oar for propulsion (stand-up paddleboarding or SUP).
As a purely recreational sport, the purpose of paddleboarding is to enjoy the experience of traveling over the water by means of some system of self-propulsion. In competitive paddleboarding, the object of the sport is to cover some given distance on the water at a faster time than all of one's competitors.
Paddleboarding is a sport that is available to individuals of both genders, all ages, and all ethnicities. Competitions recognize the wide reach of the sport's appeal by having a number of divisions in races. As an example, a race might have divisions for juniors (boys and/or girls) under the age of 16, men and women in various age groups (such as 17–39, 40–49, and 50 and over), and same-sex or coed teams in either or both forms of paddleboarding. (The number and type of divisions vary from race to race.)
Credit for the invention of the modern paddleboard is usually given to a California surfer from Wisconsin, Thomas Edward (Tom) Blake. At the age of 17, Blake moved to California, took a job as a lifeguard, and soon became fascinated by surfing. In 1924, Blake visited Hawaii, where he worked part time at the Bishop Museum and became interested in Hawaiian culture. He learned about the surfboard-type devices used by early Hawaiian royalty known as the olo. Blake saw in the olo a possible solution for the biggest problem facing modern surfboarders, the heavy construction of their board. Blake spent many years trying to find ways to produce new kinds of surfboards that were lighter in weight and easier to handle. Eventually, he conceived of a way in which a person could travel on a surfboard not by standing on it, but by lying down on the board and paddling with a swimming motion. In 1932, Blake participated in the first recorded paddleboard competition, a race from the California mainland to Catalina Island, a competition he won over two friends in a time of 5 hours 53 minutes.
Some afficionados trace the beginning of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) to a mode of transportation that has existed for centuries, in which a person stands on a flat piece of wood and paddles through calm waters to collect food, building materials, or other products. Others argue that stand-up paddleboarding was simply a natural development as the sport of prone and kneeling paddleboarding became more popular toward the end of the twentieth century. According to this line of argument, SUP became popular in the 1960s when young men in Hawaii stood on their surfboards on the water to take pictures of tourists learning how to surf. Before long, they were traveling on their surfboards while standing up and propelling themselves with long paddles. From that point, SUP rapidly became more popular. Today, it is probably even more popular among the general, non-competitive public than traditional paddelboarding.
The principles on which paddleboarding are based are simple. In the traditional form of the sport, one can lie prone (face down) on the board and paddle on either side of the board, much as one does during swimming. Alternatively, one can kneel on the board and paddle in much the same way. In SUP, one stands on the board and uses a single long paddle to propel oneself through the water, as one might do in a canoe or kayak.
As with any sport, participation in paddleboarding is best done by those who are at least minimally physically fit for the sport. The participant should be able to swim and be comfortable in a water environment. One should also be familiar with general safety procedures and appropriate etiquette associated with the sport. Many experts recommend that a beginner have at least one instructional course to become familiar with these points and with the general skills and techniques involved in paddleboarding.
Additional recommended equipment includes life vests, helmets, and sun protection such as sunglasses and sunscreen.
Training and conditioning for recreational paddleboarding can reasonably be limited to the type of exercises one uses for any physical activity, such as stretching and simple warm-up exercises. To the extent that one chooses to become involved in competitive racing, a more intensive program of training designed to improve one's strength and endurance is recommended. The website YOLO Board, for example, recommends the whole range of strength and endurance training expected of any professional athlete, including weight training, core training, balance and coordination training, and interval training. This type of training and conditioning program makes sense for athletes who expect to spend five hours or more paddling across the open ocean in weather that may be less than conducive to an easy row on the water.
Given the vagaries of the weather and bodies of water in general, paddleboarders are subject to a number of risks inherent to the sport, such as body damage as a result of hitting the board and drowning as a result of falling off the board. Schools that teach paddleboarding skills and race officials commonly acknowledge risks such as these and require participants to sign waivers excusing them from any responsibilities for injuries that students or competitors may incur.
Relatively few studies have been conducted on the number and type of injuries suffered by paddleboarders. A study reported in 2010 found that more than half of the 88 respondents experienced some type of injury as a result of their sport; most of them were overuse or repetitive injuries. The body part most commonly involved in an injury was shoulder strain The researcher noted that shoulder strain was a problem primarily because people were using the wrong technique in their paddling.
An important element in preventing injuries during paddleboarding is proper preparation that, at the minimum, means stretching and warm-up exercise prior to participating in the sport. In addition, one should become familiar with proper techniques to be used in prone, kneeling, and stand up paddleboarding to avoid injuries associated with improper procedures. There is a risk of repetitive motion injury (overuse injury) so breaks should be scheduled at appropriate times and of appropriate lengths to avoid such injuries. Individuals involved in competitive paddleboarding should consider more sophisticated training and conditioning programs that help strengthen the body and reduce injury risk.
Casey, Rob. Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2011.
Marcus, Ben. The Art of Stand Up Paddling: A Complete Guide to SUP on Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans, 2nd ed. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2015.
Andriola, Marina. “Stand Up Paddleboarding.” StandUp Journal. http://standupjournal.com/stand-up-paddleboarding (accessed January 20, 2017).
Frey, Roch. “Paddleboard Tips from Roch Frey: Paddle Longer and Faster.” Watermans Applied Science. February 28, 2010. http://watermansappliedscience.com/blog/?p=2439 (accessed January 20, 2017).
World Paddle Association, (888) 972-4959, info@worldpaddle association.com, http://worldpaddleassociation.com .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD