SUP (stand-up boarding, also known as paddleboarding) is apparently the thing all the kids are talking about these days. A friend was keen, so we duly showed up at Grand Canal Dock in Dublin on a rainy Thursday evening, armed with swimsuit and towel and no clear idea what to expect. Four lessons later, I’m a big fan – so here’s a quick primer for anyone who wants to know more.
Wait, what is it?
It’s like the laid-back lovechild of surfing and kayaking. The board is wider and longer than a beginners’ surfboard, and very buoyant. You also have an oar (and where I did it, a wetsuit and a buoyancy vest). You stand (or kneel) on the board, use the oar to propel yourself through the water, and voila! You’re what’SUP!
What did you like about it?
As someone whose physical co-ordination skills leave a bit to be desired, I loved that the initial learning curve ““ standing up on the board and moving yourself through the water ““ is very shallow. It won’t take ten minutes before you’re confidently moving around on flat water.
From there, you progress to more complex skills: turning, paddling through choppier water, and even surfing waves (if you’ve ever tried to surf, the bonus about paddleboard-surfing as opposed to standard surfing is that you’re already standing up!).
The Irish show you how it’s done:
It’s also not so weather- and context-dependent ““ if there are no waves to surf, you’ll still have fun paddling about and taking in the sights on flatter water; if you’re not near the coast, you can easily paddleboard on lakes and rivers (and, in our case, a canal. In the rain. Did I mention the rain?). The only real issue we found is winds that are too strong make it very draining and not fun.
Mostly, I liked that it can be as relaxing ““ paddling down a quiet river ““ or as challenging ““ trying to catch waves in strong winds ““ as you like: unlike some other watersports, where there’s a lot of hard work and frustration before you get the basics (*cough* surfing/windsurfing/kiteboarding *cough*).
What did you dislike?
Paddling upwind is draining, as is paddling out to catch a wave to surf ““ but not more so than surfing. Also, changing into and out of a wetsuit in or beside a van is never much fun. That’s not inevitable, though ““ but in Irish waters, wetsuits are a must. It also took my feet a while to get used to all the tiny movements used to stay upright, and they protested with a cramp or seven.
Who would like it?
Any who doesn’t mind getting wet ““ falling off is pretty much inevitable for everyone at some stage, enjoys a gentle-to-middling physical challenge, and wants a good reason to get outside.
The fabulous Fit and Feminist tried it out last year in Florida:
It looked so peaceful and enjoyable, all the benefits of hanging out in the water without actually having to be in the water.
Slate rhapsodises on paddleboarding in the Hamptons: you will note that the writer never attempts to actually catch a wave…
To sum up: On a skill level I would compare it to unblocking the toilet or applying lipstick.