Stand up paddleboarding (also known as SUP) has grown to become one of the most accessible and easy to learn watersports in the world. It only takes a board, a paddle, and a few minutes of instruction to get yourself out on the water.
Whether you’re meandering along inner city rivers or exploring countryside waterways, stand up paddleboarding opens up new perspectives on familiar surroundings. It’s also a great way to destress, keep fit and socialise.
Once you’ve mastered the paddle board basics, you can progress to the world of multi-day SUP expeditions, paddling rapids and even surfing waves.
We recently spoke to SUP convert and outdoor pursuits expert Kyle Worgan, founder of Bath-based Original Wild, to learn more about stand up paddleboarding. “They say it’s the number one emerging sport in the UK,” Kyle tells us. “I think that’s because it’s not as intimidating as getting in a kayak. When you see people paddleboarding, it looks easy.”
Fancy trying SUP for yourself? Here are Kyle’s top tips for how to get started, plus his favourite paddle board gear...
Stand up paddle boarding for everyone
“If you struggle with swimming or if you feel particularly wobbly, use a buoyancy aid. We encourage people to wear them. Prior board experience is really good, and anyone with a certain level of fitness will already have those 'stabiliser muscles'.
“In terms of general fitness, this really is for all abilities. The most important thing is that you don’t have to stand up to enjoy it. If you want to kneel, sit down or bust out a handstand – great! Even the pros, if they paddle for two hours, won’t stand the whole time.”
How to stand up paddle board for the first time
“At Original Wild, we normally start by talking about the important parts of the board, like the handle. The handle is the middle of the board—the balancing point. Wherever you kneel or stand on the board, make sure it’s at the handle.
“Before you get on a board, we show you how to hold the paddle and set the correct paddle height. If you’re getting on for the first time, we sit you down and ask you to roll onto the board on your knees, placing them either side of the handle. Once you’re on, try a bit of forwards and backwards paddling to see what works for you.”
“There are two common errors: the first is that when you stand up, you’ll naturally want to keep your balance, so you’ll tend to lean forwards in that wobbly protective position and look down at your feet. That combination doesn’t work.
“Stand up, get your hand on top of the grip of the paddle, look up, chest out, chin up and imagine you’re driving – so look forwards. In the first 15 minutes you’re going to wobble. If you don’t wobble you’re not human! After a while, the wobble goes.”
Discover where you can and can’t SUP
“In England, only 13 percent of rivers are paddle-able, compared to Scotland where it’s 100 percent,” says Kyle. “That’s a real shame. There are a lot of tie-ups with fishermen and land owners, so be careful. They may not own the river, but they own the place you’re getting on from.
“The easiest way to do it is signing up with British Canoeing. You can get an annual license for anything you use a paddle for, and it’s really cheap. Their website gives you an idea of where you can paddle. There’s also a forum called the UK Rivers Guide Book.”
Ready to stand up paddleboard? Then read on for Kyle’s recommendations for the best SUP gear to get started…
1. A stand up paddle board kit
For SUP newbies, you can invest in a complete kit that includes everything you need to get started: the board, bag, leash, paddle, pump, and repair kit. On T3, we've tested the Red Paddle Co Ride MSL package and were extremely impressed, or if that's a bit expensive for you, the M.Y PointBreak paddle board kit also did a decent job.
2. A waterproof jacket
“One of the dangers with paddleboarding is that, because you’re stood up, you’re like a huge sail. If it’s really windy it can be quite dangerous, especially if you’re near weirs or big open areas. And if you’re in the middle of a lake and it’s gale force winds, you’ll have a hard time. Rain? Who cares? But wind and rain... That’s hypothermia territory. So it’s about being prepared and having the right sort of jacket.”
3. Protective footwear
While on calmer waters, you can easily go barefoot on your paddle board, some people prefer to wear shoes. You'll find waterproof or watersports-friendly options in our best walking shoe guide and our roundup of the best sandals for walking.
“If you’re going to do gnarly stuff, like expeditionary or even safari or river rapids, you need to be wearing decent shoes, ideally covering above the ankle.”
4. A decent paddle
Although many SUP boards include a paddle as part of the package, you might want to choose your own. If so, Kyle has an expert recommendation here too: “Red Paddle Co paddles, like the Ultimate Carbon, are really nice. It’s all about you as a paddler. Do you want a big, wide paddle where you can get a lot of power down, but at the same time it takes a lot of muscle to do it? Or do you want a slimline paddle where it’s more about touring and efficiency?”
5. Action cam
“Fully waterproof with no need for an extra casing that fogs the lens. We use the GoPro for all our watersports and it’s never let us down. A lot of the manufacturers put GoPro mounts on their boards now, although the point of view angle is so much cooler because you can see your paddle going into the water. That works really well from a head or chest mount.”
Visit Original Wild for more information on the stand up paddleboarding tours, taster sessions and safaris available, in addition to canoeing, kayaking, climbing and mountain walking experiences.