Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

We all know we should exercise, but sometimes it’s hard to find something that works not only for you but your family.

A friend of mine recently discovered a form of exercise I’d never really considered—stand up paddleboarding—and she and her family are hooked.

Stick around, and I’ll share what it is, why it’s so good for families and some secrets of the sport.

Exercise doesn’t have to hurt

Stand up paddleboarding is sneaky. It gets you cruising along and having so much fun that you hardly notice you’re also getting a full-body workout.

SUP is a low-impact sport, so it doesn’t damage tendons or ligaments. Mostly, it’s about balance—since true to its name, it requires kneeling or standing on your board, which improves your core stability, leg strength, and endurance, whether you’re just paddling on flat water or setting off for a 20km ride along the coast.

SUP family fun

Perhaps the best thing about the sport is that the whole family can do it. You can take your children, your pets (all of those with life jackets, at least), your lunch, and take off on an idyllic paddle to find somewhere nice for a quiet family picnic. Add to that the joy of being out in the fresh air, away from mobile phones, emails, and household chores and, well, you get the idea.

How to learn SUP

Most surf schools offer SUP lessons. Introductory lessons are on quieter waters, such as a river, lake, or sheltered part of the ocean. Instructors will provide you with a board and guide you through the steps.

First, you’ll learn the paddling strokes on dry land. Then, on flat water, you’ll learn to balance and paddle while kneeling on the board. Most people master this step in about half an hour—and for many people, continuing to paddle on their knees on flat water is enough.

You may want to progress to standing up and paddling, which, after all, is what it’s all about. The sense of achievement once you’ve got the hang of real SUPing is just amazing. After this, most people are content to stay on the quieter water and just get better, go faster, go further, or go out with friends or as a family. You might be into solo SUPing for the tranquillity, or you might prefer family picnics, racing against your kids … wherever your imagination leads you.

If you’ve got your heart set on the ocean and paddling broken waves, that’s another thing entirely. If you’re already a surfer, you may find this easy to master. For non-surfers, though, this can be quite a challenge—but an exhilarating one. SUPing broken waves are just awesome.

SUP Yoga

SUP yoga is just what it sounds like—a combination of yoga and stand up paddleboarding. SUP yoga has become very popular in Europe and the US and is now taking off in Australia. The rigid paddleboard is swapped for an inflatable, soft-decked SUP. It feels exactly like a yoga mat, only more pliable and, therefore, more comfortable.

In SUP yoga, various postures and breathing techniques are performed on the board while on the water, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. Many people find that this adds a more relaxing dimension to their yoga. Calmed by the water, warmed by the sun, fanned by the breeze … it offers so many benefits for your body and mind.

Benefits of SUP

The health benefits of SUP are numerous: improved balance, a full-body workout, low-impact exercise, reduced stress, overall increased strength, cardio, improved rehabilitation of injuries, improved endurance, and improved cardiovascular health.

The familial and social benefits of SUP include having fun together in a low-stress environment, getting away from phones and email, having time to be together to talk, think, and unwind.

Petra’s family SUPing

When my friend Petra* wanted to get back into exercising regularly after not exercising much for several years, she knew the gym wasn’t going to cut it for her, not with her two children in school and her back at work full-time. She felt vaguely guilty about rejecting the gym—after all, that’s “real exercise,” she reasoned. It’s solitary, it’s hard, it hurts, and from her childhood, she’d absorbed the idea that “if it hurts it must be good for you.”

With two children and a partner who was a bit of a weekend sloth, she was looking for some exercise that could tick three boxes:

  • It could be done as a fun, family activity
  • It didn’t cost the earth
  • Equipment had to be small enough to stash in their townhouse garage

On a weeklong getaway to Broulee, a little village near Batemans Bay on the south coast of NSW, Petra saw some people learning stand up paddleboarding. She found Shane from the Broulee Surf School and booked the whole family in for some lessons. To say they had a ball would be an understatement!

She looks back at those SUP lessons as the turning point for herself and her family. Not that there were problems—it’s just that they found something they could do together and that they all now look forward to. They even found some secondhand SUPs on Gumtree, which fit neatly with the kids’ life jackets in a corner of the garage.

They keep to the flat water, but Petra says that’s enough for now. They’re developing a serious picnic habit and head out most weekends for some great family time together. As the children get older, the family plans to head out to the broken waves, which will bring a new challenge—and more fun.

(*Her name has been changed to protect the family’s privacy.)

Finding your family exercise fun

Exercising regularly is essential for keeping your body and mind healthy and in sync—and finding something to do as a family is key to growing together. What could be your family exercise?

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