Stand Up Paddle / Paddleboarding (SUP)

Stand up paddleboarding / Stand Up Paddle, also known as SUP, is a water sport that involves standing on a board and using a paddle to move through the water. While its exact origins are unclear, it is believed that stand up paddleboarding evolved from the ancient Polynesian sport of “he’e nalu,” or wave sliding, which involved riding waves on a wooden board while standing up.

In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki, Hawaii, began standing on their boards while using paddles to get a better view of their students and to navigate through the water more easily. In the 1960s, surf legend Duke Kahanamoku also used a paddle while standing on his board to stay in shape when the waves were too small for surfing.

However, the modern form of stand up paddleboarding as a sport in its own right was popularized in the 2000s by surfers and water sports enthusiasts in Hawaii and California. They began using specialized boards designed specifically for stand up paddleboarding, and the sport quickly gained popularity around the world as a fun and accessible way to enjoy the water. Today, stand up paddleboarding has evolved into a popular recreational activity, as well as a competitive sport with professional competitions and events held around the world.

Stand Up Paddle Surfing / SUP Surf

Stand Up Paddle: Zane Schweitzer SUP surfing
Picture by Starboard

Stand Up Paddle Surfing, this is where it all started.

SUP surfing, also known as stand up paddle surfing, is a form of surfing where the rider uses a paddle to catch and ride waves while standing on a specially designed paddleboard. SUP surfing requires a combination of balance, strength, and skill, as riders need to paddle out to the lineup, position themselves correctly, catch the wave, and then maneuver the board using the paddle to stay on the wave and perform maneuvers.

One of the advantages of SUP surfing is that it allows riders to catch waves earlier and in smaller conditions than traditional surfing. This is because the rider has a higher vantage point and can paddle into waves more easily. Additionally, the larger size and volume of SUP boards provide greater stability, making it easier for beginners to learn and progress.

Progression of the sport has gone in the direction of smaller boards. This makes getting in to the line up much harder. Smaller boards are more maneuverable on a wave.

SUP surfing can be done in a variety of wave conditions, from small waves to big waves. In addition to traditional surfing maneuvers like carving and bottom turns, SUP surfing also includes unique maneuvers where rider uses paddle strokes to help with turns and maneuvers.

Like traditional surfing, SUP surfing is also a competitive sport, with professional competitions and events held around the world.

It is important for riders to be aware of their surroundings and other surfers in the water, as SUP boards can be larger and heavier than traditional surfboards.

SUP Downwind

Stand Up Paddle: SUP Downwind by Connor Baxter.
Picture by Starboard

Downwind SUP, is a type of paddleboarding that involves riding ocean swells and currents downwind. It’s a thrilling and exciting way to experience the open ocean.

The main goal of downwind SUP is to catch and ride wind-driven waves, gliding across the water at high speeds.

These boards are typically longer and narrower than traditional SUP boards, which allows them to slice through the water and catch waves more easily. When downwind racing the Unlimited board can have rudders that you can control with your feet. The rudder helps controlling the long boards and keeping your heading.

The key to a successful downwind SUP session is to choose the right conditions. You need a strong and consistent wind blowing in the same direction as the swell, which creates a continuous series of waves that you can ride. You also need to be able to read the ocean conditions to navigate the waves .

Downwind SUP is a popular sport in many coastal regions around the world, and there are many organized events and races for experienced paddlers. It’s an exciting and challenging way to experience the ocean and push your limits as a paddleboarder.

Popularity of downwind SUP has been on decline maybe because downwind foiling is becoming more and more popular. Many manufacturers are not selling dedicated downwind boards anymore.

Flatwater, Touring and Expedition SUP

Stand Up Paddle / Flat water

Stand Up Paddle: Starboard waterline, flat water SUP board.
Picture by Starboard

When paddleboard manufacturers started making boards designed for flat water the sport really exploded in Europe. In Europe very few people have access to waves or downwind conditions. Now the vast majority of paddlers are paddling on flat or quite calm waters.

Stand Up Paddle Touring

Stand Up Padlle touring.

The goal of SUP touring is to explore and discover new places on the water, whether it’s a quiet lake, a slow-moving river, or a stretch of coastline.

SUP touring boards are designed for stability, comfort, and storage. They are typically longer, wider, and thicker than traditional SUP boards, which provides greater stability and buoyancy on the water. They may also have a wider nose and tail to help with stability.

Touring boards are usually a mix between flat water boards and so called allwater boards.

Some SUP touring boards have additional features, such as bungee cords or tie-downs, to help secure gear and supplies for longer trips. Paddlers may also use accessories like waterproof bags or dry bags to keep their belongings safe and dry.

SUP touring is a great way to combine fitness, adventure, and exploration. Paddlers can take their time and enjoy the scenery, wildlife, and natural beauty of their surroundings.

SUP Foiling

Picture by Starboard

Because of rapid development of bigger and more efficient foils SUP foiling is more accessible to larger group of people. I don’t anymore need big conditions (swell and wind) to enjoy this part of Stand Up Paddling. SUP foiling in surf breaks has been a thing for a long time. Now with big foils and longer boards many people are able to get on foil in flat water. Downwind SUP foiling is now possible in smaller conditions. Many people are doing this on Lakes.

SUP Racing

There are several disciplines of SUP racing that vary in course length, format, and paddling style. Here are some of the most common SUP racing disciplines:

Long Distance

Long Distance SUP races are usually Around 10-20km long. Conditions can be anything from flat water to downwind. Usually mixed conditions during the race is preferred. You need to be all-round paddler to handle all different conditions. The course can be from point A to B, usually the start and finish are at the same place. The course can be one long or a shorter course that you go around multiple times.

Technical Race

In my opinion this is the most spectator friendly discipline. This is the discipline that makes SUP racing stand out among other paddling sports.

There is no tight specification about technical race course length or layout. Course length can be anything from 1km to 5km. Running beach starts are preferred if the venue makes it possible. Waves are preferred as they give an exiting element of surprise and favor those who can read the ocean.

200m Sprint

ISA (International Surfing Association) and ICF (International Canoe Federation) run this discipline in quite different way.

ICF runs this discipline in 200m straight line with standing water start and usually with lanes.

2023 ISA run this event with beach start and finish. With two turning buoys. The athletes can choose if they want to take left or right hand turn.

ICF 200m Sprints
ISA 200m Sprints

Pullup & Dip Calisthenics equipment.