Why Stand Up Paddling is the Hottest New Outdoor Sport

An expert explains why so many people are giving stand up paddling a try—and getting hooked

In part two of our interview with Andre Niemeyer, president of the Stand Up Paddling Industry Association and founder of popular website SUP Connect, we discuss what makes stand up paddling such an accessible sport, why it’s great for fitness, and where the sport is going. (Read part one here.)

As far as accessibility, what advantages does stand up paddling have over, say, surfing?
The sport has some inherent advantages over surfing. For surfing you need a wave—you sit and wait for the waves, and you need to wait for the right conditions to go out. For stand up paddling you can go out under almost any conditions.

And—I can’t speak as a fitness expert; I can only speak from experience—the amount of workout that you get from the amount of time you put in it is something I’d never seen before. I’m not someone who likes going to the gym. For surfing I’d have to put in one-and-a-half to three hours to get a workout. With stand up paddling, I was able to go to the beach and paddle, regardless of the conditions, for between half an hour and an hour and a half to get an incredible workout.

What’s the workout like? What parts of your body does it target?
It’s a full body workout! You don’t have the high impact of running, you don’t have the narrowly targeted workout of riding a bike. You work out your legs, you have hip rotation, your core is constantly working to keep you balanced, your arms are without a doubt working hard.

Anyone who gets out on a board, they’ll get a glimpse of how complete a workout it is.

I play basketball, I’ve done karate, jiu jitsu, swimming—I’ve done a lot of different sports, and I’ve never seen something so versatile and complete a workout as stand up paddling.

What about SUP Yoga? That seems to be growing in popularity.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular. Some companies put the sales figures of yoga SUP boards at around 20 percent of boards sold.

What distinguishes a yoga paddleboard from a normal one?
The yoga ones are actually beginner boards on steroids. They’re built for more stability because you need to do a bunch of yoga poses without falling off, but they don’t paddle as well as a typical beginner board. They’re more stable because they’re wider.

For that matter, what’s the difference between a typical SUP board and a normal longboard for surfing? To the untrained eye they look the same.
They are long boards, but with more volume. They might have some small differences like a little less rocker [the lengthwise curvature of the board’s underside. —Ed.], but the bulk of what you see is that they have more volume.

A typical longboard usually has a tapered rail that allows you to carve, so you find beginner SUP boards have thicker rails. You don’t need a three fin setup or any of that. A lot of these beginner boards have only one fin.

The big the growth that we seen, hearing from retailers and manufacturers, is in beginner and intermediate boards, where buyers just want a regular crossover board that just looks like a big longboard.

What other kinds of SUP boards are there?
Some popular ones are cruisers. They look like race boards, which are long and narrow, but they’re more stable.

For some people there’s the prospect that “maybe I’ll be able to surf,” so they go for a SUP surfboard. SUP surfboards are quite different. They will have more rocker, and they’ll prevent curling—when you get your nose caught on the wave—so they can clear the drop. They have thinner rails, variation on fin setups, less volume.

There’s also a movement now towards “progressive” stand up paddling. They have short boards—you’ll see pointy noses more like shortboards—with less volume, and they allow you to have more maneuverability.

Stand up paddling has grown so fast. Do you see it continuing to grow at this pace?
Where we are in the growth curve, nobody knows the answer. But as far as the marketplace goes, it’s maturing quite a bit, where you’re getting consumers who are more educated, retailers more educated about what products sell, but there’s still a lot of empty space ahead of us. Even when you look at regional ups and downs, overall the numbers are up. When you look at online searching, the numbers are still up. It looks like we’re getting towards the top but we’re not quite there yet.

The important thing is, people have realized anyone can do it. It’s low impact, so whether you’re young or old, even if you have injuries, you can engage with the sport. Second, It’s a great workout. And third, access: all you need is a body of water and a paddle. It has something to do with surfing, but it’s also a fairly unique experience of gliding on top of the water. It puts the sport in a more promising position as far as growth and sustainability.

It’s just one board, one paddle. I always keep a board on top of my car wherever I go. It opened up the world for me. The world used to just be a few coastlines, and now I can stop by any body of water, get out and go paddle.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started?
Go out, paddle and be safe. A lot of beginners get out there, and they’re really excited and not doing due diligence about respect for others, or having the proper gear if they’re out in the ocean. Make sure to contact your local shop and get the inside scoop on where to go and the best way to start paddling.

Read part one of this interview here.


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