Surf lineups and calm bays have seen an influx of a new breed of surfer in the last few years. Traditionally, surfers have paddled both long and short boards in a prone or kneeling position. With a return to a classic Waikiki tradition, some ocean enthusiasts have integrated a long paddle, much like a canoe paddle, with specially designed longboards, into their ocean-going repertoire. Opting for a more erect approach to paddling, stand-up paddle surfers stand on their boards with paddle in hand, blade slicing through the water to direct their momentum. Thus began the modern day stand-up paddle surfing movement.
More commonly known as SUP, the sport dates back to Duke Kahanamoku's days as a beach boy. The old-time Waikiki beach boys would take their canoe paddles and use them for paddling around the lineup while surfing their longboards. But the combination didn't catch on until after the turn of the millennium. And like a fire doused in gasoline, stand-up paddle surfing exploded on the scene across Hawai'i's beaches.
What first began as merely another way to catch waves has really taken hold in the realm of fitness. Stand-up paddling is now known as a hardcore workout amongst watermen around the world, in addition to its introduction into big-wave surfing and open-ocean racing. Merely to remain standing on the board requires astute balance and sharp reflexes to counteract the inevitable listing from side to side. Factor in paddling and you have a total body workout.
According to Dr. Leland Dao, a North Shore kinesiologist, pediatrician and on-site doctor for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, "[Stand-up paddle surfing] does seem to have a place as a regular workout activity and emphasizes the arms, legs and core stabilizing muscles. Every stroke of the paddle requires cooperation throughout the body, thus yielding a workout that will leave anybody sweating." Dr. Dao also stresses the importance of proper sun protection and to take it slowly as one would with any new workout regime.
With each stroke of the paddle, the core muscles flex as the blade moves through the water. The resistance of the paddle biting the water also works out muscles in the legs, arms and back. Director of Physical Therapy Greg Pacilio of Kauai Veteran Memorial Hospital emphasizes the importance of working out those hard-to-target core muscles. "The stand-up paddling motion targets global muscles systems which include many of the same muscles targeted in typical gym routines, like the triceps, calves and quads. However, what it does that even the most well-rounded gym routine can't duplicate is it really works the core, or stabilizing muscles, which help stabilize you in everything you do.
"Physically, it also has one up on surfing," Pacilio adds. "The stand-up posture is far better for the neck and spine compared to the prone posture when surfers paddle. The stand-up paddling motion is easier on the shoulders, as well."
What's caused this new sport to really take hold in Hawai'i is the fact that it satisfies nature lovers as well as athletes. While inducing a solid sweat, paddlers find a peaceful, soothing sensation as they glides across the open water. The vantage point allows paddlers to peer down over the reef, while the rhythmic paddling motion also promotes control of your breathing, which in turn, puts one in a meditation frame of mind. Some recreational paddlers carry a mask and snorkel to dive while they are en route.
Paddling in calm water is the best way to beat the learning curve–the less chop to negotiate, the quicker you can get comfortable with paddling and maneuvering the board–but expert paddlers can also incorporate surfing into their paddle session, depending upon ocean conditions. Keep in mind that there are many different shapes and sizes of stand-up paddle boards, each geared toward a specific aspect of the sport: all-purpose recreational boards, long distance paddle boards and stand-up boards that are shaped for maneuverability while on the waves. Take the time to speak with the people at your local surf shop for the board that best suits your needs.
Stand-up paddling is making waves for a legitimate reason. It offers a full-body workout, a way to calm the mind and a connection to the ocean. Whichever element of the sport you decide to pursue, always know the ocean conditions before paddling out and set reasonable distance goals as you build strength in your core, arms and legs. The goal is more than six-pack abs, it's also to have fun.