With roots in ancient Polynesia, Stand Up Paddle Boarding/Surfing, or SUP’ing, as it’s affectionately known, has been around for thousands of years. It’s a form of surfing where the rider stands on a large, oversized surfing-style board and uses a paddle to move through the water.
It wasn’t until the 1960s in Hawaii when the popularity of modern-day SUP’ing started to take off. “The Waikiki Beach Boys (surf instructors) would stand on their long boards and paddle out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of tourists learning to surf,” explains Nick King of Sunny King Stand Up Paddle Boards Australia. “It allowed them to have better visibility over their group of surfing instructors and enabled them to call the sets easier as their upright position meant they could see the swell before the prone surfers.”
But this wasn’t to last. Soon after, through surfing’s post-Gidget boom and with board designs and fashions changing, SUP’ing was almost lost to history. “A few surfers continued to SUP, but they were very much the minority,” says Nick.
Enter the early 2000s. Discovering the cross-training benefits of SUP’ing legendary Hawaiian surfers Dave Kalama, Brain Keaulana, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton started to SUP as another way to keep fit, to add a new dimension to their skills and to continue to train when the surf was down –you don’t need a wave to SUP. From then, the popularity of SUP’ing has continued to grow.
Today SUP’ing attracts surfers and non-surfers alike. From Hollywood A-listers Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Brady, to pro triathletes Liz Blatchford, Luke Bell, Callum Millward, Belinda Granger and more, it seems everyone is catching the SUP’ing craze.
SUP’ing with the SUP King
Being a wannabe-Gidget, I love the ocean. I love the sand, sun and surf and being out on the water. There’s something adventurous, almost dangerous and yet strangely cathartic about being out in the surf. But even though growing up I spent every summer weekend at Gunnamatta (a surf beach in Victoria) with my family, I never learnt to surf. So, when the opportunity came up to try SUP’ing for the magazine, I jumped at the chance.
Making the most of the last days of summer, we (the AT team) made our way to Elwood, in Melbourne, where we met passionate SUP guru, Nick King from Sunny King Stand Up Paddle Boards Australia. Nick took Andy (our Art Director) and I through the SUP’ing ropes. The conditions were perfect for a SUP that day – sunshine, blue skies and flat, not-quite-crystal waters.
Before we got in the water, Nick taught us how to get up and stand on the board, how to hold the paddle and pull through the water. Then it was time to put what we learnt into practice – it was time get in.
Out on the water was the perfect chance to pick Nick’s brain about SUP’ing.
Australian Triathlete: What is your background in the sport?
Nick King: I’ve been designing stand up paddleboards since 2007 and named our core brand after my first-born son ‘Sunny King’. Three years later, I developed a women’s series SUP when my daughter ‘Stevie King’ was born.
I’ve been surfing since I was four or five-years-old, and have competed in Ironman triathlons over the last 15 years around the globe.
My love for the ocean was mixed with the fantastic cross-training benefits and lifestyle advantages of riding stand up paddleboards – this lead to the creation of what is now ‘Sunny King Paddle Boards’.
I discovered SUP around 12 years ago and found that it ticked so many boxes. From surfing, general fitness, flat water, racing, white-water, SUP yoga or even just floating down the local waterway enjoying the view – you don’t have to be a certain type of person to paddle. Getting fit and healthy is the key!
AT: It seems like it’s becoming increasingly popular. Tell us more about that.
NK: SUP is the fastest growing water sport in the world. It was voted the most popular “Land and Sea Recreational Activity” in America throughout 2014-15. It is without a doubt one of the best forms of cross training as it works the core, legs and upper body all at the same time – plus it’s tonnes of fun! Everyone is benefiting from this unbelievable and exciting new water-based sport.
The growth of Stand Up Paddle Boarding is truly endless in Australia. I’m excited to be a part of the SUP evolution – join us on the water!
AT: What are the benefits of SUP’ing from a health/training perspective? What are the cross-training benefits
NK: SUP’ing is an amazing workout from head to toe. Your brain, plus all of the finite muscles of the ankles, knees and hips are always firing and yelling to each other to keep you upright on the board. Your upper body gets a super workout, as you need to initiate the power of your strokes from way down deep in your core (lower back, abs, pelvic muscles). The lower muscles of your body (hips, thighs, glutes and hamstrings) are always working, helping you stand upright on your board.
We can burn 1,200 Calories an hour paddle boarding!
There are plenty of triathletes who like to mix SUP’ing in with their training. Many ‘tri geeks’ are now purchasing paddle boards and fitting in a few SUP workouts to their weekly routine. It’s a perfect way to escape, get another session in, flush out some lactic acid from those weary legs and recharge the mind and muscles.
Athlete’s feel the workout in many places that they don’t when participating in many other sports such as running, football, basketball, tennis, etc. SUP is a ‘non-weight bearing’ activity and gives the body a rest from all those high impact sports. As it predominately works the core based muscle groups, it’s perfect for endurance athletes, as this is the first part of our body that will break down over longer distances.
- Are low impact and provide a full cardiovascular workout
- Target arms, abs, thighs and butts – all at once
- Improve balance and coordination – perfect for improving your board skills
- Build confidence in and out of the water
- Improve muscle strength, posture and tone
- Increase aerobic ability and energy levels
- Reduce stress levels
- Focus on improving your core strength and muscular tone
AT: What are your tips on getting started with SUP’ing?
NK: Our advice would be to go straight to a company that specialises in stand up paddleboards, like SUP Warehouse.
Their sole focus is getting their customers on to the best paddle board gear available for a long term purchase, but without the hefty retail mark-ups found in most outlets that possibly might have limited knowledge of correct equipment to buy, or might only have one to two paddle boards to choose from in their range. At Sunny King Paddle Boards, we have 39 different SUP’s in store to suit all types of paddlers, conditions and terrains.
AT: What equipment do you need to start? What is the range of material available (types of boards/paddles etc.)?
NK: It’s simple – you can be on the water within minutes. All you need is a SUP, a paddle and a leash, and you’re on the water ready to go. At Sunny King Paddle Boards, we have a huge range of handmade epoxy and carbon SUP’s, inflatable SUP’s, and we even make polypropylene composite boards for heavy usage, rentals and even white-water paddling.
AT: What’s the process involved in selecting the right board? What would you recommend to someone starting out?
NK: The optimum length and width of a SUP will depend on a SUP rider’s height and weight. SUPs are a small vessel that you’re standing on, so the larger the ‘volume’, the more it helps to float. The bigger the board, the easier it will ‘glide’ through the water and will also be more stable. Smaller paddlers (55-75kgs) would look at a 10’6”x 30” board. Bigger riders (75-90Kgs) would look at 11’6”x 30” boards.
Two things to remember are storage and manageability. Riders must feel comfortable carrying a SUP to the beach by themselves. Boards are relatively lightweight, weighing between 9.5-10.5kgs. If the board is too big and heavy, you simply won’t use it. You also have to have enough room for storage. For those that have limited storage, we also manufacture iSUP’s, which are inflatable paddle boards that pack away into a compact backpack – perfect for people with boats, travelling overseas, or who have limited storage at home.
AT: What are some safety tips for people starting out in SUP’ing?
NK: Always wear a leash, even in flat water. Paddle boards are lightweight and if you fall off it will float away quickly even if its only 5 knots. Try to paddle with a friend or social group. Find some protected waterways, which are best to start in with minimal wind, swell, etc. Check the weather conditions before you leave the house – you don’t want to be paddling in high winds, lightning, storms, etc. If you’re more than 400 meters offshore, a Level 1 PFD (bum bag type) is also required in most states – check this with local paddler’s or ask your local Marine Authority for further clarification.
AT: Is SUP’ing a year-round sport or only something done in the summer months?
NK: It’s definitely is a year-round sport. Some of the best paddling conditions we have are during winter in Melbourne. Yes, it’s cold, but the wind drops. You will rapidly increase your skill set and will not fall into the water if you pick the right conditions to paddle in the cooler months. Just wear your regular gym gear, a top you can unzip and put around your waist, throw on a beanie and some booties and you’re ready to go!
AT: Where are the best places to go SUP’ing?
NK: Anywhere there’s water. Whether it’s out in the surf, rivers or inland waterways – all you need is nine inches of water, so you don’t catch your fins on rocks, riverbeds or sandy beaches. There are endless possibilities. I’ve been involved with the guys from ‘Global Paddler’ who make Paddling Books for each state listing the top places to paddle kayaks, SUP’s, etc. It’s worth getting a copy for your local area to explore your best waterways.
AT: What are the services that you provide? Lessons/equipment hire/corporate events/triathlon squad events etc. What is the cost involved?
NK: We do it all! We can customise SUP gear to your needs – like we did for Ironman Melbourne.
We Hire out SUP’s from our SUP Warehouse in Mordialloc starting from $30 per hour. We do group lessons ($60 per hour) and individual lessons ($80 per hour). We provide all the gear you need.
We also have free social paddling groups that people can join on Facebook to come paddle anytime and get involved in the sport. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the links.
We also do Women’s Fitness Days, SUP Yoga Days and Retreats. Sunny King Paddle Boards has a large fleet of SUP’s for corporate ‘team building’ days, kids parties, hen’s days, AFL team preseason camps, triathlon club boot camps and more. We cater to everyone’s fitness needs and goals.
AT: Great, thanks Nick. Where can people contact you if they would like more information?
NK: If you’d like more information on all things SUP, feel free to contact me, Nick King anytime:
Mobile: 0415 228 026
SUP! So, how did the AT team go paddle boarding?
I loved it! I was a little wobbly at the start, but once I got the hang of it and got going, I wanted to go further and faster. I think I may have found my new sport or at least a fun way to incorporate strength and core into tri training.
Andy loved it too – “It was a lot of fun. I thought it was going to be harder than it was, so I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got the hang of it. But it did highlight some instability and weakness in my ankles and knees. So, while it’s a great activity for core and strength training, it’s also a great tool for athletes to learn about their bodies, in particular, their weaknesses or areas they need to work on.”
What do the pro’s think?
When did you take up Stand-up Paddleboarding?
Callum Millward: I started in 2012 in Boulder, CO. A friend of my homestay had a SUP and suggested we try it in the Boulder reservoir. It was a lot of fun, and relatively easy on a flat body of water.
Liz Blatchford: About three years ago – I first went with a friend who has a couple of boards. It was growing ever popular, and I thought I’d better give it a go for myself. Not long after that first try, I ended up purchasing one for myself. I bought a hybrid that works well on both flat water and in the surf.
Luke Bell: Five years ago through the influence of my wife Lucy who is an avid “SUPer” and the current Victorian State Champion at both ‘Surf’ and ‘Technical SUP Race event’. I like to split my time between prone paddling and SUP paddling, each of which has different benefits. Now we seem to have more SUP/Prone/Surfboards at our place than I do bikes.
What are the benefits to triathletes?
Callum: The obvious benefits of SUP’ing would be the great core workout. A large part of SUP’ing is balance, which requires most muscles in your body to fire at one point or another while paddling. Besides the cross training benefits, its also a nice mental stimulus to do an activity outside of swim, bike or running.
Liz: Probably all the standard things you have heard – core stability, arm strength and bit of balance are commonly know benefits. An added benefit I find is it really works my feet and lower legs. Given I’ve had a lot of trouble with my feet recently, anything that strengthens them I feel is good for me. On very flat calm water it is also a very relaxing activity.
Luke: SUP/Paddling is a great alternative [to training]. I am not saying it is a complete substitute for swimming, biking or running, as you need to be “specific” to your needs as an athlete to improve. However, doing something alternative to the ‘normal’ is great for the body both mentally and physically.
While out on the water your body is using muscles not always engaged while training. Think of about keeping balance on a base that is always moving (water) beneath you. You are using muscles from your toes, perineal muscles through to you major muscles groups of quads, hamstrings, core chest and shoulders to stay upright, stable and moving.
The mental benefit is being about to get out of the pool and take in the surroundings out on the water. Standing up provides you with an entirely different perspective view while being able to cover more distance.
Tips for beginners –
Callum: Everything is always better with friends, so I would encourage you to find a friend, perhaps rent a SUP for the first few times to see whether it’s for you. It’s always a good laugh to see the panic in your mate’s eyes moments before toppling into the water.
Liz: Go for flat, calm water to begin with. Paddling upwind can be a bugger on a SUP so paddle in a sheltered place or on a calm day, to start with, and always pay attention to what the wind is doing and the fact you may need to tackle it to get back to where you started. As far as equipment goes, hire or borrow a few before you purchase. They are pretty easy to get the hang of. Start with something wide and stable, and if you feel totally comfortable on that, then you can consider going narrower for a faster paddling SUP. The narrow, faster SUPs may not be suitable for taking in the waves to surf, so that is something to consider if/when buying one. Also get the paddle fitted correctly, so you aren’t over reaching and risking shoulder damage. Some basic guidance on paddling technique from a hire shop wouldn’t go astray too.
Luke: For the first timer always remember to have huge respect for the ocean and weather. Be weary of wind conditions as you can get into trouble quite quickly. To begin with stay close to shore and within your comfort zone and always have respect and be wary for other watercrafts out there. Before you take your SUP into the surf take a few lessons and learn from others to ensure you are aware of the surf etiquette and have a positive first experience.