Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is the new water sport du jour. Once the purview of the ancient Hawaiians, it has made quite a comeback, largely thanks to Laird Hamilton, the big wave surfer. To release a a new board design, Hamilton teamed up with PUMA Ocean Racing as an honorary crew member of the Mar Mostro team as it raced around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race. I interviewed Hamilton earlier this year about sailing, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and his fitness routine, and as he signed off, he recommended I give SUP a try sometime.
This month, I went down to Miami to see the Volvo while it was in town, and had the chance to take his advice. At the Race Village, PUMA set up a SUP station in the port, so I went for it. There were two types of boards: one for beginners, and the one designed by Hamilton. The guy handing them out recommended I start with the former. So I dropped it in the water and climbed on, starting on my knees.
Following directions, I held the paddle halfway up in my left hand, with my arm straight out. I put my right hand at the top. Punching my right hand forward, I dug the paddle’s head into the water, like using a shovel in reverse. From my first stroke, I understood why surfers picked up the sport as a way to work out. To pull the paddle through the water, you generate force with your arms and core. Not your legs- those are busy keeping you on the board. After paddling on my feet for a bit, I got bored with the beginner board, built for stability, not speed.
So I headed back to shore and hopped on Hamilton’s board. While the first one had rounded edges at both ends and a flat bottom, this one was pointed at the front, straight at the back and rounded underneath. Stepping on, I immediately noticed how hard it would be to keep from falling into the water. Once I got paddling, I saw how quickly it moved through the water. Despite a few close calls, I managed not to fall off, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
I was in calm water, moving around a contained area. It was just a taste of what stand up paddleboarding can be. During my interview, I asked Hamilton about the perception that SUP is lame, especially compared to surfing. He answered:
I imagine riding waves will be tough, and I don’t see any waterfalls in my future. But I plan on giving the sport a real shot, on the open water. Ultimately, the best selling point is that Laird Hamilton, who could spend his time surfing the world’s biggest waves, does SUP instead.