Water from a higher point of view
By Shannon Skouras
I drag my fingers through the cool water of Bellingham Bay as the sun beats down on me. I’m lying on my stand up paddleboard, enjoying a warm, sunny afternoon. I roll over, grab my paddle and pop up onto my feet. With knees slightly bent and my back straight, I paddle toward my friend, looking forward to today’s adventure.
Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is a water sport that has become increasingly popular in the Northwest in the last decade. Not only does it give you a full-body workout, it is also a great way to enjoy all the water has to offer.
The Coast Guard has classified SUPs as vessels, which means that Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are required to be worn when out in open water.
As far as clothing is concerned, you’ll want to wear a drysuit or wetsuit in the cold months to avoid hypothermia. In the warm months, bathing suits, board shorts or anything you don’t mind getting wet will work. Plan on getting wet and remember that the water can be very cold in the Pacific Northwest, even in summer. Always wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to protect from the extra impact of the sun when it reflects off of the water.
Carrying your board: If you’re close to your put-in, simply grab the board and carry it under your arm. If you have to go a fair distance, balance the board on your head. To do this, place the board on its tail (bottom) with the top (deck) facing you. Hold the rails (sides) and place your head in the middle of the board and lift up. You’ll know if it’s balanced or not. Start walking.
Getting onto your board: Stand next to your board in the water, and place your paddle with the grip on the rail and the paddle blade in the water. While holding the paddle with one hand, grab the rails on either side of the board. Once you have a good grip, jump onto the center of the board into a kneeling position. After you are balanced, confirm you are in the proper position on the board. The front tip of the board should not be popping out of the water or, conversely, submarining.
Stand up one leg at a time, placing your feet parallel to each other and about hip width apart. Make sure that your legs are bent in an athletic stance. This will help with your stability and balance. It is essential that you keep your back straight while standing. (If you fall off the board at any time, pull yourself back up onto the board using the same technique above. You will have to use more of your upper body strength if you are in open water and/or over your head.)
Paddling: Once you are balanced and comfortable, take your first strokes. When paddling on the left side, place your left hand low on the paddle and your right hand on the grip. (Vice versa for paddling on the opposite side.) Push down on the top of the grip as you drive the blade into the water and pull the paddle back toward the tail of the board.
Changing Directions: To maintain a straight line, paddle 4 or 5 strokes on one side, then do the same on the other side. To change directions, simply continue paddling on one side until you begin to turn in the direction that you want your board to go. For example, if you want to turn left, paddle on the right. This is called a sidestroke. If you would like to slow down, drag the paddle blade in the water. For moving in the opposite direction, paddle backward or backstroke, alternating on either side of the board.
Other Important Info: When beginning, stay close to shore. Don’t go into open water unless you are comfortable getting on the board in deep water and know the tides and currents in your area. Look for days with onshore winds so the wind will blow you back into shore instead of out to sea. Starting out, your best bet is to take a lesson or a lesson/tour, which will teach you the basics of paddle boarding, but will also include a paddle boarding tour around the area. You’ll become familiar with the best paddle boarding spots and get a real feel for paddling while an instructor is there to help you out.
Surfing: The great thing about paddleboarding is that you can kick up the excitement level once you have a good grasp of the basics. To surf, you’ll need to be able to paddleboard confidently on calm or choppy waters. Again, you can make it easier on yourself by signing up for a lesson with a professional. Before you know it, you’ll be sporting sun-bleached hair and saying ‘Mahalo’ to the onlookers on the beach. Stand up paddle surfing is much easier than regular surfing, but it is still difficult for beginner paddlers.
SUPing is a lot of fun, no matter your age. It provides a good workout (especially for the core!) and is a great way to explore the coastline or see your favorite lake from a different perspective. Ride small waves into shore, or enjoy a calm day paddling on the lake. Wherever you put in, you will have a great adventure. X