Thursday, February 16, 2012

Getting Started in this Sport

Everyone says that SUP is the fastest growing water sport in the world.  Why has this sport become so popular?  I think there are three primary reasons:

  1. It's FUN! - It just brings out the kid in everyone.  It reminds me of the summer I learned to ride a bike.  The act of standing on the water, gliding, balancing, being on the water - it's just so much fun.
  2. It's ACCESSIBLE - You don't have to be athletic to enjoy this sport.  You don't have to live on a beach in the tropics either.  Any person, at any age, can get on a board and have fun at their local river, creek, lake, bay or ocean.  You do not have to know how to surf or live near the ocean to enjoy this sport!
  3. It's relatively INEXPENSIVE - Once you get past the initial cost of buying equipment, the sport is relatively inexpensive.  It doesn't cost anything to paddle.  You might have to pay parking or launch fee at your local marina, but that's about it.  Aside from clothing and maybe a broken leash, we don't really have consumables.  There's very little on-going cost to the sport of SUP.  The biggest cost is gas to get to your destination.

In order to participate in this sport, you do need to buy some equipment up front.  At a minimum, you will need a board, a paddle, leash, pfd, and probably some way to transport your board to and from the water.

I think a lot of people are shocked by the cost of a good board.  You can expect to pay about $1500 for a good all-around board.  By all-around board, I mean a fairly large board that is stable and that can be used in flat water or in the surf.  These boards will be surfboard shaped and will typically be 10' - 12' long.  When shopping for a board, you want to consider two very important things:  your weight, and where you will be paddling.  Nothing is more frustrating that trying to learn on a board that is too small for your weight.  You want a board with lots of volume.  Volume is normally measured in liters.  The more you weigh, the more volume you need to keep the board stable.  If at all possible, try to find a local shop where you can demo or rent some quality all-around boards.  If this is not possible, find a good shop online and give them a call.  Tell them about your weight, where you expect to ride the most and they can make some good recommendations.  In summary, look for an all-around board with enough volume for your weight.  This type of board will be great for learning and very versatile.  It will be stable, track reasonably well in flat water, and surf reasonably well too.  All manufacturers make all-around boards.

The most important thing to look for is the proper length.  Because you will be standing, the length of the paddle is determined by your height.  There are many different formulas out there for determining the proper length for your paddle.  Just remember to look for something about 8-10 inches over your head.  When standing on level ground, reach one arm straight up over head.  From this position, you should be able to bend your wrist right over the grip.  This is a good starting point.  Another good formula is your height in inches + the thickness of your board where you stand + 5 inches.  So, if you are 70 inches tall, your board is 6 inches thick and you add 5 inches, your paddle needs to be 81 inches long.  Most paddlers like a slightly longer paddle for flat water touring and a slightly shorter paddle for surfing.  For this reason, I recommend an adjustable paddle.  Although slightly heavier than a fixed length paddle, they are much more versatile.  Look for a smaller blade size and look to get the lightest paddle you can afford.  This paddle will typically be made from carbon fiber or fiberglass or mixture of the two.  A good quality paddle can really make this sport more enjoyable.  I like Werner paddles because they are of the highest quality, light, strong and made here in the U.S.  All they make are great paddles.

Everyone needs to have a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) either attached to their board or on their body when using a SUP outside of a surf zone.  This device must be a Type III.  This is a U.S. Coast Guard requirement.  You can get a kayaker style vest or a CO2 inflatable style that you wear around your waist.  Of course, if you are not a competent swimmer, you should always wear your kayaker style vest.  The first pic below is the MTI inflatable (showing it inflated).

I think everyone should use a leash, regardless of whether you are surfing or not.  A leash helps keep you attached to your board and provides an additional margin of safety.  If you are unleashed and fall from your board, you will be surprised at just how fast your board can can carried from you on a windy day.  In the surf, a good straight surf leash is mandatory.  Your leash should be as long as your board.  Always use a leash built for SUP.  Our boards are bigger, heavier, and longer than a surfboard so a surfboard leash will not work for us.  Use a coiled leash for flat water and a straight leash for the surf.  The coiled leash (for flat water) is shown in the second picture below.

Car Rack:
This one is easy.  Unless you already have a rack system (like Thule or Yakima), just get a removable pad system.  They are very cheap and very effective.  It's basically just some foam pads over some straps that go on your roof.  You attach the pads to your car and your board to your pads and you're done!  When you get back home, you just take everything off again.  These racks usually have cam buckles so practice using them if you haven't used them before.  Make sure to feed the strap into the bottom of the buckle, and pull it tight.  When putting it around your board, feed in through the bottom, pull tight.  You always want to put a few twists into the straps.  If you don't do this, the strap will flutter in the wind and drive you insane!  On a final note, all of this rack business is a non-issue if you have an inflatable board!  These things roll up into a backpack and can easy be stored in a closet and then thrown into your trunk when it's time to drive to your paddling spot!

That's all for now.  So, get a board and get out on the water.  I'm not exaggerating when I say it will change your life.

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