Stand-up paddleboarding seemingly burst on the outdoor scene just a few years ago, but suddenly everyone you know has one. Whether paddling around the lake, surfing all kinds of waves, and even navigating whitewater, paddleboarders are everywhere. There’s a good reason for it. Learning to paddleboard is easy, it’s more fun than sitting in a tube in the river, and it makes for a great low-impact workout. And maybe best of all, with a solid mix of aerobic conditioning, core strength, balancing, and stabilizing muscle develop- ment, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the best ski and snowboard cross-conditioning workouts you can find for the summer off-season.
WORK WATER WONDERS ON YOUR BALANCE AND FITNESS “Okay,” you say, “so you’re just standing on a floating piece of fiberglass, wood, plastic, or rubber? How much of a workout could that be?” The answer: a surprisingly good one once you start adding movement. SUP World Magazine estimates caloric burn of 305-430 calories per hour during casual paddleboarding, 615-708 during touring or faster paddling, and 623-1,125 with arduous paddling, surfing, and racing.
An athletic, balanced stance on skis permits a wide range of movements. The same is true of a neutral stance on a paddleboard. Snowboarders stand more sideways on their equipment, but still work from an athletic stance that supports versatility of movement.
Take that same stance to a paddleboard floating on flat water. Because you’re standing on a floating platform that can roll, pitch, and yaw just like a plane or boat (fig. 1), you’ll need to constantly make small micro adjustments with the muscles in your toes, feet, ankles, legs, knees, and hips just to stay balanced. If the board begins to roll right you adjust by slightly shifting weight to your left foot. If the nose of the board pitches up, you shift your weight fore to absorb the board’s movement and stay centered.
All of these balancing movements and you haven’t even added the paddle yet. With every paddle stroke you’re pushing the blade against the water to propel the board forward, using your entire body as a large lever. This means that, for every stroke, you make a counterbalanced movement with your core to transfer that force from your arms down to your feet and into the board. Because you paddle off-center, to the left and right of the board, you also introduce yaw, which wants to turn the board away from the paddling movement.
HOW SUP SKILLS TRANSFER TO SKIING & SNOWBOARDING From the minute you step on a paddleboard and get in a neutral, athletic stance, you’re immediately in your ski or snowboard stance. Instructors often use teaching for transfer – for example, using movements from basketball, soccer, or another sport to encourage similar movements when sliding on snow. With paddleboarding, there’s quite a bit to transfer back to skiing and snowboarding. Perhaps more than any other off-snow activity, the combination of fitness and balance training is unparalleled in its ability to promote the small micro movements that skiing and snowboarding both rely on. From your neutral stance, flex your ankles, knees, and hips to drop your center of mass toward the board, putting yourself into a muscularly supported stance. Any movements you make on your paddleboard will train the same muscles you use when skiing or snowboarding.
SKIERS: Facing forward, the similarities to your alpine stance are readily apparent. Imagine making a large-radius carved turn to the left. From your lowered stance on the paddleboard, flex your left ankle/ knee/hip while extending these same joints on your right side. This will tip the board, rolling it to the right, and allow you to hold the position just like in a carved turn with pressure on your downhill ski. Or try dynamic short turns, using quick flexion and extension movements and rolling the board with pressure from the inside of your right foot to the inside of your left foot and back.
SKIER SPECIFIC PARALLELS. To relate SUP movements to a neutral, reference-alignment snowboard stance, it just takes a slight shift in perspective as you imagine your snowboard on top of the paddleboard, like you’re boardsliding a box (photo above). Shifting your weight to your left or right foot can simulate a pressure shift fore or aft on your snowboard. As you paddle, the counterbalancing movements of your center of mass toward the nose and tail work the same muscles you use to manage lateral pressure and make toeside/heelside turns on a snowboard. Try an ollie, rolling your center of mass over your right or left foot, extending to pop your body into the air, and then catching the board with your feet and flexing to absorb the landing. Whether you ski or snowboard, you can play with up- unweighting and down-unweighting the paddleboard to quickly shift your stance; flexion and extension of different joints moving your center of mass and directing pressure; and the finesse movements of constantly managing balance on the board. More than any specific movement pattern, standing on a paddleboard in an active, muscular stance is perfect core training for all aspects of skiing and snowboarding. The board’s ability to pitch, roll, and yaw allows you to replicate ski and snowboard movement patterns, while flat, choppy, and moving water all allow you to train in variable conditions similar to what you experience on a snow- covered mountain.
CHOICES, CHOICES… TIPS FOR GETTING EQUIPPED. Just like with snowsports, there are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing the right equipment. The primary factors that help determine board size are your height and weight, and the type of paddleboarding you’d like to do. You’ll also need to decide between inflatable and hard paddleboards. For beginners and flatwater recreationalists, any 10- to 11- foot paddleboard will suit you, your friends, and your family just fine. It’s for this reason that PSIA-AASI Official Supplier Slingshot SUP has narrowed its inflatable line to the Crossbreed Airtech V3 in an 11-foot size.
Choosing between an inflatable and hard board primarily comes down to considerations of storage space, durability, and speed. An inflatable is a great option any time storage space is an issue, or if you’d just prefer not to drive around with a surfboard on your roof. In my case, I can fit two inflatable boards in the back of my small hatchback with plenty of storage space in the Yakima roof box. Inflatables also offer superior durability and are easily repaired, making them a wise choice for whitewater or river surfing, where there will definitely be board-to-rock contact. If you have a house at the lake, a hard board will save you the time and energy it takes to inflate that 11 feet of SUP, making it easier to get out on the water.
HOW TO AVOID THESE COMMON BEGINNER MISTAKES. You want your entry into stand-up paddleboarding to be smooth sailing, so make sure you avoid mistakes that can turn a day on the water from fantastic to frustrating. Here are five rookie errors to steer clear of.
1. Holding the Paddle Backwards No really, this is the paddleboarding equivalent of goggle gap. If you just grab a paddle and jump on a board for the first time, you’ll probably hold the paddle backwards. A standard stand-up paddleboard paddle has a 10- to 12-degree bend where the blade attaches to the shaft (photo 5). Many people instinctively grab the paddle with the bend angling the blade toward the tail of the board. This is actually incorrect, and you should hold the paddle with the blade angled toward the nose of your board. It all has to do with the angles at which the blade enters and exits the water. Whereas a kayak paddle scoops the water, almost like a spoon, paddleboard paddles are designed like outrigger canoe paddles. The forward angle of the blade allows your paddle stroke to begin further toward the nose of the board and lets the paddle slide out of water at the finish. If you’re holding the paddle with the blade pointed backwards, you’ll scoop water at the finish of your turn, pushing the nose of the board into the water, dampening your speed, and making balance more difficult.
2. Paddling Downwind First Paddleboards, especially inflatables, sit on top of the water and, in the wind, your body acts like a kite. When just learning, that wind effect can be a quick turnoff to the sport. There’s nothing like ending up tired and stuck on the wrong side of a lake to create an aversion to the sport. When setting off on a windy day, paddle into the wind first to make your return a breeze.
3. Lacking Safety Equipment Leashes and lifejackets won’t make you feel like you’re on the set of “Baywatch”, but they’re an important part of paddleboarding, especially when you’re just learning. Make sure you have the right safety equipment for the type of SUPing you want to do, and be aware of local and state regulations for boating on the different waterways. On a lake, you should at least carry a personal flotation device (PFD) with you, even if you don’t wear it. If you don’t like wearing a life jacket, consider a quick-inflating waist-pack PFD. Wind and slight chop can easily throw you off balance, and when you fall it’s easy to push the board away from you, separating yourself from your flotation device. If you want to get into whitewater, consider a helmet, a quick- release waist leash, a wetsuit or drysuit, and pads.
4. Standing in the Wrong Place on the Board Another common issue among beginner paddleboarders is standing too far forward or too far back on the board. Each board has a sweetspot toward the center of the board where your weight is most efficiently carried. Standing too far forward will push the board’s nose into the water, creating drag and preventing it from cutting through the water while lifting the tail of the board and reducing the effectiveness of your fins. Standing too far aft will lift the paddleboard’s nose out of the water and push the tail into the water, making balance more difficult and slowing your speed (think about leaning back in powder).
5. Looking at Your Feet As with skiing and snowboarding, you’re going to end up where you’re looking. When you first stand up on a paddleboard, your instinct is to look at your feet. That’s fine for a moment or two, as you find your stance and get your bearings, but when you’re ready to start paddling, look where you want to go. Vision plays a vital role in balance; keeping your head up and looking to the horizon or at a fixed object in the distance is one of the best ways you can improve your balance while paddleboarding.
BECOME A WATER WIZARD One of the great things about paddleboarding is that it’s easy to learn, with low-penalty for miscues. There are plenty of mellow lakes and big, lazy rivers to build your skills and confidence as you begin paddling. As you become comfortable in the flats, you can start developing skills for the blue zone. Push your balance by practicing yoga on the board, or go out on a windy day to increase the challenge with choppy water. From there, you can explore speed, navigate whitewater, surf standing river waves or moving ocean waves, or just lay back and enjoy a mellow float.
Of course, water – whether frozen, flowing, or flat – can be dangerous. Just as we say with skiing and snowboarding, when you’re ready to take it to the next level take a lesson and make sure you’ve got the right equipment! There are a number of outfits that provide upper-level courses in river navigation and whitewater rescue when you’re ready for some professional assistance.
Whether you just want to enjoy a fun and social lake time activity with your friends, need a fitness plan geared to developing skills and balance, or are looking for an off-season new summer sport to challenge yourself with, paddleboarding can meet all your needs. Just like skiing and snowboarding, it’s a great blend of fun, fitness, and challenge!
Chris Rogers is a member of the AASI Snowboard Team, and the manager of ski and snowboard school training at Vail. While many of the team members head to the southern hemisphere for the summers, he spends his adventuring, camping, and paddleboarding time all over Colorado. One of his goals as a team member is to help tell stories all year long, tying the adventure and travel lifestyle to a ski and snowboard instruction career. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @chrisrogersvail, or on his site, getawsm.co.
This article originally appeared in 32 Degrees: The Journal of Professional Snowsports Instruction and is included here with permission of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI).