HomeHealthGo for a Float: A Beginner's Guide to Stand Up Paddling

Go for a Float: A Beginner’s Guide to Stand Up Paddling


The first time 33-year-old Katie Vincent got on a stand-up paddle board was for a yoga class. The water at Green Lake in Seattle was frigid and surrounded by a trail of gaping strangers. Instead of finding some kind of flow, Vincent fell into the water several times while other students did headstands.

“I felt like I could never do this,” said Vincent, an organic gardening trainer who uses the pronoun they. “I will never be as good as others.”

Vincent considered the activity unique. But a few years later, his brother invited them to row in southern Utah. Soon, they mastered the basic skills and began paddling around the rivers of the Southwest. In 2020, they took a four-day trip down the Green River in Colorado switching between a pack raft and a paddle board, and in 2021 they went six miles to an alpine lake at 10,000 feet, then turned around to do it again. , transporting 30-pound inflatable boards.

“It just clicked for me,” they said. “I couldn’t get enough of that.”

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP for short) has probably been around for thousands of years. Ancient cultures in South America and Africa rode small boats with long oars to travel, fish, or go to war. Polynesians surfed waves using paddles. Most historians agree that its modern form was shaped by Hawaiian surf instructors like Duke Kahanamoku, who in the 1940s would climb on his board to get a better view of his students.

Surfer Rick Thomas brought the sport from Hawaii to California in the early 2000s and it quickly took off. It is now a competitive sport with races in Spain, Japan, Korea, France and Italy and an official Special Olympics event. And, like so many outdoor activities, SUPs flew off the shelves during the pandemic.

“We’ve had paddlers ranging in age from five to 82,” said Curt Devoir, director of the Professional Stand Up Paddle Association. “Last August-September, when Covid restrictions started to lift in the US, our requests for instructor training exploded.” He then added, “People were excited because they realized it was the perfect activity for social distancing.”

Still, for those of us with less than impeccable balance, the sport can seem intimidating. This is what you need to know to start stand up paddle boarding.

you can think paddling and wait upper body workout. But SUPing focuses on the muscles of the entire body. “If only your arms hurt, then you weren’t doing it right,” Devoir said.

Cedric Bryant, president and chief scientific officer of the American Council on Exercise, said that SUP “is what I would call cross training.” Balance and stability are especially challenging, and the upper body also builds strength and endurance. It’s also a pretty decent cardio workout.

But it may take a while before you break a sweat as you master staying on the board and paddling efficiently. On a recent SUP trip, I was amazed at how quickly my feet hurt from balance (my instructor said wiggling my toes to make sure they don’t get too tight helps, but mine still hurt). And Mr. Bryant said beginners work their legs harder to stay upright. Experienced paddleboarders, who have the ability to go faster, paddle longer, and tackle rougher waters, tend to get more cardiovascular benefits.

Before you get in the water, size your paddle and board appropriately. Mr. Devoir recommended paddleboards about 32 inches wide for most beginners. and maybe 10 to 12 and a half feetit will be easy to maneuver but still stable.

For the paddle, stretch your arm over your shoulder and let your hand drop. Adjust the handle so that the grip rests on your wrist. Angle the paddle blade forward in the water, contrary to how most beginners intuitively position it.

Then, to stand on the paddle board, Mr. Devoir said to place your feet on either side of the handle, which is the center of the board. “The wider his stance on the board with his feet, the more stable he will be,” added Mr. Devoir. Pro tip: don’t look down. “Eyes up, stay up,” he said. As soon as you’re standing up, start paddling, which helps stabilize the board.

“Plant the oar in the water, pulling it back so it comes back to where your feet are,” Mr. Devoir said. Keep the paddle vertical in the water and parallel to your board, which will help you move in a straight line. Switch sides when your arms get tired. Experiment with other strokes that allow you to go back, turn, or move sideways. An instructor can help.

Just because stand it’s in the name doesn’t mean you’re on your feet all the time, or that you have to be on your feet at all. Christopher J. Read is the director of the program at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colorado, which brings people with disabilities to the water. Participants in your program can stand or sit on the board or in a seat (or wheelchair) connected to the board.

A combination of sitting and standing is also common for disabled people. Beginners and professionals sit or kneel while getting used to the board, when they get tired or if the water gets choppy. But no matter how skilled you are, you’re bound to go crazy at some point. A good dive can be “part of the learning curve,” Read said.

Going back up can be tricky. The easiest method is from the side of the board, lift yourself up with one hand on the handle and the other on the opposite edge until your upper body is on the board (imagine a beached seal), then swing your bottom Body. If you know your body won’t allow it, such as if you have an upper body injury or weakness, plan ahead for how to get out of the water. a safety stirrup, that creates a step out of a leash, It can be useful. Otherwise, stay close to shore or paddle with people who can help you.

People for whom falling into the water would be dangerous, such as those who may have difficulty floating on their backs, should consider an extra-wide board or an outrigger, Read said.

Any activity in the water carries risks, and a few basic skills can help keep you safe. Always have, and preferably wear, a personal flotation device such as a life jacket. The US Coast Guard also requires rowers to have a whistle or other noise generator to warn boats.

For each trip, leave a “float plan” with a friend or relative detailing the intended route, schedule, what your SUPs look like, everyone in your group, and the safety gear you’re wearing.

In most circumstances, attach your SUP leash to your ankle so it doesn’t separate from your board, Mr. Devoir said. (If you are traveling down rivers where your leash might snag, wear a quick release system around your waist instead of an ankle strap so it can be quickly removed with either hand.)

Check the tides and weather forecast and get ready for the water temperature. Many areas in the northern states have dangerously cold water (below 60 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year that may require wet suits or dry suits. Ask local suppliers for advice on water conditions.

Lastly, wear bright clothing and stay away from boats, jet skis, and other fast-moving watercraft. Right of way varies by location, so it’s best to assume they won’t move for you.

Yes, paddleboarding is good for you because you are moving your body. Those who want an extra workout can try adding yoga poses like side planks or sun salutations, gym moves like squats or Russian twists, or getting their heart rate up with high-speed rowing HIIT intervals.

But more than exercise, Vincent said the rowing trips deepened his understanding of the natural world. Great blue heron, bighorn sheep and wild burros teamed up as they paddled through Utah. Once in the northwest, they spotted an oceanic seal misplaced in a freshwater river, probably chasing its dinner. “There’s something so intimate about just your feet in the water and really feeling the flow.”


Colleen Stinchcombe is a freelance writer and editor focused on health, outdoor recreation, and travel.



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