The Beginners Guide To SUP
“Nothing gives you a better workout than SUPing (standup paddleboarding),” says Greg Bertish. He should know. He’s surfed some of the biggest waves in the world on his stand-up paddle board and represented South Africa at the World SUP Championship in Peru in 2012, returning with a bronze medal. Since 2007, he’s been revered in the ever-expanding South African SUP scene. SUP has given him invaluable lessons and training in his maritime pursuits – the strength and savvy that SUPing requires has benefited Bertish’s surfing, kiteboarding, surfskiing, big-wave surfing and lifesaving. It’s one of the best forms of cross-training and provides an invigorating outdoor workout that’ll up your core strength, upper body strength, daily RDA of vitamin D and cardio levels – and it’s helluva fun too.
Laird Hamilton, Hawaiian big-wave surfer and author of Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, and, of Course, Surfing is a SUP evangelist who has paddled across the English Channel. You don’t need to cross borders on your board though; just start out on some calm water. Don’t start in the surf, Hamilton advises. “You want to find the calmest water, initially, to learn.” Bertish agrees. Take advantage of flat water on dams, rivers and lakes, he suggests. Now you’ve got no excuse if you’re not at the coast. It’s time to sculpt yourself some serious summer abs via a board and paddle. SUP’s up!
Master the basics
“Start out on flat water before going out into the ocean,” Bertish says. The fundamental part of this process is getting acquainted with your new buoyant training partner. “Get a feel for your board – learn your body positioning on the board, discover your board control and practise paddling,” Bertish explains.
Best feet forward
When SUPing, you stand exactly like a downhill skier, says Hamilton. Place your feet side-by-side pointing forwards in the middle of the board, he advises. “The stance is different to surfing in that you’re squared off,” Hamilton says.
Your first challenge in paddling should be mastering the ability to move in a straight line by changing hands and paddling on both sides, says Bertish. “People have an instinctive tendency to hold the paddle backwards because they’re trying to ‘hook’ the water,” says Hamilton. Don’t do this.
Up your skills
“In the beginning, you’ll be switching hands a lot because you won’t know how to make the board go straight yet,” Hamilton cautions. Keep at it until your balance improves, he advises. “After a while you’ll learn how to manoeuvre the board without having to switch sides all the time.”
Take to the seas
Now that you’ve found your flat-water legs, you’ll be looking to upgrade your paddling grounds to a place with more gradients and challenges. “If you want to ride waves in the sea you’ll need a lighter board that’s shorter than most,” says Bertish. Pick a board between eight to 10 feet long, he says.
If you’re planning on long, momentum-building voyages beyond the back line where you need to move quickly, get a longer board, Bertish recommends. “If you’re looking to race, you want a 12- to 14-foot board designed for slicing through the water and giving you maximum speed.”
Big-wave chargers like Bertish know the importance of safety when at the mercy of the ocean’s fickle currents and fluctuating tides. “Always attach a leash to your board when in the ocean,” he cautions. “And carry a flare or cellphone with you on longer paddles.”