Stand up and get to paddling

Stand Up Paddleboarding: advocates say it’s the fastest growing water sport in the world – and yet it’s been around for centuries. Certainly in the Cayman Islands the number of water sports equipment retailers now selling stand up paddleboards (or SUPs as they are more often known) would seem to bear this out.

Although the history of the sport is somewhat hazy, the reason behind its popularity is that it appeals to such a wide cross section of the population, says Neil Martin, owner of the recently opened Waterman store. “Whereas something like kite surfing or wake boarding appeals to a very specific type of person (those that want the adrenalin rush, athletic types who want to take some risks) stand up paddleboarding is something that just about anyone can do.”

Performed on huge surf-type boards that are anywhere between 9 and 12 feet long, one propels oneself across the water with a single paddle. The equipment is minimal, requiring no set up, and it takes just minutes to get started: all you need is a few words of advice on where to stand and how to paddle and off you go.

You don’t need to be particularly fit, athletic or dare-devilish to master SUP-ing and the calm waters off Seven Mile Beach are the ideal place to get started, with miles of beach to cruise up and down.

The one thing that beginners often forget, says Neil, is that once you get out of the lee of the buildings, depending on the direction of the wind, it could be blowing you away from where you want to go. Because your upright body will catch the wind, acting like a sail, the more you try to paddle against it, the harder you can make it. In this situation, he advises, lie down on the board and paddle with your hands until you are back where you want to be.

SUP-ing affords you a whole different vantage point. The fact you are standing on the board, explains Neil, means that you can look down and see what’s going on below the surface as well as seeing the island from a new perspective. From standing height you will see far more than you would from a kayak, for example. Paddle over shallow reefs and you can spot all manner of fish, rays and turtles below you.

But it doesn’t end there, of course – and that’s the other reason for the sport’s wide appeal. Getting started may be easy, but there is so much more you can do. “Once you have mastered the basics, you can add in some cardio by picking up the pace. Racing on SUPs is a lot of fun,” says Neil.

Although getting going is easy, there is technique involved, he says. There are a number of different strokes one can perform with the paddle, depending on what you want to do. As practitioners become more advanced they may perfect the art of stopping abruptly, making a smooth 180 degree turn and more.

SUP-ing is also widely promoted for the great core workout it gives you. “Because standing on a board on the water is unstable, your knees have to be slightly bent, which engages your thigh muscles while the side to side motion forces you to keep your abdominals tense to stay balanced. Paddling also tones your shoulders and upper body,” Neil explains.

Another reason for the great appeal of the sport is that it can be practiced in almost any weather. On a calm day you can make an excursion of it, exploring new stretches of coastline, possibly stopping for a swim or a snorkel, or even stepping ashore for a cold drink when an inviting beach bar catches your eye.

But if the seas pick up, there is even more fun in store. “When the swells come in, there is stand up paddle surfing. It’s easier than regular surfing as you are already standing up, and you can use your paddle to stabilise yourself.”

As with any ‘new’ sport, the equipment – and technique – is still evolving: there are small boards, large boards, boards with recessed carrying spaces and even versions that are somewhere between a board and a kayak.

There is a whole world of new possibilities opening up with the sport, with something for every level of activity and fitness.