‘You can learn almost instantly’: a beginner’s guide to standup paddleboarding | Fitness

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I love the ocean but in the last two years, I haven’t seen her much. Now the world’s gotten a little bigger, all I want to do is be by the water.

Sup – or standup paddleboarding – is the closest you can get without actually getting wet. You cruise along, admire the view, find a nice spot for lunch.

You can dip in, dip out – hell, you can take a rod if you want, or do some downward dog on your board.

Humans have been supping a long time – records go back to as early as 3,000BC, but the modern iteration was born in Hawaii in the 1940s, when surfer John Ah Choy could no longer get up and down on his board.

He started to use a paddle to help him get out to the waves, his kids picked it up, and like many water-related activities that come from that island, it spread quickly across the globe.

Paddleboarding is now a common feature in most Australian waterways. It’s often cited as the fastest growing water sport – and when you do it, you can tell why.

For starters, you can learn almost instantly. You just hop on the board and when your balance is right, if you feel comfortable, you stand up. Simple.

Cait Kelly carries her SUP to the water at Lysterfield Park, near Melbourne
Cait Kelly carries her Sup to the water at Lysterfield park. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian
Nic Cooper and Cait Kelly preparing to SUP at Lysterfield Park, Melbourne, Australia
Nic Cooper and Cait Kelly preparing to Sup. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian

Nic Cooper has been supping for years now. He loves it so much he’s made it his job – taking travellers around Victoria to the best spots.

“I’m hardcore into it. But I’m not I’m not one of those that goes on, like, marathon Sups or anything like that. I just love being out in the ocean and just chilling,” he says.

“I see it as relaxation.”

Cooper says he’s never had a student who couldn’t do it – some stay on their knees, but given you’re cruising past turtles, dolphins and kangaroos, it’s still a good time.

“Depending on your balance and stuff like that, you can get pretty good at it within a few hours,” he says.

Egalitarian in its demands, Cooper says all ages and most body types can Sup. “I think it’s made water sports accessible for everyone.”

Once you’ve got the basics, you need to finesse your technique to get the most out of each stroke. While this isn’t essential for beginners, it’s a must to compete in a race, or to Sup your way along a river for a few days.

This requires “bending your knees as you go forward and … leaning down on your paddle … to get the most propulsion as possible,” Cooper says.

“Even giving your paddle a little twist as it exits at the back will have less push on the water and therefore it’ll be a more efficient stroke.”

More advanced Sup-ers can even ride them like surfboards.

Before we set out for a lesson on Melbourne’s waterways, Cooper’s best advice was “never look back”. Which of course, I forgot when a turtle swam under me.

Nic Cooper and Cait Kelly at Mount Martha South beach
Nic Cooper and Cait Kelly at Mount Martha south beach. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian

I swivelled around and went very quickly from standing up paddleboarding to falling down paddleboarding. But I stayed dry, and luckily out of the frame of our fast-moving photographer.

Despite the tumble, a sense of calm prevailed – it is like valium in a water sport.

As we drifted on the ocean just off Mt Martha beach, shadowed by peninsula “shacks” that would cost a cool $2m, I asked whether the sport was as egalitarian in price as it is in skill. How much does it cost to sit on a board for a hit of bliss regularly?

Not much, or quite a lot, says Cooper.

The cheapest, easiest way for those who want to try it is to book a Sup session or hire a board at the beach.

Depending on where you are, board hire can be about $30 for 60 minutes. If you want a lesson to make sure you’ve got the basics – or to mine your guide for the best spots – it’ll cost about $60 for an hour.

As for buying your own gear, it depends what you want to do with it.

“If they want to go on these huge trips – 20, 30km along the coastline or whatever – then they’re going to want a long, thin touring board,” Cooper says. For activities like yoga, he suggests something wide and stable.

Cait Kelly at Mount Martha South beach, Melbourne, Australia
Cait Kelly at Mount Martha. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian

The cheapest Sup I could find online was a blow-up one going for $200 – without a pump. Price differences from there are about quality, ease, and weight – the more expensive boards blow up quicker, last longer and are substantially lighter, Cooper says.

He warns to avoid the cheapest new boards “because it’s just going to break”.

A high quality board new will cost about $900, but secondhand options are the best way to score a bargain.

Supping isn’t a solo sport, either. Aficionados can join their local clubs and even plan holidays around the activity.

“You can take them in a backpack so you could go to some really awesome places … Once you’re confident and you know you’re not going to fall off, then you can go anywhere really.”




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