If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, or anyone who’s been paying attention, you’ve heard of stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP. Stand-up paddling has been around for centuries. Ancient cultures and even some today use/d boards, canoes, and other watercraft propelled with a long stick to fish, travel, and live. It seems to be the Hawaiians, however, who made it recreational.
So what is ‘Hoe he’e nalu’? That’s SUP in Hawaiian; I looked it up on Wiki, and it’s really just an offshoot of surfing. SUP allowed surfers to paddle further into the ocean, presumably to catch a better wave, but enthusiasts can now be found everywhere from oceans to rivers.
With all the great Instagram photos of dogs on boards sliding through glass-like water in exotic locations with stunning sunsets as their backdrops and perfectly balanced owners blissfully zen’ed out, I decided it was time Henri and I gave it try.
Uhm. Was that a filter?!
We were on Beaver Lake in the middle of Arkansas on a hot Friday afternoon in July. Not exotic. Then, there was the boat traffic. It just so happens the day we went was the first day in many that it hadn’t rained. I’m pretty sure everybody with a boat took the afternoon off work to hit the lake. With the rain and the constant wake, the lakeshore was a murky, debris-laden mess.
I was not peacefully zen’ed out.
This is a full-body workout for people already in the possession of a modicum of balance. Thankfully, physical balance has always been my strong suit. I sat through a group class and listened intently as the instructor told us everything we needed to know about not drowning and demonstrated various techniques. Four in my group had come together. Once they did a little practice paddling and were cleared for take off, it was our turn.
Watching the four girls paddle off and recalling the first rule of Girl Scouting, I was regretting that I’d not brought a buddy with me. Unless you’re a seasoned paddler, this probably isn’t an activity you should do alone- especially if you’ve got your dog or a child with you on your board. The instructor suggested I start without Henri in order to get a feel for maneuvering. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be.
Though I haven’t tried it since I was a kid, it seemed easier than standing on a kneeboard.
Henri was eyeing me from the shore as I practiced transitioning- kneeling, standing, changing directions. The group before me was long gone, but there was no way I was putting Henri on that board until I felt completely confident. Even then, I’d already decided we wouldn’t be straying far from the shoreline or our starting point. Even though I felt relatively stable on the board and Henri had his life vest, being alone made me nervous. There was just too much boat traffic.
In addition to his vest, I had brought Henri’s ‘surf mat’ along with us to protect the board and provide him additional standing space if needed.
A ‘surf mat’ is simply a cheap bathmat. We use it when boating, canoeing or kayaking so that Henri has grip if the surface is slick. Once I put the surf mat on the board, Henri waded out to me and we helped him load up.
Henri has spent a considerable amount of time on boats and knows how to balance on a floatie so he took to this pretty well. A board is much more stable than a floatie. Plus, he didn’t have to do any of the work.
What I found most interesting was the way Henri decided to position himself. I stood straddling the ‘belly button’, which is the sweet spot of the board. Our instructor told me to put Henri in front of me, as seen in the above photo. After a few minutes on the board, though, Henri stood, turned around to face the direction we were going, then backed up and laid closer to my feet. Since this is the most stable part of the board, I think Henri is pretty smart, and frankly, the adjustment helped.
As I mentioned, it was a pretty busy day on the lake. Since we were alone and it was our first time, we didn’t venture too far. I really just wanted to get a feel for the sport in case we find ourselves somewhere really cool with an opportunity to paddle.
For novice paddlers, in a spot with less motor traffic, this would be a great couple or group activity. Boats, however, are just one more thing to worry about and I would have much preferred a river or estuary.
As far as the need for athleticism goes, balance and lateral stability are the real keys. I didn’t use near as much core as I thought I would but the next day my feet and quads were sore. You’ll discover muscles in your feet that you didn’t know you had. My back muscles caught up with the rest of my body on Sunday (we paddled on Friday afternoon). If you’re a water skier, it’s those muscles, and I clearly don’t use them enough.
Henri was obviously tired too. Even though I accused him of doing no work, he did have to do his part to maintain his own balance. I guess it was a bit more for him than I thought.
The thing I enjoyed most about SUP in comparison to kayaking or canoeing is the ability to change positions. You can sit, kneel or stand on your board. The balancing component just makes it a little tougher. In truth, I much prefer traditional paddling or no paddling at all. Floating is very relaxing.
All in all, you don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy this sport with your pooch. With a little instruction and a smooth waterway, you should be good to go. I do suggest you take a friend, wear cheap sunglasses, and of course, put a life vest on your dog.