By Kim Anderson
Q: Sure, it’s super and all, but just what is SUP?
A: It's a new and upcoming sport that is about to take water by storm. It's what snowboarding was to snow twenty years ago. The acronym stands for Stand-Up Paddling. It's a cross between canoe paddling and long-board surfing and can be done anywhere there is a body of water. It has virtually no learning curve, so if you can skip and chew gum, you can SUP. SUP can be done on a lake or river, in calm water or in waves. It provides recreation for the whole family or a great workout for the adventure athlete. All you need is a board and a paddle.
I've been practicing a version of this for years when I’ve taken my larger windsurfing boards to the Columbia River, Lake Chelan or Lake Wenatchee. Then, when the winds haven’t been stiff enough to windsurf, I've paddled around for a great workout. I've also let my kids use these boards as a type of canoe/floatation device. Apparently, other windsurfers and surfers were doing the same. Then some board companies started making special boards for this purpose. Hence, the birth of a new sport, creatively named, SUP.
SUP boards are, generally speaking, one of two different styles. The first is a rigid board, which is much like a large surfboard. Some of the rigid boards come with a slot in the middle that allows for a windsurfing rig to be added, allowing for cruising in very light winds. The key drawback for the rigid board (or an old windsurfing board) is transportation—you’re going to need a car rack to transport the suckers. The second style of SUP is an inflatable, which packs up into a small backpack for storing in the trunk of a car or packing into a mountain lake. These specialized boards cost from $900 to $1500 while the extra-long paddles for the sport range from $180 to $300.
Could you do this sport without special equipment? Yes, but with some definite drawbacks. If you can find an old windsurfing board, it's probably the right length, but the narrower width makes it more delicate to stand on. SUP boards are wider (about two and a half feet wide), allowing for good stability. As for a paddle, you could add a longer shaft to an old aluminum paddle.
I think the best solution for most residents of Central Washington is an inflatable board and a two-part paddle from Murrays.com. This package would cost $1100 (which includes shipping) weighs about 23 lbs, and could be packed around. You could fish the Quincy lakes, cruise the Winchester Wasteway, raft the lower Wenatchee River, surf behind a boat on the Columbia, and paddle across Lake Chelan. The bonus is that it's fun for the whole family. My wife and I have watched our kids play for hours at the beach with just a windsurfing board. It's amazing what kids can do with just water, sand, and a big board when the Xbox-controller is removed from their hands!
This may or may not be for you, but at least when someone asks what those crazy people are doing on the water, you can say with confidence, "SUP!" If you are interested in a trying this, email me (do it now, while you're thinking about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there’s enough interest, I’ll set up and an afternoon demo at Walla Walla Point Park.
Here are links to sites with pictures and info about technique and equipment: