What is Paddle Boarding?

by Chris Murphy on May 18, 2022

What is Paddle Boarding




What is Paddleboarding/SUP?

So you hear people talking about “SUP”, but what exactly is it? Well let's start by breaking down that acronym. SUP refers to Stand Up Paddleboarding. Ok easy enough, but what is paddle boarding?

Paddle boarding is the sport of using some form of paddle to move your paddle board through the water. This can be done in the sitting or standing position, however most of what we deal with is the sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding. But what exactly does it mean to paddle board?

Just keep reading below and remember to follow our Facebook Group where I help mentor new paddlers. It's a great place to ask anything SUP related!

What's in The Name?

If you're sharp you'll probably have noticed the switch back and forth between the words paddleboard and paddle board. Clearly the copy editor was on strike this morning, or were they?

You see, stand up paddleboarding is in its infancy as a sport and as a word. If you take a look at google both spellings seem to return similar but slightly different results.

Paddleboarding seems to be the verb most commonly associated with the sport or action. However when referring to the equipment in general it seems the trend is favoring paddle boards.

This explains the shopping links at the top of one browser while the other is dominated by companies where you can rent boards or places to go paddleboarding. Interesting for sure, but important if you want the right kind of results when doing any kind of online searching.

Tandem Paddling


Courtesy to Chris Murphy

Paddle Board or Paddleboarding, WHAT IS IT Actually?

Ok, now that you're contemplating your search engine choices, let's actually discuss in depth what the sport of stand up paddleboarding on a paddle board is (see what we did there).

Well in its simplest form it's the use of some bladed device, or paddle, to move a large floating object, the board, through the water. Technically paddleboarding can be done standing up or sitting down but the term SUP or SUPING refers specifically to paddling on one's feet.

The letters S and U coming from the words Stand Up. Either way you've got the basics now, a board and a paddle to move it through the water.

How Did Paddleboarding Begin?

Bobby AhChoy


Curtesy to James Davis

How does any major movement begin really? It's hard to trace the history of stand up paddleboarding back to any particular date but there is a common theme among most paddling community members. There are basically two main parts:

1. The first involves the migration patterns of polynesian settlers. It is often believed that they would travel great miles at sea to reach their known, or in some cases unknown, destinations. It is believed these masters of the sea would also travel shorter distances in smaller vessels or really anything that could keep them afloat. It is believed they would often paddle from nearby islands, either for challenge or sport, and that is how the idea of paddleboarding came to be.

2. The second involves the desire of three Waikiki surf instructors, one Duke Kahanamoku and brothers Bobby and Leroy Ah Choy, to be able to photograph surfing students while maintaining a relatively dry cigarette (it was the 50's and 60's man, smoking wasn't seen as bad back then). The art of standing on one's board was born.

Both of these seemingly go hand in hand as the early Polynesian settlers are often credited with origins of surfing in general. It would be no surprise to see them adapting a paddle to use for longer distance travels or when the surf was just plain flat.

In recent history the Duke / Ah Choy story is credited with getting the modern age of stand up paddling kicked off.

Paddleboarding in The 2020's

Paddleboarding and paddle boards have become hugely popular across the globe in the past ten years or so. A quick web search will return a dozen or more companies that produce paddle boards and related equipment.

Go to Amazon and you will probably be blown away by the number of iSUP products out there. It literally can cause your head to hurt trying to determine which paddle board is right for you.

With the ongoing pandemic, sales of inflatable stand up paddle boards skyrocketed. I mean where better to be socially distanced than on some beautiful water way or beach somewhere in the sun!

As we move forward, we can expect this sport to continue to grow as it eventually reaches market saturation and everyone, everywhere is as likely to own a paddle board as they are a bicycle.

Paddleboarding and Paddle Board Extracurricular Activities

Solid paddleboard

It started snowing moments after this picture was taken!

Courtesy to Chris Murphy

Depending on your specific tastes, you can now design your whole paddling experience around your favorite hobbies.

Want to go fishing? There are tons of gear and equipment to make you the next star at your local fishing hole.

Fancy a bit of Yoga? SUP Yoga has become such a big thing that there is an entire subset of the paddleboarding industry devoted just to it.

Feel the need for speed and exercise? Paddle board racing has been prevalent for over a decade and is slowly making the push to become an Olympic sport in 2024.

If it does it could open the doorway to an entirely new crop of Olympic hopefuls all around the globe.

FYI, you can also do SUP with your dog

Additional Thoughts and Tips About Paddle Boards and Paddleboarding

We have covered a lot of information on a relatively vague question. We have also compiled a list of additional thoughts that are designed to help you on your journey, wherever that may be, in the paddleboarding industry:

  • Price isn't as important as you might think- don't think you need big bucks to get in on the fun. There are alot of low cost options out there, do your research, rent or borrow as many as you can to get a feel for your specific needs. We often say the best paddle board is the one that gets you on the water consistently.
  • If you go the inflatable paddle board route, do yourself a favor and buy an electric pump. Outdoor Master's Shark II is consistently rated as one of the best if not THE BEST electric paddle board pump on the market. It's worth the money. Your arms and shoulders will thank you.
  • Always remember to paddle to your ability. If you don't feel comfortable, don't go. You can also seek out training or paddle with groups of individuals that you can learn from and who will shepherd you through the difficult parts of the journey.
  • Water safety is not a joke. People die each year due to drowning and most, if not all, could have been prevented with simple safety equipment. NEVER leave the shore without a PFD (Personal Flotation Device / Life Jacket)?. If you're going to remote areas where you would have trouble swimming back from, wear a leash. This will keep you with your best life saving device, the board itself. And if you head out for the evening remember to bring a 360 degree white lite so you can be seen by other watercraft.
SUP Surfing

Thank you for taking the time to read through this article. It is our hope that it goes a long way towards answering the question “what is paddle boarding?”.

If you have any more thoughts, concerns, or if you think we just plain missed something, let us know in the Facebook Group!

We love talking paddle boards and paddleboarding and it is our pleasure to help you however we can. We can't wait to see you on the water, so until then Mahalo my friends and always remember to enjoy the ride.

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a stand up paddle boarder with over a dozen years of experience. He has successfully run a small SUP rental business in Chattanooga since 2013 and lives there with his family of two children and a loving girlfriend. He will easily talk to you for hours about stand up paddle boarding (especially if beer is involved) and loves sharing his love for the water with everyone he meets. Come check out his business HERE if you're ever in the TN/GA/AL area.

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