Everything You Need to Know About Paddleboarding

Benefits, Equipment, Workouts, and Safety Considerations

The benefits of paddleboarding

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Paddleboarding has become an increasingly popular water sport in recent years, for people of all ages. Yet despite its modern-day acclaim, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has far-reaching roots.

Documented as far back as the 8th century AD you will find an ancient board-boat hybrid called the Hasake, traditionally used by Israelis and Arabs to fish. Later, this board-boat was also purposed as rescue equipment. Today, this hollow vessel is still a popular surfboard on the beaches of Tel Aviv.

Stand-up paddleboarding most likely made its modern debut in Waikiki, Hawaii, back in the 1940s, where local surfer John Ah Choy used a canoe paddle to help him ride the waves and reduce added pressure on his knees. His sons and their friend began teaching this technique to tourists, and soon enough, paddleboarding caught on.

In 2013, the Outdoor Foundation report identified SUP as the most popular outdoor activity for first-time participants. Also that year, SUP was included as a category in the Buffalo Big Board Contest. The following year, it made its way to San Diego, California, where it grew in popularity. SUP has since become a trendy sporting activity across the globe.

If you have an interest in learning how to paddleboard, you may be pleased to discover that while it can reduce stress on the knees as Choy noted, the activity also offers a number of physical and mental health benefits as well. Here is everything you need to know about paddleboarding.

Benefits of Paddleboarding

Paddleboarding offers a number of health benefits. For instance, a 2016 study on previously untrained SUP individuals found cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and psychological improvements, following three 1-hour sessions over a 6-week period. Beyond this, the benefits of SUP extend even further. Here's how you may benefit from paddleboarding.

May Improve Trunk Muscle Endurance

The same above study highlights the impact of SUP on the trunk muscles—an important factor in reducing the likelihood of chronic lower back pain. You also are likely to experience improved balance as well as enhanced core strength as your muscles work to stabilize you on the board.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Effects

Studies on SUP have found both aerobic (with the presence of oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) effects. Paddleboarding also appears to have a beneficial impact on both cardio and strength output.

Excellent Low-impact Option

The low-impact nature of SUP suggests this sport may be suitable for those who experience chronic pain in the lower back and lower body. It also can serve as a useful cross-training workout.

May Boost Mental Health

Being in nature has long been reported as having a positive impact on mental health. In fact, a qualitative study on surf therapy, as an intervention for youth mental health, found that natural environments can positively affect our world views. Researchers also discovered that being in "blue space," such as rivers and coastal waters, reduced negative emotions. Plus, that increase of Vitamin D from sunnier environments also can have an impact.

May Promote Weight Loss

Given its cardiovascular effect, SUP has the potential benefit of weight loss. A case study that followed one male and one female over the course of a year found they lost 5% body fat and just over 6.5% body fat, respectively.

What Muscles Are Activated?

According to avid surfer and marketing director of YuJet, Chad Knopp, SUP is a total body workout that puts many muscles across the body to work. Your muscle groups work together at once during each paddle stroke.

"When you are on the board, you activate your core, your arms to paddle, and legs to stabilize yourself," says Knopp.

A study on muscle activation during a SUP session analyzed the stroke movement across stages of catch, pull, exit, and recovery. It revealed that specific muscle groups work in a complementary fashion during the stroke.

Chad Knopp, Surfer

When you are on the board, you activate your core, your arms to paddle, and legs to stabilize yourself.

— Chad Knopp, Surfer

You also will notice a difference in muscle activation between a standing and seated position. For example, the biceps were used more in a kneeling position, compared to the obliques, which were utilized more during the standing stage, comparatively.

The study clearly showcases the diversity of muscles in action during SUP, including the biceps, obliques, erector spinae, and even the wrist flexor. These findings hint at why this sport has the potential to tone and strengthen the entire body.

Equipment Needed for Paddleboarding

For a SUP workout, especially on land, a SUP board may be all you need. Whereas the act of paddleboarding will require more equipment.

"Alongside the board, you will need a paddle, leash, sunscreen (in hot climates), and sometimes even a life jacket," says Knopp. "It is also a good idea to bring water and even a snack for fuel, depending on what you can carry on your board and how long you are going to be in the water."

If you decide to invest in a paddleboard, there are multiple options on the market for all budgets, styles, and levels. The tricky part is combing through all the available shapes, lengths, widths, and even materials to find the right SUP for your needs.

For example, inflatable boards are easier to transport and store, whereas a solid board provides a more stable surface. If you have just started venturing into the world of SUP, test a few rentals until you are comfortable in the water. Then decide on which board to purchase from there.

Workout Examples

If you are inexperienced in SUP, start with the basics of standing, balancing, falling, and climbing back onto the board. Then you can focus on your stroke technique—which involves forward, backward, and sweeping movements—until you become more comfortable on the board.

Many times, SUP is more of a skill than it is a specific workout. But, there are plenty of ways to challenge the body on the board. "You can start with your board onshore and work on presses, carries, or even some overhead squats' the trick to paddleboarding workouts is getting creative," says Knopp. "Or, you can use the board to focus on surfing the waves, which is more difficult."

The board is also a useful cross-training tool that gets you out of the gym and places you in nature.

And the sport's versatility means you can get in your cardio such as interval training, yoga poses, and even your crunches and planks. Also, your muscles will be working double-time to stabilize your body in the dynamic motion of the water.

Safety Considerations

A study on the epidemiology of injuries involved with SUP discovered that out of 240 participants, 95 had experienced at least one injury. The most common was the shoulder and upper arm area, followed by the lower back as well as the elbow or forearm.

The types of injury were generally muscle or tendon injuries as well as joint and ligament injuries. Interestingly, the study also concluded that those who were older, involved in competition, and practicing for longer hours had an increased chance of injury.

These findings suggest that while SUP is not without its safety concerns, it is generally safe if you practice the sport for lighter exercise purposes. Knopp suggests to remain aware of your surroundings and stick to your limits.

"Do not try anything that will put you or others in danger; and if you are not yet confident out on the water, or are going into some rough patches, it's best to bring a life jacket with you for reassurance," he says.

Bringing a life jacket is especially important if you're not a strong swimmer. Other things to consider are weather conditions, avoiding windy days or days with storms, and making sure you have a light and whistle on you if set out at sunset.

Ensure your leash is securely fastened to both your ankle and the board, to avoid separation. And, be mindful of how far out in the water you travel. You also should keep your distance from fellow boaters—there is plenty of space for everyone.

A Word From Verywell

Paddleboarding can be a great low-impact exercise that affects almost all of your muscle groups. Plus, the physical and mental health benefits of paddleboarding can have a significant impact on your overall wellbeing.

If you are considering trying paddleboarding, make sure you take precautions to stay safe on the water. Be aware of your surroundings, bring a life jacket, and avoid windy days when a storm may be on the horizon. Also, keep in mind that paddleboarding can be an intense form of exercise. Talk with a health care practitioner before starting a new exercise regime.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Outdoor Foundation. Outdoor Participation Report.

  2. Schram B, Hing W, Climstein M. Profiling the sport of stand-up paddle boardingJournal of Sports Sciences. 2016;34(10):937-944. doi:10.1080/02640414.2015.1079331

  3. Schram B, Schram B. The long-term effects of stand-up paddle boarding: a case study. J Sports Sci. 2016;34(10):937-44. doi:10.1080/02640414.2015.1079331

  4. Schram, B., Hing, W. & Climstein, M. The physiological, musculoskeletal and psychological effects of stand up paddle boarding. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 8, 32 (2016). doi:10.1186/s13102-016-0057-6

  5. Drake CJ, Keith M, Dober MR, Evans S, Olive LS. A qualitative investigation into the perceived therapeutic benefits and barriers of a surf therapy intervention for youth mental health. Complement Ther Med. 2021 Jun;59:102713. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2021.102713. PMID: 33757830

  6. Tsai F-H, Wu W-L, Chen Y-J, Liang J-M, Hou Y-Y. Electromyography analysis of muscle activation during stand-up paddle boarding: a comparison of paddling in kneeling and standing positionsApplied Sciences. 2020;10(7):2356. doi:10.3390/app10072356

  7. Furness J, Olorunnife O, Schram B, Climstein M, Hing W. Epidemiology of injuries in stand-up paddle boarding. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;5(6):2325967117710759. doi:10.1177/2325967117710759