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What SUP

by Eva Seelye

Whats SUP

By Eva Seelye
Stand up paddleboards (SUPs) can be spotted resting in the sand at the beach, floating on bright blue alpine lakes, braving river rapids, and gliding among whales.

TThese buoyant recreational watercrafts are here to stay as one of the fastest-growing sports in America and are a perfect complement to the Pacific Northwest boating lifestyle.

There’s a lot to love about SUPs, especially as complements to a boating trip. Their highly-versatile nature makes them great adventure companions, and because they rely solely on human power, the environmental noise and fuel consumption impact is non-existent.

What’s more, the many customizable mounts for hard boards and the capabilities of inflatables make for easy on-board stowability. From fitness and yoga to racing and fishing, there are many ways to experience the water aboard a SUP. They are also low-maintenance and cost-effective once acquired. Today, SUPers have formed their own community with numerous clubs, groups, and social events.

SUPs are a boatload of fun, but it’s important to be safe and responsible before paddling out. They are still watercraft and it’s crucial to be familiar with the basic rules of the road and boating courtesy. Also, the performance limitations of paddleboards and physical fatigue of users are elements to be taken seriously. Combating high winds or strong tides can be difficult, and it’s easy to find oneself in a dangerous situation if not prepared.

We offer our thoughts and the insight of local SUP guru Rob Casey, owner of Salmon Bay Paddle, to help give both aspiring and seasoned SUPers information on SUP culture, boards, accessories, rentals, uses, and more to help get you one stroke closer to a super SUP summer.

Boards 101: The Basics

Two basic, popular SUP families exist: inflatable and hard boards. Before you float one way or the other, take a moment to identify your lifestyle. Knowing your lifestyle is key to picking the board that’s right for you.

Are you a liveaboard with limited space? Do you find yourself without a car? Are you drawn to raging rivers? Then an inflatable may be your calling. Their lightweight design and deflation capabilities make them easily transferrable and storable, especially in Seattle where condo-dwellers, houseboat owners, and other small spaces are more common. They’re also better alternatives for whitewater paddling and for yoga due to their softer nature. For most general purposes, they’re a great option for recreational day use.

However, according to Casey, “If you’re looking to advance in the paddling sport or want to rip it up like Kelly Slater with full-on surfing techniques, the high-performing hard boards are the way to go.” Hard boards generally offer more versatility and additional opportunities where inflatables falter.

SUP in Seattle

Seattle alone offers over 36 launch sites for you to explore. From the Ballard Locks to Alki Beach, we challenge you to discover them all.

“Hard board” is a broad term used to describe every board except inflatables. These include epoxy, carbon fiber, plastic (rotomolded), hybrid, and wood. Their rigid nature is great for long distance paddling because even with constant improvements to inflatables’ rigidity, they will always have that minor flex. With hard boards, more rigidity means less drag, more speed, and greater agility with less effort. Because hard boards are also available in a larger variety of sizes and finely-tuned shapes, it’s easier to find one that fits you just right. But to find your perfect board, it’s important to identify your desired uses.

Touring-, racing-, fishing-, yoga-, fitness-, and river-specific SUPs are the most common SUP makes; each activity requires slightly different characteristics for the ultimate efficiency. Only after you settle on a SUP lifestyle can you then drill down the details of your perfect board. Hull type, volume, weight, length, and width come into play when choosing your ideal option.

Most boards feature either planing or displacement hulls. To be more precise, bow is the correct term because every paddleboard has a flat hull – it’s the bow that changes from board to board. Planing bows are flat, wide, and resemble that of a surfboard’s. They’re perfect for leisure paddling, yoga, and beginners; as well as taking on whitewater rapids. Displacement hulls have a pointed bow that’s ideal for fitness, racing, and touring.

Boards 102: Dimensions

Volume and weight capacity are also vital when choosing a SUP. To get the most out of your board it must displace the correct amount of water for your weight. Combined, these two factors determine stability. Bow type also comes into play here. If you’re below the weight capacity of a planing nose board, you’re good to go, but with a displacement hull, if your weight exceeds what the board can handle, you’ll sink into the water. If you’re too light, the board will feel too heavy and uncontrollable.

Choose Your Board

Touring: A 12’6” board works great for your average day on the water. But for extra mileage and long-distance paddling for areas like Puget Sound, try the longer 14” models.

Racing: There are four racing classes: 10’-12′, 12’6”, 14’, and 14+ boards. The longer the board, the faster – it depends on your race preference.

Fishing: These boards tend to be wider, heavier, and extremely stable. BOTE Paddle Boards—the Hobie of SUPs—offers all kinds of fishing-related attachments and high-stability boards. You can find these at most West Marine stores. They’re trendy too! Win, win! Boatboard.com

Yoga: Find a heavy, stabile, and wide board with great traction, something along the lines of a fishing board. Because of their weight and stability, these are not great boards for paddling. ISLE has a great selection of yoga-capable boards. Islesurfandsup.com

River: Inflatable boards are recommended. They’re tough and can bounce off rocks without a problem. There are a few specific hard boards with several layers of fiberglass to endure the harsh nature of river paddling, but inflatables tend to be the most common for this sport for this niche.

SUP Boards

Next, settle for a length. For an everyday board, check out the 10’ to 12’ options. Women often use the next size up 12’6” board for professional racing. Then comes the 14’ board, the most common length for racing. Both the 12’6” and the 14’ are also great for long-distance adventures when speed matters. The longer the board, the faster it is. Some boards can get up to 20’ long!

It’s often a good rule of thumb to match your body type with the SUP board width. If you’re smaller, go for a narrow board and vice versa. End up with a board that’s too wide for your body, and your stroke might be a little out of whack. Smaller children up to about 5’4” should stick to the slimmer boards: 29” to 31” wide. Medium-sized paddlers 5’6” to 5’9” should consider 32”-wide boards while taller individuals should consider 33” or wider. Inflatables tend to be 6” thick which can be difficult for smaller paddlers. If you’re going on extended tours with extra gear, steer towards the wider end of the 25” to 36” spectrum. Anything over 31″ offers greater stability and additional space while a narrower board offers greater maneuverability and efficiency.

Board thickness is often overlooked but is just as important in the paddling world. The thicker the board, the more weight it can support. So, if you want a narrower board for speed and agility, increase thickness to support your weight. If you’re going the inflatable route, a 6”-thick board will be extremely stable (great for yoga) but look for a 4” thick board if you’d like better control.

There are hundreds of board companies out there, so how do you choose? BIC, Isle, Pua Hana, and BOTE are quality manufacturers, but just like your board, every company offers something a little different. If you’re a little overwhelmed, we get it! It’s a lot of information to process all at once, so check out the sidebar for a specs breakdown according to your desired SUP activity!


Just like any big purchase, it’s important to explore your options. “Don’t just go to Costco and buy a cheap board,” stresses Casey. “Take a lesson or rent one first. See what you like. See what works for you and your lifestyle. Think about lifting, carrying, and paddling your board, then put the money down.” An avid Costco fanatic myself (oh, the samples!), I feel the urge, but paddleboards aren’t cheap. You could save yourself a few returns with a rented trial run or a demo-to-purchase scenario.

SUP Sport

The first SUP was used by the “father of surfing”, Duke Kahanamoku, to train for surf competitions. Today, one can find SUPers surfing container ship wakes, river rapids, and choppy currents in addition to natural wave breaks.

For those near Seattle, Casey recommends some local outfits. The Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union offers SUPs, kayaks, and paddling gear, as well as drysuit and wetsuit rentals. Urban Surf is another Lake Union option; maybe you’ve seen the crowd at Urban Surf on a sunny day at Gasworks. This extensive surf shop rents 11’, 10’6”, and 12’6” boards. If you have one you’re thinking about purchasing, Urban Surf also allows up to two demos towards the purchase of a new, full-priced SUP. Fisheries Supply Co. is also a mainstay.

SUP Events

Paddle your way into the Pacific Northwest’s SUP Community by taking part in lessons, tours, or a race! Salmon Bay Paddle offers beginner’s lessons, SUP instructor certifications, and small-group day tours to some of this area’s best destinations. For a little competition, paddle out every Monday at 1900 hours this summer for their weekly Ballard Elks Paddling Races. Visit salmonbaypaddle.com.

June 11:

New and noteworthy, Seventy48 made wakes in its debut last year, leaving high hopes and intense anticipation for this year’s Tacoma to Port Townsend paddle frenzy. Racers will paddle 70 miles over 48 hours with nothing but sheer strength – that’s right, unlike R2AK, you’re not even allowed a sail.

Visit seventy48.com.

July 14:

A few longitude degrees north in the heart of Canada’s Sea to Sky Corridor is the Canadian Downwind Champs paddle race. This point-to-point, mass start, downwind surf/ski, SUP, prone paddleboard, and outrigger race is often called one of the most spectacular courses in the world.

Visit canadiandownwindchamps.com.

August 18-19:

In Oregon, the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge takes over Hood River’s Waterfront Park to celebrate stand up paddling in none other than the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

More info at gorgepaddlechallenge.com.

This year’s Northwest Paddling Festival was one for the books. If you missed it, keep an eye out for next year’s schedule to experience the largest event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. You can find more informtion at northwestpaddlingfestival.com.

Seventy48, Photo: Tacoma Sports Commission

From the Eastside? Check out Perfect Wave for rentals and lessons. They even offer Doggie SUP lessons for you and your pup! Northwest Paddle Surfers at Juanita Beach Park also offers lesson, rentals, and PaddleFlow Yoga. Try out their eight-person SUP if you’re feeling bold.


Half of life is accessories. Stand-up paddling is no different. As far as paddles go, you can’t go wrong with a carbon fiber make. They’re light and durable. Why add extra weight where it’s not needed? A dihedral blade splits the water in two directions, similar to that of a pointed bow. This combination will reduce stress on both your arms and wrists. Composite, aluminum, and fiberglass shafts are also common paddle types. Choose between adjustable or stationary paddles based on your needs.

Every paddler must have a lifejacket on board. If not worn, it must be attached somewhere to your board. Consider getting a lifejacket that allows a lot of arm rotation; this way you can wear it without much restriction. Life vests with CO2 cartridges are great for more experienced or racing paddlers. A sound-producing device such as a whistle, and navigation lights such as a flashlight or headlamp are also required while on board.

We’ve established that SUPs are a lot like surfboards, so why not continue the trend with a leash? Whether it be an ankle leash or one that ties around your waist, a leash could be your savior, especially in rough waters or SUP surfing.

A communication device could make all the difference in an emergency. A waterproof phone, VHF radio, or anything that can contact shore will work. And lastly, it’s often much colder on the water than shore. If you’re not in a wetsuit, it’s helpful to bring along quick-dry, high-visibility layers to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Tie down a drybag to store these layers. Additionally, booties for the Sound can save your feet from nasty barnacle cuts as well as keep your feet warm, and gloves can also be handy on our infamous overcast days.


Whether you’re stand up paddling, kayaking, surfing, or aboard any other personal watercraft (PWC), it’s important to understand and comply with recreational boating laws and rules to maintain a safe boating environment. Failure to do so and you’re not only putting yourself at risk but are creating a hazardous environment for all.

SUPs can go almost anywhere, but that doesn’t mean paddling up to the moored vessel across the bay to say hi is a good idea. Be courteous of your fellow seafarers and respect their privacy; unless they’re offering margaritas, in that case, climb aboard!

Be smart. When surfing breaks or paddling rivers, know your skill level and leave some space between you and other paddlers. It’s not fun when boards, whether they’re inflatable or hard, hit at full-speed.

Know thy weather. It’s you, your board, and your paddle, and that’s about it, which means you’re at the mercy of the seas. SUPs can’t combat the elements like larger vessels. Checking the weather and your tide chart before a day on the water is much advised.


Now for the fun stuff: where to launch! We’re lucky to have some of the most incredible waterways here in the Pacific Northwest with so many launch sites, it feels impossible to visit them all. Luckily, we’ve done everything but put the SUP in the water for you in our previous issues. If you have seen our May issue, then you’ve discovered the gold mine that is British Columbia’s extensive marine parks locations in our B.C. Parks Guide. For marine parks and launch sites in Washington State, navigate to our April issue guide!

Hidden launch sites, often concealed at streets’ ends offer access to locations not covered in our guides. To find a launch site near you, or to discover a full list of sites in your region – the popular, the unique and the obscure – check out the interactive map at paddling.com. You’ll find sites you never knew existed! So, here’s to a competitive race season, sunny days, and riding the waves. Happy paddling!


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1 comment

Kevin August 26, 2019 - 03:54

Hey! Amazing Post. I liked all the pictures and information about the sup, surf and the paddle boards.
Thanks for sharing with us. So, keep sharing.


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