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Are you up for SUP?

Get on the water and get fit with stand-up paddleboarding

If you’re ready to try something new, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) might be just your speed. 

Summer is a time for adventure. A time to get outdoors. A time to try something new. And when it’s hot, it’s a great time to get in the water. You’ll get all of these with SUP.

SUP involves standing on a modified surfboard while using a paddle to steer, slow, speed up or turn. Because of its growing popularity and easy learning curve, various parks departments, lakes, and some recreational equipment stores offer lessons, rentals or both.

SUP is a great choice for improving your overall fitness. Paddleboards are fueled only by wind, and the paddler. The workout involves mostly balance and core work, with some upper-body strength and cardio. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find gliding through calm waters is not only a great physical activity, it also has a meditative quality.

There is something about being on top of the water

Tanya Fish, a Wellmark member from Des Moines, Iowa, says SUP can be anything you make it. A self-proclaimed nature enthusiast, Fish picked up the sport on vacation in Florida, when her family rented stand-up paddleboards.

"I was immediately hooked," she says. "There was something about being on top of the water. It was like glass — calm and peaceful. To top off the experience, there were three dolphins out playing and swimming around us. I enjoyed being up close with the wildlife, on the water and in control of my own adventure."

Fish enjoyed it so much, her husband surprised her with two paddleboards on her birthday two years ago. Ever since, she can be found on the water a few times a week, whenever the weather permits.

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"It’s a great way to spend time with your people, while also getting in a workout," she says. Her favorite spots are Blue Heron Lake and Gray’s Lake in Des Moines.

Instead of meeting friends for drinks or coffee, Fish takes them out for some SUP time, or, she’ll hit the lake with her two sons. "My older son can take a board on his own, while my younger son catches a ride on the front of my board," says Fish. "It’s our thing."

A lot of people are nervous trying a new activity, especially one that requires equipment and is on the water. "Taking just one quick lesson will alleviate any fears," assures Fish. "When you get started you will want to start off on your knees, and do some gentle paddling, just to get the hang of it."

She adds, "Then, you’re ready to stand up. Start by getting on your hands and feet, then bend your knees slightly and slowly raise your chest as you rise to a standing position. Once stable, grab your paddle and slowly get comfortable with that movement."

"Paddleboarding doesn’t feel like a difficult workout, unless it’s windy and wavy," says Fish. "It’s mostly a core and upper-body workout. You do have to stay focused and use your core to keep yourself stable." Fish admits to falling in the water twice. "Once I was knocked over by big waves after a boat passed us, and once I was distracted by good conversation, which led to another dip in the lake," she laughs.

Mostly, it’s the quiet and peaceful water that keep her coming back for more. "When the sun rises or sets, that’s the best time to be on the water," adds Fish. "The vantage point, of being surrounded by water with such a vast view of the horizon and with control of where you want to explore, well, there’s nothing else like it."

See SUP in action

Check out this video of Tanya, who enjoys spending time at Blue Heron Lake in Des Moines.

SUP basics: Tips to get started

SUP basics

Your best bet is to sign up for a stand-up paddleboarding class. Be sure you have access to the proper gear and safety equipment: a board, paddle, life jacket and leash, which attaches your ankle to the board. A few more tips:

  • Go with a friend so you can keep an eye on each other.
  • Choose a sunny day with little to no wind.
  • Wear quick-dry clothing and waterproof shoes.
  • Choose a small, calm body of water, like a lake or pond, that’s free of obstacles like boats, rocks and buoys.
  • Find a sandy beach or area where you can wade into the water to easily launch your board.
  • If there is a breeze, paddle into it on your way out, if you can. That way, you can get a boost from the breeze on the way back, when you’ll be more tired.

For more information about SUP, check out these tips from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources External Site.

Make a splash with your fitness routine

Stand-up paddleboarding is just one way for you to hit the water to improve your fitness. Water exercise builds your cardiovascular stamina, strength, and flexibility, so there are lots of reasons to make the pool (or other body of water) your workout destination, all year long.