What You Can Do with Stand Up Paddling

When people think of stand up paddling, usually they see it as something that is on lakes and calm water. Many don’t know that the origins of the current version of the sport came from two big wave surfers on Maui. Continue reading about different types of sup opportunities.

Since SUP blew up in popularity around 2010 in North America, people have taken advantage of the versatility of the sport by adapting it to several types of paddling and non-paddling activities.

Here’s a few of the many ways you can use a SUP:

SUP Surfing

Both Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama immediately saw the benefits of standing on a large surfboard as they could see waves coming before prone (traditional) surfers could. The large boards gave them more speed thus made it easier to catch waves and the paddle allowed them to ride waves for longer distances.

They found they could ride more types of waves and even smaller waves than traditional surfers could catch. In the years since, paddlers have developed the use of 14 foot and longer downwind boards (see below) and race boards for surfing as well.

I teach SUP surfing all year on both the Washington Coast and on Puget Sound with the help of freighter waves!


This is one of the hottest genres of SUP. Downwinding means you can catch waves that were created by high winds on lakes, rivers and in the ocean as well as inland waterways. Paddlers mostly use 14 foot and longer boards (called Unlimited boards) to catch wind swell that propels them forward like a surfer, but in open water far offshore.

The long fast boards give them speed which make it easier to catch the less powerful waves for rides up to 100 yards long or longer.

While downwinding can happen anywhere, two of the most popular downwind locations include Hood River, Oregon and the Maliko Run on the north shore of Maui.  But you should learn the basics of downwinding before hitting the big water of those epic destinations. Puget Sound is also great for downwinding. We downwind all year with several wind directions on Shilshole Bay. Learn how.

SUP Yoga

Yoga instructors spotted the benefit of the big stable SUP boards to bring yoga to another challenge level by providing classes on-water. SUP yoga has grown to an international practice and has gained huge popularity. Boards are usually tied together and held in one location by an anchor – or held in pools.

River SUP

For those in inland states or regions such as Colorado, Idaho and Montana, river sup has provided a way to surf standing waves and run rivers similar to that of a kayak. Using similar gear as whitewater kayakers such as a helmet, vest life jacket and wet or dry suit, river sup paddlers also use quick release leashes and sometimes body armor to prevent falling on rocks.

Inflatable SUPs are most common as they don’t ding as easy as an epoxy hard board and are lighter to carry thus can be portaged easier.

River sup has exploded worldwide for those that enjoy the thrill of running whitewater while standing up. We love surfing on tidal rapids in saltwater which occurs when water is pushed by tidal current through narrow channels such as Deception Pass State Park. 

I teach how to paddle a SUP in the tidal rapids of Deception Pass. Read More.

SUP Overnight Camping

Like a sea kayak or canoe, you can outfit your SUP to carry gear for overnight trips. Trips work best on longer boards which are easier and faster to paddle and can carry more gear.

Our trips follow the Cascadia Marine Water Trail on Puget Sound where you can paddle and camp on islands with remote feeling beaches with epic Salish Sea views. Check our 2020 trips calendar.

SUP Racing

Racing has become a huge interest area for paddlers. Since 2009, races small and large in scale have taken place annually throughout the world. The former Battle of the Paddle used to gather a few hundred paddlers in southern California who would paddle through ocean waves to an offshore 10 miles course, then back again.

The 11 city tour in Europe takes advantage of the winding canals in the Netherlands with a few hundred paddlers as well. Other races include the California 100 down the current of the Sacramento River, the Yukon 100, the Salish Sea Challenge and the Seventy48, from Tacoma to Port Townsend, WA in 48hrs.

I started a race in 2012 which is now run by the Ballard Elks Paddling Club. It occurs in the summer on Monday evenings May – September and benefits the Ballard Elks Scholarship Fund. We raise nearly $3k every summer.

Race divisions include: Surf style for boards are the most common type of SUP that resemble surf boards. Then 12’-6” or stock class. And 14 foot and finally, Unlimited for boards longer than 14 foot.

I’m also the race director for the Deception Pass Challenge, the Makah Coast Race and St Paddles Day.  

Check my 2020 Race Calendar

SUP Endurance Racing

In 2017, Orcas Island based paddler Karl Kruger race his 17 foot sup in the 750 mile Race to Alaska. Launching from Port Townsend, WA, he paddled to Ketchikan Alaska in 14 days. In the same year, Chris Bertish paddled a modified SUP across the Atlantic ocean in less than 90 days.

More SUP Opportunities

SUP fishing and crabbing, tandem sup racing (2 people on the same board), fitness sup and they’re great for waterway clean-ups!