Stand up paddle boarding

Stand up paddle boarding is currently taking the world by storm with everyone from celebrities to soccer mums getting in on the action.

A quick google will reveal celebrities like Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Victoria’s Secret Angel Alessandra Ambrosio, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Cindy Crawford and Pierce Brosnan pictured balancing on a board, usually smiling or laughing mid-stroke, making the whole thing look damn easy.

Matthew McConaughey getting his paddle on.
Matthew McConaughey getting his paddle on.

Having last year tried my hand at surfing, I was keen to get back out on the water to try paddle boarding, well aware that I would most likely spend the majority of my time in the water.

Originating in Hawaii (of course), stand up paddle boarding began in the 1960s when surf schools used wider, flat boards to watch the beginners and take photos of them through the lesson.

Back then it was referred to as ‘Beach Boy Surfing’, but these days it is also known as stand-up paddle surfing or the simpler, and cooler, SUP.

On Saturday, I grabbed my togs and towel and headed to Currumbin with Bianca, Ange and Fabio to try my hand at SUP (I was also hopeful that an hour on the water would miraculously transform my post-Christmas cheer into a serious beach bod).

There’s a stand up paddle boarding place along Currumbin Creek that hires out boards for $10 an hour.

Located along the estuary it provides a safe, sheltered environment with smooth water which is perfect for first timers and is just 500m downstream from the Currumbin Alley surf break, for those wanting to increase the challenge.

Paddle boarding at Currumbin.
Paddle boarding at Currumbin.

I was surprised to see that there were literally hundreds of people out on the water and they were all shapes, sizes and ages; there were young kids in life jackets giving it a go and women in their 50s and 60s wearing shorts and t-shirts.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time; there were lots of laughs, from both those on the boards and on the shore as people tried to get their balance, keep their balance and fall into the water in a spectacular way!

And it’s not just a sport for adrenalin junkies – the flat water of the creeks around the Gold Coast, the canals of Noosa and the Brisbane River are also popular locations for SUP.

Despite our inexperience, we didn’t bother getting any instructions instead choosing to just try our luck which made for a wet – and hilarious experience – especially with Fabio falling off his board within the first minute!

Bianca and Ange leave the shore.
Bianca and Ange leave the shore.

After making it onto my large hard-foamed board without ending up in the drink, I found the whole thing surprisingly easy … probably because we were on flat water rather than tackling waves.

The best way to paddle is by holding the oar (which is a long-handled paddle, about 6-10 inches taller than the paddler for leverage) like a canoe oar: one hand on top, the other halfway down. Then you just need to dip the oar into the water at the front of the board and pull it back to near your ankles.

It you want to go in a straight line, it’s best to do a few strokes on one side and then switch to the other. To turn, I just kind of waved my oar around in a semi-circle, which probably wasn’t the proper method, but it got me there in the end.

I was pleasantly surprised at how calming the experience could be … that is until a tinnie went past.

It turns out SUP is quite a workout, especially when tackling the wake from passing boats or heading towards the surf break where the water is moving because you really need to work to maintain your balance. So not only do your arms and core get a work out but your lower half isn’t forgotten with strength training for the ankles, legs and thighs.
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After showing off my outstanding paddle boarding prowess with some impromptu yoga moves (and having won the title of Last Man Standing), it was time for me to be taken down and a team effort from Bianca, Ange and Fabio meant that I was headed for the water.
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Back on my board after being taken down by Bianca.
Back on my board after being taken down by Bianca.

Thankfully, it was pretty easy to get back onto the board from the water  and from there to get upright – just start on your hands and knees (similar to surfing) and then right yourself one foot at a time.

After an hour, we headed back to shore feeling fairly exhausted but pretty happy with ourselves; we’d each fallen more than a few times … but mostly due to sabotage.

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Ange takes Fabio down.

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One of the most appealing parts of SUP is the freedom that comes from paddling – it has almost no rules and requires little equipment – you can kneel, sit down, lay down, practice yoga poses or take your dog along on a SUP adventure.

While I didn’t end up with a miraculous beach bod – more a sunburnt one that required about five applications of aloe vera – I loved the whole experience and I’m definitely going to be heading back down for another go and try to tackle some small waves before the summer is out.

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