SUP Essentials – whatever time of year it is, it’s a good to time to think about stand up paddle boarding and the gear you need to get started. If it’s Summer, time to hit the water without delay – the rest of the year, it’s a good time to look for deals that get you out on the water without busting your gear budget. So what are the SUP Essentials? Basically, you need a board and a paddle, though other accessories certainly make it a lot more fun.
The Board. With SUP’s surging popularity, there are companies that make boards to fit pretty much every niche in the market. From beginner boards to yoga and whitewater, there’s a board out there for you. Unless you’ve SUP’ed before and are confident in going beyond the basics, I’d suggest looking at beginner or touring boards. These are generally wider and more stable than others, which gives you a leg up on actually staying on the board and not just swimming after it. One other thing to consider is how often and where you’re going to use the board. For me, it is some distance to travel to any sort of water suitable for paddling. That, coupled with space restrictions, made me opt for an inflatable board (I love my BIC 12’6″ SUP Air Touring) – a rigid board might be more in line with your needs and it saves time on inflating and deflating the board for each use.
The Paddle. Regardless of the paddle you purchase, make sure that it’s SUP specific and adjustable. While you can paddle with pretty much anything (including your hands), a sport-specific paddle makes it easier and therefore, more fun. Adjustability is needed if someone else borrows it or those days when you either feel or actually are shorter (it happens, right?). Further considerations are weight and cost – I went with a Rave paddle that is carbon fiber but had a plastic blade, which kept the cost down but was definitely lighter than many others I looked at.
That’s it. That is literally all you need to start stand up paddle boarding with the exception of navigable water.
On to the accessories.
Booties. Whether it’s cold water, hot sand, or protection from gravel and other sharp objects, booties can help immeasurably. I’ve tested out a few different kinds that I can recommend. For warm weather or simple foot protection, take a look at the Body Glove 3T Barefoot Warrior. While I’ve never been a fan of any individual toe footwear, these are a lot easier to use with only 2 toes separated. The design does give a lot more dexterity to the foot, allowing it to grip the board better, while the sticky sole keeps you on the board when you might otherwise slip off. For colder water, check out the KEEN Gorgeous (terrible name, though it’s a nod to the Columbia River Gorge and not appearances). I’m not a huge fan of the one-pull webbing strap, but it does snug up the foot nicely. The neoprene upper keeps feet warm (I’ll really test these once I get the balls to try Winter SUPing, but 2 mm may be too thin for our Midwest chills) and the sole is as grippy as one would need.
Floating cases. I’m an inveterate picture taker, but I really don’t trust most waterproof cases (my Catalyst case is the only one I’ll use for in-water photography). Another solution for paddling are waterproof phone cases that float. I have a pair that I go back and forth on, depending which one is more handy. Feel free to look for either the Travelon Smart Phone or the Lewis N. Clark Waterseals Automatic waterproof pouches – both are submersible and work great. The latter is simpler to use but also more expensive, so there’s something for any budget (and a lot less expensive than replacing a phone).
Floating Sunglasses. Protect your eyes from sun, wind, and airborne crapola by wearing some shades. There is a high likelihood that you’re going to lose them at some point, so a pair of floating sunglasses like those from Rheos Gear are mighty nice to have around. Floating straps also work, but I prefer not to have something if I don’t need it- simpler is better sometimes.
Helmet, PFD, and leash. If you’re on a rigid board or are paddling where trees or rocks are in the water, a helmet may be prudent – a good knock on the head could give you a concussion or knock you out, neither good. Depending where you paddle, a PFD may be mandatory by law, but in any case is a good idea – I wear mine all the time, but at least have one available on the SUP. If comfort is an issue, inflatable versions that ride on the waist or over the shoulders are less bulky and more comfortable for most. Leashes are contentious for some reason and I’m sure there are good arguments against using them. In most cases, however, I think being able to keep your board nearby is a boon.
Now you’re ready. Do some research, rent and test out some boards, and get shopping. Then, head out onto the water and have fun!
*Some of these items I purchased and some were provided for editorial purposes – in every case, opinions are my own.