Getting Started: The Basics of Stand Up Paddle

Thinking about getting into the standup this year?  The Okanagan has developed into one of Canada’s top destinations for the sport so you’ll be in good company.  By now you will have visited a plethora of websites, each with a different way of presenting the sport and its benefits. As the sport develops, the boards have become more specialized so this can serve as a starting point to help you decide which board (or type of paddling) is right for you.  If you’re thinking about purchasing a board and had some questions, keep reading to find out more about the sport and how to choose the right equipment.

What is the ‘best’ season to SUP?

In the Okanagan, the ‘best’ season depends on your own weather threshold and enthusiasm.  While summer is the obvious answer, the lakes and rivers in the region offer up variable conditions throughout the year.  Spring is full of weather swings which serves up all types of conditions from pristine flatwater days to wind-blown afternoons and plenty of opportunities to catch a wave or a good ‘downwinder’. Fall offers  plenty of calm and peaceful days to enjoy the beauty of the lakes without the boats buzzing around and winter is serene and cool.  The heart of the season would be May-September which is a full 5 months of paddling!


SUP is a year-long adventure!


The question that comes to mind “What if I fall in” can be answered in several ways.  On most occasions in winter, we wear wetsuits on the iffy weather days but if it’s a calm ,  we may want to look at layers to keep you warm and comfortable.  Anyone who is keen to brave the winter conditions (like Bob Purdy of Kelowna), you have to find a balance between staying warm and reducing the risk of an unfortunate plunge.  A wetsuit or drysuit will keep you warm but on near zero days, you can overheat and if you are a confident paddler, your chances of a water landing are very slim.

What to wear for cold water?What-to-Wear

If you live near the ocean, then your apparel should reflect more inconsistent weather and you may consider packing a range of clothing in case conditions change quickly.  The SUP industry is scrambling on the design front and so far one of the best solutions for those ‘iffy’ days is the Quiksilver Paddle Jacket. If you do get wet, you’re still going to stay warm.


By now, you’ve been reading a variety of articles about the sport and may still be wondering “Which Board is the Right one for me?  or for my family?”.  First consider if it will be a shared board or just for yourself (or individual).  There are two types of categories (and then subcategories within);   All-Rounders (Surfboard style) and Displacement Hull (pointed nose) boards.  Since we are in a flatwater region with almost no surf, the more efficient board will be the Displacement due to it’s shape – it is designed to cut through wind, water and chop better than the All-Rounder. But that doesn’t mean it should be a default board – read on….

All-Rounders: The basic ‘all-around’ Stand Up paddle board is longer and more buoyant than a surfboard but retains the basic outline and shape with a rounded nose and various degress of ‘rocker’ (curve on tail and nose).  The term ‘All-around’ is used to describe these types of boards and they can be used for all types of paddling;  for surfing, flatwater, lakeshore cruising and even rivers.  Although they aren’t built for speed, they do come in a wide variety of lengths, width’s and thickness, all of which can effect the board’s performance.  As a general guideline, these characteristics apply:

  1. Length – Longer equals more glide and sometimes more stability
  2. Width – Wider equals more stability but less glide
  3. Thickness – Thicker equals more stability and more volume (Buoyancy)

The are generally not great for long distance paddling and require more crossovers during paddling to keep them going in a straight.

Displacement Hull: This style of board is becoming very popular for inland lakes and rivers.  For those who want to do more touring, racing, flatwater cruising and maximize your speed, then these types of boards are for you.  They also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are designed to for better glide and efficiency.  Typically they feature a canoe style or thick shaped nose, thick rails and overall, more volume than all-round SUP boards.  By design, they are built for speed.


Tahoe SUP’s Zephyr – Built to go fast and far, quickly and efficiently


CONSTRUCTIONS (beware of bargain boards)

With the sport experiencing exponential growth, there are new boards and companies popping up every week and offering the latest and greatest, all at a cut-rate price.  Each one with it’s own claim of ‘best’, ‘lightest’, ‘strongest’ and so forth.   We saw this happen in the snowboarding and BMX industries and over time, the companies who stay true to the sport and invest in it’s future, will be successful.  Support local when you can and ask a ton of questions.

While many of the reliable brands have perfected their methods of production, the new crop of upstarts are buying their boards from factories who offer generic blanks.  Add some colour and you’ve got yourself a brand.  Scary really.  We’ve seen side cuts from several of the ‘bargain’ brand boards and can honestly say that you get what you pay for.  Many use the kind of foam that you get with packaged electronics.  Naturally, the market will always call for low-budget boards but make sure to ask around before you go that direction.

Resale Value of SUP Boards:
One of the main decisions you have to think about is the resale value of what you are buying. If you pay $1,500 for a board, then you should be getting something with decent resale value.  As you progress in the sport, you may be able to sell it for $1,200 in a year and that’s a pretty decent return.  Purchase an $899 package and you’ll have a much tougher time with re-selling it and when you do, because of how those boards are made, you may only get $300 or less.  Something to consider.

WHAT KIND OF PADDLING CAN YOU DO? (Answering a common question about the sport)
SUP is no doubt one of the most versatile water sports and if you live near both the lakes and oceans, then you in luck. Here’s a look at the different types of SUP’ing.  Here in the Okanagan, we’re spoiled with so many great lakes and rivers and although we don’t have much surf, we do have plenty of rivers and ‘downwind’ opportunities.  Here are a few types of paddling to get you stoked!

  • Flatwater – Leisure paddling on lakes and rivers
  • Flatwater – Racing short and and long distance courses
  • Flatwater – Training, cross-training, fitness development, core training, recovery
  • Downwinders – Riding huge swells on the ocean
  • Downwinders – Riding with the wind at your back on lakes and rivers
  • Whitewater – River runs and standing-wave surfing on Class I-V rivers
  • Surfing – Ocean
  • Surfing – Behind a boat or on ocean freighter’s wake
  • Surfing – On lakes such as the Great Lakes

Learning Curve
(Zero-Standing in seconds)


It’s easy to stand up and from there, a whole of exploration awaits

Standing up on the board for the first time is a fairly simple achievement and doesn’t require any pre-training or experience – just average balance. It’s a pretty amazing feeling when you get up for the first time too.

Assuming you have relatively calm water conditions, you should be able to stand up in less than a minute.  From there, you’ll have to ‘feel’ out the board and get used to finding your balance as you start to paddle around.  For some, the transition will feel easy while others will need more time to get used to the ‘tipsy’ feeling of walking on water.  Longer boards with thicker rails (side of the board) have more ‘volume’ which will help you feel more stable and balanced.  As a general rule, if you weigh more than 180 lbs, pick a board that has a volume rating of 185 Liters or more. Click here to learn more about which board is be the best for  you on the Gear page.

Now that you have the basics, it’s time for you to Stand Up for Yourself.


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