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Stand up paddling 101: Rock climbing cross training edition

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
4 min read

View of the OAD at OR
The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is home to a one-day Open Air Demo, where participants can choose from a variety of disciplines to test out gear in the field. Rather than go with what I know (climbing), I decided to take an opportunity to try something completely new, and headed Pineview Reservoir, outside of Ogden, for the Paddle Sports demo.

I didn’t have a plan — I just vaguely figured I’d try out a kayak or two since paddle sports aren’t something I’m experienced with. When I arrived at the demo, among a throng of swimsuit-clad, sunblock-whitened Outdoor Retailer attendees, my first thought was that I was in way over my head. My second thought, upon looking out over the water at the large numbers of stand up paddleboards (SUP) was, “I want to try that.”

After a second coat of sunscreen, I hit the water and next thing I knew, I was kneeling on a Surftech Stand-up Paddleboard with the following coaching:

“Look toward the horizon, and paddle.”

I got the basics quickly (especially after travel buddy Pete from Pemba Serves corrected the direction of my paddle), and went from kneeling on the board, to standing, without too much drama. It took me awhile to get the rhythm, and to really gain my balance on the board, but after a few minutes, I was starting to get the hang of it, and could feel a huge grin creep onto my face.

I tried out a few different boards, including two from C4 Waterman. Ted from C4 Waterman took the time to find me properly-sized paddles (whoa, what a difference) and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on their Pohaku board.

It felt stable, fast, and glided through the water very easily; I could feel my balance dialing in, and I really relaxed and had fun on that one. I had so much fun that I started to whip around a turn a little too ambitiously, kicking the board right out from under myself and into the drink I went.

My paddleboard experiment cost me one pair of sunglasses, but it was worth that price of admission, for sure.

With a board and paddle that fit me, I could relax and enjoy myself. Plus, I was already soaked, so didn’t have to worry about falling in. Makes me think there might be something to that “take warm-up falls” advice.

I could feel the movement working my core, my shoulders, and my balance — all great cross-training for climbing. For climbers who can’t cross train with swimming because of injury, this might be a great way to get on the water and get a workout that will translate to climbing.

“It’s like yoga on water,” said Debbie Keys-Thomas of Surfing Sports in Santa Barbara, CA. Debbie and her two chocolate Labs (Annie and Molly) were chilling at the Starboard booth. “About 50% of our stand-up paddle related sales are to women, mostly doing it for fitness.” Debbie supports a triathlon team on her board, and is encouraging of women getting into the activity. “Would you rather stand on a half rubber ball in a gym to work your core and balance, or stand up on a stand up board out on the water?”

That’s an easy one for me.

The universal advice I received about getting started in SUP is to seek out knowledgeable sales people and mentors. “Paddling correctly is important; get someone who knows how to paddle correctly to teach you. If you’ve got rotator cuff issues, a shorter paddle may help; and, form is really important for anyone with elbow injuries,” shared Debbie.

“Start on your knees on the board, then stand up from there,” advises Darren Bush, Paddling Evangelist and owner of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Monona, Wisconsin. “It’s counter-intuitive, but the closer your feet are together, the easier it is.”

Stand up paddling, in action
SUP has been more broadly adopted on the coasts, with distribution starting to pick up across the country. It sounds a lot like getting started in climbing — Darren suggested that those getting started ask around to see who’s into SUP, and to find mentors. Most of whom, just like in climbing, are excited to help get you into the sport.

Additional advice from Darren: “Don’t buy a crappy paddle, and be sure it’s sized properly. You might consider a variable length paddle when you’re starting out,” so that if you paddle with friends, you can share a paddle.

The web’s a good place to read and learn about SUP, but if you can, find a knowledgeable SUP shop to help you select and fit a board and paddle. As I learned today, there are many shapes, sizes, materials and characteristics of SUP boards and paddles — I definitely noticed differences between the boards and paddles I tried.

Whether for climbing cross training, or just to play on the water, take a look at SUP. I am still grinning from ear to ear, and look forward to the next time I get a chance to hop on a board and paddle. I wound up that great kind of tired and hungry that only comes with playing outside in the sun on the water, and I didn’t see anyone in the crowd trying SUP that didn’t look like the were having fun — dripping wet swim trunks and all.

For more information, take a peek at the sites linked to above. I’m curious to hear your experiences with SUP, too — are there other climber / SUP fans out there?


Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.