What is paddle surfing and how to start practicing it?

Paddle surfing is a water sport in which its practitioners slide through the water with a board and propelled with a paddle. Find out everything you should know before practicing it.

Last update: 08 September, 2021

Water sports have not stopped growing in recent years. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, for example, we saw surfing included among the new competition disciplines. Although this is the first activity that comes to mind when thinking about these sports, there are actually dozens of practices on the water. Today we talk about one of them: the paddle surf.

In simple terms, it is about sliding on the water with the help of a paddle or an oar that provides greater balance. In practice, of course, it is a complex activity. Here we talk about its history, the variants and the benefits it brings you.

Paddle surf characteristics

The paddle surf, also known as stand up paddle, HIS P or paddle surfing It is a sport whose origin dates back to the 1960s in Hawaii. Specifically, surf instructors at Waikiki Beach began using canoe paddles to guide students who were just getting started in traditional surfing.

In Hawaiian the activity is known as ku hoe he´e nalu, whose translation into Spanish is close to 'shoveling' or 'surfing a wave'. Although of course, we can find antecedents hundreds and even thousands of years ago. As an independent discipline, it was not consolidated until this context. Some consider it a variant of the paddleboarding.

Over the years, surfing with an extra paddle or paddle became popular, until it became an isolated practice in itself. So much so, that today we find tournaments all over the world, such as the World Stand Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championship, organized every year by the International Surfing Association (ISA).



As has happened with other activities, the discipline has been divided into many variants that distance themselves from each other. The main characteristics of the original or classical practice are the following:

  • It is developed with the help of a paddle or a shovel that allows you to advance on the water with ease.
  • It's not just about riding waves; the practitioner can choose to move across the surface of the water without limitations.
  • Use your own tables that provide great stability.
  • It is an accessible alternative for amateur practitioners.

For all this, the paddle Surfing has accomplished in a few decades what other sports have not in centuries. Today we find fans developing it all over the world, from Japan to the United States.

Differences with traditional surfing

The main difference from traditional surfing is that in this case the objective is not only to glide over the waves. In fact, SUP is a perfect activity to practice on surfaces that have little waves or are completely calm.

It is for this reason that it is not only intended to be practiced at sea. You can paddle board in lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Virtually any surface that has a certain depth is suitable for the discipline.

The above does not mean that you cannot ride waves when practicing paddle surf. As we will see in a moment, you can choose from a very wide range of variants.

Unlike the traditional variant, the presence of waves is not essential in this sport.

How to start paddle surfing?

Although it is easier than traditional surfing, this water sport is more complex than it seems. If you want to become an expert, you must first know the basics.

Types paddle surf

You should know that the sport it has many variants that you can turn to. Some are more difficult than others, since they require knowledge of a prior discipline. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Race: You compete in races with several rivals, the purpose of which is to reach a goal set at a distance. It is practiced with long and narrow boards and requires strength, power, speed and balance.
  • Crossing: the competition factor is eliminated and replaced by a quieter, slower ride closer to the ride.
  • Wave: the paddle surf wave it consists of riding waves and sliding through them. Since rowing is also limiting your balance, it is usually practiced with small or medium waves.
  • Yoga fitness: Are you a fan of yoga? Then this variant will enchant you. It consists of doing asanas on a surfboard. It demands a great balance to be able to maintain the postures despite the oscillations of the water.
  • River: similar to rafting, consists of descending through rivers with small boards. For this, not very large streams are chosen. It is an extreme modality that is practiced with a helmet and other protection devices.

Other modalities that we cannot fail to mention are SUP fishing, SUP polo and SUP dog. In the latter case, you can take your pet on a table that is larger than normal.

Types of tables paddle surf

Depending on the variants you choose, you will need a different table. These provide you with different levels of stability, speed and mobility.. We can summarize them in the following four groups:

  • Inflatables: its irruption in the discipline is relatively new. You can carry them deflated in your backpack, so you don't have to allocate a very large space for their transport.
  • Hybrids: they are also known as tables all round, since they allow you to adapt them to almost all forms of sport. Its tip is semi-rounded and its width does not exceed 90 centimeters in any case.
  • Wave: they are the most similar to a surfboard and the shortest available. Its maximum extension is 3 meters and its width ranges between 70 and 90 centimeters. The front of the nose is pointed to break waves more easily.
  • Race: They are the competition boards par excellence, both at an amateur and professional level. They are very light pieces that allow you to reach high speeds with the help of the paddle. They can measure up to 4.2 meters in length, with a width that does not exceed 75 centimeters.

Your best choice if you are starting is a table of paddle Inflatable surfboard, since they are safer in case of falls, you can transport them easily and they adapt very well to any variant. After a couple of months you can get a specific one.

Oars paddle surf

The paddles or oars used in this sport are divided according to their manufacturing material. The most used at a professional and amateur level are the following:

  • Carbon: It is the best option if you want to access a professional experience. Carbon oars are the lightest of all, but their structure is not compromised.
  • Fiberglass: The second option in terms of quality is found in the blades designed with fiberglass. Although few professionals use them, they adapt very well to those who practice at an amateur level.
  • Aluminum: it is cheaper than the previous two options, so it is often used a lot among those who start practicing paddle surf. It is considered a low quality alternative.
  • Plastic: they are not considered appropriate among those who are starting to dabble in this sport. Although they are the cheapest of all, you should avoid buying them if you really want to have a good experience on the board.


Tips for practicing paddle surf

Now that you know the modalities of the discipline, the types of boards and the options of the oars, you are ready for the final recommendations. The most important are the following:

  • You should always use a safety rope tied to the foot which positions at the rear.
  • During your first classes, it doesn't hurt to wear a life jacket.
  • Avoid practicing on days with strong winds that can create a dizzying swell.
  • If you find options available, sign up for group or personalized sessions led by a professional.
  • Practice your first attempts on the board in shallow areas.
  • Take care of your center of gravity to avoid repetitive falls.
  • Your feet should never close more than the natural width of the shoulders.
  • Consider wearing a wetsuit if the water is very cold.
  • Never hold the oar like a broom. That is, with both hands on the body. One of them should be right at the top head of the shovel.
  • Use your whole body to row, especially your legs and torso. Avoid letting all the responsibility fall on your arms.

Main benefits of paddle surfing

After getting started in this sport, we cannot pass up the opportunity to show you its benefits. Apart from the fact that you can use the activity as an escape from stress and anxiety, you should also know that one or two hours on the table are at the height of any aerobic exercise.

This discipline has health benefits that are comparable to those of other more traditional aerobic exercises.

Raises your heart rate and helps you burn calories

The evidence tells us that one minute of paddle Surfing can make you burn between 9 and 13.9 kilocalories, thanks to the fact that the heart rate in a conventional session oscillates between 67% and 89% of the maximum frequency.

These data suggest that discipline is great aerobic exercise. If you are not a fan of high impact cardiovascular activities, you will find an ally in SUP. The best of all? Your joints won't suffer.

Improve your balance

This is certified by a study published in 2013 in the journal Procedia Engineering. Discipline helps improve your balance, due to the continuous effort that you must make to avoid the oscillations from the surface of the water.

A couple of hours a week will help fortify your vestibular system and benefit you from day to day. For all this, we do not hesitate to recommend paddle surfing among the alternatives of functional exercise.

Strengthen your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal skills

According to research published in 2016 in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and RehabilitationThrough its practice you will achieve a general physical conditioning that will be felt in muscles, bones and cardiac competition.

The aforementioned study focused on assessing the results for 6 weeks. During this time, the participants trained 3 times a week.

Strengthens the area of ​​the core

Although you may think that your arms are the area of ​​greatest work when practicing stand up paddle, everything seems to indicate that it is actually the core. The muscles of your trunk are activated to facilitate balance, which is also complemented by the effort of your legs.

Go paddle surfing

As we have seen, the benefits of playing this sport are backed by science, so you can not stop including it in your routine if you are a fan of aquatic disciplines. If you are a lover of surfing, do not hesitate to try this variant in which you will find a respite from the waves.