Joy on the Water

The pleasures of paddleboarding.

About 3,000 years ago, self-transportation on a floating platform propelled by a tree branch became all the rage. It was popular from Italy to China and Israel to Peru. It wasn’t called Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), but the idea was roughly the same. History sometimes repeats itself; it had a resurgence in the early 1900s, and since about 20 years ago—starting in California with highly customized surfboards and paddles—SUP has become increasingly popular. Like pickleball, it once was a niche activity. But it’s now competitive for some, and recreation for the masses.

Regardless of skill level, SUP, a hybrid of skiing and kayaking, provides a cross-training exercise. It combines strength and endurance in a total body exercise. It strengthens core muscles and also benefits the back, neck, shoulders, arms and toes. Participants in SUP burn more calories in an hour than most sports, because it incorporates all full-body workout combo elements.

Jose Gonzalez, a certified personal trainer for the national American Council on Fitness, says, “When most people think SUP, they assume it’s all about the arms. It’s not. It works your core and legs through the movement of bringing the paddle to the board. Specifically, SUP engages the deltoids, rotator cuffs, traps, pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, supraspinatus and your abdominal muscles.”

While exercising, SUP also allows practitioners to explore, sightsee, socialize or seek solace on water.

“Each time you go to the water, you see something new,” says Marissa Williams, an avid paddleboarder throughout the state and an ambassador for Visit Florida. “You’re away from everyday distractions of your job, or what’s going on in your house.”

Waterways to back bays, solo treks to friends and family gatherings to corporate getaways, paddleboarding and SUP are so popular in Florida, including Naples, that the activity has prompted the slogan, “Paddleboarding is to Florida what skiing is to Colorado.”

Statistics tell much. The U.S. Coast Guard officially classified SUP boards as vessels in 2008. Five years later, SUP had more first-time participants than any other sport in the country. And according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, a national trade organization, SUP’s popularity is growing at a faster percentage than adventure racing, mixed martial arts, rugby and BMX.

“Getting up on a paddleboard is so much easier than you think,” says Williams. “Once you get going, you have that momentum and you don’t even put a second thought into it. You just stay up and start looking at everything around you.”

In addition to renting and purchasing SUPs, local businesses provide lessons and give tours showcasing the varied wildlife in backwater bays, coves and mangroves. “There’s so much going on,” says Williams.

“There are manatees, dolphins and everything someone could expect when you come to Florida. You’re out on the water. You can be in a group all by yourself and out there getting some peace.”