The Sport of SUP: Breaking Down the Competition

Stand Up Paddleboaring SUP
Photo: Sperry Top-Sider

If you live near any body of water there’s a good chance you’ve heard of — and maybe even tried — stand up paddleboarding (SUP). People all around the world have been flocking to lakes, oceans and rivers in record numbers over the last few years to get in on the SUP action. It has inspired spinoffs like SUP yoga and SUP bootcamps, and even fishermen are catching on (pun intended).

While it’s certainly popular among the fitness and leisure crowd, what you may not know is that SUP is a full-on professional sport, complete with grueling competitions and world-class sponsored athletes. Learn everything you need to know about this growing sport and how you, too, can build a SUP-ready body.

Hang Ten: A Pro SUP Primer

Growing up in Florida, Slater Trout started stand up paddleboarding at the ripe old age of 11, right before his family relocated to Hawaii. The move was perfect timing for Trout, now 19 and a professional SUP athlete and member of the Sperry Top-Sider team of performance athletes.

“I started when I was so young and the sport was also so young, so I feel like we grew up together,” says Trout. “It’s been a journey to see the sport spread around the world and see the joy it brings people.”

As he puts it, stand up paddleboarding is still in its infancy and continues to rapidly grow every year. Just four years ago in 2010, the World Paddle Association launched to help guide the sport’s growth and create guidelines for competitive events, ensuring consistency and safety.

Competitions, which are usually two-day events, are held all over the world on rivers, lakes and oceans. Day one is typically a distance race, ranging anywhere from six to 32 miles, and taking athletes anywhere from 4.5 to 7 hours. To put that into perspective, last year Trout paddled 29 miles around Manhattan in 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Day two is a sprint race, which can range from two to five miles. Featuring lots of turns and sometimes a little bit of man on man combat, these races are a chance for SUP-ers to really show off their technical skills. Think snowboard cross minus the snow. “I love the carnage and close contact,” says Trout. “That’s kind of my forte.”

To win it all, a competitor has to earn top marks on both days, meaning these athletes can’t specialize like those in other racing sports.

“That’s what attracts people to it. It’s a great workout, but you don’t know you’re getting a workout while you’re doing it.”

What’s Up With SUP?

While stand up paddleboarding is growing as a competitive sport, it’s also booming on the recreational level. In 2012, 1.5 million people tried it, up from 1.1 million participants in 2010, according to The Outdoor Foundation’s 2013 Special Report on Paddlesports.

A big draw of SUP is that it’s super accessible. With a range of boards for people of all shapes and sizes, it’s a sport anyone can do. Plus, it gives people a taste of water sport adventure, even if they don’t live in Southern California.

“For those who have never had the opportunity to go to the ocean or live the dream of the surfer lifestyle, they can go to a lake and paddle around and still feel like a surfer,” says Trout.

People are sometimes surprised after their first SUP outing to realize it’s a killer workout, strengthening the ligaments and muscles in your toes all the way to your neck and fingertips, says Trout. The entire body is firing while you try to stay balanced on the board; meanwhile, you’re trying to move the board forward and paddle.

“I think that’s what attracts people to it,” he says. “It’s a great workout, but you don’t know you’re getting a workout while you’re doing it.”

The SUP Endurance and Speed Workout

Slater Trout Stand Up Paddleboarding SUP
Photo: Sperry Top-Sider

SUP pros have to train to compete in a distance race one day, get a good night’s sleep, then compete in a sprint race the next day. That means it’s important to have a strong body and good endurance base, says Trout. Adding these exercises into your weekly routine will get you SUP-ready — whether you’re competing in a race between Hawaiian islands or heading out for a leisurely afternoon on the lake.

1. Plank
In SUP, “everything is generated from the core,” says Trout. The plank is the least complicated way to build core strength, and can be used as a warm-up before heading out on the water.
How to: Get into push-up position on the floor, with your elbows bent 90 degrees so your forearms are resting on the ground. Make sure your shoulders are directly over your elbows, and that your body is in a straight line from head to foot (a). Hold this position, core tight, without allowing your hips to drop below shoulder height (b).
Hold for 1 minute; Rest for 20 seconds; Repeat for 3 sets

2. Indoor Rowing
Rowing is a very similar full-body workout to SUP in that you start from the legs, extend through them, then hit the core and arms, says Trout.
How to: Using an indoor rowing machine, start seated with your knees bent, arms extended in front of you holding the handles with an overhand grip (a). Pushing through your feet, straighten your legs until they are at full extension (b). Bend your elbows and pull the handle in towards your sternum as you lean your upper body slightly back (c). Reverse the position the same way, first leaning your back upright again while extending your arms past your knees, then bending your knees to pull your bottom up to your feet (d). Repeat.
Warm up for 500 meters at 60%-70% effort; Rest 2 minutes; Sprint as hard as possible for 1,000 meters

3. Hill Running
It’s easy to forget paddling is a cardio workout — until you get out there and try it. “Sometimes in my races I get caught in the wind and I’m paddling upwind for hours at a time,” says Trout. “Running uphill is the equivalent of going up against similar conditions.”
How to: Crank up the incline — between 5 and 8 percent — on a treadmill and run at a moderate pace, mimicking jogging straight uphill.
Run for 20-30 minutes

To learn more about the sport of SUP, visit and follow Slater on Twitter to hear about his upcoming competitions.

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