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The Beginners’ Guide to Stand-Up Paddleboarding

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It looks chic as hell when Olivia Wilde does it, but when it comes to stand-up paddleboarding yourself, you might not be so quick to hop on board. It seems like something only stick-thin people with an impeccable sense of balance can handle.

Not true! Stand-up paddleboarding is one of the most accessible summer workouts (all you need is a board and water!), and can burn up to 500 calories an hour while helping you sculpt all over. According to the latest data from the Outdoor Foundation, there were 1.5 million stand-up paddlers in the U.S. in 2012—and, judging from Instagram, the sport is only expanding. 

“SUP is an excellent form of fitness because it targets every muscle group,” says Gillian Gibree, a top ranked SUPer, Roxy athlete, and founder of Paddle Into Fitness. You use your legs for balancing, arms for paddling, and fire up your core and obliques to stay stable, she explains. Plus, when you're on an unstable surface (like the ocean), you really feel it in your quads and glutes. So after summers on the shore, now is your time—dive in with these tips to SUP success!

Train Your Body on Land
SUPing is a total body workout, but strengthening your core and back muscles before getting in the water will help you to be more secure on the board, since a strong core makes balancing easier. Poses that are great for strengthening the body include plank pose for the abs, side plank to target the obliques, and dolphin pose to target the shoulders, arms, upper back, says Gibree. Gibree compliments her own SUPing with trail running and yoga. (Tired of regular planks? We've got 31 Core Exercises for A Killer Beach Body.) 

Suit Up in Style

Itty-bitty bikinis may look great in your Instagram shots, but beginners should go for more coverage on the board, so they can move more freely and not worry about anything slipping off if they fall in! It’s also a good idea to look for clothing with sun protection in the fabric for extra skin shielding. Versatile activewear makes it easier to go from the water to a beach run to a seaside margarita fast. Mott 50Graced by Grit, and Beach House Sport are three new brands leading the charge in cute, functional watersport apparel (see our favorite picks above). (Find The Best Bikini Bottoms for Your Body Type.)

Find the Right Board
Not all boards are created equal, so whether you’re purchasing your own or just renting one, look for something that fits your body and experience level. “An all-around shape, made for flat water and small surf, between 9’–10’ with volume of 140–150 liters is a great starter board for most female riders,” says Marc Miller, co-founder of ISLE Surf & SUP. If you’ll mostly be in the surf and want more of a challenge, a smaller, narrower board will be less stable (so you’ll work harder), but navigates rough waters more easily. You can also choose between soft boards, which have a hard plastic bottom with a foam core, inflatable boards, and hard epoxy boards. If you’re buying your own board for the first time, inflatable boards, like the best-selling 10' Isle All Around Blue Inflatable, are budget-friendly and pack down to the size of a sleeping bag, says Miller. He recommends that weekend warriors stick to a lightweight plastic or aluminum adjustable paddle.

Practice Perfect Technique
About that paddle… The biggest mistake beginners make is holding their paddle backwards, says Gibree. Master it: Place one hand on the t-top, and the other hand almost halfway down. Make sure your hands aren't too close together and the blade angle is forward. Getting a proper stance on the board is also key to staying upright. Stand in the center of the board, feet parallel and hip-width distance apart. “Remember that when you are paddling, your arms should be an extension of the paddle—meaning that your core should be doing the work to propel you forward, not your biceps,” says Gibree. (Work on your arms on land with these 5 Moves for Toned Triceps.)

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