There’s a new craze sweeping the world’s oceans: stand up paddleboarding, an activity which is fast becoming one of the most popular sports across the globe. From New Zealand’s Bay of Islands to the lakes and river of Whistler, in Canada, millions of people are jumping on their boards on the weekends to get fit, explore and have fun.
The sport – referred to by those in the know as SUP – is believed to have originated in Hawaii and remained there until the early 2000s when United States surfer Laird Hamilton ordered his first SUP blade and jumped on board. The rest, as they say, is history.
Laird, looking for ways to keep fit and train when the ocean was too calm to surf, discovered stand up paddling was a great substitute. And now it is impossible to put a figure on how many people have taken up the sport. Suffice it to say, it is now the fastest growing watersport in the world with gear sales up about 200 percent in the past year.
Part of the sport’s popularity comes from the fact that, unlike surfing, sailing and other water-based activities, you can do it nearly anywhere: rivers, lakes, and oceans all making suitable grounds for SUP-ing.
Here is a list of five of my favorite spots from across the world:
Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico
Located just north of Mexico’s popular resort of Puerto Vallarta and just past Punta Mita, Sayulita is a quiet destination which is a huge hit with ‘paddlers.’ The area annually hosts the Punta Sayulita Longboard & Stand Up Paddle Classic, and is this year the chosen venue for 2015 ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship. The event, being held May 10 – 17, will mark the first ever ISA World Championship to take place in Mexico. A spokesman for the ISA said, “Mexico offers a rich coastline with many incredible destinations for Stand Up Paddle Racing and Surfing, and Sayulita is a perfect location to host the ISA WSUPPC. Sayulita is considered the epicenter of Mexico’s SUP community.” For more information go to www.isasurf.org
The French Riviera, South of France
The Cote d’Azur is a huge center for sailing, with Antibes boasting the largest marina in Europe, but surfing has never taken off there due to the distinct lack of worthy waves. It is not surprising therefore that stand up paddling has taken off in a big way by the would-be surfing crowds that congregate in the South of France each year. There are endless destinations along the coast that paddlers can head to, such as the beautiful Ile de Lerins off Cannes, or merely along the azure blue coast with the Southern Alps in the background. There are many SUP-ing outfits for kit and boards along the coast from Saint Tropez to Menton, including Paddling in Antibes. www.paddlinginantibescenter.com
Namotu Island, Fiji
The Fijian island of Namotu has been hugely popular with surfers for years, and is now becoming just as favored amongst SUP followers. In fact, one legendary surfer Dave Kalama said recently that “if you have a bucket list and Namotu Island isn’t at the top of it, then put it there.” The waves surrounding the island, which is located just off the coast of Viti Levu in the Mamanuca Island Group, are ideal for stand up paddle surfing. The color of the water is also hugely appealing to SUP-ers, not to mention the stunning scenery!
Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, California
One of the top spots for SUP-ers in North America is Steamer Lane, in Santa Cruz, California. The coastline has a great range of breaks for stand up paddle boarders of all standards and in testament to its importance in the Californian SUP scene, it has been chosen as the location for the 7th annual Surftech Shootout in April. Presented by SUP the Mag and in conjunction with the Santa Cruz Paddle Festival, the shootout is a three-part event featuring some of the biggest names in SUP surfing. In addition to the coast, the region also offers paddlers the chance to travel through Elkhorn Slough, one of two remaining salt marshes in California where if you are lucky you will be able to catch a glimpse of a plethora of wildlife such as otters, harbor seals, and birds from your board.
Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
If you fancy going back to the roots of paddling, then a fabulous spot to head to is Sunset Beach, on the north coast of Oahu in Hawaii which this year hosts the 2015 Sunset Beach Pro, the first event of the men’s Standup World Tour. Oahu is hugely popular among pro paddlers, but it also has lots of idyll bays which make great SUP spots for beginners too. For example, explore the lagoon at Turtle Bay with the backdrop of the mountains and you will feel like you have discovered heaven on earth.