Stand up paddleboarding: A work out, and a way to connect to the water

Hello from North Haven!

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I love to paddleboard on Maine’s lakes and even in the ocean. I’ve even converted a few dubious friends with my zeal. Stand up paddleboarding (commonly abbreviated as SUP, pronounced ‘sup?) is a good core and upper body workout, but even better, it’s a way to practically walk on water.

I first encountered SUP in Turks and Caicos, on a trip with my sisters and our parents and our husbands and Penrose, who was 15 months old at the time. The resort had paddleboards to borrow, and we all took turns wobbling around on the wide, slightly squishy surface of the communal board. While my sisters found it terrifying, and one of my brothers-in-law, a competitive cyclist and runner, found his great height to be a disadvantage as he plunged into the Caribbean Sea over and over again, my husband and I took to it immediately. Neither of us tops 5′ 6″ (full disclosure, I’m 4′ 10″), and our low centers of gravity were an advantage for a change.

When we had to return the board, I started loudly proclaiming to Hanukkah Harry, if he should be listening, that I’d really really like a board of my own. While Harry didn’t pick up the hint, my husband and in-laws did, and gifted me an inflatable stand up paddleboard (or, I just learned, an iSUP, of course) for my next birthday.

Me and my Vilano, love at first sight.

It’s a 9′ Vilano, long enough that I can lie down on it and have room to spare, and not too wide. It comes in a nylon and mesh backpack, all deflated and rolled up, with a fin, paddle and pump neatly packed away. Inflating it takes only a few minutes with the hand pump (be warned, it’s a proprietary nozzle and no amount of finagling will get any other pump to inflate the board), the fin slips into the slot and locks easily, and the paddle comes apart in three pieces and easily snaps back together.

An inflatable paddle board has turned out to be a great choice for someone who’s my height. I hate wrassling with roof racks, and can’t quite fit the inflated board in my Rav 4. Carrying a paddle board, paddle and life jacket can be unwieldy, especially through a path in the woods. Slipping into the backpack and inflating the board at the water’s edge is a great alternative, as is being able to toss the backpack in the trunk and be a fully independent outdoor sportsperson.

A well-fitted life jacket is a must. Other gear that’s nice to have, though not essential, are some water shoes. On the rocky coast of Maine, as we say, getting to and from the water is the worst part of recreating. Water shoes (I prefer Cudas – buy a much smaller size than you think – but Chacos and Tevas are well loved by some) eliminates that unpleasantness. You can wear anything that you won’t mind getting a little wet. I like a swim skirt and rash guard over a bathing suit, but I’m taking full coverage maybe a little too seriously these days.

Although standing up on the paddle board is the described intent, sitting, kneeling and even lying down on it are all great ways to experience paddleboarding, especially for a first foray. Once you feel ready to stand up, it’s best to be towards the center of the board and choose a slightly wide stance. A little tippiness is natural, and keeping “soft” knees is the key to going with it. The paddling technique is much like a canoe: you paddle on the opposite side to which you would like to veer. To go straight, paddle equally on each side. A draw, in which the paddle is pulled straight in, aimed towards the back of the board on the side you’d like to turn to, is a nice way to turn quickly.

Since getting my Vilano a year and a half ago, I’ve taken it on Aziscohos Lake and Parker Pond, as well as various salt water bodies on North Haven. My favorite island paddles are down the Mill Stream, beginning either at the Dam Road or at Second Bridge depending on the tide; Pulpit Harbor; Boy Scout Beach in Mullens Head Park; and the Cubby Hole, which is beautiful but can get surprisingly windy.

Penrose’s first paddle, Lake Aziscohos, August 2016

I love the exercise component of SUP, but the thing that brings me back to it each time is the feeling of gliding over the water. While a kayak and canoe provide some of the same sensation, the lack of walls on a paddle board means that the paddler has an unfettered view into the water. Flying over the crystal clear water and vertical stands of rockweed at Boy Scout Beach at high tide, or peering down at pumpkinseed sunnies in a grassy cove on Parker Pond provides almost the same connection to the water ecosystem as snorkeling. And when my daughter (and sometimes my dog!) perch on the board with me, it couldn’t be any more perfect.

Claude couldn’t resist joining us at Boy Scout Beach!

Do you SUP? What’s your favorite board? Where do you paddle?



Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!