A new perspective on fitness
Michael Foston, ASc, BCRPA PT
Summer is the perfect time to venture outside of your comfort zone and experience a new activity. Paddleboarding is fun and easy to learn, and it will give you the opportunity to explore new areas from a different vantage point.
It’s a perfect sparkling summer day—an ideal day to take advantage of what our wild surroundings have to offer. In this case, clear water and perfect conditions for an adventure on a paddleboard. It’s no wonder stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has gained enormous popularity in recent years, especially in North America. It gives you the opportunity to explore various coastlines, lakes, and rivers while providing a great full-body workout. The coast of BC offers a unique experience because of its stunning scenery and biodiversity. You’re almost always guaranteed to encounter a curious marine mammal or spot other forms of wildlife during your workout. Modern paddleboarding has origins dating back to the 1940s, when surf instructors and lifeguards in Waikiki began standing on their boards to get a better view of surfers in the water and to monitor incoming swells. James Stewart, founder of Wetcoast Surf Company, designs and builds paddleboards locally and has logged countless hours testing new designs and exploring new expanses of water all across Canada. “What was once a curiosity among travellers to beach destinations has started to find its way onto the back lakes and waterways of Canada,” he says.
Stewart has witnessed first-hand the evolution of paddleboarding and believes that “SUPs have enabled us to explore further but without some of the common pitfalls of other water-going vessels. Unlike a kayak or canoe, a SUP cannot be capsized and sunk. This means that some of the risks associated with solitary exploration have been mitigated.”
There are many great areas around Vancouver for paddleboarding, such as Jericho Beach, Deep Cove, and Kitsilano Beach. However, Stewart’s top pick is English Bay. When he wants to really disconnect from city life, the rugged shores around the small fishing town of Port Renfrew are his favourite to explore. “Exploring the BC coastline with its endless inlets, islands, and bays is a real treat for the adventurous soul,” he says.
In our everyday lives we’re constantly bombarded with things to do—deadlines at work, busy home lives, and traffic during our daily commutes. Time in nature allows us to disconnect from our day-to-day stresses. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, wrote in his recently published book, <Blue Mind> (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) that “our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us.”
Many people think paddleboarding is all about arm strength. In reality, muscles through your hips, core, and upper body are all required to create a sustainable stroke and transfer power to the blade of the paddle. “A proper technique should work your back and shoulders more than your arms,” says Stewart.
Core strength is needed to stabilize your spine and pelvis and prevent unwanted body rotation, which can decrease paddling efficiency. Exercising on an unbalanced surface will build core strength and thus improve your balance and coordination.
Muscles in your legs will also feel the burn after a session on the water. Even small accessory muscles and ligaments around your ankles and knees will receive a good workout while working to keep you upright on the unstable board.
Recreational paddling in calm water with light winds will burn up to 430 calories in an hour, which sounds like a lot more fun than monotonously training on a piece of cardio equipment inside a gym. Boost this number by increasing the intensity or duration, or exposing yourself to more challenging conditions.
If you’re really looking for a challenge, try paddling against the tide or with a headwind, or just bring your dog along for a ride. It will definitely require more balance to keep you both dry. Just ask Stewart: rarely will you see him paddling without the company of his pup, Charlie.
Paddleboarding is easy on your joints and relatively low impact. Therefore, it’s perfect for recovery after a strenuous exercise session or sporting event. A moderately intense session activates key muscle groups but will not overwork them or overload your cardiovascular system.
Here are a few key gym exercises guaranteed to improve your paddling before you get to the water.
Build muscles through your back, shoulders, and arms to improve paddling power.
Complete the exercise on a BOSU ball. This will replicate unstable conditions on the water and elicit greater core involvement.
This exercise is sure to develop the necessary core strength to improve your confidence on the water.
Paddleboarding requires long durations in a power stance on an unstable surface. Develop strength in your legs to prevent fatigue during those longer sessions.
Hold a medicine ball straight out in front of you at shoulder height while completing each set. This will improve shoulder stamina.
Paddleboarding is easy to learn—just make sure to practise in calm water during your first few sessions.
If you want to challenge your balance and strength, complete some of your favourite body-weight exercises on a paddleboard. The dynamic environment will definitely offer an increased level of difficulty.
Tip: If this is too difficult, hold the top phase of the push-up for 20 to 30 seconds, making sure to engage your abdominals, glutes, and quadriceps the entire time.
The sport truly offers a lot of variety, and your imagination dictates the places you can enjoy on a paddleboard. Different bodies of water offer unique challenges and ever-changing environmental conditions such as wind, tides, and wave height, adding a degree of difficulty to each session. Always check local conditions before heading out on the water to ensure they are suited to your level of experience.
Along with a lifejacket, Stewart says that “another important piece of safety equipment is a leash, one that is, ideally, longer than the board you are paddling to avoid any recoil of the board should you fall off.” A leash will also prevent you from being separated from your board. “Staying with your board is rule number one,” he says.
Here are a few additional tips from Stewart to make your time on the water safer and more enjoyable.
Yoga on a paddleboard offers an element of freedom compared with conventional practice and is a fun way to challenge your balance and focus. Check online for classes in your area.