What Is It Called When You Stand On A Surfboard & Paddle?


This is a common point of confusion for people that have never heard of stand up paddle boarding (SUP) before. The average person is familiar with surfing, but not stand up paddle boarding.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is the correct name of the water sport that casual observers frequently refer to as the sport where you stand on a surfboard and paddle. SUP and surfing are very similar to one another, however, there are a few variations that differentiate between the two water sports.

The roots of stand up paddle boarding originate from surfing, hence the confusion. However, SUP has an assortment of subtle differences that are enough to mark it as a separate sport from surfing. The exact details of stand up paddle boarding and the specific factors that differentiate it from surfing are discussed below.

Why This Activity is Called Stand Up Paddle Boarding

This activity of riding the waves with a paddle is coined stand up paddle boarding for a couple of reasons that may not be so obvious at first glance. For this reason, I felt it was necessary to break down the specific reasons why stand up paddle boarding is named the way it is.

Rarely Ever Sitting Down or Going Prone While Paddling

As opposed to other water sports, stand up paddle boarders almost never have to sit down or go prone while moving through the water.

In the sport of kayaking, people are confined to the sitting position throughout the majority of their paddling. They rarely, if ever, stand up during their water expedition.

Surfers must lie prone on their belly when they feel the pull of a wave. They have to paddle with their hands while lying in this prone position. It is only when the wave pulls them completely in that they finally make the transition to a standing position.

SUP is vastly different from these sports I just described. Stand up paddle boarders almost never have to sit down or lie prone when out on the water when moving. They predominantly stand in an upright position to get the most power out of their strokes.

Accessory Equipment to Maneuver the Waters

Another noteworthy feature of SUP is the presence of the paddle. The paddle is an additional piece of equipment that stand up paddle boarders use to move wherever it is they want to go.

This way, stand up paddle boarders avoid getting stuck on no man’s land when they are out on the water. The paddle board is a bit on the bigger side. As a result, the paddle board is a tad more sluggish in the water. The paddle helps to counteract this effect, providing individuals with an effective means of moving about.

Riding On Top of a Board

The paddle board is an integral part of the paddle boarding experience.

Contrary to popular opinion, the stand up paddle board does not fall under the general umbrella of surfboards. SUP boards fit their own type of classification in the water sport industry. There are a couple of noticeable distinctions that separate SUP boards from other boards. These distinctions are investigated in depth later on in the article.

General Overview of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Now that you have been introduced to the sport of stand up paddle boarding, the first question you probably asked yourself is “What is it about?”

Formal Definition of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Stand up paddle boarding is a water sport where individuals stand atop a broad paddle board and carry a paddle to maneuver themselves around in the water.

Description of the Stand Up Paddle Boarding Gear

There are two essential pieces of equipment in stand up paddle boarding: the paddle board and the paddle.

Paddle Board – Relative to other types of boards in water sports, the paddle board used for SUP is characteristically large. Although there is an extensive selection of different sized paddle boards, the average SUP board is typically 10-11 feet long and 32-34 inches wide.

The excess material of the SUP board may detract from mobility, but it allows most paddle boarders to balance themselves atop the board with ease. It is recommended that novices start out on a more sizable board to get a feel for the stand up paddle boarding movements prior to progressing on to smaller, more tactical boards.

Paddle – The SUP paddle is meant to provide paddle boarders with a means of effectively moving about the water from a standing position. The paddle is long and single bladed. Its structure is designed to grant individuals the most efficient water stroke possible, whether it be on calm water or choppy waves.

Generally, SUP paddle length is determined based on the height of the user. The proper formula used to calculate the appropriate length of a SUP paddle for an individual goes as follows:

(Height of Individual) + (9 to 10 inches) = Appropriate SUP Paddle Length

For instance, a 5 foot 8 inch individual should be equipped with a paddle that is approximately 6 foot five or six inches (77 to 78 inches).

Origins of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

This sport initially branched off as an outgrowth of surfing in Hawaii. It was brought to the forefront of the water sport community in the early 2000’s.

The event that propelled stand up paddle boarding to stardom is when Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama used paddles to maneuver around on their longboards.

At the time, these two individuals were distinguished members in the realm of Hawaiian water sports. From there, the sport picked up steam until it crossed the threshold into the mainstream water sport industry.

Growing Popularity of Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Since the early 2000’s, the sport has taken off in popularity. In fact, retailers of kayaks ascribed anywhere from 15-20% of their sales to SUP.

The most astounding fact, however, came in 2013. According to studies, stand up paddle boarding had the highest amount of first time participants out of any other sport in the United States in 2013 (source). If this is not an indication that SUP is on the rise, I do not know what is.

Why is stand up paddle boarding becoming so popular? Virtually anyone can do it! Read the section below to discover why.

Reasons Why Practically Anyone Can Stand Up Paddle Board

The primary advantage of stand up paddle boarding is the unparalleled ease of the activity. First time participants are able to pick SUP up in an astoundingly fast manner.

There is a quick learning curve to SUP. The main reason behind this quick learning curve is the supportive design of the paddle board itself. I harped on this earlier, but the paddle board is constructed with stability as the central priority. The additional width, length, and thickness of the paddle board makes for a much smoother ride relative to a sport like surfing for example.

For this reason, practically anyone is able to learn how to stand up paddle board in their very first session. Regardless of whether you are young or old, SUP is able to cater to virtually anyone who has the willingness to try something new.

This low barrier to entry is also a dominating factor in why SUP is spreading across the United States like wildfire. People are intrigued by the prospect of being out on the open water in a relaxed, leisurely fashion without having to put in any real strenuous effort.

Furthermore, the versatility of stand up paddle boarding is unmatched.

Unlike kayaking or canoeing, the SUP board is extremely portable. It only takes one person to physically carry an SUP board. In fact, most SUP boards can be hoisted with one hand.

This is extremely favorable for those times when you just want to get out on the water. In sports like kayaking and canoeing, the physical exertion of carrying heavy equipment out to the surf is mandatory.

The ease of transportation also makes it convenient for paddle boarders to access their favorite open water locations. But where exactly can stand up paddle boarding be performed? We will discuss this next.

Where Stand Up Paddle Boarding Can Be Performed

The sport of SUP is adaptable to a vast array of aquatic conditions. Stand up paddle boarders can take to the ocean, lakes, and rivers if they so desire. Certain shops even have begun to implement SUP training sessions in swimming pools.

The all around flexibility of SUP allows paddle boarders the chance to make their ride as challenging as they want it to be. They can take a nice, slow tour on tranquil waters or surf atop brisk, whitewater rapids. Whatever your inclination, stand up paddle boarding can accommodate to your particular needs.

Reasons Why Stand Up Paddle Boarding Is Commonly Confused with Surfing

The underlying confusion with SUP and surfing is definitely rational. Even I fell victim to this mistaken belief when stand up paddle boarding was first coming on to the scene.

There are a prominent reasons why most people wrongly believe that stand up paddle boarding and surfing are the same thing. The most prominent of which are explained in the subsequent paragraphs.

Offshoot of Surfing

One explanation as to why SUP and surfing are grouped together as identical sports is that SUP branched out from surfing.

Surfing was established long before stand up paddle boarding took the water sport community by storm. When those two renowned Hawaiian watermen brought stand up paddle boarding into the spotlight, people automatically linked SUP with surfing. Since then, this misperceived notion has stuck.

For those that do not keep themselves up to date with water sports, it seems logical to assume that SUP is a mere subdivision of surfing.

Although this line of reasoning does sound rational, it is a false belief that SUP and surfing are the same thing. There are subtle intricacies to each sport that distinguish themselves from one another.

Ability to Ride Waves

Another related aspect between the two water sports is that their participants are able to ride waves.

Surfing is exclusively centered around the prospect of riding waves. Riding waves is one of the more popular attractions in the realm of SUP. However, it is just one of the many activities that SUP has to offer.

General Use of Boards on the Water

Not only do stand up paddle boarders and surfers ride waves on the water, they also seem to use similar boards to do so.

At first glance, the boards used by SUP and surfing seem strikingly similar, especially from afar. The prospect of riding waves combined with the related general appearance of the boards compels casual spectators to believe that these activities are one and the same.

If you examine the boards more closely, however, you will find that there are definitely some constitutional differences between the two boards.

How to Easily Tell Stand Up Paddle Boarding from Surfing

There are a few telltale signs that differentiate stand up paddle boarding from surfing. So if you are curious next time as to how to spot a surfer versus a stand up paddle boarder, try out some of the following observation tips!

The Presence or Absence of a Paddle

This is the number one distinguishing factor between stand up paddle boarders and surfers.

The signature mark of a stand up paddle boarder is the presence of a paddle. Individuals that engage in SUP need a paddle to properly move throughout the water from the standing position, regardless of the water conditions.

Surfers, on the other hand, do not require the use of a paddle. Instead, they opt to maneuver through the waters two ways. In between waves, surfers paddle with their hands from a prone position to put themselves in prime position for the next wave. Their other primary method of moving around is by standing on top of their surfboard and riding a wave toward shore.

Standing Position Instead of Lying Prone

The second observational element to look for is whether the individual is in the standing position or the prone position just before riding a wave.

As previously discussed, stand up paddle boarders do not have a real reason to lie or sit down other than to relax. Since they are able to paddle from an upright stance, they have no need to lie prone to paddle around with their hands. For this reason, stand up paddle boarders do not have to make the transition from the prone state to the upright state when riding a wave.

Surfers do not have the luxury of a paddle to move about. Thus, surfers have to lie belly down on the board in order to propel themselves through the water with their hands. Just before a wave pulls them in, surfers change over from lying down to standing up so they can ride the wave.

Paddle Board versus Surfboard

The third indicator of a stand up paddle boarder as opposed to a surfer is the characteristics of the board.

Many people mistakenly believe that stand up paddle boarding is performed on a surf board. SUP is done on a paddle board that is much wider and thicker than your average surfboard. The additional width and weight of the paddle board allows its user to conveniently balance themselves, even while in the standing position.

Surfboards are narrower in width and shorter in length to maximize change of direction while riding a wave. This is why surfers have the uncanny ability to slice through waves over the course of their ride.

This difference is really only useful if you have a close up view of the board itself. It is much more challenging to detect from afar, so I would really try and look to the other observational differences on this list before resorting to this tip.

Looks Like They Are Not Riding Any Waves

If it looks like they are not riding any waves, they probably aren’t.

Surfing is exclusively geared toward cruising on top of waves toward the shore. Other than that, there are not many other activities that have to do with surfing.

There are an assortment of attractive things you can do in stand up paddle boarding that you simply cannot do in surfing.

For example, stand up paddle boarders can perform yoga on their paddle board while out on the water. The roomy surface of the paddle board combined with its exceptional board stability makes it a solid platform to perform yoga on.

Surfboards have far less surface area compared to paddle boards. Moreover, they are much less stable in the water. For these reasons, it is not a customary practice for surfers to perform yoga on their boards.

Another common activity in SUP is taking an easygoing tour on the water. Stand up paddle boarders can go on a nice, slow-paced ride due to how convenient it is to balance on the board.

Surfers are not able to do this on calm waters because they have no paddle to get around nor do they have a large enough board to hold their weight. Surfers need the power of a wave behind them in order for a board to sustain their weight and propel them through the water.

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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