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SUP August 2021

For years, I’d longed to be on the water in some sort of craft but there was no way to haul, hang, tow, or stow anything with our current truck and trailer configuration. However, our concept of space changed in June when we spotted and then chatted with 3 buff Bend, Oregon women inflating their stand-up paddle boards (SUPs). We’d never heard of inflatable SUPs and even though they would be competing for precious space, space that we didn’t really have to spare, I was highly motivated to find a way to add them to our kit.

There has been an explosion in inexpensive personal water craft and in inflatable watercraft in recent years, especially in SUPs and kayaks. It only took minutes to recognize that SUPs were the only craft compatible with our injured lumbar disc problems.

Standing is the best position for the discs, if you stand well, and sitting is the worst position. Kayaking, canoeing, and boats all confine one to a fixed sitting position with little choice about leg position. Watching us struggle to maintain proper upright posture with lumbar curve at a desk or in our truck seats convinced us that we would be even worse off sitting in a watercraft.
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We didn’t bother with the carrying cases for our boards.

The standing position of SUPs also appeared to be a more complete workout for the core muscles than the other craft and the boards offer 7 different positions: standing, kneeling upright, kneeling on flat feet, kneeling on toe bottoms, an asymmetric “W” position with both feet toward the left or both to the right, or sitting on your bum with your legs forward or dangling in the water. Mixing-up postures is a very helpful thing to do for the discs no matter what you are doing.

At least with some brands, like our BodyGlove, buying an SUP creates the option to temporarily convert it to a “sit on top kayak.” There are several D rings on the top of the board that will receive straps for a folding kayak seat. Then, you either buy a converter kit to add a 2nd blade to your SUP paddle or buy a 2-bladed kayak paddle. You can also buy SUPs that include the kayak seat and 2 bladed paddle. Two-person SUPs are also available, as are accessories for taking your dog on your board.

We spent a little over $1000 to outfit us both for SUP, including what some consider a frivolous luxury item, a $160 fully-electric pump. We however assumed it was a necessity for us and it proved to be. Many paddlers report spending 30 minutes inflating their board with a hand pump, which is totally a non-starter with my still-injured lumbar discs. I limit bending over to a few times a day and continuous reps of bending for 30 minutes would prevent me from mounting my board at all.

We outfitted ourselves with highly rated, wildly popular BodyGlove boards from Costco at $400 each, quality life vests, paddlers gloves, the electric pump, and nice ‘keepers’ for our glasses. The payback number of outings compared with renting the entire kit is 7-8 times and we used them 5 times in the first week.

We watched a number of YouTube videos to learn the basic technic, studied paddlers on the Deschutes River in Bend on our walks, and took a 3 hour introductory class on the Columbia River in Portland. Being motivated students, our original plan of not taking a class would have been fine, but being spoon-fed has its advantages. We ended the class being eager and confident.

We had no trouble at all being on the boards and no specific soreness, even after almost 2 hours of continuous paddling on our first outings on our own. In debriefing, we identified a number of lifestyle habits that we believe set us up for minimal discomfort and maximal success. Those choices were:
..barefooting so our feet were already strong and flexible, which prevented the toe muscle cramps common in beginning paddlers
..striving to minimizing sitting and maximize standing, giving us standing endurance
..a year-round emphasis on fitness
..biking and hiking, which challenge our balance
..using extra-long hiking poles, which strengthen our shoulders
..using all of the kneeling and sitting positions possible on SUPs in our daily living
..frequently shifting from standing to sitting on the floor
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We resurrected our homemade balance board to tune-up our balance before our SUP class.

Oh, and then there was the little balance board we assembled years ago. We only use it a few times a year when we are at home, but we did a few minutes on it before our SUP class and included the arm strokes as if we had a paddle.

If you are tempted to give SUP a try, consider spiffing any of these elements that might be your short suits. Particularly important is the ability to smoothing go from standing to kneeling and back to standing. It’s called “stand-up” but you can’t be successful without being able to transition through kneeling. One must kneel when mounting the board and then rise to standing. Docking or landing is easiest from the kneeling position.

Q: What is the difference between SUP and ISUP?
A: Somewhere between the time that we bought our SUPs in June and actually mounted them in July, they became labeled as ISUP. The ‘I’ is for inflatable. We haven’t heard anyone actually utter ISUP. Others usually just ask “Is yours inflatable?” Perhaps it will only catch-on as a written term, not a spoken one.

Q: I can’t swim, is that OK?
A: Yup. Our instructor said that she often had non-swimmer students.

Q: I’m afraid of the water, is that OK?
A: No, SUP is all about gliding on the water.

Q: Should I wear a wetsuit incase I fall in?
A: The guidance is that if the water temperature in °F plus the air temperature is over 120° F, no wet suit is needed. At Paulina Lake, the water temperature was 69°F and the air temperature was 82° for a total of 151°. Bill felt fine when he took his dunking that day but noticed when he returned to standing on his board, that the wind was chilling.

On a day when the Deschutes River was 56°F and the air temperature was 75° for a total of 126°, we noticed that a swimmer was wearing a wet suit, as were several guys practicing surfing on their white water course, though no one else was wearing one.

Q: Can I wear shoes?
A: Yes, but most people have a better grip on the board with bare feet, partly because they provide more surface area contact that do shoes. Just remember to apply waterproof sunscreen to the tops of your feet.

Q: Do I need to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), a life jacket?
A: Wearing a PFD is highly recommended and we do but most people do not.

Q: Are the inflatable boards fragile?
A: We have been told that they are not fragile. Increasingly, inflatables are being recommended over hard boards because they tend to be more stable and lighter weight.