Why I SUP
My love for the water began with swimming and lifeguarding lessons.
Then I got into canoe camping and would disappear into different provincial parks on long paddling trips.
When water conditions were choppy, I’d pop on a skirt and hop into a kayak.
Racing with 20+ people in a dragonboat? Count me in!
As someone who is happiest around water and enjoys all kinds of paddling sports, it was while I was surfing in Hawaii when I first discovered SUP, the water sport I now can’t live without. While I was exhausted and lying down on my surfboard, I watched a stand-up paddleboarder catch waves effortlessly, paddling back out to the line-up and—checking in on other fellow surfers scattered around—standing up the entire evening!
When I returned home to Toronto, I was thrilled to find SUPGirlz, one of the first stand-up paddleboarding companies in the city! After taking my first lesson six years ago, SUP is now not only my passion that I feed all year long, but it’s (in my opinion :-) the best way to connect to nature, unwind and relax, explore new waterways… the list of all the things I love about SUP is endless!
So, to give you a highlight of that epically long list, here are some of my recommended ways to experience stand-up paddleboarding that will make you fall in love with this sport (if you haven’t already):
1. Sunrise / Sunset SUP
No two sunrises or sunsets are the same. Being on a SUP allows you to be so close to the water, you can feel the sun energizing you as it rises! Even if you’re not a morning person, you have to experience at least one sunrise SUP session, then you’ll know what I mean.
Sunsets are equally as breathtaking, and paddling out from Cherry Beach to watch the sun set behind the city is my favourite way to unwind from a busy work day.
2. Night SUP
The cloak of night changes the way you experience the water. Where you paddle during the day will be totally different at night. Special lights under the board (or sometimes built into a paddle), or the natural light from a full moon (or even a super moon), help to illuminate the way.
Seeing the Canada Day fireworks at Ashbridges Bay with the SUPGirlz is one my most memorable night paddle sessions.
3. Yoga SUP
Combine the tranquil effects of the water with the zen of practicing yoga.
4. Whitewater/River SUP
For those of you who like whitewater rafting (me, me, me!), you can put your SUP skills (particularly your balance of course) to the test! When I first tried river SUP, it was a great reminder that falling is not a bad thing—it means you’re learning something new and building on your skills. Look for courses to get that whitewater SUP adrenaline fix!
5. Touring/Expedition SUP
With a long distance SUP trip, it can be about the destination and the journey! Like running, you can start with 5 km, then 10 km, then, steadily increase those kilometres! The longest distance I’ve paddled so far was 35 km at one of the earlier SUP4MS events, and I hope to increase that distance one day. If you’re just starting out, a paddle from Ashbridges Bay over to Scarborough Bluffs is doable on a nice day (approximately 14 km).
6. SUP Racing
After dragonboat racing for several years, I’m not as interested in competitive paddling anymore, but I did try a couple of SUP races and would suggest that everyone try at least one! My first race was at the Eastern Canada SUP Championship (a flat and easy course), though my recommendations for newbies getting into SUP racing would be to check out the Ontario SUP Series (super friendly SUP race series). The Grand River Challenge is a fun one to try (yay for mini-rapids)!
7. Downwind SUP
When there’s wind swell, then there’s another fun way to expand your SUP skills! Some of my friends are really into this, and it’s great learning from them—how they watch the weather, plan the route and board pick-up logistics (since there’s no paddling back to the starting point in high winds), and how they handle those bumps on the water!
And if you’re looking for more waves then there’s…
8. SUP Surfing
This is another area I’m working on, but the thrill of catching a wave is amazing! While waiting for the right weather conditions for SUP surfing in Toronto, it’s good to build on your SUP skills so when those waves come, you’ll be ready!
9. Camping via SUP
Island hopping, campfires, and sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors next to the lake… this is an absolute must for those who love camping! Packing ultralight is key (unless you’ve got a canoe support crew ;-) and will help during those portages!
10. SUP Road Trips
Pack your board (or look for an outfitter at your destination) and #DiscoverON! With over With 400,000 lakes, rivers and heritage waterways in Ontario, there’s no shortage of places to paddle. Can you guess where this was taken?
11. SUP WITH YOUR PUP
As an owner of two German Shepherds, I have Rambo aka Bo-Bo who just hates the water (you can see him clutching the board for dear life)…
…while Rex calmly poses after sprinting back and forth from the excitement of being on a SUP for the first time. Don’t leave your pup at home—share the fun SUP experience with your furry partner-in-crime (or at least try and see if they like it :-).
12. FUNdraising SUP Events
13. SUP Parties
Last summer, a SUP aficionado friend of mine was getting married, so it only made sense to have her bachelorette party on the water! Dolled up in little black dresses (except for the bride-to-be, who was in a pink dress), it made for quite the photo (we even had non-alcoholic champagne :-). Now come on, this wouldn’t have the same effect if we were crammed into kayaks ;-)
14. Snorkel ‘n’ SUP
One of the reasons why I’d choose SUP over a canoe or kayak, especially on those hot, muggy summer days with heat alert warnings, has to be being able to take a quick dip in the lake. Getting back on the board without having to strategically balance over the bow or gunnel to get back in like with a canoe (which takes quite a bit of skill, so no disrespect!) helps a lot when you want to combine snorkeling with SUP. Paddling in Tobermory is an incredibly unique experience in Ontario—seeing the shipwrecks from the surface of the water (vs. aboard a big boat) and being able to slip in and snorkel is pretty awesome.
15. Winter SUP
This is last on my list here because, well, it’s probably the hardest SUP experience to convince people to try. Decked out in a 6-mm-thick wetsuit, 8-mm neoprene booties and gloves, most of us who are out during the winter are pretty determined (and prepared) to head out especially when most people have chosen to hibernate. But I’ve got to say that the experience is refreshing and so satisfying in getting that dose of SUP during the snowy months!
EVEN MORE WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH SUP
I didn’t include a couple of SUP experiences on this list because I haven’t tried it yet (e.g. SUP fishing) or it’s not as common (e.g. 6-person SUP, hoop SUP—yes, there was a hula hooping class on the water). This summer, I’m excited to share in more detail some of my SUP adventures!
I also didn’t include social SUPs. There are plenty of SUP companies in Toronto that offer social paddles (some are open to other vessels joining too) but when you take a lesson, a paddling workshop, attend a race or a fundraiser, or even when you go out for a paddle, there’s almost always a friendly paddler who will say hello and would be happy to go paddling with you! I met some of my closest friends through this sport, and some of them have made some pretty big contributions to the SUP community in Toronto and Ontario (I’m so proud of you, my Lake Surfistas!)
Whether you’re new to stand-up paddleboarding or you’re a seasoned SUP paddler racing in the Elite category, what do you love the most about this sport?
How many of these SUP experiences have you tried?
What SUP adventures will you go on this summer?