‘Stand up paddle boarding’, if we’re talking nomenclature, has always been a little odd if you think in terms of its actual literal definition. And when you abbreviate the phrase – such as people do in the vein of ‘paddle boarding’ or ‘SUP’ – it takes on even lesser a meaning with the above able to be applied to other areas of the sport. For instance: paddle boarding could be associated with prone paddle boarding because you’re still on a board, paddling. And in fact, some proners do indeed refer to themselves as paddle boarders. None the less terms such as these have more and more become associated with standing on a board with an elongated, single bladed paddle which is used for forwards propulsion. SUP is now commonly seen as this by the masses. It gets a little more confusing in this day and age when you start talking about the upper echelons of performance SUP.
Up until a few years back ‘performance SUP’ generally meant anything other than recreational paddling but more often than not describes surf SUP, race SUP, white water SUP and even windSUP (which is the truly baffling one for the uninitiated).
WindSUP is essentially using your stand up paddle board, with attached windsurfing rig, to sail around in light to medium wind strengths NOT utilising a paddle. For many windSUP represents windsurfing as it was back in the day where riders would pilot similar oversize boards that evolved into raceboards and longboards. Some would argue windSUP is a regression in windsurfing performance whilst others would give their case it being a revitalised discipline encouraging people to participate in a more mellow form of windsurfing rather than chasing down those rarer gale days. There’s a reason for all the above chat: mainly the continuing and growing popularity of hydrofoiling and its many offshoots. In some ways windSUP can be seen as the catalyst, although foiling is its own beast. Yet, within stand up paddle boarding circles foiling has been widely embraced and SUP terms partnered with foiling ones to create the modern performance vision of what SUP actually is – even if for more than 75% of SUP foil there’s not a paddle in sight.
nyone coming at foiling from paddling will find the most synergy to be SUP foiling. Still using a paddle, riders propel themselves forwards into waves with the additional swell power encouraging further acceleration and therefore lift. From there the frictionless ride means more efficient, faster gliding on poor quality waves potentially turning every surf SUP day into something special. SUP foiling can even be practised on downwind runs, utilising breeze and open ocean rolling swell to generate foil lift. But then it gets grey as we move into the realms of alternative ‘engines’…
Wing foiling is on lots of lips currently with these inflatable wind catching stringless, handheld kites (for want of a better description) being the BIG thing in watersports. The boards that many riders use – at least in bigger sizes – are pretty much hybrid stand up paddle boards with a hydrofoil attached. There’s a smaller push regarding paddlers using them with their non-foiling stand up paddle boards but by and large it’s foiling and wings grabbing the most limelight.
Liked because of their light weight nature, easy set up and pack down, and freedom of movement on the water wings, by some, are seen as way to attract even more participants into the world of wind sports. Even though that’s not entirely accurate. For sure, riders need to understand how wind works but winging is much more about the foil and being able to control it.
Prone foiling is another potentially big area which doesn’t look anything like SUP. In fact, it shares more with surfing as the boards being ridden are much lower volume and arm paddling power is used rather than carbon paddle power. And for those who fancy a real work out foil pumping will get your heart rate up. Relying solely on leg power and technique riders pump the foil up and down across mirror flat water relying on their own momentum to generate lift. It’s hard work but practisioners love it.
And what of windSUP? Well, that’s still a thing in stand up paddling circles only with a hydrofoil in the mix it’s now windSUP foiling, mainly without footstraps, although some boards do come with the option of attaching them.
So basically, in a nutshell, that’s how the land lies in terms of ‘performance SUP’ these days. Of course, if you don’t fancy being three foot up in the air, with a big dangly carbon thing underneath you, then stand up paddling whilst attached to the brine is still perfectly fine!