How SUP Helped Me Discover an Outdoor Connection with My Daughter

SUP it up!

My daughter isn’t a fan of the outdoors—most of the time. It’s sometimes a struggle to get her to venture out on a hike, let alone a walk. But, one of my personal passions is stand up paddle boarding (aka SUP), and lucky for me, this is one thing my daughter loves to do with me.

It’s not just for the beaches.

Now, you might think paddle boarding is more of a beachy or tropical state-type activity, and it definitely is. However, it’s also a great outdoor activity you can enjoy just about anywhere as long as you have a body of water. And, if you’re a bit intimidated by the sport, I’m here to tell you—it’s definitely easier than it looks.

You don’t need surfing lessons to become an expert at stand up paddle boarding—unless you actually want to surf on one, which then lessons are definitely a good idea. (I’ve tried paddle surfing, and that is harder than it looks.) But, if you want to try flat water paddle boarding, (as in lakes, rivers, or streams) as long as you have the right equipment, and a sturdy board, you’re good to go. (Life jackets are a must, and it’s law in most places to have one with you at all times.)

SUP makes you slow down.

I’m very fortunate to live on a river in Midwestern Wisconsin, so during the warmer months my daughter (and our dog) spend a lot of time paddling and enjoying the quietness of nature. I’ll be the first to admit that when you live near something so beautiful you sometimes stop seeing it for all the splendor it has to offer. But, when you have the opportunity to experience it from something like a paddle board, kayak, or even a canoe, you’re suddenly reminded of how amazing it really is. Everything looks different when you see it from beyond the shore, and we literally have a liquid nature trail available to us 24/7.

While out on the boards we’ve not only seen fish jump literally inches away from us, but we also regularly see blue herons, countless wild birds, and we’ve even caught sight of the bald eagle family nested a few miles up river. One of my favorite memories though, is the time we watched twin fawns playing in the shallow water near the shore. Because paddle boards tend to make very little disturbance on the water, the fawns didn’t seem afraid and were just as curious about us as we were of them.

The history of SUP is fascinating.

So, if I haven’t convinced you to get out on a board yet, here’s a quick little history lesson on how the sport began, which might surprise and possibly intrigue you a little more. Though paddle boarding has vastly gained popularity in the continental U.S. in only the last 5-10 years, the practice actually dates as far back as 3,000 years.

It should come as no surprise that Hawaii was the first state to engage in the activity during the 1900s as a way for locals to travel between islands. However, paddle boarding as a sport didn’t completely catch on until competitive surfers brought it to California during the early 2,000s as a training method during the off season.

How I got hooked on this sport.

My first experience with paddle boarding happened on a trip to Key West in 2013 when I took a tour of the Florida Mangroves. After that, I was instantly hooked. Not only is the sport relaxing, but it’s also a great core exercise. When I came home from the Keys that year, I made it my mission to purchase my first board—and low and behold if Santa didn’t bring me one that year.

My first board, which my daughter now likes to refer to as “the training board” is a 36-inch wide beast. It’s 10.5 feet long, and extremely heavy because it’s made of fiberglass, but it is the perfect board for a beginner (as well as paddling with several kids and a dog as passengers). My daughter learned to paddle on that board so fast that she literally became bored with it in less than a week because it was “too slow.”

Fast-forward to a few years later, I now have three paddle boards—each a different length, width and weight. Some are good for touring (or doing yoga on, if that’s something you enjoy), and others are built for speed and a great workout. But, most importantly, no matter which board I’m on, it’s a great outdoor activity that my daughter enjoys and we do it whether we’re traveling, or at home. The photo you see above is us paddling in Kauai, Hawaii in 2016. (Though she was only nine years old at the time, she took on that ocean like a champ.)

Get out there!

So, no matter where you live, paddle boarding is a great activity and it’s just one more way to experience the world around you. And, with spring break finally here (and even with summer fast approaching), it’s something the entire family can enjoy, so don’t be afraid to get out there!

And, if you’re heading out for spring break—just for fun, here’s a list of the nine best places to paddle board in the U.S. according to paddlersway.com (some of these I’ve done, but I hope my daughter and I will knock them all of our list in the years ahead):

  • Mission Bay, San Diego
  • Hoover Dam, Nevada
  • Lake Tahoe, California
  • Glacier Bay, Alaska
  • Hanalei River, Kauai, Hawaii — (We’ve actually done this one, and it is AMAZING!)
  • Crater Lake, Oregon
  • Lake Powell, Arizona
  • Apostle Islands, Lake Superior, Minnesota — (We hope to take this one on very soon.)
  • The Mangroves, Florida Keys, Florida — (This is where I first stepped foot on a board, and I haven’t looked back since!)
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