Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUPing, is widely regarded as one of the fastest growing sports in the world, attracting enthusiasts of all ages. From paddlers seven years to 77 years old, SUPing is gaining popularity due to its short learning curve and the many health benefits including core strengthening, overall toning, balance and endurance.

It’s no wonder that SUPing has quickly become a popular activity on the beaches of the United States—but what about us mountain folks? How are we going to enjoy this latest and greatest board-focused experience in our landlocked states?

Not to worry. There are plenty of opportunities to SUP, even when you live 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. Here’s a handy primer for how –and where—to SUP in the mountains.

Woman on a SUP with a dog wearing a life vest.

Ask the Pros (Take a Lesson)

While SUPing is fairly easy to learn, it’s always a good idea to start off with a lesson. Find a reputable company that has certified instructors and sign up for an introductory paddle. On a lake or reservoir, you can learn the basics in an hour; to SUP on a river, beginner lessons last for about 2.5 hours or longer. Felix Placer of Stand Up Paddle Colorado, the only river outfitter dedicated to SUPing in Colorado, says that a lesson is highly recommended for river SUPing because of the various elements that you’ll encounter on a river. A lesson will teach you paddling techniques, river dynamics, safety and more.

Where to Go (Find Some Water)

You may live many miles from the nearest ocean, but chances are you have a body of water in your vicinity. Lakes and reservoirs are ideal for beginning SUP as the water tends to be flat and calm. RJ Murray, owner of Three Brothers Boards, suggests that you “choose a location with calm water, without much wind. Even small waves can create unnecessary angst for a beginning SUPer.” Kings Beach in North Lake Tahoe is a wide open beach with few rocks, making it a great location for first timers.

Be sure to check out the rules and regulations at your local reservoir. While many are water sport friendly, some reservoirs ban swimming and other water sports. Lake Dillon in Dillon, Colorado, recently announced that it would allow SUPing (waterskiing is still forbidden).

Your other option is to head to the river. River paddling and lake/reservoir paddling are different propositions. While they share similar steps for learning, there are things that you have to deal with on a river that don’t happen on a lake. For example, a river has currents, eddys and rocks—elements that probably won’t be an issue in a lake or reservoir. Rivers are considered by many to be the final frontiers of SUPing, but you don’t have to be an expert to ride (mini) rapids. River SUPing can be appreciated by the first-time paddler or experienced water person looking to experience new challenges. There are great stretches of the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers that are ideal for beginning SUPers.

SUP-ing in Tahoe

Photo credit Lorne Buck

What to Bring (Gear List)

SUPing doesn’t require a lot of equipment, but it does require some specialized gear, namely a board and a paddle. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • For river paddling, an inflatable board is preferable in order to deal with possible collisions with rocks, branches or other floating debris without damaging the board. A solid wood or fiberglass board is appropriate for lake or reservoir paddling. Your board should also have a leash, like ones used for surfing or snowboarding, attached.
  • A paddle
  • Because the Coast Guard considers SUPs as “small craft under oar,” paddlers must wear a personal floatation device (PFD).
  • When paddling in a river, a helmet is also necessary for safety.
  • A wet suit is a good idea if you’re going to be in cold water. If you’re starting in warmer water, a bathing suit with quick dry shorts and a water-appropriate top like a rash guard is appropriate attire.
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses with a strap
  • Hat
  • Water bottle
  • Waterproof camera
  • If you have a dry bag, bring it. It can be strapped onto the front of your board and hold small items like your sunscreen, camera and water bottle.

Size Matters (Choose a Board)
Just like your skis or snowboard, different types of SUP boards are built for different conditions. Some standup paddleboards are designed for flat water like lakes or reservoirs; others are constructed for oceans or rivers. Rocks are a factor when paddling on a river; most companies use inflatable boards when river paddling so that if you happen to hit a rock, the boards aren’t damaged. Starting out with an instructor will take the guess work out of choosing a board, making sure that you have the right equipment for the water conditions and your body size and type.


Most boards are between 10.5’ and 12’ long. While longer boards tend to be more stable, they can also be unwieldy and heavy for shorter folks. Talk to your instructor or the board shop to get the appropriate size. Paddle length is also very important. You paddle should rise eight to 10 inches above your head when you’re on land. “This ensures that you won’t overextend your reach when paddling or end up with a too-short paddle, causing you to hunch. Both of these scenarios can lead to back problems,” explains Murray.

Get On Up (Tips for Starting)

Though an instructor will share the best tips and technique for SUPing, if you want to look like a natural when you hit the water, Murray offers these tips:

  • Start out on the board on your knees, getting used to the feel of the paddle and how it moves through the water. When you feel comfortable, rise to your feet.
  • Make sure to keep your feet about shoulder-width apart for your best balance. Do NOT lock your knees!
  • If you feel a bit unsteady, bend your knees to gain balance or sink down to your knees and just kneel on the board until you feel steady once again.

Party On (SUP Festivals to Attend)

Now that you’re a certified SUPer, there are a host of opportunities to take to the water and meet some new friends. SUP festivals are a great way to meet other SUPers and often include bands and other entertainment. Here are a few tried and true mountain SUP festivals to put on your calendar:

  • Adirondack SUP Festival in Saranac Lake, NY has SUP racing, SUP yoga and onshore clinics for the entire family
  • Tahoe Nalu at Kings Beach State Park in Lake Tahoe, CA has live music, Polynesian dancers and sand castle building contests in addition to distance and relay races.
  • Paddlefest in Buena Vista, CO marks the beginning of paddle (and watersport) season in Colorado with races, movie premieres and a gear swap in addition to the SUPing.

SUP Headstand

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Sub-Categories North America / Paddle / Summer

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