Paddle in peace: 10 mellow places to start SUP-in’
Equally beloved by exercise buffs and the meditation-minded, SUP is easy to pick up, gives you a full body workout and can be enjoyed virtually anywhere there’s H20. The 10 following rivers, lakes and bays are prime spots to find your footing on beginner-friendly waters.
Dying to try stand-up paddleboarding, but afraid of plunging into the water on your maiden voyage? Well, we’ve got news: That’s exactly what will happen. But don’t let that stand in the way of partaking in this seriously addicting sport. SUP boards are relatively tough to capsize, and taking an unintended dip is more refreshing than frightening—especially after working up a sweat. Whether setting out with friends or venturing off on your own, this popular pastime works muscles you didn’t even know you had and can be enjoyed on a variety of watery landscapes. Sound like something you can see yourself splashing into? Check out our roundup of calm, idyllic waters where beginners can savor the sweet SUP life.
1. La Jolla Cove, CA
The Netherlands has its bikes, Thailand has its tuk-tuks, and San Diego has its SUPs. With inviting year-round conditions, a protected bay and miles of winding shoreline, La Jolla—where locals are known for a can-do attitude towards all things water-sporty—is basically the stand-up paddleboard capital of America. Mingle with nature in this sunny SoCal haven, which harbors plenty of entertainment in the form of sea lions basking like blobs on rocks, pelicans swooping down to scoop up lunch, and (utterly harmless) leopard sharks foraging on the sandy ocean floor. Stop by La Jolla Kayak to rent a board, then make a beeline for the coves and (sorta)-secret sea caves tucked in La Jolla Shores’ cliffy coastline. Bonus points: You won’t freeze your butt off if you fall in.
2. Colorado River in Black Canyon, AZ and NV
Thought the Colorado River only raged and rushed through the Grand Canyon? Au contraire: This busy body of water has places to go and other rocky chasms to carve, like the Black Canyon in Arizona and Nevada. Approximately 30 miles long, this designated National Water Trail offers the perfect mix of paddling and exploration. Glide atop emerald waters between jagged walls and arid desert landscape freckled with cacti, bighorn sheep and coyotes. Duck into shallow caves, discover rushing waterfalls, soak in thermal pools, break at sandy beaches and take liberal, refreshing plunges to cool off from those southwestern temps. Check out Desert Adventures for tours, lessons and rentals.
3. Lake Tahoe, CA
What better place to SUP than a lake that was voted one of America’s Best? (As if it wasn’t popular enough already.) Forget the noisy motorboat next time you visit Lake Tahoe: its striking ombre-blue waters and clean, invigorating air are best enjoyed at a slower pace. At 1,644 feet deep, certain parts of this vast reservoir are visible 70 feet beneath the surface, but don’t take our word for it: With clarity like that, North America’s largest alpine lake is begging to be explored from the vantage point of a watery perch. For SUP rentals, hit up Adrift Tahoe or Tahoe Paddle and Oar.
4. Florida Keys, FL
Let’s be honest: We’d all rather be sipping rum from a coconut, floating past mangroves and coral reefs as our skin gets bronzed by the radiant southern sun. Go ahead and make it a reality by hitting up Lazy Dog, renting a board and cruising through the Florida Keys. With a staggering 822 islands and waterways to explore, this coral cay archipelago is basically Disneyland for SUP’ers. As you paddle, look for colorful aquatic life including barracudas, octopus, manatees and stingrays among the mangroves.
5. Maui, HI
To SUP in Maui is to SUP in paradise, where thick rainforests give way to white sand and glistening topaz water for miles and miles. Swells are generally lowest in the fall, making it the best season to visit if paddleboarding is on the agenda. Be sure to head out early to beat the trade winds, which usually hit around 10am—or you could get stuck paddling in place. When you’re the living the island life, placid beaches and friendly outfitters are easy to find: Check out Moore Water Time, Maui Wave Riders or Ka’anapali Surf Club, which has six locations right on the water.
6. Jamaica Bay, NY
Anyone who says New York is lacking in natural beauty clearly hasn’t visited Jamaica Bay. A quick subway ride from Brooklyn or Queens delivers you to a clean, watery wonderland where marshes, mudflats, ponds and a wide-open bay spin out fresh, salty air like cotton candy on Coney Island. The woodlands weaving along the bay comprise a wildlife refuge home to more than 330 bird species, so keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons and blue herons as you skim across shaded ponds and sheltered inlets. Fresh air and NYC views in one place? You’ve got to SUP it to believe it. Try Rockaway Jetski or A Team paddleboarding for rentals.
7. Apostle Islands, WI
Lake Superior may be America’s biggest, but intimate adventures abound within its famed archipelago off the northwest tip of Wisconsin. Catch a water taxi, shuttle, or glass-bottom boat tour with Apostle Islands Cruises to any of the 21 islands, and after that it’s smooth SUP-in’ through glassy waters around the “Jewels of Lake Superior.” As you skim in and out of red-orange sea caves, their arched ceilings forming passageways through sandstone cliffs, your float will feel more like a grand expedition than a mere afternoon paddle. Rent a board or take a guided sea cave tour with Apostle Islands Tours to get in on the action. Fun fact: The Apostle Islands were the destination of JFK’s final trip before his assassination in November 1963. He delivered a speech on the need to conserve pristine areas, like the Apostles, for recreation and economic interests.
8. Austin, TX
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in the South’s hottest (literally) city, get your derriere on a SUP stat and stay cool. For a float with plenty of sightseeing, the Colorado River passes iconic sites including Zilker Park—headquarters for the Austin City Limits music fest. Alternatively, Lady Bird Lake, a placid reservoir on the Colorado River surrounded by cypress, cottonwood and elm trees, offers a more natural escape. But the real show is overhead: When the sun starts to set, post up near Congress Avenue Bridge—home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. Each day at dusk in summer, millions of winged echolocators nest and depart in an unreal mass exodus as spectators watch in awe from the bridge. For SUP rentals, check out Austin Paddle Sports or Rowing Dock.
9. Charleston, SC
Charming, food-centric and oh-so Southern, Charleston has winding, calm waterways a-plenty. Check out Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, Isle of Palms, Seabrook Island or Sullivan’s Island—all are gorgeous with sprawling sandy beaches, swaying palms and and the occasional gator (don’t worry, it’s still safe). We recommend Folly Beach, a.k.a. the Edge of America, for its pink-and-purple sunrises, lighthouses and marshy inlets—plus, the historic island and its locally owned shops and restaurants make for fun exploration post-SUP’ing. Charleston SUP Safaris and Charleston Paddleboard Company both offer lessons, rentals and guided tours featuring lighthouses and chances to spot wildlife like dolphins and sea turtles.
10. New Orleans, LA
There’s more to the Big Easy than Mardi Gras and fluffy beignets (although we love those hedonistic delights). Between the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John, there’s serious SUP mileage to be clocked in NOLA. Paddling its spacious waterways is a convenient way to tour the city’s architecture along the banks, including old cemeteries, creole cottages and historic mansions adorned with delicate balconies. Think scenery straight from “American Horror Story: Coven” (season three). Try Bayou Paddlesports for rentals and lessons or NOLA Paddleboards for group paddle sessions.
11. Park City, UT
If the mere thought of SUP’ing on the open ocean sends your heart rate through the roof, head to Park City and om away your fears in a cave. The warm waters of Homestead Crater, a geothermal spring in a 55-foot limestone dome, are protected from the elements (and impatient surfers), making it possible to practice stand-up paddleboard yoga—even when it’s snowing outside. Bonus: The water’s effervescent carbon dioxide and minerals exfoliate the skin and soothe tired muscles (ipso facto, it’s basically a free spa). Book a tour with Park City Yoga Adventures for a guided hike or snowshoe trip into the crater, followed by a relaxing hour of paddleboard yoga.
So there you have it: No matter where you’re based, smooth SUP sailing is closer than you think. These mellow spots ensure first-time experiences go nice and smooth, and before you know it, you’ll be gliding through the water like a pro. Bon voyage, paddling padawans.