Stand Up Paddle Boarding Surges During Pandemic

Stand Up Paddle Boarding has blown up in popularity and experience. 

Don't worry about not knowing much because we'll give you the rundown here.

 Like other outdoor recreational activities, Stand Up Paddling (SUP) has exploded in popularity in the age of Covid-19. 

One year ago, the world collectively absorbed the reality of life existing solely within the confines of their own home. 

Gyms and restaurants were strictly verboten, but the human condition cried out to for the tonic of the great outdoors as well as the comradery that their psyches craved. Our once happy homes began to feel more and more like stockades.  

The question that was asked universally (or at least globally) was: what can I do to get out and enjoy nature and exercise while not running afoul of the mask police?


paddle board

Enter stand up paddle boarding, a sport that had been revived on the margins in the 1990’s by big wave surfer Laird Hamilton after its modern invention in the 1940’s by the beach boys of Waikiki who found SUP to be the perfect mode of transportation for keeping track of their surf students. The sport entered the mainstream consciousness in 2007 when it was introduced to the US mainland from a Hawaiian transplant.  

Many of today’s SUPers had rented paddle boards in the prior decade and considered buying one but were deterred by the early pricing of epoxy boards which ranged between $1,299 and $1,999; not to mention the storage limitations of most homes that were hard-pressed to find room for a board that is minimally 10 feet in length. 

As economies of scale developed, hard SUP board retail prices fell below $1,000 but the real driver of today’s paddle board boon was the development of the inflatable stand-up paddle board or iSUP.  

Inflatable technology has improved so markedly that today’s iSUP’s are practically as rigid as an epoxy board and the price point for a high-quality board is often below $700. 

Apartment dwellers could now get into the SUP game because a deflated iSUP takes up about as much room as a large backpack.


paddle boarding


The Covid pandemic has caused many of us to reinvent ourselves since our “hierarchy of needs” repeatedly smacks us in the face each morning while we contemplate another day of monotonous sameness. 

Stand up paddle boards came to represent freedom from the tediousness of life in isolation. Because most of us live within 15 miles of a body of water and the learning curve for budding paddle boarders has been flattened (to borrow a phrase) by numerous “how to” videos on YouTube, the sport of SUP has become accessible to the masses of all ages.

Sure, kayaking is even easier to pick up than SUP but a beefy 4X4 is typically required for transportation and a McMansion is necessary to store it in.  Besides, how are you going to look like a cool inland surfer in your grandfather’s kayak?

There’s also the issue of social distancing. Whether you are going with the original 6-foot or the current 3-foot distancing requirements, you would be hard pressed to violate either zone while on your SUP. 

Not to mention the fact that you are in the great outdoors where transmission is less likely to occur. 

Stand up paddling also lends itself well to holding a conversation with friends as most paddlers aren’t training for their next 10-mile SUP race, so their breathing typically isn’t too labored. 

Waxing poetic about your favorite “Tiger King” characters with your buddies while enjoying all of nature’s glory – what’s not to like? 

As far as a workout goes, stand up paddling will work muscles that you thought you had lost back in the ‘80s.

It is truly a whole-body workout which engages the upper body and core and will make your calves cry out for mercy.

Generating power while paddling requires a surprising amount of thigh strength as well because not only are the smaller muscles in your legs working overtime to hold your balance but the larger ones are acting as a fulcrum for the entire paddle motion. 

Take a gander at any of the big-name SUP racers, and you can see that a SUP workout will sculpt up that “Dad Bod” quicker than Michelangelo’s chisel.  A 2013 study published in Procedia Engineering found that the trunk, hip, and knee stabilizers of study participants showed high levels of muscular engagement during stand-up paddle boarding. 

Then, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, went a step beyond the 2013 research, noting that elite stand-up paddleboarders showed higher levels of static and dynamic postural control and isometric trunk endurance than recreational stand-up paddleboarders, while the recreational group had higher levels than the sedentary control group.


inflatable paddle board

Becoming one with nature has been an even larger driver of SUP popularity during the pandemic.

Humans have an innate connection to nature known as ‘biophilia’, which Webster’s describes as: “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in naturea desire or tendency to commune with nature.” 

In addition to our biological call of the wild, many of us have looked to increase our body’s vitamin D count as this has been shown to be a simple means of fighting off Covid.

Increased vitamin D also has a direct correlation with a decrease in depression and other mental health afflictions.

Studies have also shown that older adults exercising outdoors accumulated significantly more physical activity than those who worked out indoors.

Because so many of today’s SUP manufacturers are privately owned, getting a handle on exactly how large the stand up paddle market has grown during Covid requires a bit of guesswork. 

Anecdotally, the various factories that we communicated with for this article told us that their pre-season order volume was up 3 to 4 times over the prior year. This new demand is affecting the cost of raw materials such as resin and fiberglass as well as shipping costs as demand is far outstripping supply.

Although, it’s anyone’s guess what the trajectory of the SUP market will be when the majority of the world has been vaccinated, these are heady times for the manufacturers who have seen the various ebbs and flows of this still relatively new sport. 

Because stand up paddling is both mentally and physically addicting, we’re betting that today’s new crop of paddlers will be tomorrow’s evangelists for the sport thus growing the SUP market exponentially.


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