Stand-up paddle boarding, barely 70 years old and perhaps younger depending on the story you buy, has potential through this decade to grow faster than any other sport. The upsurge, which started in 2013 with more first-time participants than any other outdoor pursuit, is attributable in great part to rapid-fire evolution of the equipment and blossoming interest in exercise alternatives to the gym and jogging trail.
By appearance, the boards weren’t much more than overgrown surfboards until a handful of years ago. They’ve morphed recently into efficient exercise machines—combining balance, upper body, lower body and cardio workouts into a single package—and stable fishing platforms.
Standard-issue paddle boards are longer and wider than most surfboards and, not surprisingly to anyone with a lick of balance, remarkably solid underfoot. A fall or two is inevitable for beginners, but most anyone who can ride a skateboard or avoid turning ankles on ice skates probably can master—loosely—the paddleboard.
The platforms become increasingly steady underfoot but aren’t the most maneuverable of watercraft. Actually, they’re nearer the other end of that spectrum. Rather than turn on a dime, they’re better suited to long, purposeful glides especially in small, clean surf. Regarding agility, paddle boards are to surfboards what tankers are to runabouts.
Paddle boarding as exercise is more inspired when that crack-of-dawn “stroll” ends in a great fishing spot. The thick, wide boards deliver anglers to water reachable otherwise only by kayaks or on foot—except where mud bottom nixes that option—and lets them stand at full height, all the better to see cruising fish before the fish see them.
Paddle boards designed specifically for fishing offer a variety of options, too, such as ice chests, rod holders, electronics and a variety of leaning posts for added stability while stalking big fish.
“I haven’t seen many of them on the water yet, but I know they’ll be here soon,” said captain Scott Null, a marsh-fishing guide based in Galveston. “Kayaks were the same way, and now they’re everywhere. There’s just so much shallow, fishy water to explore along the coast, and paddle boards are a great way to work it.”
Those “fishy” conditions exist in freshwater and saltwater. The boards are more common to coastal communities for now, especially in south Texas and along both coasts of southern Florida, but they’re finding their way also onto lakes and reservoirs—anywhere that water lovers want to enjoy a total-body workout and maybe catch a few fish along the way.
The Price to the Paddle
Good news is that paddle boarders have more choices in boards, paddles and accessories than ever. Bad news is that none of that gear is free.
A barebones, entry-level board can run anywhere from $400-$2,400. Paddles, when they’re not included in the package, vary in price from $50 to nearly $300. (You can get a trolling motor and battery for that, but don’t.)
For exercise, that’s all you need. Hard-core anglers might add any number of items, some more necessary than others. Good news about paddleboards as opposed to boats is that you never have to add gas or oil to a board, and you don’t suddenly hear from threedozen lost friends when you buy one.