SUP Your Way into Fitness


Why stand-up paddleboarding is good for the body and the soul

Trying something new can be both exciting and potentially terrifying. When the opportunity arises, it’s not unusual for the fear of failure to cross the mind. Enter stand-up paddleboarding (or SUPing), in which a newbie might fall or struggle.

SUP_01Even I, a self-professed athletic adventurer, was nervous when I first gave the trendy water sport a try. I arrived at my first lesson with Club Ed Surf School and was immediately put at ease with some land training, in which the instructor went over the dos and don’ts. As soon as I got into the water and stood on my board, I fell. Not only was it humbling, it also allowed all of the unnecessary anxiety to dissipate: the worst was over. I climbed back on board, bent my knees, centered my balance and, soon enough, I was stand-up paddleboarding in the calmness of the water with no care in the world. There was no feeling of failure or stress—just me, my stand-up paddleboard and the sea.

The chief requirement for paddleboarding is a passion for paddling. Though two working legs and two working arms also helps, people with lower extremity orthopedic limitations can paddle seated. Knowing how to swim isn’t necessarily a prerequisite, though it helps one feel more secure on the open ocean or body of water. According to Club Ed owner and operator Ed Guzman, SUP can be done with as little as one-foot of water. The equipment needed is a paddle and, of course, a paddleboard. (See the sidebar on page 62 for local SUP stores.)

As a Pro-Elite Personal Trainer and the owner of Santa Cruz CORE Fitness + Rehab, I’m always interested in the physiology of a workout. After analyzing a paddler’s stroke, I determined which muscles are used and just how rigorous of a workout this fun recreational activity can be. Here are some tips for getting your workout on with SUP.


SUP uses almost all of the muscles in the body, starting with the feet. The foot and ankle stabilizers are hard at work to maintain balance on the board. The lateral stabilizers of the legs that are used for lateral movements as well as for balancing can help prevent knee pain because the stabilizer muscles support the joints just as much as the primary movers do.


As the paddle reaches to touch the water, the torso rotates. Use of the external and internal obliques, multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and rectus abdominis allow the body to rotate and crunch, driving the paddle into the water. This reaching and twisting motion can work to whittle down your waist and give you the nice T-shape so many athletes have. It will also work to tone your core, thereby protecting your back and building strength.



Deltoids, latissimus, biceps and triceps—all muscles of the upper body—are worked as you drive the paddle and pull it through the water toward the back of the board. The smaller rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) are also activated with the rotation of the shoulder that occurs during the paddle stroke. The ball and socket joint of the shoulder is one of the least stable joints in the body, and strength and stability can be attained through paddling.


Whether you are a novice to water sports or a seasoned veteran, SUPing can be fun and challenging. The workout is harder (and the board goes faster) with more power output in the paddle drive into the water and more strength behind the pull. A cruise is also nice. With a shallower drive of the paddle and a slower, softer pull, SUPing can be used as a great crosstraining or recovery tool.


Guzman recommends that stand-up paddling is best done away from any surfers. The easiest entry is at the Santa Cruz Harbor. Familiarize yourself with the harbor rules and be aware of boat crossings. Though there is a fee to use the harbor, nothing can beat the calm, serene waters
for beginners.

SUP is a great way to explore marine life and the Santa Cruz coastline. Cowell Beach is a good place to launch to go tour the kelp beds off of Indicators and Steamer Lane on the Westside, where sea otters can often be found. Observe them from a safe distance and be very careful not to bother them. Another fun spot to paddle is the end of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, where you can see the sea lions and check out the colors of the Boardwalk reflecting off of the water.



Lessons are always best for beginners to learn proper paddling techniques, safety and SUP etiquette. When taking a lesson, the guide will not only educate you on how to SUP but also where to go and what board and paddles are best for you.

Touring outside of the break is the easiest way to get familiar with SUP. Riding boards in the surf is more challenging and more dangerous for you and others who may be unfortunate enough to be in your path. It is best to try it where there is no one else around. Paddle up and down the coast to find your own space and to keep the peace. The rule above all else: Have fun!


  • Kayak Connection Santa Cruz Harbor 413 Lake Ave. #3 • (831) 479-1121
  • Club Ed Surf School 101 Beach St. • (831) 459-6664
  • SUP Shack Santa Cruz 2214 East Cliff Drive • (831) 464-7467
  • Covewater 726 Water St. • (831) 600-7230


  • Kayak Connection (See info above)
  • Venture Quest Kayaking 2 Municipal Wharf • (831) 425-8445
  • Blue Water Ventures 127 Mason St. • (831) 459-8548

Photos: Patrick Bremser

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Jaimi Jansen

About Jaimi Jansen

Jaimi’s goal is to improve the quality of life and help people achieve the optimal path to health by creating a community of wellness. In 2009 her dream of providing all-inclusive care was realized when she founded Santa Cruz Core Fitness + Rehab. In 2013 she was awarded the United States Associate of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Female Entrepreneur of the year.

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