Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

SUP Getups: The Gear You Need For Each Discipline

SUP is beautiful in its simplicity. All you really need is a paddle and board. But what if you want to run whitewater or try your hand at surfing or get out when its windy? The short answer: you're gonna need some specialized gear. Here, we give you the rundown of what you need for the major SUP disciplines.

 

Fiona Wylde puts her downwind gear and prowess to good use at the Columbia River Gorge. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez/Flux Photography

Downwind

Paddle. We like paddles that are stiffer for downwinding as well as a blade with a smaller face so we can get a higher stroke cadence to get into bumps. Your touring or race-length paddle should suffice.
Leash. You'd be surprised how fast your board takes off when you fall in the wind. And when you're offshore—as you often are—a long swim is a spooky thought.
Hydration pack. Downwinders often cover long distances and you're using a lot of energy. A hydration pack carries enough water to keep your thirst at bay as well as other essentials such as a protein bar and a phone. See p. 60.
Waterproof phone case. Your phone is another great resource when you're offshore. Throw it in a waterproof case and have a GPS, or even Strava, with you.
PFD. A waist-pack PFD isn't a bad idea either. The Coast Guard or Sheriff's Office in your area may not require one but emergencies happen.

 

© Paul Clark/Black&Red Photography

Touring the nooks of a desolate Baja coastline. Photo: Paul Clark/Black&Red Photography

Tour

Paddle. Whatever feels good to your shoulders works for touring. Your arm should be relaxed as it's raised above your head on the t-grip.
Board. If you're just cruising don't worry about shape. If you can stand on it, you're good to go. Get out there and have fun!
PFD/Leash. At least one or the other. Both is best.

 

Gear up before you go. Sometimes a good wetsuit can make all the difference in your session. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Surf

Leash. Mandatory in the surf zone, especially for newcomers to the ocean. A leash is your lifeline to your board but also what keeps others from getting hit with a 10-foot SUP.
Board. A longboard-shape SUP will serve you best as a beginner. They'll be easy to stand on, get into waves and do your first turns. Something in the 10-foot range and at least 30-inches wide should do.
Paddle. They should be shorter for the surf. It's easier to get more strokes in and switch paddles hands. But at this point, go with what feels good.
Wetsuit. Chances are you'll be swimming a lot. Find a wetsuit that fits well and is appropriate for the local water temperature. Plus, it'll protect you from board rash.

 

Paul Clark Whitewater

Stay protected on the river. Photo: Paul Clark

Whitewater

PFD. Absolutely mandatory for moving water. You want a Type III PFD for rivers. They're designed for extended wear and will keep afloat when you take a spill—which you'll do a lot.
Board. Stability is the name of the game here. We're talking 32-inch width with a length up to 10-feet. Inflatables will take the most abuse and are the best choice for beginners.
Paddle. Like the surf, we like our whitewater paddles a little shorter. But we like beefy paddles, like those made by Sawyer (see p. 61), that can take constant beatings off rocks, logs, etc.
Helmet. Also mandatory for river running. You'd be surprised at how many types of ways you can fall on the river. A helmet protects your most important resource from meeting a barely-submerged rock. Don't forget it.
Shoes/Sandals. Like we said, you'll fall. You might be scouting rapids, you might be portaging. Water-specific shoes or sandals with a burly sole make life a lot easier on the rio. Chacos and Tevas are both time-tested choices.

 

You don’t need a ton of gear to race standup paddleboards. The key is having the gear that’s right for you. Photo: Johann Meya (808 Photo)

Race

Board. You'll want a board with a displacement hull (see p. 63). If you're just starting, wider is better but you'll go faster the narrower you push it.
Paddle. Light and stiff will give you the most advantage. An arm comfortably raised over your head onto the grip will get you in the right position.
Hydration. A minimal, lightweight hydration pack should be something you consider if you're racing over three miles.

 

More

Five Gadgets for Paddlers

Staff Gear Reviews