Where is the best place to live and be a standup paddler? That simple, eternal question drove the latest iteration of SUP Magazine's Paddle Town Paddle. This year, we broadened the query to its logical limit: Where do the most professional opportunities meet the best SUP lifestyle potential? Naturally, we had to expand our scope beyond North America to the top cities across the globe. Our selection criteria was simple: Urban hubs where you can maximize days on the water and enjoy different types of paddling adventures within a day's drive. Narrowing down a nominee list to determine winners, however, was anything but. How do you define best? How do you judge culture? How much does community count for? Passion?
So, we handed the reigns to our readers to decide. After thousands of votes cast on social media, with countless comments hurled (some profanity-laced), in the end, the following Elite Eight locales surpassed all others as the world's best cities to live and paddle now. Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing profiles on each of the readers’ choice for the top eight paddling hubs in inverse order, starting from eighth-place until we reveal the world’s top paddle town! Add them to your SUP bucket list.
No. 8 – San Juan, Puerto Rico
We're not going to lie. When we ran the inaugural Paddle Town Battle in 2014, Puerto Rico surprised us. The small U.S. island territory with a population of 3.4 million banded together, voted hard and sent Rincón to the number one spot. It was a major upset, but only because of who they were up against. This year, Puerto Ricans—recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in late 2017—did it again, sending their historic capital city, San Juan, to number eight.
If you've been to Puerto Rico, you get it. The laid-back vibe, the swaying palm trees and the Latin flair automatically set you at ease. San Juan is the centerpiece. It's a place where old meets new, America meets the tropics and the water meets the city. Condado Lagoon is a perfect place to start an aquatic city tour, paddling by beachfront parks, watching locals and tourists barbecue on the beach, just enjoying the sunshine.
But the real bang for your buck is when you leave the lagoon. Head out into the Atlantic and take a tour past La Perla, Old San Juan and the Felipe del Morro, the old Spanish fort that was once used to protect the mouth of San Juan Bay. Then loop around the rest of San Juan Island for an eight-mile trip (be sure to check the forecast—the weather here can change quickly).
The whole north coast of Puerto Rico is fully exposed to swell, which makes it one of the most consistent wave zones in the Atlantic. Wave-riding culture here is rich and there's a hotbed of local talent out pushing the limits of standup paddling throughout the region.
For those that like a slower pace, head for the island's northwest coast for excellent surf and a slice of island life. Rincón, home to the Beach Boy, Puerto Rico's biggest SUP race, also has some excellent waves and great culture.
We could go on: La Playuela and Los Morillos Lighthouse in the southwest corner of the island make for a stunning afternoon of touring. Or you could night paddle in a bioluminescent bay at Laguna Grande, located on the very northeast tip of the island.
Whatever your flavor, whatever your speed, Puerto Rico has what you need. Don't think, just go. —Will Taylor
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of SUP Magazine.
More from the Paddle Town Battle
Take Your Dream Trip: The Galapagos SUP Adventure