From a stand-up paddleboard in Mexico’s Banderas Bay, a hundred yards to shore can look like miles, especially when you don't have any idea what you're doing. But that's why I was there with Jeri Grant, a SUP instructor based in Puerto Vallarta. “Just stand up and paddle,” she told me, as three-foot waves rolled under my board. Right. Simple, except that I felt about as coordinated as the pelicans lumbering overhead. Still, there has to be something beyond the beginner awkwardness—stand up paddleboarding is America’s fastest growing water sport.
Paddleboarding, like surfing, has its roots in Polynesia. It stayed there, more or less, until 2008, when celebrity surfer Laird Hamilton hyped stand up paddleboarding to Good Morning America’s four million weekly viewers. More than a million people have started stand up paddling boarding since last year. Despite its unwieldy acronym, the sport is gaining traction in surprising ways. Shops now cater to whitewater junkies in central Colorado and fishermen on Lake Michigan's southern shore. I thought I'd SUP in a place that made the most sense to me: the 86-degree water of Mexico’s Banderas Bay.
Per Grant’s instructions, I stroked from my knees to gain momentum, popped up on the board, and promptly face planted. Two hours later—I couldn’t believe it—I was up and wobbling my way around the bay. By afternoon’s end, I surfed a beach break to shore and fell backward into knee-deep water before a family of six. No matter. I still wanted more.
Want to SUP? Here are the top ten beginner-friendly places to paddle in North America.