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Capetonians are uniquely blessed when it comes to outdoor sporting opportunities: our hiking, biking, surfing, golfing and trail running facilities are among the finest the world has to offer. However, this summer, a new sporting craze – stand-up paddleboarding (SUP for short) — is set to become the first choice for those looking to get a fun workout in the sun.

In this article we’ll explain the history and the meteoric rise of stand-up paddleboarding in recent years, before suggesting reasons for its immense popularity and making recommendations for good spots to have a go right here in Cape Town.

Ancient Idea, Modern Application

Stand-up, paddle-propelled boats were favoured by ancient tribes – particularly by warriors, for their stealth – in regions as diverse as South America, Africa and Polynesia. To this day, you can travel along the Zambezi in a carved-out kayak known as a mokoro; while in the Peruvian Amazon, you can take your chances on a rickety boat made of reeds and named in honour of the experience of riding a wild horse.

In its modern (sporting) form, however, SUP traces its origins to Hawaii. Although reportedly an established sport on the island since the 16th Century, it was in the 1940s – after the region opened to America following the development of Pearl Harbour – that SUP first began to take off, gaining popularity with visitors to Hawaii who had originally ventured there to surf its already-famous shoreline. This trend intensified in the 1990s, when Hawaiian surf schools began introducing SUP as a way to cope with low or unpredictable swells — and the activity soon spread to most major surf-centres across the globe.

With safe, high-tech and relatively affordable SUP boards and paddles now widely available (R7,500-R13,500), the sport’s rise in popularity has been astronomical: in two of the last three years, it was the sport that most people in America tried for the first time, and international competitions of increasing size and stature will ensure its continued growth in the foreseeable future.

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Why the fuss?

The attractions of stand-up paddleboarding are many and varied. To begin with the obvious, in summer in South Africa, SUP involves a day out spent on sun-flooded water — always a wonderful place to get some exercise, and especially during the hot December holidays.

Enthusiastic paddlers also rave about the nature of this exercise: it targets the core muscles and develops upper body strength — which are essential to most water sports, particularly surfing — but in a light and sustained (as opposed to sudden and strenuous) manner. There is also something uniquely meditative about sports in which you can maintain a 360-degree view of your surroundings while exercising.

SUP’s versatility, and the fact that it is so customisable as a sport, are other prime reasons for its popularity. It really is the kind of water sport that ‘anyone can do’ (and there are not too many of those!), plus you don’t need a particularly large body of water, nor specific weather conditions, in order to enjoy yourself. The nature of the exercise also means that you can push yourself just as far as you want to: you can SUP purely as a hobby, a fun way to be ‘on the water’ that is both relaxing and interactive; or you can get serious, developing your speed and even competing professionally in stand-up paddleboarding competitions.

Where do I sign up?

As mentioned, Cape Town is a world leader in SUP opportunities. Not only are there a plethora of excellent (and not to mention picturesque) spots to get ‘SUPping’ in the Mother City, but there are also a number of established and reputable companies that will guide you through your first stand-up paddleboard experience.

SUP Cape Town (082 789 0411) has two offices, at the V&A Waterfront and at Intaka Island in Century City, and offers a range of options for both beginners and more experienced ‘SUPpers’. They offer hour-long tours (R150) around three different stations in Cape Town, and they also rent out paddleboards and equipment on a long-term basis for holidaymakers in the Cape (R620/day and R1,250/week). They also set up on Clifton 4th Beach during the summer tourist season, where SUP rentals are administered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other great options include Ocean Riders (021 510 0503) – offering lessons and tours for around R200/hour — and the Table View-based High Five surf school (021 554 6062), where SUP gear can be rented for R200 (for two hours), and 2-hour lessons go for R350. For those with their own stand-up paddleboard and equipment, consider heading up the West Coast to places such as Elands Bay and Langebaan, two of South Africa’s premier water sport destinations.