The Beginner’s Guide to Stand-Up Paddleboarding


Boulder doesn’t have the ocean for surfing, but it does have a different way to board the water. Stand-up paddleboards (also known as SUPs) continue to surge in popularity around here. SUP companies claim it’s one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.

If you’re thinking about paddleboarding in Boulder, here’s what’s SUP.

Hit the reservoirs with Rocky Mountain Paddleboards. Courtesy photo

Where to Do Stand-Up Paddleboarding?

You can SUP on lakes, rivers, bays and even oceans, but unlike surfing, calmer water is better for this sport. Here are a few places to SUP in Boulder County:

Boulder Reservoir, 5565 N. 51st St., Boulder: There’s a local SUP company at this 700-acre reservoir to rent from, making this the most convenient option for Boulderites. You’ll find Rocky Mountain Paddleboard in the orange boathouse building near the main boat ramp. Tip: Stay in the no-wake zone as you learn. As your skills grow, venture out to where boats with motors create waves.

Union Reservoir, 461 County Road 26, Longmont: Wakeless boating is allowed here. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard has a presence here, too. Look for the blue building across from the grassy picnic area after you cross the entrance bridge.

Camping at Gross Reservoir. Photo by Michael Swadener

Gross Reservoir, County Road 77/Gross Dam Road, Boulder: This hidden gem is smaller than Boulder Res, but it boasts 11 miles of shoreline and a lot more privacy. You can camp here, too. Paddle the length of the shore and explore the outcroppings and skinny nooks.

McIntosh Lake, 1905 Harvard St., Longmont: A large lake (256 acres) hides in a Longmont neighborhood, and it’s excellent SUP territory, too. The views of the Front Range, plus tons of birds and a quieter scene, make this a serene getaway. No swimming allowed, but paddleboards are fine. Just try to stay on.

Brainard Lake, Route 72, Ward: If you want to spend some time in the mountains on your paddleboard, this alpine lake west of Boulder has incredible views. It’s smaller (only 14 acres) but that also means fewer crowds, especially on the weekdays.

Paddles from Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. Courtesy photo

Where to Get a Paddleboard?

Rocky Mountain Paddleboard dominates the scene, with a wide selection of different kinds of stand-up paddleboards. You can book by the hour. The company also offers various SUP lessons, including beginner lessons from a certified instructor and SUP Yoga (yes, you do yoga on your board).

Rocky Mountain Paddleboard also organizes various special events throughout the summer, such as the annual Paddle the Rockies SUP Classic (mid-September).

Another Boulder company that rents paddleboards is Whitewater Tube Co., 3600 Arapahoe Ave. Rent half-day or full-day. You can also get gear here, including a Handi rack for travel and a SUP bag.

Who Can SUP?

People of all ages, athletic levels and skill levels can SUP. You may even be able to paddle with a well-behaved dog or kid on board.

Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. Courtesy photo

What Gear Do You Need?

There are different kinds of stand-up paddleboard in different shapes and sizes. A professional company can help you pick the right one for you.

Paddleboards are typically about eight to 12 feet long and thicker than a surfboard. They’re usually 28 to 32 inches wide. The wider, the easier (and better for noobs).

Types include:

  • Epoxy or hard paddleboards (most common) with one or more fins
  • Inflatable paddleboards (easiest for travel and storage)
  • All-around paddleboards (for all conditions, from calm to waves; versatile for different activities, like fishing or yoga)
  • Fishing paddleboard (wider deck with more space)
  • Yoga paddleboard
  • Surf paddleboard (least stable, harder to use, designed for waves)
  • Touring paddleboard (longer, more advanced, for racing)

Other SUP equipment includes a leash, board bag, paddle and a flotation device for safety.

Stand-up paddleboard yoga with Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. Courtesy photo

How to Paddleboard?

If you’re new, it’s best to book at least one lesson for specific guidance and safety tips. Generally, most people can learn pretty quickly on flat water. A few tips:

  • Start on calm water (with minimal wind).
  • Start with a wide, thick board suited for your size.
  • To get onto the board, place it in the water and climb onto it on your hands and knees. Get the feel of it by paddling while on your knees, before you work your way up to standing.
  • Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart for a stable base. Toes should face forward, not “surf stance.”
  • When paddling, your top hand drives the paddle. Your bottom hand is the pivot point. Paddle a few strokes on one side and then switch to the other side, switching the position of your hands. Think of the paddle as a lever, not broomstick.
  • It’s OK if you fall off. Just get back on.
  • As you improve, you can try other uses, like yoga, fishing or venturing into bumpier water.

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