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How to stand-up paddle without getting into deep water—and where to do it

stand-up paddling New York
The author "with pretty decent balance" stand-up paddling in Connecticut. Photo: Ashley McCullough for Well+Good

Who hasn’t seen the photos of Jennifer Aniston stand-up paddling and wondered “Could I do that?” (And also “Would my abs look like that?”)

Even if you’ve never surfed and worry that your wobbly balance poses will take out a whole row of yogis, you could be a pro at stand-up paddling (or SUP).

SUP originated in the 1960s on Waikiki Beach when local surfers would stand up on their longboards and paddle out with outrigger paddles, so they could teach beginners and take photographs of tourists learning to surf.

Now there’s a hardcore contingent of surfers taking up the sport and riding the waves. But a user-friendly version—with no wave riding—has become just as popular as a really fun workout. All you need is a board and a paddle—and you can rent those. Then add water.

At most SUP places in or near New York City, you start from a dock—or launch, which means you kneel on the board and push yourself about ten feet away with the paddle, then stand up and go.

You’re saying, but I have terrible balance! Don’t be daunted. The boards are far more stable than you think. If you can ride a subway car through the tunnel while standing up and holding the pole, you can stay upright on a SUP board.

What you’ll get out of it? Fun, to start. But it’s a great exercise in balance, plus an amazing upper body and core workout (lower back, abs and deep pelvic floor muscles). And your standing tree pose might benefit, too. —Ashley McCullough

Where to Stand-Up Paddle

New York Kayak, Manhattan With this outfitter, located where Houston Street hits the West Side Highway, you can SUP the Hudson right after work. A good way to get your feet wet is to “Try SUP” on Wednesday from 6–8 p.m. for $25. You won’t get much time on the board, but they also hold beginner, intermediate, and race training classes for $100 for two hours, including equipment.

Down Under, Westport, Connecticut For a fun day trip—and a great view, you can hop on Metro North to Westport. The train station is about 100 steps from the Down Under paddle shop. They have their own dock, and they’ll get you into the water safely. Board rentals range from $25–$30 per hour, or you can take a lesson (equipment included) for $45 per hour. They do sunset paddle events, and offer SUP yoga, too.