Visit Lake Michigan in July and August, and it’s more likely you’ll see calm, gentle ripples rather than the stormy, head-high whitecaps that surfers pray to find. But no waves are no problem, because that’s when I take to the water with my stand-up paddleboard.
Called the fastest-growing water sport in the world, stand-up paddleboards (SUP) are oversized surfboards designed for maximum stability and used with long, canoe-like paddles. Not surprisingly, stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii, but its popularity has grown not only on the coasts, but anywhere there is water—even a smaller lake, river, or pool.
It wasn’t long ago that I’d get puzzled looks and even a few questions from boaters and beachgoers as I glided along the Galien River and around New Buffalo’s jetty on stand-up paddleboards. Is it a surfboard? Or is it more like a kayak? Today, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t seen stand-up paddleboarders seemingly walking on water along the horizon. In fact, Lake Michigan was mentioned alongside Malibu as one of Outside magazine’s favorite places for stand-up paddleboarding last year.
It’s not difficult to see the appeal. Stand-up paddleboarding provides a full-body, low-impact work-out that improves core strength, cardiovascular fitness, balance, and flexibility. And it’s not limited to just the Laird Hamiltons of the world. All ages and fitness levels can try stand-up paddleboarding, and even beginners can go from kneeling to standing with a few quick pointers. Once you get going, you can choose to row along at a leisurely pace or challenge yourself at a more strenuous clip.
For a different challenge, you can even combine stand-up paddleboarding with yoga. Stand-up paddleboard yoga is just like it sounds, with a stand-up paddleboard taking the place of a yoga mat, and the setting is a lake or river instead of a yoga studio. It offers such traditional yoga benefits as improved balance and increased flexibility, all with the opportunity to connect with nature and have some fun on the water.
But I have to admit, exercise isn’t at the forefront of my mind when it comes to stand-up paddleboarding. It’s impossible to compare it to running on a treadmill or sweating in a Zumba class, because tallying up calories burned is just unnatural when you’re on the water. Instead, you’re more aware of the scenery around you and the gentle rocking of the water beneath your board.