You’ve tried kayaking, canoeing, white water rafting, and surfing, but have you ever tried stand up paddle boarding?
Paddle boarding is not only a great way to get outside and on the water, it’s easy to get started doing. It’s not only an excellent full-body workout — especially your core muscles — it’s a fun activity all year long.
Best of all, you can even paddle board with your dog, child, or significant other, and it can be as leisurely or vigorous as you choose. Have you ever tried SUP yoga or a SUP tour? You’ll want to after reading this article.
In addition to the world’s 10 best paddle board destinations — some of which might be closer than you think — this article will tell you what you need to know to get started stand up paddling according to experienced paddle boarders from all over the country.
Once you try it you’ll agree — few water sports activities compare with paddle boarding.
One of the biggest benefits of paddle boarding is it’s really easy to learn how to do. The primary requisite for any paddle boarder is to simply love the water, says David De Haan of Standuppaddleboardreview.com.
“Do you love the water? Are you looking for a versatile activity?” he says, “If you answered ‘yes,’ paddleboarding would be perfect for you.”
Before we go any further, let’s clear up a little bit of terminology. Throughout this article, you’ll read paddle board, but also SUP board (or a stand up paddle board), and sometimes just SUP or SUPing. All different names for the same thing.
Now that bit of business is out the way, let’s talk a bit about getting started with paddle boarding.
How to Pick the Right Size Paddle Board and Paddle
The first thing you’re going to need to do is find a paddle board that’s sized right for you. There are two different kinds of paddle boards: an inflatable SUP, or a hard rigid board.
Here’s how to choose:
- Inflatable paddle board
Inflatable paddle boards are a good choice for those just starting out, if you’re buying a board on a limited budget, if you have limited storage space, or if you travel a lot and you want to bring your board with you on the road.
- Hard paddle board
If you tend to stay close to home when boarding, a hard paddle board could be right for you, or if you prefer SUP surfing, since hard paddle boards handle well and are known to be quick and agile.
In addition to hard and inflatable, there are numerous kinds of paddle boards meant for specific activities once you’re out on the water. This includes yoga SUPs and fishing SUPs, as well as touring SUPS, intended for traveling long distances or participating in a race. Touring SUPs are difficult for beginners, however.
Next, you’ll need to make sure your SUP is sized right for you.
What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?
To find a right-size board for you add 9–10 inches to your own height. That should do it!
Size matters when it comes to SUP paddles as well. There are four basic approaches to sizing a paddle.
- Laird Hamilton’s Method
With the Laird Laird Hamilton’s Method, the paddle should be 3–4 inches above your head.
- The Hands Up Method
With the hands up method, just extend one arm like you’re raising your hand in class while the other arm holds the paddle parallel to your body. The palm of your extended hand should fit comfortably over the end of the paddle board.
- The Shaka Method
A third way to size your paddle is to throw a “Shaka” with your hand, a gesture used by some to mean “hang loose.” Put your thumb on top of your head, with your pinky extended upward. Your paddle should be as long as your extended pinky.
- Stare it Straight in the Eyes Method
Last, there’s the stare it straight in the eyes method. To try this, put the grip on the ground with the paddle pointed skyward. The point where the paddle meets the grip should be exactly at eye level.
Now that you’ve selected a board and paddle. Here’s what to do once you get it in the water.
How to Paddle Board
In this ranked list we selected places with plenty of opportunities to take paddle boarding lessons. For an in-depth guide, check out RAVE’s complete guide to paddle boarding. For now, here are a few brief pointers.
- Make sure you’re in water that’s deep enough for the fin to be free of the bottom.
- Begin in a kneeling postion once you’re on the board. Paddle with your hand a bit on either side.
- Stand up slowly, one foot at a time. It’s important to stay in the middle of the board with your feet shoulder length apart and parallel to the stringer (a thin strip running nose to tail of the board, directly down the center)
- Keep your knees bent slightly, and your core centered over the board (Like we said, paddle boarding is a great core exercise).
- You’re probably going to fall off a few times. That’s ok. Just get back up and try again. Since you’ll likely find yourself in the water at some point, try a thin wetsuit to keep warm.
Once you’re up on the board, try paddling. When paddling your SUP, think of your paddle like a lever. Use your top hand to drive the lever, while your bottom hand acts as the pivot point.
If you’re having trouble keeping your balance once you’re up on the board, it’s probably because you selected a board that’s too small for you. Try a board that’s a little bit wider and thicker and it should solve the problem.
Now that you’ve selected a board and a paddle and learned some beginner things to try once you’re out in the water, let’s begin our ranking of the 10 best paddle board destinations.
When we set out to present the world’s 10 best paddle board destinations, RAVE Reviews triangulated similar lists from reputable outdoors recreation sites from all across the internet.
We then cross-referenced that research against input we received from experienced paddle boarders, many of whom have tried SUP’ing all over the world.
Everyone knows there are great places to SUP in California, Hawaii, and Lake Tahoe. But we wanted to show you the lesser known hot spots and SUP destinations to try this increasingly popular water sport.
We evaluated each spot on the following:
- Type/quality of water
- Proximity to lodging and other accomodations
- Nearby SUP shops, tour guides, and lessons
- Wildlife and marine life viewing opportunities
All this combined has helped prepare a complete and thorough ranking of the world’s best paddle board destination. Ready to try paddle boarding? Let’s get started.
World’s Best Paddle Board Destinations
Where to stay: Equinoccio Hotel
Where to eat: La Octava Maravilla Restaurante & Bar
For an internatonal sup spot, consider El Salvador, host of the 2019 International Surfing Association (ISA) World Stand-Up Paddle and Paddleboard Champonship. The event was held at El Sunzal, a soft, rolling right-hand point-break with sloping walls great for SUP.
There’s also Lake Coatepeque, a beautiful volcanic lake and a popular weekend retreat for the people of San Salvador with warm, clear waters surrounded by green mountainous landscapes. “The wave is very popular with paddlers and surfers with most levels of experience,” Mauricio Tevez, owner-operator of Surf and Trips El Salvador, tells RAVE Reviews.
“The best part,” he continues, “is that you can get very long rides. It also has a very big channel with calm water, which is excellent for beginner SUPing.
Or try El Zonte instead, with fun right- and left-hand waves that always break well, regardless of the conditions or the season, while also offering stunning views of natural beauty, including huge rocky cliffs within sight of the beach.
“El Salvador has 320 kilometers (about 200 miles) of Pacific coastline with many incredible surf breaks providing enough waves to keep everyone happy,” Tevez says.
RAVE Meter: 100
Table Bay, ZA
Where stay: The Table Bay Hotel
Where to eat: Karibu Restaurant
Heading to South Africa, Table Bay, near Cape Town, is the next waterway to qualify in our ranking of the World’s best paddle board destinations. Table Bay, part of the Cape Peninsula, is one of the best and most diverse places to paddleboard and kayak in the world, says South African paddle board guide Mark Whitman of Watercraft Watch.
“Try an early morning padddle from Table Bay and watch the sun come up while dolphins and seals frolic in the waves right in front of you,” he says.
Also in South Africa, Whitman nominates False Bay harbor, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. From there, you can paddle out past the breakwater, rounding Castle Rock toward Boulders Beach, home to one of the biggest penguin colonies anywhere in the world.
“It’s a long paddle but well worth the effort,” Whitman says. “I have paddle boarded in many places,” he continues, “but every time I see Table Mountain from the water, I feel a deep sense of peace that is almost spiritual.”
RAVE Meter: 99.8
Where stay: Ardlui Hotel
Where to eat: Slanj Restaurant
When most people think paddle boarding they think of the Caribbean, Bali, or San Diego. It might come as a surprise then that Scotland is also home to some of the best SUP opportunities in the world.
“Yes, the weather can be somewhat unpredictable at times,” admits Meaghan Simpson of SUPChick, a site exploring all the paddle board opportunities Scotland has to offer. Nevertheless, she says, “it is definitely worth considering for your next SUP adventure.”
In fact, Scotland offers nearly 17,000 kilometers (or about 11,000 miles) of shoreline from which to SUP. Simpson also mentions the country’s numerous sea lochs nestled in it’s coastline.
“Visitors often tend to think more of the freshwater type when they hear the word ‘loch’,” Simpson tells RAVE Reviews. But in fact, there are just under 32,000 freshwater lochs in Scotland.
“Some of them are located in dramatic highland glens with epic vistas of rugged heather clad mountains,” Simpson says, while others are fringed by ancient Scots pine forests.
RAVE Meter: 98.6
Where to stay: Saguaro Lake Guest House
Where to eat: Desert Eagle Brewery
Returning to the United States, Mesa, AZ earned its spot in our ranking for its proximity to three Arizona lakes and miles and miles of lakeshore from which paddleboarders can enter the water.
One of which is the Lower Salt River Recreation Area, part of the Tonto National Forest. While there, paddle boarders enjoy a sandy shoreline offering convenient parking and walk-up access. An ideal spot for a picnic or dip in the lake, says Sarah Williams of Desert Paddleboards.
“Paddleboarders love the views of the majestic canyon walls that are prevalent here and the beachfront is also a popular area for swimming, floating, and catching some rays,” she says.
Nearby Saguaro Lake meanwhile offers more than 22-miles of shoreline and ranch-style lodging, as well as day-use areas. Elsewhere, the Salt River also offers several recreation sites along the route for easy and convenient loading of your SUP in and out of the water.
In addition to Desert Paddleboards, No Snow SUP is a great place to turn when just getting started paddle boarding in the Mesa Area.
Heather Fetter of No Snow SUP recommends the Boulder Recreation parking lot at Canyon Lake. “This is a boat-free zone and sheltered from wind and lake traffic. The canyon walls make for the most amazing scenic paddles,” she says.
RAVE Meter: 97.3
Where to stay: Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort
Where to eat: Waterfront Wines Restaurant
There are also great paddle boarding experiences to be had on the West Coast of Canada. SUP boarding in British Columbia means you’ll “be surrounded by mountains and rugged coastlines,” and “spoiled for choice,” says Derek Lenze of the Floating Authority, a site dedicated to all things water sports.
“British Columbia not only has all of this beautiful coastline but it also has local harbors, cities and hundreds of lakes you can choose from,” he says.
Take Westwood Lake, for example, just outside Nanaimo. There you can get fabulous views of the city from the water, Lenze says, but also wildlife like black bears, eagles, herons, Steller Sea Lions, humpback whales, and orcas.
In the Okanagan Valley, there are lakes around every corner, so you’re never far away from a relaxing paddle. Take, for instance, Okanagan Lake, near Vancouver, a picturesque location known for flat water, perfect for water sports like paddle boarding.
RAVE Meter: 96.8
Where to stay: Sunriver Resort
Where to eat: South Bend Bistro
Back in North America, Bend, OR is the next stop in our bucket list of SUP boarding hot spots. Near Bend, in the central part of the state, there’s Hosmer and Sparks Lake, both great spots to try SUP boarding, says Chad Lubinski of the sites Hiker Trash Nation and OregonHikers.org.
At Hosmer, the water is calm, and only electric and non-motorboats are permitted on the lake, contributing to the mellow atmosphere many seek in the best paddle boarding experience.
The water is clear as glass, with sublime views of nearby South Sister, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor.
“It’s essentially two lakes and a canal,” Lubinski says, “The canal is my favorite part, as you can look down and see fishing swimming below. It’s just really peaceful and quiet.”
“It’s big enough that you aren’t around people and it’s easy to just hop off and have lunch on the shore, while still having privacy,” he says.
That’s all while nearby Sparks Lake provides ample paddleboarding opportunity under the shadow of the looming South Sisters Mountain.
RAVE Meter: 95.3
Lincoln City, OR
Where to stay: Surftides Lincoln City
Where to eat: Kyllo’s Seafood & Grill
Next up is Lincoln City, OR, home to Oregon’s serene and picturesque Siletz Bay and known for calm waters, as well as thick green forest and a network of estuaries leading to a beautiful glassy bay protected by a large sandbar. Perfect for beginners.
Launch from anywhere along the beach and paddle your way out to the Four Brothers rocks in the Bay, or just take in the natural coastal beauty and variety of sea life, viewable along the beach.
For an easygoing, in-and-out paddleboard destination, try another great spot near Lincoln City called Schooner Creek, accessible from Siletz Bay. From there, paddle your way upstream towards adventure.
Also, nearby Lincoln City is the Salmon River Estuary, a beautiful maze of waterways. For beginners, Lincoln City offers numerous places to rent gear or sign up for lessons, including Safari Town Surf Shop, Lincoln City Surf Shop, and Blue Heron Landing.
RAVE Meter: 94.8
Where to stay: Casa Monica Resort & Spa
Where to eat: South Beach Grill
Next in our ranking is the clear blue water off the coast of the state of Florida.
More well-known areas to SUP in Florida include the Florida Keys and Key West. But there are lesser-known spots as well, specifically Mantanzas Inlet, near Saint Augustine, and Wekiwa Springs in Apopka, just north of Orlando.
At Mantanzas Inlet you’ll find a peaceful section of Intracoastal Waterway, located between Daytona and Saint Augustine. Start at Fort Matanzas National Monument for inlet access and carry on to Crescent Beach.
Other highlights at Mantanzas include the historic Fort Matanzas, oyster beds, estuaries, and ample wildlife like manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and Roseate Spoonbills, says Rob Taylor of the site 2 Travel Dads, who’s tried the spot.
At Wekiwa Spring, you’ll find the Wekiwa River, flowing from Wekiwa Springs State Park. Leave Wekiva Island and find a calm, tropical river, perfect for paddlers ranging from beginner to advanced.
Midway between the island and the headspring is another route, guiding you to Rock Springs Run, At Rock Sprins Run you’ll find turquoise waters and abundant wildlife, including alligators
“It’s a unique paddling experience and is one of the best places for paddle boarding in Florida,” Taylor says.
RAVE Meter: 93.6
Crested Butte, CO
Where to stay: Elk Mountain Lodge
Where to eat: McGill’s At Crested Butte
Our tour of the world’s best places to paddle board stops off now at Crested Butte, CO. Nestled high up in the mountains, Crested Butte is home to many high alpine lakes and winding rivers, perfect for SUPing. One such waterway is Emerald Lake, located in the Gothic Valley, near Shofield Pass, as well as Lost Lake and Lake Irwin, on the Kebler Pass road.
All these options offer “views of the surrounding peaks and offer camping nearby,” says Julie Singh, co-founder of Trip Outside, a site dedicated to all forms of outside adventure. “Crested Butte is also close to the largest body of water in Colorado, the Blue Mesa Reservoir,” she says.
For SUP and kayak rentals in the Crested Butte Area, RAVE recommends Wheelies and Waves in downtown Crested Butte.
RAVE Meter: 92.9
Where to stay: Inn on The Cliff St. George
Where to eat: Lonny Boy’s BBQ
The last SUPing location in our article, Hurricane, UT. Hurricane also comes to RAVE Reviews on the recommendation of Julie Singh of Trip Outside, and after conducting our own research, we wholeheartedly agree.
Near Hurricane — a much mellower place than its name might imply — is Quail Creek State Park reservoir, an incredibly scenic paddle boasting warm water, some of the warmest in the entire state of Utah.
“Not only is it great for paddleboarding, but it is also popular for camping, swimming and fishing,” Singh tells RAVE Reviews.
It’s not only a great stopover for a paddle, but a place from which to enjoy the scenery of Southwest Utah, located between St. George and Zion National Park,
Also near Hurricane is Gunlock State Park’s reservoir. Known for flat, calm water, the reservoir is ideal for SUPing year-round,
For paddle board gear in Hurricane, RAVE recommends Dig Paddlesports.