A Beginner’s Guide to SUP from the Pros

Kai Lenny rides his Stand-Up Paddle on a big wave at the North Shore in Haleiwa, Hawaii, December 9, 2014.
Kai Lenny rides his Stand-Up Paddle on a big wave at the North Shore in Haleiwa, Hawaii, December 9, 2014. Brian Bielmann / Red Bull Content Pool

Forget CrossFit. If you want the ultimate workout, grab a longboard. Standup paddleboarding (SUP) has grown in popularity around the globe in locales that have water — any type of water. The sport doesn't rely on killer waves, but killer muscles for paddling. Kai Lenny has been crowned the best SUP pro six times, so he knows the sport inside and out.

"If I had to do one workout the rest of my life, it would be SUP race training," Lenny says. "It's incredible what it's allowed me to do, how it makes me feel, and above all what you see on the water. The training works your entire body and leaves you cut and strong to the bone."


"It's most important to have a good strong core and legs for balance, and upper-body strength for paddling," adds 15-year-old SUP world champion Izzi Gomez, who first learned to surf at age 3. "It's basically like having a gym on the ocean." 

Lenny uses the 3,000-year-old sport to help perfect his other passions, which include surfing, kite surfing, and wind surfing. We got the SUP phenom out of the water for a few minutes to get his advice on how anyone can benefit from this total-body workout.

Have a role model 
"I got into SUP when I was really little, around seven years old, after I saw Laird Hamilton doing it on Maui. My first board was my eight-foot longboard and an Outrigger Canoe paddle. At the time it wasn't a sport, just an 'ocean activity,' which was really cool. It's incredible to see where it has come in such a short time." 

Take Advantage of the Good Weather
"It all depends on the day, and because I do so many different water sports, it's all dependent on the conditions. If the weather is 'standard' Maui conditions, this is how my day would go: I wake up at the crack of dawn and go for a morning surf dawn patrol, then I head to the gym for one hour. After the gym, I'll go SUP training at the harbor and then run home to grab my wind surf and kite-surf gear. After doing those wind sports, I may finish the day with either Yoga, a beach run, or another surf session either on my SUP or surfboard. I will eat on the way to all my activities, but I have no time to sit down and eat."

Do Yoga
"I look at SUP as the bicycle of the sea. A lot of what you do on land for cycling can be directly correlated to SUP race training. The surfing side of SUP is a lot like surfing, except you're standing on the board the entire time trying to balance. Yoga is something that is really good for preventative injury, and also offers major advantages in terms of strength in a low posture. The sport is so new that every day I am discovering new ways to become stronger and faster on my SUP."

RELATED: Taking Standup Paddleboarding to the Next Level

CrossTrain
"I do all my sports as evenly as possible. They all feed off each other. My kite surfing helps my SUP, and my Windsurfing helps my big wave surfing. They are all connected because they are all spinoffs of surfing. And if you remember that, you can cross-reference them and get an advantage of seeing the ocean from every perspective possible. That goes a long way during a SUP event. Unfortunately, I don't get to big-wave surf as much as I'd like because it's all up to nature's plans. I can guarantee you that if there are a big few days out at Jaws, I'll spend the entire day out there because I don't want to miss that opportunity since it doesn't come around all that often."

Learn from Your Mistakes
"It's pretty incredible what you can do with a GoPro. The places you can take the camera is mind-blowing. Reviewing the footage on my GoPro helps me correct the mistakes I make. I can immediately make improvements to my training based on what I see from the footage rather than solely relying on how it feels when I'm going through a motion. I've taken my GoPro into places that no other person or camera can capture what I'm doing. For example, being inside a big barrel at Jaws." 

Enjoy Yourself
"Most importantly, keep it fun. Learning becomes way easier when you're discovering new ways to paddle naturally. If you get stuck instantly on a training regimen, it can get real old quick. The only thing I suggest doing immediately is learning proper technique and paddle stroke. That will help you from tweaking yourself and allow you the full benefits of what SUP has to offer."