The Original SUP

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The most technically proficient standup paddleboarders in the world may well be a group of fishermen in Myanmar who have never heard of the increasingly popular sport. These boatmen, who teach their technique in Inle Lake’s reed-choked waters, stand on one leg at the back tip of their canoes while using the calf of their free leg to guide a paddle tucked under their arm for leverage. Locals accomplish this while minding their nets and wearing traditional skirts – all the more reason to embrace local knowledge on the way to better SUP form.

Lessons are taught in hand-hewn dugout canoes, which – due to their round-bottom design – are much less forgiving than the wide, buoyant paddleboards used for traditional standup. Standing still at the back of an empty boat is hard. Standing still at the back of an empty boat on one leg while paddling with the other is harder. Initial instruction often takes place in shallow rice paddies with the teacher steadying the boat for students.

Burmese standup drills a few important lessons into SUPers. Participants must keep their backs straight while paddling, bending only at the waist and knees; to turn, paddlers use a variation of the forward sweep stroke, stretching the free leg forward to place the paddle toward the front of the boat and pulling back in a wide away from the stern.

The real workout starts once students begin propelling their boats forward into the 45-square-mile lake, an intense core and lower body workout that intensifies with speed. And Inle is not a no-wake zone. Boats ferrying tourists and locals between bustling markets throw off waves big enough waves to knock cocky paddlers into the drink.

Fortunately, the view from the water is lovely. The shores are dotted with charming villages and ancient monasteries where exhausted paddlers can use afternoon meditation as an excuse to rest their weary legs. Burma’s verdant northeast is attracting so many international travelers these days, which means paddlers can retire to luxury when the balanced boatmen’s lesson comes to a close.

More information: The easiest way to reach Inle Lake is by hopping a domestic flight from Yangon or Mandalay on AirMyanmar, both worthwhile destinations themselves. A night at the excellent Shwe Inn Tha runs from roughly $60. For standup lessons, head to the Smiling Moon agency and ask for Mr. U Paw San.

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