The hottest water sport of the summer

By now you've probably seen a stand-up paddleboard, or SUP, which takes surfing beyond ocean waves to just about any type of water. Paddlers stand on the huge, stable boards while paddling with extra-long, bent-shaft paddles. The result is a full-body workout: Leg muscles work together to maintain balance while the core and upper body power the paddle stroke.

The sport's roots go back to the 1960s, but the current trend traces back to surfing icon Laird Hamilton, who used a SUP to cross-train for big-wave surfing, where core and lower body strength are critical. Hamilton's name lent cachet to the rebirth of the sport, but it's the versatility of the boards that has made stand-up paddleboarding the fastest-growing water sport in North America.

"The sport has evolved from its surfing roots into flat water, so anyone with access to water can participate," says Deb Robinson, communications coordinator at Mountain Equipment Co-Op. "It appeals to a diverse range of people who don't necessarily see themselves as canoeists or kayakers, the traditional water sports MEC supporters. Surfers have naturally gravitated to SUP, and fitness communities have embraced it as one of the best low-impact, full-body core workouts available. There are yoga classes being taught on SUPs, casual paddles along local waterfronts, whitewater rivers being run and, of course, waves being surfed. All in all, lots of fun for lots of people."

Which is why MEC now carries SUPs at all of its stores except the Quebec City branch. Almost every paddle and surf shop also stocks models that range from racing-specific speed machines to beginner-friendly behemoths to smaller boards for carving waves.

Another sign that SUP's star is still rising: Corran Addison, whose name is synonymous with the evolution of whitewater kayaks during the 1990s. The three-time world freestyle medalist was one of the best boaters of his generation, and led the design revolution that gave us six-foot-long boats that can do flips. Now he's an SUP convert, winning races and masterminding designs like Imagine Surfboards RapidFire, which has a plastic hull shape similar to a whitewater kayak. Imagine says the design opens the SUP whitewater "realm of possibility" all the way up to class 5 rapids. The board is relatively cheap, too, at around $500.

One of the best deals on the market for flat water and surfing SUPs is Jimmy Styks. With offices in the U.S. and Canada, the company mass produces boards in China, resulting in some of the lowest prices around, at $1,000 for a board, bag and paddle. The company also stocks some big-box stores with even cheaper designs.

If you haven't tried SUP yet, this is the time. Prices are falling, designs are going niche to fit every paddler's interest, and it's a fun workout however and wherever you do it.