What Should You Pack for a SUP Vacation?

I recently wrote about the off-season stand on liquid experience. While it is definitely something you should consider, most of us may want a more fair weather adventure. So I thought I’d take a look at some of the best vacation spots and the experience you’ll find in those sunny locales. But there are some things you can bring to enhance your paddle boarding once you get there. Here’s what you should pack for the perfect SUP vacation.

Where to go for a Great SUP Adventure

Most paddle boarders living west of the Rockies will by default look to Hawaii. This is where it all began and continues to attract paddle boarders of all levels of experience. On Oahu’s North Shore area, Ali’I Beach offers some of the best beginner paddle boarding. The waters are crystal clear and just calm enough on most days to give you a great day on the water. Yes, this is the same beach they filmed Baywatch Hawaii.

If you live east of the Rockies, as many of my friends do, the destination of choice is the Bahamas. While the vast majority of this archipelago seems like the perfect place to paddle board, the wind plays a factor. Because of this, paddle boarding generally takes a back seat to kayaking or windsurfing with a few limited rental spots (mostly at the big resorts and often with some tight time limits). But one group of outer islands has embraced the sport in a big way. The Abacos Islands offer some spectacular water with some surprisingly calm cays to explore. A friend describes it as a mini-Bahamas with all the tourist accommodations of the other, more well-known islands. Expect to share the water with sailboats and reef fish.

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 9.18.27 AMAnd if you are looking for the perfect place to paddle board, albeit in the most beautiful waters on earth, nothing surpasses Bora Bora. Because the water is so calm, your paddle board can get you to some of the best snorkeling you will ever experience.

Each one of these destinations can provide you with a good beginner paddle board experience. The boards you can rent are often perfect for the water in that area and many of the rental spots offer some good beginner lessons. But intermediate skill-level paddle boards and even beginners can enhance the experience with a few easy-to-pack pieces of equipment.

What to bring for a Great SUP Vacation

You may be tempted to pack your own board. Not all boards travel well and there have been issues with some boards during flights. High altitudes are not board-friendly. Some are even affected by a mountain crossing! You might consider taking along an inflatable board however. This will give you a little more versatility, especially if you have the opportunity to SUP on some inland waterways. Of course, you’ll also be saving on the rental fees as well.

You should bring your own paddle though. Once you’ve tried paddle boarding, this piece of equipment can make all the difference in the world. If you don’t have one, now is the time to consider it.

The right sized paddle will be eight-to-ten inches taller than you are. Too long of a paddle, which you are likely to get in a rental situation will wear you out sooner and probably make your back sore as you reach too far or not far enough. Most boards in the places mentioned above will offer a more generic, wider board to accommodate several skill levels. This means you might need to make some adjustments to the paddle.

The paddles you are likely to rent will be made of plastic or aluminum. While these are eco-friendly and durable, they are also heavier and come in one length.  The outfitter may have some paddles close to your size but don’t count on it.

While wood paddles are really nice to look at and give you a great hand feel, they are not easy to travel with over thousands of miles. Stick to either a carbon fiber or fiberglass design. One of the best is the Lau Lau, the strongest and lightest paddle of KIALOA’s IKAIKA™ Series of SUP paddles. It’s adjustable, incredibly lightweight at only 25 oz and comes in two blade sizes. In most of the destinations mentioned above, the smaller blade will work best. Large blades are primarily for surf SUP conditions.

The rest of the gear you think you will need is mostly common sense stuff. If you are likely to react to the tropical sun, you already know to pack some UV gear.

I should also mention some of the other SUP vacation spots that are doing some great things to accommodate the sport. There is always California, Costa Rica and the Virgin Islands.

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