SUP Your Way to Fitness

Fish flops through the glassy water surface just out from the nose of my paddleboard. I glide lazily along under a clear, blue sky, watching for another. Eventually, I sit down, secure my paddle and roll off into the cool water. After swimming around for a few minutes, I hoist myself back up on the board and lower down onto my back, letting the warm sun dry my goose-pimply skin.

 If you’ve ever tried standup paddleboarding (SUP, for short), you’re familiar with this delicious summertime scene. Thanks to multiple reservoirs, natural lakes and rivers peppering the state from north to south, Utah has many SUP spots. But what many seasoned paddlers and paddleboard neophytes alike may not know about SUPing is what a fantastic workout it can be.

 “Done correctly, paddleboarding can be one of the best, full-body workouts,” says Trent Hickman, owner and operator of Park City SUP (801.558.9878, Hickman offers SUP lessons and rentals, yoga and Surf-fit SUP classes and guided SUP tours at the Jordanelle Reservoir and Pebble Beach, a sandy beach at the Deer Valley Resort snowmaking ponds, just off the back deck of the Deer Valley Grocery-Café in Park City. Leveling up your SUP session from a leisurely outing to a calorie-torching, strength-building workout is not difficult, Hickman says but does involve tuning in to your movements and giving it a little practice. “Paddleboarding is all about transferring energy from your body to the paddle and into the water,” he says. “And, so, if you can master the paddle stroke, you can work your body from your feet on up.”

Hickman’s tips for achieving a dynamic paddle stroke

A) Place your hands on the paddle farther apart than feels natural. “Think of how you’d hold a shovel,” Hickman says. “The farther apart your hands are, the better leverage you have.” To locate the optimal paddle hand placement, stand in front of a mirror and grasp the paddle handle with your dominant hand, and the shaft with your other. Raise the paddle over your head and lower it vertically until it rests on the top of your head and your arms form 90-degree angles. This is how far apart your hands should be when paddling. To help you remember where to place your non-dominant hand along the paddle shaft, mark the spot with a piece of brightly colored tape.

 B) Keep your arms straight and hinge at the waist to place the paddle blade in the water. Instead of bending your arms back and forth to pull the paddle through the water, straight arms engage the larger muscle groups in your chest, back and core. “Having bendy arms,” Hickman says, “works just your arms which will fatigue much faster than those larger muscle groups.” And then as soon as the paddle blade is submerged, straighten your legs and drive your hips forward, which, in turn, drives the board forward.

 C) Keep the paddle vertical, or perpendicular to the water. This will keep the board moving forward in a straight line and allow you to paddle on one side several times before switching sides. A good way to maintain a vertical paddle is to make sure your hands remain directly over one another. “To get this you’ll have to lean over a bit on the paddle side of the board, which works your balance and taps into your core,” Hickman says.

D) Other tips for achieving an efficient stroke include: maintaining an athletic stance with your hips and knees aimed toward the front or nose of the board; stopping the paddle stroke at your feet; and lifting the paddle out of the water at the end of the stroke by rotating the thumb on the hand grasping the handle (the top hand) toward the sky, which turns the paddle blade parallel to the board and allows for a clean lift out of the water.

Staying Safe on a SUP

Whether you are paddling around a calm pond like Pebble Beach or embarking on an hours- and miles-long paddling tour around the 3,000-acre Jordanelle Reservoir, be sure your board’s leash is in good condition and use it properly; wear a PFD (personal floatation device); stay close to the shore; and consider going early in the morning, when the water is calmer and motorized boat traffic is at a minimum.  

Flatwater Paddleboarding Destinations in Utah

  • Pebble Beach, at the Deer Valley Resort’s snowmaking ponds, Park City, is open daily in the summer, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s the best place in Utah to learn and you can paddle a third of a mile on flat water while never being far from shore,” Hickman says.
  • Mirror Lake, Trial Lake, Lake Washington, Smith Morehouse Reservoir and dozens more lakes in the Uinta Mountains. Some require a hike to reach (amplifying your workout!) and the water in most of these high-altitude lakes is very cold.
  • Rock Cliff Natural Area is located on the Jordanelle Reservoir’s eastern arm. This section of the reservoir is a no-wake zone and tends to be much less visited than the reservoir’s popular Hailstone area.
  • For advanced SUPers ready to progress to moving water, the Provo River offers gentler rapids surrounded by stretches of calm water. Hickman notes that a helmet, PFD and leash are mandatory for SUPing on moving water
  • Causey Reservoir, located 15 miles northeast of Ogden, is open to non-motorized watercraft only.

Save the Date

The Park City SUP Festival will be held at the Jordanelle Reservoir on June 22, 2024. This annual event includes SUP demos, races, rentals, food and live music. For details, visit

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Melissa Fields
Melissa Fields
Melissa (O' Brien) Fields is a contributing editor to Utah Bride & Groom magazine and a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. She is an accomplished freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience.

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