The Best Places for Paddleboarding on the Planet
Published 20 October 2016
Stand-up paddleboarding, or 'SUP' as the cool kids now know it, as has grown up incredibly quickly in the past few years. From a handful of pioneers ten years ago the sport is now the go-to fitness trend for celebrities, the preferred mode of transport for the adventurous, or just for those who feel like having fun in the sun.
You don’t have to be an experienced surfer to graduate to paddleboarding (most people will be up and paddling after an hour or two of lessons), and you don’t even need to live by the sea. Thanks to the versatile nature of a paddleboard you can use it pretty much anywhere. Being able to propel yourself through surf and flat water means the only limits to where you can explore next are your budget and your imagination. Indeed, the latest innovation in the sport, the inflatable paddleboard, which folds up into a backpack now means you can take the fun anywhere.
So with all of this flexibility, where to go? There are hundreds of places that could have made this list, but here we’ve narrowed it down to 10:
Best for beginners: the Cornish Coast
Renowned for its surfing and stunning coastline, Cornwall is easily accessible and relatively cheap to get to. What makes it fantastic for paddleboarding however is that it’s a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic. Which means, generally speaking, when the waves are pumping on the north coast you’ll find calmer, beginner-friendly waters on the southern shoreline. Several great paddleboarding schools have sprung up in recent years so there are plenty of places to get a taste for the sport and on the south coast little fishing villages such as Portmellon offer ideal points to enter the water in secluded bays where the water is calm and the wind kept at bay by steep cliffs. The chance to paddleboard up and down the coast, pulling into old smugglers’ coves for a thermos of coffee as you go is not to be missed.
Best for the experienced SUPper: Hawaii
Hawaii is where it all began, and for keen paddle boarders a visit to one of the major islands is a must. Iconic stretches of coastline such as Waimea Bay offer plenty of flat water at beaches, such as Puaena Point, while more experienced paddlers can head to the legendary North Shore and the world-renowned Sunset Beach. In the calmer summer months it’s even possible to paddleboard all the way from Waimea Bay to Sunset Beach, a fun day trip.
Best for relaxation: Turks and Caicos
With perfect blue waters stretching out to an equally blue horizon, Turks and Caicos is a beach bum’s paradise. The waters are teaming with wildlife and the mangrove-covered coastline is an excellent place to explore in the early morning or late afternoons. With beautiful beaches and some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean to call home for a week or so, grabbing a paddleboard between tanning sessions or perhaps trying spot of on-board yoga with a qualified instructor will leave you relaxed and rejuvenated.
Best for the adventurous: Lake Malawi
At over 300 miles in length and with incredible crystal blue waters, Lake Malawi has long been known as a top diving spot. More recently however ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ has started to attract paddleboarders too. At places like Nkwichi, the calm, warm waters offer a great place for first-timers to try the sport out, while the chance to explore further afield makes for a great adventure. Malawians are renowned for their hospitality and with beach lodges situated along much of the lakeshore at fairly regular intervals, there’s nothing to stop you picking up your board and with a little pre-planning heading out on a SUPfari of your own design.
Best for waves: the Gold Coast
It’s not called Surfer’s Paradise for nothing, and now it’s attracting SUPers too. There’s a good variety of small to medium waves for the beginner on Australia’s Gold Coast as well as more challenging breaks for the experienced. Being in a relatively densely populated region means that there are no shortage of surf shops where SUP boards can be hired and lessons booked. But what’s really great about this stretch of coast is that there’s plenty of time to mess around in the surf during the day and explore the plethora of restaurants, bars and clubs in the evening.
Best for downwinding: Key West, Florida
Paddleboarding doesn’t always have to be about self-propulsion. When the wind blows hard enough the opportunity to stand tall and use yourself as a sail means you can cover vast distances with minimal effort. Nowhere is better for downwinding than the Florida Keys. Here paddlers can travel from island to island backed by reliable trade winds. Not only does the breeze help to keep things cool but so do the locals who are renowned for having a laid back approach to life. If that’s not enough then keep an eye out for the local wildlife too. Sharks, rays and even the odd sea-cow call this area home.
Best for soaking up the scenery: Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe has been the getaway of choice for Californian city slickers and hardcore outdoor enthusiasts for years. Not only is it a great place to learn how to paddleboard but its extensive shoreline also makes for an interesting adventure once you master the art of standing up on the board long enough to start enjoying it. Crystal-clear water, boulder-strewn beaches, towering mountains and virgin forest are all there to be explored so take a pair of walking boots with you when you cast off. Our tip: go in the early morning or early evening, when the lake is at its flattest and the wind is light.
Best for looking cool: California
From San Diego to Santa Cruz, paddleboarding has taken California by storm and thanks to a few celebrity endorsements, the waters along the California coast now play host to nearly as many SUPers as surfers. The calm waters around San Diego Bay are perfect for beginners while Santa Cruz Harbor provides further protection from the elements for the novice. In LA the iconic Malibu is of course a real hub for surfing. The beautiful beaches and the chance to paddle with seals and even the occasional whale have made it popular with the paddleboarding fraternity too. Although surfers are often not as receptive to paddleboarders messing around in their waves as you might wish, once you’ve paddled out past the breakers the water is yours to enjoy.
Best for culture: Venice
Where there is water there is generally the opportunity to paddleboard and Venice is no different! Whilst we would never claim that anything can beat lying back on a gondola as you are steered through the canals and under the bridges of this incredible work of architecture and engineering, there are other ways of seeing the sites and paddleboarding is one of them. Hire a guide and get out for a novel SUP session offering a fascinating insight into this magnificent city.
Nick paddleboarding on the Thames (image: Nick Hobbs)
Best for iconic scenery: Cape Town
Set against the unmistakable backdrop of Table Mountain, Cape Town is the SUP capital of Africa and with waves and calmer waters all on offer there’s very good reason why. The aptly named Sunset Beach is a great place for a relaxed surfing SUP while the calmer waters of Langebaan Lagoon are a little further out of town but well worth the drive, especially for beginners.
If you'd like to try paddleboarding in any of these locations, then take a look at our tailor-made itineraries, all of which can be adapted to suit your requirements.