If you are bigger or heavier than the average Joe or Janet and are curious about SUP, we’d like to nudge you to give it a try. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: SUP is the most accessible sport around with room for everybody. It does not matter how much room you personally require. For better, for worse or for Instagram, stand up paddle boarding is oft associated with models weighing roughly 1 stone. Either that crowd or people who enjoy mind-bending contortions in small bikinis.
That’s not the full story of the sport so please don’t let social media deter you. I can see how you might consider SUP wistfully and then imagine the practical implications of loading all 120+ kg of yourself onto a narrow floating piece of plastic. Don’t be defeatist my big boned brethren, You can SUP too. I’ve got great news for you: there is no definitive maximum weight for paddle boarding.
A word with our founder
If you don’t believe me, take it from our founder Will. Will is a classic rugby-type guy, he’s got a big sturdy frame and is 6’ tall. Depending on seasonal feasting, he can weigh anywhere from 100kg to 120 kg.
At first glance you might think he’d be better suited to a scrum than a SUP but actually he’s proficient with both. This is not because he has freakish catlike agility or the athletic prowess of 6 olympic speed skaters combined. It’s because he knows that in order to SUP comfortably for any length of time he prefers at least 12’ board beneath his feet.
That’s not to say he (or you) can’t get away with less, he often takes the 10’8 Cruise out for shorter paddles. But to make things easy especially while learning, bigger boards are better for bigger people.
“Weight & size should not be barriers for entry. Inflatable boards today have come so far that buckle and flex are easy to eliminate even for the heaviest riders.”
bigger boards are better for bigger people.
Length, width and rider weight
Let’s take a moment to separate SUP as portrayed online from SUP as practiced in real life. The real world shows us that paddle boarders come in all shapes and sizes and people over 50 kg can play too.
To anyone who is big-boned, burly, extremely tall or just plain overweight, there is a board for you. Gird your loins, make ready to take the plunge and let’s discuss what to look for in a paddle board. The best inflatable SUP for heavy riders is the one that gives you the most stable platform possible over the water.
For anyone over 6’ tall or that weighs over 90 kg, a board 12’ long and at least 32” wide is the best place to start. There are also 15’ boards and specialist SUPs wider than 32” which are worth considering. Whether you prioritise length or width comes down to your height. Heavier paddlers who are well under 6’ tall can get away with a 10-11 board that is over 32” wide. Paddlers over 6’ tall across the weight spectrum will do best to prioritize length.
Many board manufacturers list max weight load in addition to recommended rider weight. Take these numbers into account and understand that they are guidelines. Max capacity tends to account for a standing paddler, seated passengers and any gear that a paddler may be bringing along. If you notice the max rider weight differs from the max capacity, this is why.
If you weigh the same as the max capacity for the board, you may still be comfortable paddling the board seated or kneeling but standing may prove to be a challenge. Don’t attempt to cram yourself onto a board that is too small. You’ll frustrate yourself and waste money too. Err on the side of getting a board that is too big and your chances for success will be far higher.
If you are doubtful that managing a 12’ or 15’ board is doable for you, just do some research on longboards for surfing. There are some absolute monstrosities of stand up boards out there and they have distinct advantages. Stability, displacement and making the most of small waves are all among them.
Don’t be intimidated by getting a big board. The thickness of your board in addition to the length and width will contribute to buoyancy as well. There is a delicate balance to strike here. A 4” thick board may not be sturdy enough for a truly plus-sized rider. A board over 6” thick will make balance a challenge by raising you further than necessary over the water. Ideally, a 5”-6” thick iSUP will provide the volume and rigidity required for bigger paddlers.
Weight & size should not be barriers for entry.
Special considerations for big people on the water
Now that we’ve gone over equipment, let’s talk about technique. A lot of the same advice that applies to any beginner applies to big paddlers. When starting out, the easiest way to learn is to make progressions. Most people don’t waltz on their SUP from the word “go” and bust out pivot turns and super fast, straight lines. All of this comes with time and practice and will depend on building your confidence on the water as much as building your skill or fitness level.
Start small, sit or kneel on your board for as long as it takes to get comfortable. If your board has a removable center fin which it likely will, take that out and set your SUP out flat on the ground. Get to know your sup on land before taking for the inaugural voyage.
Get a feel for the midline of the board which is where you’ll want to center your weight no matter how you are paddling. Also notice where the hand holds are and consider which one may be easiest to grab if you need to climb from the water onto deck. Some large paddlers attach an extra rope or a stirrup system to help them do this.
You don’t have to paddle the whole time
If weight isn’t your only concern and your fitness level is making you quiver in your boots, don’t worry. You don’t have to paddle the whole time. You can take breaks without ending up lost somewhere in the gulf stream.You don’t even have to stand up, you can paddle very comfortably sitting or kneeling and many people find this more comfortable.
“The best part was one I hadn’t considered: you don’t have to stand the whole time. You can sit and paddle, too. And then stand up and paddle and work it. Then sit. Then stand. Until your back becomes a towering pillar of strength, you lose 25 lbs and you find yourself able to continuously paddle standing up for more than two hours at a time.”
“Fat lady on a little board” – source graceless.com
So you see, plenty of bigger people are already out there finding ways to get on the water and paddle. You don’t have to pioneer the movement yourself and you don’t need to do it alone. If you are feeling hesitant, why not invest in a lesson or two with a qualified sup instructor. Just keep our tips in mind to find the right size board for you and you’ll be on the water in no time, no permission needed.
A BIG BLUEFIN THANK YOU
Salmon Bay Paddle’s fantastic tips for how to recover yourself from a fall overboard.
Graceless’ Ryan Winkler for her article on learning to SUP while carrying some extra weight and dealing with back pain.