What is Stand Up Paddling?

Stand Up Paddling is contested all over the world and is also one of the fastest growing recreational sports on the planet. It is practiced on rivers, lakes, canals, whitewater, the ocean – basically anywhere there is water. As well as world-class competitions, participants also enjoy stand up paddling as a fitness activity and as a unique way to sightsee.

Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is exactly as its title suggests – standing up on a board and paddling. There are many variations, and the sport is considered one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the world.

One of the attractions of SUP is its versatility as an activity. Paddlers can be seen on rivers, canals, stream, lakes, on the ocean, even on wildwater. While many athletes use flatwater, many also take on ocean surf.

SUP is believed to have originated in Africa, became very popular in Hawaii in the 1940’s, and can now be seen in countries and on waterways all over the globe.

In competition there are often sprint events, usually contested over 200 metres, longer races (19.50 kilometres) and technical races (about three kilometres).

The ICF has set the following guidelines for race distances;

Sprint: Women and men maximum 250m
Distance: Women and men between 5km to 35km.
Technical Race: Women and men between 800m to 5km.


The Stand Up Paddling regulations for boards for SUP competitions;

  • Race Women/Men up to 14 ft (428 cm) long*
  • Juniors/*up to 12’6’’ ft (381 cm) long inflatable
  • Whitewater Women/Men up to 11 ft (366 cm) long

Rudders and/or foils are not permitted. The board may have only one hull - no multi-hulls allowed and no catamarans The length of the board will be defined as the distance from the tip to tail.


The start will be either on land or on the water. The exact procedure will be announced at the race meeting. 

Beach Start (Long Distance, Technical, and Inflatable)
  • Athletes will line up at the water’s edge.
  • All athletes will hold their crafts, in ankle to thigh deep water as instructed by the Starter or Aligners.
  • When all athletes are aligned and the conditions are favourable, the start signal will be given.
Bank Start (Long distance, Technical, and Inflatable)
  • The boards are lined up on the bank.
  • The boards must be on the ground next to the athletes. Athletes can hold the boards, but they must not be lifted off the ground.
Stationary Water Start (Long Distance, Sprint, Technical, and Inflatable)
  • The position of the boards at the start is such that the noses of the competing boards are on the starting line.
  • The boards must be stationary.
  • The boards may be held at the tail by board holders, or blocked at the front by an automatic start system;
  • Athletes start from standing, kneeling or sitting (on board) positions. The position must be described beforehand.
  • This starting line must be perpendicular to the first turn buoy.
Rolling Water Start (Long Distance and Inflatable)
  • Where strong wind or current render a stationary start difficult, a rolling start may be used. The boards are allowed to drift or paddle slowly towards the start line with a view to crossing at the time of the signal.
  • The start line may be fixed or be between two (2) boards that are moving.

Wherever is possible all boards in an event should line up at the starting line. Where this is impossible or impracticable owing to lack of space, or water or weather conditions, the following alternative simultaneous starting procedures may be employed:

Grid Start (Long Distance, Technical , and Inflatable)
  • Where a simultaneous start in one line for all athletes is impracticable or undesirable, a Grid Start for Bank start, Stationary Water Start or Rolling Water Start (in groups) may be used.
  • The athletes are separated in groups. The groups are lined up behind each other and determined by ICF World ranking or random draw.
Interval Start (Long Distance, Technical, and Inflatable)
  • Where a simultaneous start is impracticable or undesirable, an Interval Start for Beach Start, Bank Start or Stationary Water Start (either in groups or individually) may be used. Starting order will be determined by ICF World ranking or random draw.
  • Athletes or group of athletes should start from the same start line at equal intervals.

National Canoe Federations around the world have been conducting SUP events for many years, and in 2019 the International Canoe Federation hosted its first SUP World Championships. Paddlers from all over the world descended on Qingdao, China, for what was a very hotly contested three days of competition. Winners in 2019 included Australia's Michael Booth in the men's distance race, Germany's Sonni Honscheid in the women's distance, USA's Connor Baxter in the men's sprint, France's Olivia Piana in the women's sprint and technical races, and Australia's Lincoln Dews in the men's technical race.


Stand Up Paddle Committee
Stand Up Paddle Rules