This love child of kayaking and surfing is a blast—and one of the best cross-training workouts around. Even the less than fit can get the hang of it. Already a standup paddleboarding (SUP) whiz? Try a challenging mash-up class, such as SUPyo (in which you do yoga poses on the board), SUPfit (squats, pushups, etc.), or SUPilates (just what it sounds like). The following five spots are listed from north to south—check the websites for prices and more info.
Chicago Paddle Company
Osterman Beach, 5800 N. Lake Shore Dr.
This place has major SUP cred: It’s co-owned by Michael “Westy” Westenberger, who certifies instructors for the World Paddle Association. Take group lessons or various classes, or simply rent a board and go. For the ambitious, there’s BeachFit Complete, a boot-camp-style workout done half on the beach, half on the board. chicagopaddlecompany.com
Montrose Beach, 4400 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Here you’ll paddle in a big open area sheltered from wind and waves—great for novices. Beginner, intermediate, and SUPyo classes are available, plus rentals. One highlight from this outfitter: a Sunday morning race. Competitors hit the roughly 10-minute course in heats before the fastest paddle for prizes. kayakchicago.com
North Avenue Beach, 1600 N. Lake Shore Dr.
The largest such operation in the city, Chicago SUP offers a great selection of SUPyo and SUPfit classes—plus lessons and two to three weekly group expeditions and tours. New for 2014: a series of six SUPyo workshops. Each class dives deep into one aspect of yoga, such as arm balances or inversions. chicagosup.com
Ohio Street Beach, 600 N. Lake Shore Dr.
This summer, Chicago SUP’s downtown location will become available when its North Avenue Beach flagship fills up (details above).
Chicago Paddle Rentals
31st Street Harbor, 3155 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Newbies will appreciate the calm waters in the pristine harbor, where you can rent boards, take lessons, and attend SUPyo classes. Groups stay near the launch site at the harbor’s southern end. chicagopaddlerentals.com
How to SUP
Take a group lesson—or follow this eight-step primer from Ian Jacobson, owner of Chicago SUP.
1 Start on your knees. That gives you a low center of gravity and plenty of contact between your body and the huge board (typically 12 feet long and almost 3 feet wide), making it easier to stay upright.
2 Stand while in motion. Before you get on your feet, build some momentum: Balancing is easier when you’re moving. Then, while holding the paddle, use your knuckles for support as you gently stand up in one fluid motion. Continue paddling immediately.
3 Grip the paddle. Hold it so the blade slopes away from you. When paddling on the right side, grasp the top of the handle with your left hand; grip with your right hand as far below your left as you comfortably can.
4 Pull smoothly. Put the blade all the way in the water in front of you, right next to the board. Draw it back, then take it out of the water near your ankle. To go straight, paddle four or five times on the right side, then switch to the left side, and so forth. (Switch hand positions when you switch sides.)
5 Hang loose. Plant your feet in the middle of the board, about shoulder-distance apart, legs slightly bent. You weather the waves best if you stay relaxed but with your core solid. Keep your head up and gaze at the water in front of you so you can see waves coming.
6 Fall fearlessly. You will fall, so go down sideways or gently dive in, pushing yourself away from the board. Try to hold on to your paddle, but don’t use it to break your fall. (It will float if you let go.)
7 Get back on. Pretend you’re getting out of a swimming pool from the side. Place your hands near the middle of the board and kick as you push yourself up to your knees.
8 Repeat steps 1 to 7. Have a blast!