How to start stand-up paddleboarding in Toronto

Airports are overcrowded and flights keep getting cancelled, so you may be thinking of cancelling that end-of-summer vacation. But that just gives Toronto residents another opportunity to try something new in their own backyard! And while Canada may be known for winter activities, stand-up paddle boarding—or SUPs as the cool kids call it—has slowly become more popular in the last decade. Anyone can do it, so why not give it a shot?

We enlisted the help of Janna Van Hoof, an ISA certified SUP trainer and founder of Toronto’s SUPGirlz, to get her top tips and tricks to begin stand-up paddleboarding in Toronto.

Choosing the right stand-up paddle board

Choosing your perfect board can be tough when there are so many different types. There are SUPs designed for surfing, racing, whitewater rafting and even yoga. Your best bet as a beginner is to try the all-around flat-water board. You’ll want to have full control, so a medium-sized board of about 9 to 12 feet long is the best option. The most standard for beginners is the 10’ 6” with a rounded nose.

An inflatable paddle board is also a good option for condo-dwellers. They roll up to be quite compact making it easy to store and transport to the beach.

“I’ve always been a big promoter of inflatables,” says Van Hoof. First-timers might feel wobbly on these boards because they can feel every bump and ripple, but really it’s not so different from a hard board. “It’s not any more or any less stable.”

SUP equipment

For Van Hoof, a good paddle is essential for proper paddle boarding.

“You can get a cheap board, but don’t get a cheap paddle,” she warns. The length of your paddle should be about 20 to 30 cm taller than your own height when standing straight. The best way to measure is to stand straight and raise your arms above your head. Your paddle should come to just below your wrist.

For your safety, it’s important to get a leash to attach from your ankle to your SUP and by law, you must have a lifejacket on board that has a sound-signalling device (like a whistle) attached.

How to balance while paddling

Balancing and standing up on your board isn’t as tricky as it might seem. Van Hoof’s tip for staying dry is to keep your eyes on where you want to go.

“People need to look at the horizon,” Van Hoof says. “Not at the water.”

Once you’re balanced, it’s time to start moving! You’ll want to ensure your arms are as straight as possible in front of you and your knees are bent. The side you are paddling on is the hand that goes on the shaft, while the other is located at the top of the paddle.

Once you’re in position, reach out a few feet ahead — keeping those arms straight — and fully dip the blade in the water. You’ll want to keep the shaft as vertical as possible and don’t paddle beyond your feet, as everything past is just wasted energy. Use your core, rather than your arms to pull the water back. At the end of the paddle, tilt your top wrist so that your thumb is facing forward and slice the blade out of the water. Remember to switch sides every three or four strokes.

Best SUP spots in Toronto

As the founder of the first SUP school in Canada, Van Hoof knows all about the best SUP beaches in Toronto. Wherever you choose to go, however, don’t stray too far from the shore when you’re still learning.

“The winds on Lake Ontario are crazy at times,” says Van Hoof. “They can pick up, change direction and are very unpredictable.” But don’t fear, Toronto has plenty of calmer beaches that are perfect for beginners.

The Beach neighbourhood, where SUPGirlz is located, has plenty of shorelines that make for desirable launching spots. From Kew Balmy Beach, you can head west to Ashbridges for a calm bay area, or head past the water plant and around to Scarborough Bluffs for some quiet away from the crowd.

“It’s just a whole hidden area of Toronto,” Van Hoof says. Kew Balmy Beach is a beautiful spot for an early morning sunrise paddle.

For those looking to meet some fellow water lovers, check out Cherry Beach. Although it’s a bit rockier than Kew Balmy, this beach has plenty of shallow areas, which makes it perfect for beginners. Cherry Beach has a bit of protection from the Tommy Thomson peninsula, though still gets a fair bit of wind, so be sure you check weather conditions before heading out.

To avoid worrying about weather conditions altogether, Toronto Islands might just be the best spot for SUP beginners. Here, the bay is enclosed and protected from the wind. Not to mention, it’s beautiful.

You can even get your rental board or some lessons while you’re out there at Toronto Island SUP. Like most things, SUP can be very frustrating when you’re first starting out, but even just a single lesson could provide you with the tips and tricks needed to help you enjoy the water without being dunked.

Where to gear up and get lessons

There are several shops in Toronto that provide affordable SUP lessons from certified trainers, including SUPGirlz, started by Van Hoof. 

Of course, there are a few essential pieces of equipment needed before you’re able to hit the ground running—err, hit the water paddling. Check out some of Toronto’s local shops for all the gear you’ll need.

Surf Ontario has been in the business of selling boards since 2002. The North York shop offers a wide selection of boards, paddles, wetsuits and leashes and provides assistance from experts who have surfed across the globe

For a shop closer to the water, Surf the Greats in Leslieville is focused on supporting Toronto residents with everything they need to enjoy the Great Lakes. Surf the Greats not only has a wide selection of SUP gear and apparel, but they additionally provide a SUP clinic for paddlers of differing skill levels. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO