As avid paddleboarders, we reap the physical benefits of SUP. The sport is great for your body, working on your core, balance, cardio and more! But did you know that there are also wonderful mental health benefits to be had from SUP?

Let’s start with a bit of visualisation. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and picture the following scene. You are paddling gently down a calm river. The water is flat, reflecting the sky on its glassy surface. The only sounds are the birds chirping overhead and the splash of your paddle as the blade cuts through the surface of the river. You are surrounded by water, with trees dotting the landscape around you. 

Two people on stand up paddleboards on the water

Such a serene SUP scene

Now open your eyes. How did you feel while visualizing that scenario? Maybe you felt calm, at peace, less tense. Just thinking about paddleboarding can make you feel relaxed and at ease. So imagine the benefits of actually going out and paddling! There are so many and they are proven, with the studies and science to back it up. Let’s break it down.

The Mental Health Benefits of SUP

Being in Nature

First, SUP gets us outside and in nature, something we all need. There have been countless studies on the benefits of the natural world on our mental health. In her book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, award-winning journalist Florence Williams gathers the evidence, showing us the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Williams uses anecdotes and studies to outline how connecting with Mother Nature can “improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships”. The Mental Health Foundation in the UK also emphasizes the connection between psychological health and nature. In fact, they released a report in 2021 titled “Nature: How Connecting with Nature Benefits our Mental Health“. The report outlined how being connected with the natural world makes people happier and healthier. 

Getting Out on the Water

Next, SUP has the added benefit of bringing us to the water, an element with its own specific set of mental health benefits. Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichol’s best-selling book Blue Mind explores and explains why water makes us happier and healthier. Through his book, Nichol’s describes the meditative-like state we get into while being in or even around water. He uses scientific evidence to show how “water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success”.

A man carrying a paddleboard and paddle while running on the sand

SUP gets your body moving and that’s good for your brain!

Doing a Physical Activity 

Finally, it is widely accepted that physical activity can have positive effects on the brain. And paddleboarding definitely gets your body moving! An article by the Mayo Clinic recommends exercise to ease depression and anxiety, citing the endorphins it produces, as well as boosting self-confidence and being a healthy coping strategy. The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends physical activity as a mood-booster that can reduce the effects of stress. This can be any physical activity; in fact, they recommend one that is enjoyable and fun. And what is more fun than paddleboarding?

Luckily, you don’t need to work up a sweat or go for a long excursion to get the benefits. Just the simple act of moving your body can bring about these positive effects. According to Dr. Micheal Otto, professor of psychology at Boston University, even the shortest session can bring about the desired effect: “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.” That’s great news for anyone who has limited time on board. 

A man and boy smile while sitting on paddleboards in the water

All smiles for a day out on the water

Mental Health and the SUP Community

It seems that the global SUP community has recognized these benefits as well. SUP Connect published an article on how paddleboarding can alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. The Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP) listed five mental health benefits of SUP and how it can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and PTSD. 

There are also some personal anecdotes. SUPBoarder Magazine interviewed Kirstie Edwards on how paddleboarding was instrumental in helping her cope with her personal mental and physical health challenges. SUP instructor Dave Knight chatted with the Academy of Surfing Instructors about his own mental health journey and how paddleboarding has supported him.

Woman sits on a paddleboard in the water

Take a moment to feel the peace and joy of being out on your board

Tap Into the Mental Health Benefits of SUP

Being in nature, on the water, doing a physical activity? SUP checks all those boxes. And it’s so simple; you just need to get out and do it. You can go for a short cruise or a longer journey. You can work on improving your paddle stroke or just sit on your board. 

If you are looking to really hone in on your mental health and enhance the benefits, consider practising meditation or mindfulness on your paddleboard. If you are new to this, there are so many different practices and tools to guide you. Dozens of guided meditation apps are available, such as the popular Headspace and Calm. If you prefer to step away from technology, there are several books that can help. Eckhart Tolle describes a simple body scan practice in his popular book The Power of Now. Vietnamese monk and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh wrote over 100 books, many of which guide the reader through the practice of Buddhist meditation. 

Reap the Benefits of SUP

Our mental health is so important and stand up paddleboarding is a wonderful tool that can help support it. No matter how you do it, getting out on your paddleboard is benefitting you holistically. The next time you’re on your SUP board, take a moment, breathe in deeply, and know that you are doing something great for yourself, body and mind.




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About the Author: Jordan-na

Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Toronto-based SUP instructor, lake surfer, and writer. Born in Montreal, she has been sporty her whole life and discovered stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. Since then, she has been active in the SUP scene, paddling and surfing the Great Lakes year-round. Jordan-na is a patient and encouraging instructor. She obtained her first SUP instructor certification in 2017 and has been teaching ever since. She has worked with Surf the Greats and Toronto Island SUP, running everything from group classes, to one-on-one training, to winter SUP safety clinics, to team-building events for clients and partners such as Google, Brown Girl Outdoor World, L’Oreal, Swim Drink Fish, and Ryerson University. She currently holds an Advanced SUP Instructor certification with Paddle Canada and is Bronze Cross certified with the Ontario Lifesaving Society. A recognizable face in the Great Lakes SUP and surf scene, her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as SUP Connect, Breakfast Television, Daily Hive News, and the Toronto Star. She was also the subject of a short documentary film titled ‘In Winter.’ A skilled writer with a masters degree from the University of Toronto, her work has appeared in Explore Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the Thurso Surf blog and Surf the Greats Journal. She is a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects, empowers, and educates women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year-round.

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