Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the newest water sports to gain favor in the United States. In a relatively short amount of time, it has joined the ranks of kayaking in terms of popularity for inland and coastal water sport. You can’t look at a body of water in the mid-Atlantic region on a hot day without seeing someone paddling upright. It’s without a doubt the coolest way to get on the water in 2015—it’s everywhere.
The DC area is no different and local companies like Hudson Trail Outfitters that hold free, 'try before you buy' demo events in the area are largely to thank for growing participation of SUP in the region. Community demos often feature deep discounts on boards and other self-propelled watercraft, as well as equipment and accessory outfitting so you can get a feel for the gear while trying on the sport for size. These retailers also offer hands-on instruction to go right along with it—see our list of recommended shops in your area.
Hudson Trails teams up at events with well-known retailers of SUP gear such as BIC SUP who can help answer all of your questions about the many types of boards designed for different styles of paddling, including flat water, open-ocean, racing, fitness and yoga, and long-distance. Some boards enable stability and easy gliding while others are designed for harder rips more attune to surfing. Whether you decide to glide across a river, or soar atop an ocean swell, you’ll find SUP akin to walking on water.
Here are three great spots to try your hand at SUP in the DC area:
Georgetown Waterfront: Potomac River
Waterfront paddle rentals in Georgetown are one of the area's biggest draws. And it's no surprise, as the scenery and views along the Potomac between the Key Bridge Boat House , an easily accessible to spot from which to launch, and the paddling cutoff at Fletcher's Cove are stunning. The cover provided by the Key Bridge creates an interesting waterscape to navigate through—especially at sunset when it is illuminated in colorful light.
This waterfront area is a popular point-of-interest, and as such, watercraft of all sizes abound, so it is best that those who visit are comfortable on active waterways and know how to respond to unexpected chop. That same chop, however, makes it an ideal spot for stand-up paddlers to try out intermediate moves. In any event, you can check out the Key Bridge Boathouse's 90-minute orientation class that reviews water safety, teaches SUP basics, as well as skills such as how to launch and dock, how to stand on the board, easy postures, stroke form, and everything else in between. Priced at just $35 per person including use of high-end gear—you’ll look like a pro from the start. SUP fitness and yoga classes are also excellent choices for those with a bit of experience who want to try something new.
DC is more or less a rain-or-shine kind of place with the constant changing of weather patterns, and typically, paddling is no different. With Great Falls just to the north and an ever-present undercurrent of significant strength, minding the weather for safety in the Potomac is imperative. You can check for Daily Updates at Boating in DC in advance or find out at the docks.
National Harbor Waterfront
About five miles from downtown DC is the National Harbor —a new development area along the Potomac River in Prince George's County, MD that has continued to grow since the late 1990s. The biggest draw to the area is the hundreds of shops and dining options along the waterfront boardwalk, and most notably, the Capital Wheel towering over the harbor. In the shadow of the Capital Ferris Wheel, kayakers, peddle boaters, and stand-up paddlers easily traverse the calm waters. With boundaries stretching to Smoot’s cove and around the Alexandria waterfront, this is a perfect place to get a feel for what it's like to be up on a board while protected by the quiet surroundings of this area of the river. You may see an occasional water taxi or duck boat tour, but other than that, the area is mostly obstacle free, something that newcomers to the sport can breathe easy about.
If you are just learning to paddle, invest your energy in a three-hour fundamentals class from Boating in DC where you can learn turns, footwork, and more atop the newest boards available. Sharpen your game even more with a season pass that earns you a 20% discount. Already familiar with paddling? Practice your pranayama with a low-impact SUP yoga class; no yogi experience required and by the end, you may be even doing a headstand.
As is true for most open areas of the Potomac, windy conditions are sometimes encountered. As mentioned above, weather reports are posted on Boating in DC's website every day along with any applicable cautionary information and closure reports. It might just mean that stand-up is unavailable and kayaks are suggested; during a thunderstorm, the entire operation may close.
The C&O Canal National Historical Park is a beautiful place to hone your flat-water, stand-up techniques while taking in the serenity of nature. After a few classes with Potomac Paddlesports on the C&O, you can venture across the towpath to the Maryland chutes of the Potomac River to practice rapid paddling and surfing techniques. By providing dual operations at neighboring locations, Potomac Paddlesports enables a wide-range of instruction suiting various skill levels—from easy forward strokes on the quiet canal to catching waves on the wild Potomac. There are 10-mile stretches to explore on both bodies of water. That’s a lot of wide-open space to uncover just outside of the DC beltway.
Active Nature , 15205 Montevideo Road, Poolsville, MD (202) 350-0503
Active Nature offers world class instruction in SUP. They can teach you everything you need to know to start your paddling journey.
Eastern Mountain Sports, 22000 Dulles Retail Plaza, Dulles, VA (703) 421-4330
EMS has a couple of different locations around DC, including this one and another in Annapolis, MD.
Hudson Trail Outfitters, 4530 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington DC (202) 363-9810
Hudson Trail Outfitters offers “try before you buy” demos to ensure that you will get the right board. They also have a great selection of boards for sale.
Key Bridge Boathouse, 3500 Water Street NW, Washington, DC (202) 337-9642
Key Bridge Boathouse, part of Boating in DC, has paddle board rentals and offers SUP lessons as well as SUP fitness and yoga classes.
L.L. Bean, Tysons Corner Center, 1961 Chain Bridge Road, MacLean, VA (888) 552-9876
L.L. Bean makes it easy for shoppers to find their perfect board. Looking to buy? Bean offers demo boards to try out as well as lessons through its Outdoor Discovery School.
REI, 401 Park Drive, Boston (617) 236-0746
REI is a top outdoor retailer offering everything you need to cover your next big adventure outside. They have five retail stores in and around DC in VA and MD. REI carries paddleboards and gear and also offers SUP lessons through the REI Outdoor School.