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can fat people paddleboard

While the whole idea of body positivity dates back to the 1960s, the past decade or so has put the body confidence movement back in the spotlight once again. Being fat positive isn’t necessarily about glorifying obesity or health issues, but it is about loving the skin your in and knowing that your worth isn’t pre-determined by some number on the scale.

With social attitudes being a lot more inclusive, there’s no reason not to get out there and enjoy yourself. When it comes to things like relaxation, recreation, and water sports, manufacturers are also more inclusive and there are plenty of options for bigger men and women.

But, even if they have the right equipment, can fat people paddleboard?

Yes, fat people absolutely can paddleboard. You’ll want a board (or SUP) that’s a little wider (and more stable), but there’s no reason you can’t. I will say that it’s something that takes practice, particularly if you aren’t especially active. However, with the right paddleboard and a few tips, you’ll be paddleboarding in no time. 

Below, we’ll take a look at all the reasons fat people can (and should) paddleboard. I’ll give you a few helpful tips for finding the best paddleboard for a fat person and getting yourself upright on the water, too!

Can Fat People Paddleboard?

Fat people can paddleboard and honestly, it’s something that you should do if you haven’t tried it! Unlike surfing, which requires using a smaller board and a more closed stance, paddleboarding is almost designed for the larger rider.

Now, that’s not to say that fat people can’t surf- because fat people absolutely can surf too with a little bit of practice! It just means that if your thighs touch together or you have larger feet, you’ll probably be more comfortable starting on a paddleboard because there’s more room. The wider style of a paddleboard also makes it a lot easier to balance on top of the water.

I’ll be honest, even though bigger people can paddleboard, it doesn’t mean you should expect to be zipping around on top of the water the first time you head out. Like most things, there’s a little bit of a learning curve (and that’s even for people who are not plus-sized). When you are overweight, though, things like poor upper body strength, the shape of your belly, or fatigue might be slight obstacles. But these are all things that can be worked around!

Like when kayaking as a fat person or even riding a bike, you don’t need to be in amazing shape or already be fit to paddleboard. Paddleboarding becomes easy enough with practice, no matter what your size is. Once you learn to balance, however, you’ll be standing up and paddling through the water in no time. You might even be able to try out some tricks!

Is There a Weight Limit for Paddleboarding?

The weight limit for a paddleboard is going to vary based on the type of materials used, the type of board, and the dimensions of the board including its length, width, and height. Boards that have a larger surface area are going to hold more than those that don’t. While some boards might not be well suited for people who are more than 250-300 pounds, some boards support 500-600 pounds or more.

The only reason there might be a weight limit for paddleboarding is if you’re going somewhere that you plan to rent a paddleboard, rather than bringing along your own. If you are planning on renting a paddleboard, a quick look at the website or a call to the company should answer your questions. They also might have models with higher weight limits for bigger people.

While there’s no law in place that companies have to offer equipment for those that are on the heavier side, many of them do have that option. And, if they don’t, bringing along your own could be an option! Even if you don’t want to spend a lot, there are a few more affordable paddleboards with higher weight capacities that are still built well.

Can You Be Too Heavy to Paddleboard?

While you can be too heavy for one paddleboard, there are plenty of options out there better suited to the bigger rider. There are paddleboards with a weight capacity of 500-600 pounds, and I’ve even seen a tandem paddleboard with a 1,000-pound weight limit.

Using a tandem paddleboard is an option if you need something with a higher weight capacity. However, you’ll also want to consider the board shape, width, and length. Something too wide or too long might be hard to maneuver as a single rider. We’ll get into what you need to look for a little later in the article.

What Happens if You Weigh Too Much for Your Paddleboard?

One of the big differences between paddleboards and surfboards, aside from the deck width and length, is how high the deck of the board sits above the water. Your paddleboard is usually 5-6″ thick, so it sits that high above the surface of the water. This is the reason it lets you glide over waves, rather than cutting through them as a surfboard does.

If you overload a paddleboard, it’s going to sit lower in the water than it should. This makes it harder to maneuver and harder to push along since you’ll be fighting against the water instead of going through it. The extra weight of the water around the paddleboard also makes it more likely that you’ll lose your balance and capsize.

Why You Should Always Choose a Paddleboard with a Higher Weight Limit Than You Actually Need

Something I’ve learned about water sports equipment, whether kayaks, surfboards, or small boats, is that you always go with a much higher weight capacity than you need. As a general rule, your weight and the weight of any gear you might take out with you should be a maximum of 70-80% of the manufacturer’s recommended weight capacity.

This is because there is a difference between total weight capacity and the usable capacity for sports equipment. If you load a paddleboard to its exact capacity (or even just 10-20 pounds below it), it won’t move through the water as well as it’s intended to. This means a person around 280 pounds should choose a paddleboard with a weight capacity of at least 350 pounds, rather than just 300.

What Are The Benefits of Paddleboarding for Bigger Men and Plus-Sized Women?

Paddleboarding has benefits for fitness and health, mood, and even your social life. Here’s a video that quickly goes over some of the benefits if you want to check it out.

Sunshine Benefits Your Mood and Keeps Bones Strong

Do you know why the sun is so good for you? Few sources of food naturally contain Vitamin D. While milk, cereal, and other grains are sometimes fortified, many people are deficient. Being deficient in Vitamin D causes mood imbalances because of its role in the regulation of hormones. It can also make your bones weaker, more brittle, and more susceptible to breaks. This is a problem when you’re already carrying a little extra weight that your bones help support.

If you feel more confident with a tan, paddleboarding also gives you a chance to work on your glow. Of course, you should still protect your skin to avoid too much damage from UV rays and sunscreen or even swim shirts are good tools here. As a bonus, all the bending you do while paddling stretches those areas of skin between your rolls, making it easier to get a more even tan as a fat person.

Paddleboarding is a Full-Body Workout

I can say that I knew paddleboarding was a full-body workout when I was sore from head to toe the day after being out on my SUP. As you reach to paddle, you are bending the abdominals and working the arms. Standing up and maintaining your balance is also a great workout for the calves and thighs.

Furthermore, once you learn what you’re doing and start to pick up speed, there are cardiovascular benefits as well. You’ll notice increased stamina, so you can stay active longer, as well as improved flexibility, lean muscle mass, and even weight loss if you paddleboard often enough.

It’s a Great Way to Meet People

Even though there were moments I was worried about what others were thinking in my first few trips out on the water, eventually, paddleboarding became something I was really comfortable with. Plus, once I got over that hurdle, I noticed that other paddleboarders seemed pretty friendly. Paddleboarding is a great way to make new friends, especially since you already have at least one thing in common with the people you meet.

Paddleboarding is Fun

I have to be honest, the first few times I went out on a paddleboard didn’t do a whole lot to convince me that it was a fun, enjoyable activity. The first time I went out I spent more time in the water than on the board. On the next two outings, I managed to stand up a few times and even moved a few yards but started to wobble a lot if I moved too fast.

By my fifth or sixth excursion though, I had started to get the hang of it and it really is something I enjoy. Not only is it a great way to have fun, but it’s a great way to relax. In the fast-paced world we live in, relaxation is really important.

What to Look for in a Paddleboard for a Heavier Person

Rigid Paddleboard vs. Inflatable Paddleboard

While you would think that a rigid paddleboard would be the better choice as far as durability, inflatable SUPs are a very practical choice when you’re a larger person. Rigid SUPs are made from materials like wood, plastic, or fiberglass. Since the actual materials weigh more, they don’t support as much weight as an inflatable that is full of air.

Plus, inflatables can be made longer and wider without increasing the weight of the SUP too much, which makes them a good choice for people who need more stability.

While some hard-shell paddleboards have high weight capacities, I haven’t had a lot of luck finding them. Fortunately, inflatables get the job done and they are more portable and easy to store. They also are very durable, especially when built with quality materials and filled with the proper PSI.

Solo vs. Tandem Paddleboard

As someone who weighs a little more, I can say that going with a tandem option is sometimes better if you need a high weight capacity. That being said, it’s also important to be sure you can handle a tandem board. If you’re new to paddleboarding, you don’t want a tandem board that’s over 13 to 14 feet long. Otherwise, it’ll be harder to move through the water.

How Long Should a Paddleboard for a Fat Person Be?

Paddleboard length varies and it affects things like how easy the board is to maneuver and how quickly it moves through the water. Most boards are an average of 11-feet long. Longer boards are faster and track better, particularly with the right fins. However, longer boards can also be a little more difficult to turn, especially once you get up around 13-14 feet in length.

Finding balance is really important, so stick to something around 11-12 feet if you are just getting started. This will be easy enough to turn and it won’t move through the water so fast that it’s hard for you to maintain your balance.

How Wide Should a Paddleboard for a Heavy Person Be?

The width of the SUP you choose plays a big role in how stable it is on the water. For a fat person, a minimum of 32 to 33 inches is a good place to start. This is wide enough to be stable, but not so wide that you’ll struggle with turning and maneuvering through the water.

You’ll also want to consider how long your arms are as you consider width. Not only will you want to easily be able to reach the water while paddling, but it’s also important for when you’re getting up on the board. You’ll want to have enough room to hold onto both sides at once when you’re pulling yourself out of the water.

Board Thickness and Volume

At a minimum, fat people want a paddleboard that is between 5 and 6 inches thick. Thicker boards are generally more buoyant, particularly when talking about inflatables because the inside is full of air. Plus, it adds to the overall volume of your board.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all option, a good rule to follow is choosing something that has at least 1 liter of board volume per every pound of your weight. For people that don’t want to do the math, sticking to the rule of only using 70-80% of the board’s total weight capacity also works.

That being said, you also don’t want something that sits too high above the water. I’ve seen a few boards with decks that were 8-inches tall. While these might make a good choice if you need a higher weight capacity, it also means that you’d have to pull yourself up an extra two inches every time that you get back out of the water.

A Few Tips for Getting Started with Paddleboarding for Fat Men and Plus-Sized Women

Start in Flat Water

If you’re trying paddleboarding for the first time, you’ll want to go on a day when it isn’t too windy. If you’re dealing with water currents or waves, it’s going to make it significantly harder to get the hang of balancing on your paddleboard.

I also would recommend starting close to the shoreline. Getting back on your paddleboard after falling off is not the easiest feat. You’ll find it’s a little bit easier if you have the ground under you to push yourself up with.

Make Modifications So It’s Easier to Get Back on Your Board

Odds are, you will fall at least a few times the first time you try paddleboarding. The problem isn’t necessarily falling off, but being able to get back up on the board. When you’re plus-sized, there may be extra weight around your belly that gets in the way when you try to get back up on the paddleboard. I also don’t have the most upper body strength and that didn’t help matters either.

Fortunately, getting up on the paddleboard was easier because I had the ground beneath me the first few tries from staying close to shore. When you’re out on the water, though, I’ve found having a little extra leverage to get yourself up really makes a huge difference.

The best way to do this is to make modifications to your SUP by attaching a stirrup of some kind, or even a knotted rope. The goal is to have something sturdy to put your feet on, so you can push with your feet and pull with your upper body. If you aren’t sure how to do this, there are a few DIY tutorials you can check out online.

Just remember to adjust the length of your modification to the length of your body. This will give you the most “oomph” when you’re trying to push yourself back up on the board.

Get Out There with Friends if You Aren’t Feeling Confident

At one point in my life, I would stay in the house a lot– just to avoid the risk of feeling out of place when I went out. While there has been a greater acceptance of bigger bodies, there are still stigmas about heavier people. One of the biggest, as I’m sure you are aware of, is the idea that bigger people are lazy or can’t participate in physical activity.

For me, it wasn’t so much about not being able to do the activities as it was having the confidence to step out around people who weren’t necessarily the same size as me. Something that helped was getting out with friends. Rather than worrying about what others were thinking, it gave me the ability to share some laughs with people that genuinely care about me as we tried to balance on our paddleboards.

If you don’t have friends that enjoy paddleboarding, you could make some new friends to go out with. Alternatively, go out with your spouse or choose somewhere that’s a little more secluded for your first excursion. First-time paddleboarding is best on flat water and there are probably ponds, lakes, or other areas that are a little more private where you can practice.

Know That Everybody Fails at First

If you try to stand on your paddleboard and fall back down again, know that it’s completely normal and has nothing to do with your weight. Once you have the right size paddleboard for your weight, it comes down to balance. Everyone falls the first few times they try to stand upright on their board. Eventually, though, you’ll learn what type of stance and foot placement works best. You’ll also get used to the feeling of standing on the board, so you’re less likely to fall off.

Know the PSI You Need for Your Paddleboard

There have been a handful of times that I barely made it off the shoreline with my paddleboard because it seemed like it was bowing inwards in the middle. This made it nearly impossible to maintain my balance and ultimately, I fell off the board. This isn’t always a problem with the paddleboard, though. Usually, it just means you need a little more air.

Something else I’ve learned is that after the first use, the material can stretch as it does in an air mattress and other inflatables. This means there may be a slight difference in the PSI that you need the first time, and the PSI you need the second time around. You should fill to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI, but don’t be afraid to add a little more air if it seems like your SUP isn’t as rigid as you’d like it to be. Just be wary of over-filling, as an inflatable that’s too rigid is more likely to pop.

Final Word

Even if you consider yourself plus-sized or bigger than average, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t paddleboard- but there are a whole lot of reasons you should. If you weren’t entirely sure about paddleboarding, I hope I’ve done my part to convince you. It would be wonderful seeing more bigger people out on the water!

Fat people can paddleboard, and as I’ve mentioned, there are lots of benefits. With the right paddleboard and a few tips, you’ll be up on the water in no time.

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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