Getting fit and staying in shape doesn’t seem to be as hard during the summer months with plenty of activities to get you outside. But beyond the everyday run, hike or casual game of basketball, here are some water related sports that’ll give you a great workout whether you’re near a lake, river or ocean.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) may not be a term you’re too familiar with, but you might have seen it a time or two—individuals managing to effortlessly balance on a long board using a paddle as a guide on the water. The sport, a by-product of surfing, originated from Hawaii in the 1960’s, as surfers would stand up on their boards with an outrigger paddle to get a better view of the waves. Fifty years later it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

As the sport has gone mainstream we’ve seen a growing number of races and competitions like SUPathlons that replace the swim portion of a triathlon with stand-up paddle boarding. Heck, even college universities like the College of Charleston are starting to offer course credit for SUP classes.

One of the reasons for its popularity is the ability to perform at any age and on almost any body of water (although beginners probably should stick to calm, flat waters). While your instincts might suggest this water sport is all about the arms, this workout is all about your core, testing your balance and flexibility, all with zero impact.

To start out, look for a local class in your area. They can show you the ropes, and help you figure out the right board size and paddle recommendations based on your height before you fully invest in your own equipment.

If you find it hard to maintain your balance, start with traditional paddle boarding which just requires kneeling on the board and paddling with your arms. Once you’ve conquered and graduated to SUP, you might even find future interest in SUP Yoga, the ultimate challenge in balance. 

Lake Water Polo

Mashup soccer, basketball, hockey and throw in a body of water and you’ve got water polo. The sport, commonly associated with the pool, is making its way back to its 19th century origin in natural waters. In fact, this summer Shaver Lake, California is hosting the largest open water polo tournament.

Before you test the waters, here’s a rundown of how it works. Teams consist of seven players (6 field players and a goal keeper), games usually last 45 minutes with four 7-minute quarters. Much of the rules resemble what you might encounter with traditional field soccer. Fouls include holding the ball with two hands, holding the ball under water or walking on or pushing off the bottom of the pool. Yep, no touching the ground. This game is full on treading water, but not like you probably learned growing up. Players utilize an “eggbeater kick,” which you guessed it, resembles the movement of an eggbeater to allow them to freely use their hands and maintain a vertical position in the water. So if you’re looking for a serious leg workout, this one’s for you!

Luckily, it’s a relatively low contact sport (unlike hockey or soccer) although you might occasionally catch an unintentional elbow or two. If you’re still not sure you’re ready to go all-in, check out inner tube water polo. All players (except the goalie) are required to maintain in an inner tube throughout the duration of the game.


A tried and true water sport, and probably one of my favorite summer activities, is kayaking. If you’ve ever had a chance to test it out, I’m sure you’d agree it’s a serious upper body workout. Going at a moderate speed with somewhere around 500 strokes per mile, you can burn up to 400 calories per hour. Spending a few to several hours out on the water depending on your route or destination could easily mean burning anywhere from 1200 to 1600 calories.

You can choose to buddy up or go it alone with one or two-person kayak options. If you’re a first timer, solo might the best way to go to give you a little more control (without a backseat driver). Picking the right kayak will depend mostly on what waters you’re planning to explore and your comfort level.

Sit on top kayaks are user friendly and easy to get in and out, but you can guarantee you’ll get wet when paddling and not advised for more intense waters. Sit inside kayaks are enclosed, keep you dry from the elements, but should you tip, they do present a challenge to turn over as they take on water.

Kayaks vary from 9’ to 17’ in length, so you’ll want something that fits your size. The longer and narrower the faster it travels, the wider and shorter the slower and more stable it’ll be.

A quick lesson on paddle techniques and body position, and you should be good to get out on the water and explore. Make sure to lather on the sunscreen, grab a hat and pair of sunglasses since you’ll be directly on the water. And while you might be tempted to just throw on an old pair of flip flops, your footwear is actually an important element when it comes to kayaking. As a stabilizing factor you’ll want to make sure your feet have a good grip and stay in position.

What better way to learn about local wildlife and area history than by water? Check out local kayak tours in your area to get an educational overview of the ecosystem while getting a great workout.


Looking for a little less physical demand but still the fun element of competition and water? Check out water horseshoes or water Ping-Pong. Whatever you choose get outside and enjoy the summer weather and stay fit doing it.