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SUP with Your Pup

July 2021

Nacho and Soda at Windsor Castle Park.

Walking, running or hiking with their dogs is a favorite activity for most dog owners, but as the weather warms up, pastimes involving water become particularly alluring. Stand-up paddleboarding can prove a rewarding, enriching and beneficial activity for humans and their furry friends.



Give your dogs a chance to relieve themselves before getting on the SUP. If possible, take them for a walk right before you SUP.

Bring plenty of water for both you and your dogs.

You and your dogs should wear flotation devices at all times—even if everyone can swim.

Some dogs take to paddleboarding faster than others. You and your dogs may need to practice on dry land first, followed by short excursions as your dogs progress.

Your dogs’ motion on the SUP can change your balance, so be prepared to compensate for the extra weight and motion.

Placing a nonslip pad where you want your dogs to stay on the board can help them recognize their spot on the SUP and help keep their balance and grip.

If you plan to SUP in cooler weather, you may want to invest in a canine wetsuit. Hot weather might call for a canine sunsuit with SPF.

Make sure your dogs heed fundamental commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down” and “place” on land before venturing onto the water.

Along with your dogs’ usual vaccines, discuss the benefits of the leptospirosis vaccine with your veterinarian.

Be aware of harmful algal blooms. Exposure to HABs can cause serious illness or death. Signs of a HAB can include a film on top of the water that may look like oil or paint. Stagnant water is more prone to HABs than flowing or rushing water. HABs are more common after long stretches of hot weather or heavy downpours. If you think your dogs may have been exposed to a HAB while on a SUP or any adventure, prevent them from licking themselves, rinse them off as soon as possible and contact your veterinarian right away.

Once you’ve prepared yourself and your pups for your first SUP adventure, it’s time to find some water to explore. From creeks and rivers to lakes and bays, Virginia offers a myriad of waterscapes for paddling.



Holliday Lake State Park in Appomattox boasts some of the cleanest water in the state, offering peace of mind to paddlers concerned about water quality. In addition, you and your leashed dog can explore the 6.7-mile trail that loops around the lake, leaving your dog ready for a relaxing paddle on the water. The calm, clear waters of the lake are ideal for those new to paddling, and people without their own boards can rent them by the hour. Twin Lakes State Park, Bear Creek Lake State Park and Pocahontas State Park also offer similar benefits.

Sadie at Pocahontas State Park.

Windsor Castle Park in Smithfield offers 3.8 miles of trails where you and your dogs can walk prior to launching your SUP on the Cypress Creek and Pagan River. There is also a dog park where your dogs can run, play and socialize. As you paddle along the creek and river, enjoy the antics of fiddler crabs scuttling along the muddy flats, and the calls of osprey nesting along your route. Advisories posted at the launch warn against swimming, as the tidal waters remain fairly cold.Don’t have your own SUP yet? Not a problem; rent one by the hour right at the launch.

Tredegar, Brown’s Island and Belle Isle in Richmond offer flatwater paddling on the James River, as well as SUP rentals. While the river current can’t be discounted, after roaring over rapids at Belle Isle, the water flattens out in a wide, calm pool perfect for paddling and swimming. This small area offers various places to park your SUP and explore by foot, including a small island with a rope swing; several small, sandy beaches along Belle Isle; and the historic island of Belle Isle itself. When you finish paddling, swimming and hiking, grab a bite to eat on the dog-friendly patio of one of the many nearby restaurants in Shockoe Bottom.

While no SUP rentals are available at Robious Landing in Midlothian, this park along the James River is a dog-lover’s (and dog’s) paradise, offering good swimming conditions, beaches along the river to stop and play, and trails to walk before or after your paddle. There is also a dock where your dogs can enjoy dock jumping. Conveniences nearby include veterinary clinics, pet stores, restaurants and gas stations. The area’s proximity to a boat club increases the likelihood that you will encounter fastmoving, motorized watercraft, but the width of the river here allows it to remain popular with rowers, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders alike.

Shell Landing in Reedville provides a no-frills launch along Cockrell Creek. Paddlers can admire herons, egrets, cormorants, gulls and ospreys, but should beware of nasty northern water snakes. The more adventurous can paddle out into Ingram Bay and the Great Wicomico River, while the hungry can paddle roughly 2 miles on the quiet creek to Cockrell’s Creek Seafood and enjoy locally caught fare on the picnic tables that line the dog-friendly waterfront lawn.

Sadie at Pocahontas State Park.