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SUP can be a great tool to heal the mind and body. Any paddler will tell you this, and now if you live in the French oceanside town of Biarritz, a doctor might tell you too.

The doctor’s of Biarritz have become the world’s first to prescribe stand up paddle and surfing lessons to treat everything from depression to heart disease. Twenty doctors are participating in a new project to encourage the French to reduce the pill-popping and take to the water instead.

(Update: After this article was published a reader informed me that he and the physicians of Charleston County, South Carolina have been prescribing SUP for the past three years. This is great news! Perhaps they are the world’s first to prescribe SUP? Comment below if you know any cities or countries using a similar program.)

Henry Samuel, from The Telegraph, reports that doctors are authorised to prescribe a 12-week course in sports, including surfing or paddleboarding as well as activities like nordic walking or swimming. Samuel reports that in some cases the 12-week prescription replaces all medication.

The pilot program was created by the national Olympic committee and does not cost the French social security system a dime. Instead, the program is paid for by the town of Biarritz and two private health associations. Imagine the costs that a large health care system like the United States might save by prescribing SUP instead of expensive pills.

Doctor’s prescription, “Paddle twice per week for one hour before sunset. Look out for dolphins and be sure to breathe the salty air. Repeat for 12-weeks”

Sounds like an easy pill to swallow!


“After six months, the results are already positive in our eyes,” Nicolas Guillet of Biarritz Sport Sante, one of the organisers, told Nouvel Observateur.  The Telegraph reports that nearly all patients who complete the 12-week program go on to continue practicing the sport.

One patient who was prescribed stand up paddle sessions for low back pain said: “I’ve suffered from back pain for so long. I had an operation 10 years ago and was even paralysed for over a month,” she told Nouvel Obs. Six months later, she said her back pain has almost disappeared, describing it as “a revolution”.

It would be great to see other countries implement similar programs as the French. The United States could certainly use something like this.

According to, the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs. There is no better time for US doctors to start prescribing paddling instead of pills.

If you are a paddler then you already know the health benefits of SUP first-hand. Now patients in France, and maybe one day around the world, will feel the benefits of SUP without the side-effects of prescription medications. It’s great to see this initiative at a public health level.

Imagine the next time you visit the pharmacy and see a little box with the label, “SUP. Take as often as possible, suitable for all ages, may cause extreme happiness and stoke. Call your local shop for lessons.”

Paddling instead of pills!

Read the full report on the program in France here.


  1. Tom O'Rourke November 13, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    Sorry, the Doctors of Biarritz were not the first to prescribe Stand Up Paddle Boarding or for that matter any Physical Activity as an alternative to medication. We have been doing it for almost three years and have a number of physicians involved in our Move IT, Charleston County Program.

  2. chase November 13, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Hi Tom. Thanks for the heads up on this. It’s great to hear that there is a program like this running in the United States already. Could you give us any details regarding the success of the program and how often SUP is prescribed? Thanks!

  3. Nikki November 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    I am 30 years old and have gone been struggling with a back injury for 10 years. My last surgery was an artificial disc replacement 5 years ago. Stand Up paddle boarding changed my life and brought my physical abilities to a level that I never thought that I would have again. I would love any information on these programs so that I can share them with other pain sufferers.

  4. chase November 13, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    Great to hear this success story Nikki! Thanks for sharing. All of the information we have on the French program is in the article. There also seems to be a program in Charleston, SC called MOVE IT where doctor’s prescribe physical activities like SUP.

  5. Victoria Stuart November 14, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

    In New Zealand PINC & STEEL Cancer Rehabilitation Trust has developed a 5-week SUP Rehabilitation Program for men and women recovering from all types of cancer. The program is called PaddleOn and is supported by Starboard Internationally with a donation from every pink Paddle For Hope 11’6×29’5″ Touring board sold going towards taking this program worldwide. Exercise, and in particular SUP, is a great tool for reducing the long-term side effects of harsh cancer treatments. The program piloted in NZ last summer and the overwhelmingly positive results of the qualitative evaluation report can be read at

  6. chase November 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    This sounds like another amazing application for SUP. Perhaps this program can be expanded to other countries? Do you know if there is anyone working to do that? I would love to try to get something similar started in the US.

  7. chase February 9, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    We do not have any director contacts for this specific program. Sorry!

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