Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Lake Toya

We join Rhythm Japan's SUP tour to Lake Toya, a large caldera lake to the south of Niseko that is said to be the second most transparent in Japan!

Just a stone’s throw away (and quite a scenic stone’s throw) from the Niseko area is the astonishingly lovely Lake Toya. Anyone residing in the Niseko area has likely taken a trip to the lake for a relaxing sojourn away from the mountains. Its placid waters, lush foliage, and quietly majestic aura keep drawing me back again and again. It is one of my go-to destinations for camping, especially. Gazing out on the lake as the sun sinks and the moon rises with barbecue coals glowing healthily in front of you is one of the great pleasures of summer in this area.

I’ve spent many an hour just looking at Lake Toya, but until recently, I had not personally, spent much time on the lake. My first experience afloat on Lake was another first for me, my first time to try stand up paddle boarding (SUP).

The concept of SUP was not foreign to me. Back home in Seattle, I remember observing with envy SUP enthusiasts standing straight up on wide boards whilst paddling around on canals, lakes, and bays. I finally got my chance to SUP in my new home of Hokkaido on a blessedly sunny albeit fairly breezy day in July. The SUP pros from Rhythm met up with us at the Rhythm main store in Niseko Hirafu, the paddle boards strapped to the top of their van, and brought us to the spot on the lake where we would cast off.

Getting going as a first time SUPer was a breeze, but still, it was comforting to have the guides walk us through the process. We mounted up and started out on our knees in the middle of the boat-like boards after dipping our toes into the lake’s fresh waters, the soothing sun beaming down on us. I wore my sunglasses in spite of the guides’ warnings that I would likely lose them to the depths of the lake should they fall off my face. The activity we had in store turned out to be utterly relaxing and stable for the most part, so I’m glad I didn’t have to squint my way through the journey we made.

Lake Toya Shino

Lake Toya is said to be Japan's second most transparent lake. And you can see why! Image: Shino Widell

After taking a few strokes on our knees that generated a surprising amount of propulsive energy, our leaders demonstrated how to stand up on the board so we could get on with the SUP action. Once we got the hang of the motion of the stroke, we really got moving. The feeling was about what I expected from watching SUPers on the water, but it was an entirely new sensation.

Being able to stand up on the board affords epic views of the surrounding lake and gives you a certain feeling of imagined invincibility. I would liken the feeling to being able to actually walk on water, but then SUP doesn’t require you to move your feet, so perhaps it is a bit more comparable to riding on a hovercraft. You do have to exert yourself a bit, though, if you want to pick up some speed. When the board really starts cruising, SUP is all the more fun, so breaking a sweat is more than worth the effort. If you get overheated, you can always freshen up with a quick dip in the crystal clear waters all around you, which our spirited guide amply demonstrated.

SUP is a sport that can be enjoyed on any surface of any body of water in the world, from quiet rivers to the big waves of its Hawaiian origins - where it is essentially surfing with a paddle. On this day, I was able to experience it in surely its most peaceful and meditative form, on the surface of a quite still body of water, gazing into the distance serenely, gliding confidently under the gentle Hokkaido sun. Lake Toya is a power spot any visitor to the Niseko area should consider taking the time to see, and SUP may be one of the best ways to truly experience it.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding or is the world's fastest growing summer sport and is now available at Rhythm Niseko. Rhythm offers full day and half day tours to Lake Toya and surrounding areas. You'll also find a range of boards and accessories to rent or buy in store.

For more information, visit the Rhythm Japan website.