How to Paddle Board in the Ocean

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You conqured the lakes and now you may be wondering how to paddle board in the ocean.

You see all those pictures of epic sunsets and sunrises of people paddling majestically at some southern location. Looks easy enough right?

I hate to say it but ocean paddling is a lot more difficult than it looks to be. There are a bunch of factors you have to consider before even picking up a paddle!

Below we go through the most important ones to consider and what equipment and skills you need to get started. 

For our list of top Inflatable Paddle Boards for Oceans click here. 

Is Your Paddle Board Ocean Worthy?

iRocker accessories

When considering paddle boards there are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to ocean conditions. Characteristics that favor ocean ready paddleboards are:

  • Paddle boards with a longer length
  • Paddle Boards with a wider width (When getting started)

As a ballpark, characteristics of a good ocean paddle board is 11 feet and up and 32” and up in width. When you are first getting used to ocean paddle boarding you will be looking for a wider board. Picks like the Nixy Monterey or the Gili Meno 11’6″ that are 34” and 35″ in width respectively would be good picks when starting out. 

Now when it comes to breaking bigger waves hardboards would be the preferred pick because they can actually cut into break waves instead of floating on top of them. Inflatable paddle boards are doable for 2-4 foot waves but anything bigger is a lost cause.

As you get more experienced with ocean paddle boarding and you feel comfortable with the movements of the waves you might move on to a paddle board that has a displacement hull like the Nixy Manhattan G4 Plus, Gili 12’6” Meno ISUPs. 

While the above boards may be lacking in stability their sharp nose can cut through waves when heading straight out into them. It will definitely take you a few falls before getting used to them but once you get accustomed to how they handle you will be able to cover greater distances at greater speeds

Accessories You Need to Start

When ocean paddling there are a few must-haves that you need. The accessories you need will depend a lot on where you are paddling and the conditions you are facing. 

At the bare minimum you should have:

  • A PFD (Life vest or Inflatable Belt pack for stronger swimmers) 
  • Leash (Coiled for calm water and straight leash for surf zones)
  • A Whistle
  • Sunscreen
  • Lots of Water
  • A Paddle that floats

It’s highly recommended to have a paddle that floats. The chances of losing your paddle going into rougher waters is greater. Most good-quality SUPs come with paddles that float. But just be wary of cheaper boards that come with the aluminum paddles that don’t have any floatation in them.

Take a look at the ocean governing body of your country and make sure you comply with it otherwise you may get a ticket! The US Coast Guard requires that you have a USCG-approved Type I, II, III life vest, a sound-producing device (whistle), and a flashlight or lighting device if you are out past dark. 

In California it is required that you have a PFD, VDS (Visual Distress Signal), soundproofing device, and navigation lights. 

If you go for longer paddling journeys chances are you will be bringing more gear with you but that is beyond the scope of this article. If you are offshore paddling it’s good to have safety equipment like a VHF Marine radio and flares like the laws stated above.

The Conditions

Besides having the right equipment and choosing the right board this would be right up there in terms of importance. If you get these wrong you could get stranded in a dangerous situation. 

Check The Tides

This is usually the most common mistake people make when paddling out in the ocean. Tides are caused by the moon’s gravitational pull in which high tide happens when the earth is closest to the moon and low tide happens when it is further away.

So how do you know when to go out? 

You check a tide table of your local area!”. I personally like using as it’s easier to read and gives you a visual representation of the tide’s height.  

How does one read a tide table and know when to go out?

The tide chart shows you the time and how many meters height in or out the tide will be. The height of the tide is largely dependent on your area and the times that are high and low tide slowly shift day by day.

In my personal experience, I like to go out just before the height of the high or low tide. This is because this is when there will be the least amount of movement in the water. Which usually makes for smoother paddling and less stress paddling back. 

Should you have to paddle when the tide is in the middle of moving. Make sure that you paddle against the movement of the water heading out and paddling with the movement of the water coming back. 

I’ve had a few times where I have misjudged this and paddling back can be a real pain in the butt! If you are renting a paddle board it will cost you extra because of the longer time you took coming back.

– Editors Note

Check the Weather

The biggest things to look for when it comes to weather are

  • The Weather
  • The Water Temperature
  • The Wind

The wind is especially something to look at if you have an inflatable paddle board. Along with tides, the wind is the one element that can bully a paddle board the most. Which can make a sunny afternoon paddle turn into a struggle. 

The ideal wind range for paddle boarding is 1 – 6 mph (1.6 – 8 kph). After that paddling gets a bit more difficult on a lighter weight board.

The second thing to look for is the water temperature. If you are paddling in colder climates in winter or fall it’s best to use either a drysuit or a wetsuit depending on how cold it is outside. 65 F and below would be considered wetsuit temperature

Plan Your Route

paddle board tides
The red circles are my friends who got swept by the wind/ tide

The best place to start would be in a calm harbor or bay away from boats. Leave the breakwater and surf until you are competent on a board and its behavior when waves hit it. 

Before plopping yourself and your board in the water there’s a few things you should observe. 

  1. What direction the water is going
  2. What direction the wind is blowing

As mentioned above if there is any sort of tide or wind resistance you want to paddle against it going out and paddle with it coming in. This allows you to time your run better because of the easy time you will have coming back. 

Find a Good Entry Point

To avoid damage to both yourself and your board there are a few things you should know when entering the ocean. We go through How to Paddle Board In Waves here.

Calm Water Entry

The best spots I like to launch my SUP would be the beach or a boat launch when it’s not being used. I usually like to go to the side of the boat launch so that I’m not in the way of any vessels. 

To launch your SUP off of a beach or boat launch I like to bring the board with me into knee-deep water. I place the board fin box furthest from the beach to avoid bumping it against rocks. I move it back and forth and check that there are no rocks in the way of launching and then I climb on.

– Editors Note

You can also launch off docks too, but should you do this you should learn proper docking techniques before attempting to avoid what could be a rather embarrassing dip into the water.

Break Water Entry 

There are a few things to remember when heading out in breakwater entry. To start off, if you are just learning how to do this stay away from other paddlers and surfers. The chance of having a collision is much higher when waves are bringing people back to shore.

As per the above video, this is how you launch in the breakwater.

  1. Wade into knee to waist-deep water and hop into the board
  2. go into the break waves on your knees towards the back of your board and lean back to go over breaking waves
  3. You need to get as much momentum as possible when paddling over break waves
  4. Try to get your stroke in at the top of the wave. This propels you over the wave and catapults you forward
  5. Rinse and repeat until you are out of the surf zone

If you have an inflatable paddle board it’s best to limit yourself to calmer days. Solid SUPs can cut through the breakwater while most inflatable SUPs sit on top which makes them ride over the waves instead of into them.

In the Beginning Always go with a Partner

When ocean paddling, even in calmer bays and harbors it’s best to go with someone the first dozen times out. Preferably with someone who has some experience ocean paddling. They can teach you all the things to look for when heading out.

If you don’t have that option available I’d recommend taking a course or class on this. Make friends with those people afterward as these could be future paddling companions that would be vital to have with you should something go wrong. 

This is especially key when in open ocean or going over breakwater. 


Below are some common FAQ’s that I get about ocean paddling.

What Do I Do If I Fall Off? 

As many paddling blogs would say. The first thing to do is not to panic. Falling off of your SUP is pretty natural and almost everyone has done it. 

  1. First off get your bearings, if you are in breakwater look for where your SUP is. It’s key that you have an ankle leash on so that your board cannot go astray. 
  2. Locate your board and climb back on. If you lost your paddle use your arms to propel you to find your paddle. 
  3. Once paddle is found try try again

Can you Use an Inflatable Paddle Board in the Ocean

Yes, you can use an ISUP in the ocean. But, you have to limit yourself to calm days where there is little wind, waves, and tides

Inflatable paddle boards tend to be bullied by these elements more than solid boards. So keep close to shore (if you can) and keep an eye out for changing conditions around you. 

Starting out it’s best to paddle your SUP in sheltered bays and harbors so that you get the hang of it before venturing off to more open waters. 

How Do You Surf on a Paddle Board?

We have a full in depth guide on How to SUP Surf here but we will go through the very basics. 

  1. Make sure you have the proper equipment (Good SUP Surfing board and Paddle)
  2. Learn Surfing Etiquette
  3. Learn how to Observe and enter a surfing lineup
  4. Practice and learn feet positioning and stance
  5. Try it out in 1.5 to 2 feet waves
  6. Once you have mastered that go on and try bigger waves

So How Do You Paddle Board in the Ocean? 

Paddle Boarding in the ocean is a doable process that needs some care and caution put into it. 

  1. First, determine if your paddle board is indeed ocean-worthy
  2. Have all the necessary supplies you need like PFD, floating paddle, ankle leash and whistle. If you are going offshore you will need a VHF radio and stress signal-like flares. 
  3. Check the Tides and Weather to Make sure they are Cooperating. When out there always keep a close eye on conditions.
  4. Plan your route before heading out. Make sure to keep the tides and wind in mind when doing this. 
  5. Find a good entry point in both calm waters and breakwater waves.
  6. For the first dozen paddles always bring a partner with you. Your chances of survival in accidents greatly increase when you have someone paddling with you.

If you are a novice and want to learn how to paddle board check this page out.

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Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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