As I sit here in Vancouver in a snowed-in apartment it feels a bit odd to be talking about how to paddle board. But we need something to look forward to next year so I’ll give it my best shot!
In this guide, I will give a blend of my experience as well as what other experts have to say on the matter to give you a full range of information to allow you to get started.
I personally remember what would have been more than a few years ago when I was in the same position as you. Even just the thought of standing on this board in the middle of the water seemed daunting. Add to that a crowd at the beach and it’s more than natural for your anxiety to be a bit heightened.
If I could only give one tidbit of advice it would be to keep trying until you get it right. In a lot of ways paddling a paddleboard can be compared to riding a bike. Only with paddle boarding, there’s a smaller chance of you getting hurt, especially if you follow the steps I’m about to outline in this guide.
Heres a Further Paddle Board Tips guide on all the things I’ve learned over the years of stand up paddle.
Table of Contents
- Is Paddle Boarding Hard?
- Types of Paddle Boards Available to You
- SUP Gear to Have Before Your Maiden Voyage
- Conditions to Look for Before Going Out
- How to Transport Your SUP
- How to Paddle Board
- Important Paddle Strokes to Learn
- How to Fall and Get Back Onboard
Is Paddle Boarding Hard to Learn?
In a simple one-word answer, no it’s not! Just like with anything in life, to truly master the art of paddle boarding is to practice, practice, practice. Luckily for many people, paddle boarding is a lot easier than many other water sports out there. What You need to know to succeed is the right gear and knowledge. Such as..
- Having the right equipment
- Getting the right board for YOU
- Make sure you are in the right conditions
- Learn proper paddle-boarding skills and techniques
- Learn proper safety procedures
We will go through these steps and more. If you want a more detailed answer to this question check out our designated Is Paddle Boarding Hard? article.
The Types of Paddle Boards Available to You
The paddle board you choose will be one of the most important decisions you can make so think very closely about what makes sense for you and your paddling needs. Not just for now but in the longer term future as well.
If you are not entirely sure about paddle boarding then I would suggest renting from a local paddle sports rental location and trying it out for yourself.
If you want a helping hand, check out our Best Paddle Boards for Beginners Article that focuses on stable boards that you can grow with.
Hard Paddle Boards
I won’t spend too much time on these as this website is about inflatable SUPs! But I will say if you have the space for them, they are not a bad investment at all. In fact, I would even argue that these boards have a slightly easier learning curve to them as these boards are meant to be submerged partially in the water. Bet you weren’t expecting me to say that!!
I would ultimately recommend hard boards for specialist SUP activities like Surfing, Racing, and Touring purposes as they will still have a slight edge over inflatable SUPs.This is due to them being partially in the water instead of floating on top which makes them more at one with the elements.
With that being said, Inflatable Paddle Boards are inching closer and closer in terms of on-water performance and the amount of detailing that goes into them.
If you are looking at a hardboard this is a pretty good subreddit to read.
Inflatable Paddle Boards
This is where I can share a lot more of my expertise and experience on this matter. Having the right inflatable paddle board can ultimately make or break your experience learning to paddle so listen up!
In my experience, the longer and wider a paddle board is the more stable it will be. This does not mean this will be the best paddle board for you though. As the size and dimensions of the paddle board ultimately depends on a bland of your experience, height, weight and what you are using it for. Click here to read more about the exact process on What Size Inflatable Paddle Board I Should Get?
When strictly talking about all-around boards:
- For Small Paddlers: Boards 10’-10’6” with a 30 – 32” width is ideal
- For Medium Sized Paddlers: 10’6 -11’ with a 32” – 34” width work well
- For Larger Sized Paddlers: 10’6” – 12’ boards with a 32”-36” width will work best
These dimensions will be different when you are looking at specialist boards. Specialized boards are an area that is beyond the scope of this article. So I will list some of the best SUP’s I’ve reviewed in each category.
- SUP’s by Activity (Example: Yoga, Fishing etc)
- SUP’s by Need (Example: Kayak Hybrid, Kids SUPs, DOG SUPs)
- SUP’s by Price
SUP Gear To Have Before Your Maiden Voyage
Below are some of the gear that you must have before entering the water with your new SUP.
We have a complete Paddle Board Accessories guide that we’ve written here that breaks down the necessary to the “nice to have”. Below we will just start off with what you strictly need to get started.
This does not get enough attention in the SUP community in my opinion. But I believe it’s just as important, if not more so than anything else on this list. Water is your lifeline that allows you to hydrate your body and make clear and concise decisions and have the energy to perform.
If you are suffering from heat stroke and don’t have enough energy to do the necessary planning and actions to execute the plan then you are relying on other people to save you. Which won’t always happen, especially in quieter areas.
“ I Personally like to bring two bottles of water for excursions that range from an hour and a half to three hours. If I go longer I’m bringing a small cooler with a good amount of drinks.”– Editors Notes
PFD or Life Vest
Personal Floatation Devices are not just important to have for those just-in-case moments. Most of the time they are the law and for good reason.
“In 2021 Out of the 18 listed Paddle Board Deaths in the United States 15 (83%) Were caused by Drowning which could have been prevented if they have the right PFD on.”– USCG Boating Statistics 2021 (Page 48)
If you are a good swimmer and you hate wearing life vests then you can use a Belt PFD that clips around your waist. However, if you are not a confident swimmer then I recommend buying a paddle vest PFD that gives your arms room to move.
If you are looking for recommendations, check out our Best Paddle Board Life Jackets Article here.
I’m sure you have all heard the saying “Going down Schitts Creek Without a Paddle ”. There’s a lot of truth behind this saying because, without a good paddle, you are severely restricting your mobility on your paddle board.
Thankfully most inflatable paddle boards that you buy come with a good enough paddle to start off and do the job.
I personally recommend a package that includes fiberglass for even a carbon fiber shafted paddle; These are lighter weight and will allow you to paddle for a longer distance without as much fatigue compared to an aluminum paddle. Keep in mind the average paddle boarder does around 2000 strokes an hour!
But if you are only going to be on the water for an hour or two this won’t be the biggest deal in the world. Especially when you are still feeling the sport out.
The Paddle Board Leash is equally as important as the PFD. It prevents your board from going astray as it’s attached to your ankle. In most conditions, it’s recommended you wear one except for surf zones and flowing white water rivers. However, those conditions are out of the scope of this article.
I found an interesting story to exemplify this on Reddit recently.
“Over the summer, I was involved with a situation that really made me re-think the importance of having a PFD on…
I was at a cabin on a lake with my wife’s extended family. They’re all avid boaters/fishers, so they’re used to taking PFDs with them on the water as required, but they’re not great about wearing them while doing so.
I’d been using my inflatable SUP that we’d brought along for the trip paired with my inflatable PFD. The cabins had a couple cheap paddleboards with no leashes and a stack of PFDs for anyone to grab and use at any time. My wife’s family thought what I was doing looked like fun so they wanted to try.
An uncle and aunt took the cabins’ paddleboards out on the lake, and the aunt wore my inflatable PFD as its low-profile was much more appealing than the bulky, orange ones. The uncle stashed his PFD under the cargo bungees on his SUP just like he was used to doing while on his boat.
Within 5 minutes, the uncle is in the lake…the leashless paddleboard with the stowed PFD has drifted out of reach with the fall and a slight breeze. We all have a laugh at him from the shore. His instinct is to swim after the paddleboard…it’s essentially a rental and not his, so he was probably worried about getting charged for a lost paddleboard. Meanwhile, he keeps getting further and further from shore and the loose board keeps floating away. He could swim, but he’s out of shape and chasing this loose paddleboard has gotten him winded a lot faster than expected. He starts to panic and starts calling out for help.
Luckily, the aunt was able to get over to him, inflate my PFD and he was able to use it and calm down. The cabin owner and I got out onto the water and got them both back in safely.
This all happened pretty quickly, so I think things can go south faster than expected and it’s easy to lose your head or focus on things like retrieving the borrowed paddleboard that aren’t important in the long-run. All-in-all, it wasn’t solely a PFD issue, but a sketchy situation that could have been avoided by wearing both a leash and a PFD.”– Grumpo-potamus (Reddit.com)
A whistle is important for SUP safety, especially when you are further out and need assistance. They are also mandatory for the “Vessels” class which stand-up paddle boards are anointed for both USGC and Transport Canada.
There are some PFDs that comes with a whistle, so if you are in the market for both I would look for those.
We are strictly going to be talking about what to wear in ideal conditions for beginners here. In this case, this would be sunny and calm conditions with little wind and waves and moderate water temperatures.
Shorts/ Bathing Suit
These are more than acceptable for a sunny day as long as they are accompanied by a PFD and leash. If it starts getting a bit cooler out you can bring a rashguard or leggings in your drybag and change on the fly
This is also a forgotten-about accessory but I believe it’s necessary. Sunglasses help get the glare out of the reflection of the water and help you see obstacles both on and in the water before you hit them with your board. I personally recommend spending a bit of extra money and getting a pair of polarized sunglasses that allow you to see underneath the water.
I personally like using Shady Ray Sunglasses but the type you choose doesn’t matter as long as they do the job.
10% of the sun reflects off the water. So not only do you get Mr. Sun’s full glare but you also get that extra bit of sun reflecting off the water giving you almost double the sun exposure. Because of this, it’s important to protect yourself with a good layer of trusty sunscreen.
It’s recommended that you wear SPF 50 and higher if you are out for most of the day. Make sure you layer up every few hours!
Drybag/ Phone Protector
In my experience, you don’t need these things as much as some of the above items but its a good thing to have for any gear you want to bring with you. Drybags come in many different sizes and can house a whole bunch of different items such as:
- Change of Clothes
- Your Phone
- Car/ House Keys
While a phone protector will make your phone more accessible as it’s simply a waterproof phone casing that hangs around your neck. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been happy that I used one, especially for those moments when you want to document wildlife coming like a seal or even a sea lion!
Conditions to Look For Before Going Out
Now that we have the gear and accessories sorted we have to let you know what ideal conditions are and how to forecast them correctly. Before going out there are 3 things you need to check.
- Take a look at the water temperature: Anything below 60 F can risk hypothermia. I found a cool little table that illustrates the loss of dexterity with no protective clothing here. Do a quick Google of the body of water’s temperature you are visiting before heading out.
- Look at the weather forecast: Look at the outside temperature as well as how much wind is going through. In my experience, I found that weather.com is the most accurate one out there.
- If applicable, look at the tide tables: This usually goes for coastal ocean waters but the tide is just another factor you need to look at. I go either at the peak of high or low tide and paddle against the tide when launching. I like tide-forecast.com as the best source for checking this.
How do you get your SUP from your house/ storage to the park/ beach and then to the water?
For a Hard SUP
To transport a hard SUP you will most likely need a roof rack or a rail system to put on top of your car or SUV. Again this is an Inflatable SUP site so I have limited experience transporting hard paddle boards. But here’s a good video from Isle Surf And SUP to show you how to transport your SUP.
The most important things are securing the board onto the car and making sure there’s enough padding to keep the board from getting damaged.
As soon as you get to the launching point you can unload the SUP from your vehicle and carry it to the body of water.
For an Inflatable SUP
For inflatable SUPs, there are more ways to transport the board thanks to their portability. You can:
- Mount them on the roof rack of your car
- Roll it up and store it in the backseat or your trunk
- Transport the SUP in its bag on public transportation, bicycle etc.
“What I personally do is roll the SUP up and transport one or two of them in the trunk or the back seat of my car. As much as I would love to keep them inflated to avoid the wear of folding it’s just not an option for me as I live in a space where the board has to be deflated.”– Editors Notes
You can even travel with an inflatable SUP on an airline although I highly recommend that you measure the bag and compare it to airline baggage requirements.
How to Paddle Board Correctly
Ok we made it! We are finally putting your board in the water and taking it out on its maiden voyage! Here are some of the paddle board basics you need to know.
Adjusting Your Paddle to the Right Height
The right paddle height for you will depend on your paddling preferences. But if you are brand new you don’t know what those are. So as a rule of thumb your paddle is normally recommended to be 6-8” above your head. Or you put one “shaka ” above your head.
“How I was originally taught was to put the paddle about a foot in front of me and extend my arm out at a 120-degree angle and place my wrist flat. The paddle’s handle should fit underneath your palm. But I also prefer having a longer paddle than many other paddlers that I know.”– Editors Notes
Practice on Land
If you really want to get the movements right then I highly recommend practicing them on land as you will start getting some muscle memory before trying it out on the water. If you are worried about looking like a looney then you can blow up the SUP and practice in your backyard or a more secluded location.
There are a few things you will be practicing on land if you wanted to get muscle memory into your brain:
- Kneeling on the board and doing basic paddling maneuvers
- Practicing standing on the board correctly
- Basic paddle maneuvers while standing like using the forward stroke to paddle on either side and turning the board using nose and tail strokes.
We will go through the above in more detail below.
Launching and Getting On
Below are some of the steps for launching your paddle board correctly.
- Once your board is fully pumped up (yes go by the manufacturer’s exact instructions). You want to place the board upright on one of its sides and grab the middle carry handle and walk to the launching spot
- The launching spot should be free of obstacles and have firm footing. For example a beach, a launch ramp with no traffic, etc. Next, walk in knee-deep water and place the board on top of the water, making sure the fins have a clear clearance path of anything in front.
- Place your two hands on either side of the board (the rails) and place one knee towards the middle of your board and push off in one motion. Place your other knee on the board and you are on!
Here are the steps for standing up. We’ve included a video to visually show you how to do the most difficult part of paddle boarding. Thankfully the most difficult part of stand up paddle boarding is learning how to stand for that first time or two. After that, it gets easier.
- You want to have yourself in the position to stand first. What you need to do is have your knees parallel to each side of the handle and your arms forward like you’re in the starting position of cat/ cow.
- Give your paddle board a bit of paddling momentum before attempting to stand. In my experience, momentum helps with balance in standing up.
- Place your paddle across the board with your hands over to help stabilize the board. Before doing the next step you need to be looking forward and not down.
- Once the board is moving forward within a relatively swift motion position your dominant foot next to your knee. Next, position your other foot exactly parallel to the dominant foot and raise yourself in a squat position. The forward momentum will help make the board feel more stable.
- As soon as you are up dig your paddle into the water to help give you more momentum as well as stability. The paddle in some ways acts as a stabilizer that gives you extra balance.
- Start paddling forward
Important Paddle Strokes to Learn
On your maiden voyage here are some easy strokes to learn on your first time out. Check out our Paddle Boarding Techniques guide for more indepth information.
The forward stroke is one of the easiest to learn for paddle boarding. Doing it right not only gives you more speed/glide along the water but also makes the board feel more stable after each stroke.
- Let’s say you are paddling on your right-hand side. Your left arm will be placed on the handle and your right will be placed at about the mid part of the shaft.
- You are going to be spearing the paddle down with the full blade digging into the water close to the rail of your board. Your reach should be out front near the deck bungees of your SUP. Your left shoulder will be slightly back while your right shoulder will be forward with your arm extended
- You will be using your core muscles to stabilize yourself while you are pulling the paddle towards you. The blade will continue to be in the water until you get to your feet.
- Lift the paddle out of the water and repeat.
- If you have to switch sides do it after the paddle stroke and place the handle on the right hand and place your left arm towards the middle of the shaft
- Rinse and Repeat
When doing these actions you want it to feel like a full stroke while keeping your back straight. What you don’t want to do is do small measly paddles using just your arm. You will tire out your arms quicker while not getting enough power to properly propel you which tires you out quicker.
Remember to always look forward!
To stop your board you simply want to place your paddle in the water parallel to your arms and keep it there. The board may try to fishtail and turn to the side where your paddle is. So place the blade on the opposite side to stop the board.
Maneuvering Right or Left
There may be a few articles out there that recommend that you use sweep strokes to turn. In my opinion, this is a little bit of a trickier maneuver to do when first starting out. So instead we will just be practicing simple turns.
- You will be doing the same steps as forward paddling except that you will be turning the backside of the blade of your paddle to be facing your board
- You will be placing your blade in the water and pushing the paddle away from the board. This will help turn the nose of the SUP in the direction you want to go to.
The backward stroke will be a bit less intense when compared to the forward stroke.
- Place your paddle in the water parallel to your body. Instead of pulling the paddle towards you, push it away from you.
- As you do this the board may start to turn. Counter this by switching sides and paddling on the opposite side.
Strokes to Remember as You Gain More Experience
The strokes above are simple strokes to help you the first few times out on the water. Below is a list of more advanced strokes you can do as you gain more and more experience
- Sweep Strokes: This is used to make the board do a 360-degree turn. What you do is start from the tail of the board and make a “C” pattern which means you will be pushing the blade forward into the water away from the board. As soon as you get close to the nose you bring the paddle blade towards the nose. It will take about 3-8 strokes depending on the size and dimensions of your board.
- Pivot Turns: This more advanced maneuver is where you step into the tail of the board and lift the nose up. As you are doing this you have your paddle in the water and you paddle the side you want to turn. This takes some practice but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it and be more confident traveling the length of your board.
How to Fall And Get Back Onboard
Falling is all a part of paddle boarding and everyone spills into the drink at one time or another. When you are trying to stand or trying a more tricky maneuver on your board, it’s best to go in water that’s at least shoulder depth and away from any obstacles like rocks, submerged logs, etc. The last thing you want to do is fall and injure yourself in water that’s only a foot deep!
So now that you are in deeper water there are a few steps to this:
- When you feel instability and you feel that you can’t recover you want to purposely fall away from the paddle board into the water.
- Make sure that you keep your paddle close by holding it or dropping it close to where you fall. The last thing you want is to dramatically throw your paddle in the air and have to swim to recover it. Remember some paddles (especially from budget brands) don’t float!
- If you have your SUP leash on you should have no problems recovering your board
To get back on your board you can go about it one of two ways. You can climb from the side or from the back of the board. I usually prefer the side.
- Once in the water and you have your paddle in your hand, place the paddle underneath the deck bungees
- Next, you are going to go to the middle section of your board and grab the center handle.
- You’re going to haul yourself up by kicking your legs and pulling yourself onto the board. I like to call this the seal stage as your movements will be mimicking movements similar to a seal when they haul themselves onto ice flows.
- Next pivot your body so that your whole body is on the board.
- Get back on your knees or try to stand and start paddling again!
Below are some common FAQs I get about learning to paddle board for the first time.
What’s the Best Paddle Board For Me?
The best paddle board for you will ultimately depend on your weight, height, and your experience. If you are not entirely sure where to start check out our Best Inflatable Paddle Boards Article.
Is SUP Easy for Beginners?
Paddle Boarding can be easier for beginners who have a surfing, wakeboarding or even snowboarding background. The first few times it can be tricky to stand but just like anything, with enough practice, you can master the art of paddle boarding as long as you have the proper technique (AKA advice in this and other fine articles on the web).
Is It Acceptable to Sit While Paddle Boarding?
I have had a few instances where people have jokingly told me from their boats that it’s called “Stand Up Paddle Boarding” and that I was supposed to stand. Ignore them. It’s perfectly acceptable to kneel, sit or even lie down on a paddle board if that’s what feels best for you.
When kneeling/ sitting you actually get more power per stroke deployed and you act less as a sail in windy conditions when sitting.
How Does One “Relax” On a Paddle Board?
Often times you will hear advice that once you start standing on a SUP you need to “relax”. I admit it’s kind of hard to do especially when the feeling of standing on this board in the middle of the water is unfamiliar to you.
The best way to achieve this is to look straight ahead and not down. This relaxes your muscles more because you are not “focused” on balancing but rather viewing where you need to go. Experience will also be a big factor in feeling more relaxed while standing on a paddleboard.
Is Paddle Boarding Harder than Kayaking?
Initially, Paddle Boarding will feel harder than kayaking, specifically the standing part. However, over a long distance, I would say kayaking is harder on your arms than paddle boarding.
We have a complete comparative guide that compares inflatable paddle boards and kayaks here.
What Are Some Mistakes to Avoid When Paddle Boarding?
Below are a few mistakes I’ve had to learn through when trying stand up paddle boarding.
– Don’t Look Down: When paddling or standing you should always be looking at the horizon. The only time you should be looking at your board is if you have to grab something stashed in the deck rigging.
–You are using Surfing Stance: You need to be actually surfing with your SUP for surf stance to be effective. Otherwise, you are making your life more difficult in flat water. You want to have your feet parallel to the handle of your board on either side.
– Using Your Arms to Paddle: The paddling motion of a paddle board requires your full body, specifically your core. When you use just your arms you will be tiring yourself out easier.
– Not Checking the Weather: I’ve had more than a few times where I looked at the sun a few hours prior and thought meh good enough and left, only to find myself fighting winds and the tide as soon as I went out. Always check the weather, water conditions, wind, and tides (if near the ocean) before heading out.
Can You Lose Weight/ Get Fit Paddle Boarding?
The more you paddle board the more exercise you will be getting! I would recommend that paddle boarding be used as a complementary way to lose weight and not the end all be all.
Be outdoors, join that gym, get running, and eat healthier and you will live a longer more fulfilling life. For more in-depth information on this subject matter check out our How Many Calories Does Paddle Boarding Burn article.
So How Do You Stand Up Paddle Board?
You paddle Board using these steps:
- Get the Right Type of Paddle Board for YOU
- Have Proper Equipment (PFD, whistle, leash, water)
- Check the Conditions Before Going
- Learn How to Launch, Get on Your Board and Stand
- Learn Basic Paddle Boarding strokes like forward stroke, turning, stopping, and reversing
- Learn How to Fall Away from your paddle board and climb back onboard
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