Is Paddle Boarding Hard? The No BS Guide to SUP

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You see all of these people paddling on these boards and you think to yourself “ Is Paddle Boarding Hard?”  

It sure looks fun but what if I fall in? Is it Dangerous? What Do I Need to Get started? Will I Like it? 

Below we answer all of these questions using my 10 years of experience in Stand Up Paddling.

Paddle Boarding is as challenging as you make it out to be. What do I mean by that? 

Read on as I use my experience to answer the “How hard is paddle boarding” question and fill you in on things that I have learned over the past few years. 

How Hard is Paddle Boarding?

In my experience paddle boarding is not hard and does not take as much time to learn as other water sports like surfing or wakeboarding. What makes it such a great sport is that almost anyone can do it with the right attitude, time and practice.

Paddle boarding also comes with a heap load of both physical and mental benefits. Things such as mental clarity after a tough day, burning calories (can be around 300 + per hour doing regular paddling), working unused muscles, and stabilizing your core are just some of the benefits involved. 

Paddle Boarding has a lot of parallels to riding a bicycle. That initial step of trying it for the first time can be terrifying. But as you spend more time trying it. Your body gets accustomed to the movements and motions and it becomes easier and easier.  

What often holds you back is the thought of looking like an idiot falling into the water with a beach full of people watching you. 

But the truth is they don’t matter. Anybody who has been on a paddle board has fallen off, even the pros! And honestly falling into the water is not a big deal, especially if you are prepared. 

Heck, my friend was able to stand on his inflatable board for the first time despite having knee surgery a few years prior. So if he can do it, so can you! 

Step By Step Guide on How to Make Paddle Boarding Easy

Maybe my words above helped you make the jump and want to try the sport. Good, now I am going to show you ways that will make your paddling experience as breezy as possible. 

Have the Right Equipment

Having the right equipment will be one of the biggest factors in how fast you learn the art of stand-up paddle boarding. Below we will hold your hand and show you exactly what you need for a proper time-out. 

Get the Right Paddle Board

Nixy Onboard Lake
Nixy Newport On-Board

This is one of the things that could potentially make or break your experience on the water. 

In Fact, it almost ruined mine. Story Time:

When I first decided to buy a stand up paddle board I was supremely budget conscious and picked up a new inflatable no-name brand from Craigslist. It looked cool and was pointy so I assumed it would do the job and endless fun was ahead. 

Boy was I wrong. Now I wouldn’t say it’s the worst thing in the world but I had a HARD time standing up on it. My knees were shaky and I really did not feel confident standing on it. As a result, I didn’t use it nearly as much. 

Fast Forward a few years and I finally get a Nixy Newport SUP and the Atoll 11 board and I have to say. The difference was night and day in terms of stability and my confidence standing on the board. As a result of getting a more well-crafted stable board, I spend more time paddle boarding and honing my skills and actually ENJOYING the sport.

– Editors Notes

So what am I saying here? Get a board that you feel confident to stand up on. All Around boards that range from 10’ – 11’6” are typically the best place to start depending on your size and weight. Width wise you want something in the sweet spot of 32” – 36” starting off. 

  • The wider the board the more stable it will feel
  • BUT wider also means slower as your skill level progresses

I can’t tell you off the bat what to choose for yourself as everyone has different heights and weights, and skill levels. But I did do a very detailed Best Inflatable Paddle Board Guide that helps you choose which is best for your specific strengths and weaknesses. If you want an exact formula for What size paddle board you need for your body we also have a Paddle Board Sizing Guide

Finally, if stability is the main concern take a look at our Best Paddle Boards for Beginners List

Safety Equipment Needed

Thankfully paddle boarding is a sport where you don’t need a lot of equipment to be safe. The most important things are:

  • A Paddle Boarding PFD: Get an inflatable belt PFD if you know how to swim and are in calm water conditions, Get a Life Jacket PFD if you are going in more wavey waters and you are not 100% confident in swimming. 
  • An Ankle Leash: This is important as your board won’t float away from you. Especially when there are currents, tides, or other things in between you and your SUP
  • A Whistle: Some governing bodies like Transport Canada, and US Coast Guard say in their rules that you need to bring a whistle with you. So make sure you have one if your governing body says such. 

Proper Paddle Size

You will want to ensure that your paddle feels comfortable in your hands before heading out. The good news is most inflatable paddle boards will come with a paddle that is resizable. How big of a paddle you want will depend on your height and preferences. 

As a guide, I hold my arm straight up and tilt my hand horizontally. I then stand the paddle right next to me and adjust the handle to hit my hand. As seen above. 

Launch the Board Without Any Obstructions

Before you get on your board and become a paddling warrior you need a safe pathway to launch. 

  1. First and foremost, make sure you launch in calm water conditions. Lakes are the perfect training ground for this. Make sure that it is not too windy either.
  2. Place your board in the water with the fins facing outward and back up your SUP to water that is over knee deep. 
  3. Once in water that is higher than knee deep, turn your board around and prepare to launch. Make sure no obstacles like rocks, or logs are in the path of your fin.
  4. Next, place both hands on the sides of your paddle board and place your knee on the board
  5. In one fluid motion use your leg that’s in the water to push off and bring the other knee onboard.
  6. I like to typically put my ankle leash on once I’m on the board but you can do it beforehand. 

Start Off Kneeling on the Board 

paddle board kneeling
When in doubt kneel or sit!

Hopefully, you didn’t forget your paddle at this point. Don’t worry if you have because I’ve been there before!  Next, I’ll teach you how to paddle while kneeling. 

  1. Wow, look at you floating on water! Once you are on all fours (from launching) it’s time to grab your paddle and tilt upwards to a kneeling position. Do this when you feel most stable on the board. You can use the paddle in the air to counterbalance any sudden movements you feel from waves or wind. Similar to how a cheetah uses its tail to counterbalance sudden changes in movement. 
  2. Once balanced, put your right hand on the handle of the paddle and your left hand on the middle. I suggest that you adjust the paddle to its shortest setting if you are planning to kneel and paddle for a while.
  3. Place the paddle blade (the scoop part facing backward) in the water in front of your body and paddle along and pull it backward. This is where you are going to find your paddling style. Some people like me like to have the paddle as close to the board as possible while paddling for tracking reasons, while others have the paddle further out. It all depends on what feels comfortable to you. 

While you are on your knees you can start to sway back and forth to figure out your balance and the limits of the board. The feeling of the board will all depend on its size, dimensions, and what it’s made of

If you feel a bit tippy you can use your paddle to counterbalance movements done by you or your environment. 

How to Stand On a Paddle Board

Time to take those imagined training wheels off and try to learn to stand on the water! The above video shows how I stood on a board that I received in March at Salt Spring Island.

  1. Go on All fours and have your paddle in front of you (perpendicular). Make sure that the blade is not dipping into the water. 
  2. Place yourself in the middle of the board, if you are not there already. The name of the game is for your feet to be on either side of the handle, shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Do a stroke or two with your paddle to get forward momentum. Much like a bike, a paddle board is easier to stand on when you have forward momentum on your side.
  4. Using the paddle to stabilize yourself, put one leg up, foot flat on the board, One leg in the knelt position the other bent
  5. Using the paddle to still stabilize yourself, place your other foot flat onto the board. At this point, your positioning will mimic a cat hissing with its back arched.
  6. Next in a fluid squat motion (when you are steady) bring yourself up and stand. As soon as you are upright have your knees slightly bent to counter any possible counter movements your board may feel. Use your paddle to go forward

How to Stay On a Paddle Board

Well, you are up on the board now what? The answer is to paddle! Easier said than done though! Before we get into specific paddling maneuvers I’ll go over a few tips with you to keep you upright and on your board. 

  • Practice Falling: Why would you ever want to voluntarily fling yourself into the water? Well, there are a few reasons. One, it gets over your fear of falling into the water. Once you actually do it in warm conditions, its really not that bad. And two, Practicing falling will help you make sure that you fall off your board properly. How you do it is when you start to feel unstable leap off the board on your front back or side. It’s important to note that this should be done in water that’s at least 5 feet deep to avoid injury!
  • Always Look Straight Ahead: I always find that I am most unbalanced when I am looking backward for an extended period of time. Instead, look where you are paddling. Your eyes are always meant to keep you looking to where you are going to honor them!

How to Paddle and Maneuver

While you are on the board you have to learn how to maneuver it otherwise you will be drifting off to Neverland (he he!). Below are some tips to help you out along with some video 

Forward Paddling: Paddle on each side of the board to keep the nose straight. In my experience with inflatable boards, it usually takes 3-5 strokes before you have to switch sides. 

Turning Right or Left for Slight Turns: To turn the direction you want you will have to paddle on that side primarily after a few strokes this will start to turn the nose in the direction you want it. 

Stopping: Place your paddle blade in the water and keep it there. I like to do this on both sides to prevent the nose from favoring a specific side of the board. You can use the same technique for slowing down. 

A Sudden Turn: I like to use sweep strokes to turn the board in a more precise way.  Sweep strokes are when you do a half-moon motion with your paddle on the side of your board.

Sweep Stroke in Motion

Where to Go From Here? 

You’ve learned how to get on your paddle board, kneel, stand up and now maneuver it so what’s left? Well, there are a few different ways you can go. 

Recreational Paddle Boarding: Nothing wrong with paddling around a lake and taking in the views with friends and family! This is probably the category that most of you will slot into. Best of all there’s a wide variety of different SUPs you can use for this including the first SUP you ever bought! Good recreation boards are the iRocker All Around 11 Ultra, Nixy Newport, and Atoll 11 SUPs

SUP Fishing: If you are a fan of fishing I got some good news for you! SUP fishing is becoming one of the fastest-growing trends in the fishing industry and for good reason! You can actually have a bird’s eye view while standing and cast your line to where you see fish. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I brought a rod when paddle boarding in clear water. 

The Best Fishing Paddle Boards usually are wider in width to promote more stability for those ultra-precise casts you need to do. I would look at a SUP being 32” – 36” wide or even wider if you have a motor attachment. Some good SUP fishing vessels include the Sea Eagle FS126 and the Bote Rackham Aero

SUP Yoga: Good news SUP Yogis! Your practice doesn’t strictly have to be on land but now it can be on the water! The cool thing with SUP Yoga is that it puts greater focus on stabilizer muscles all the while giving you a wide array of benefits both physically and mentally. 

Check out our Best Paddle Boards for Yoga page for some boards built specifically for that purpose. Like SUP Fishing, SUP Yoga requires a wider width for a more stable platform to do poses on. SUPs like the Nixy Venice and the Hala Asana make great specialized Yoga picks. 

SUP Touring: If speed and covering longer distances is your game then SUP Touring is a great start to this. Unlike SUP Yoga and SUP Fishing boards, SUP touring boards typically have a shorter width and a longer length. Stability takes more of a back seat with these boards as they usually are within the 26”- 30” range. Good Inflatable touring SUPs include the Red Paddle Voyager and the Starboard 14’ Touring S board

Check out our SUP Activities Guide to give you even more ideas of what’s possible with a SUP. 

Paddle Boarding Fitness Benefits

Paddle boarding is also a great way to gain muscle composition, fat loss, and BMI decrease. Don’t trust me? In a long-term study done by Clinmed Journals in Sports and Exercise Medicine, They put a 58-year-old male and female to the test for over 1 year. The results were as follows:

After 12 months, the male lost 6.8 kg (- 8.0%), decreased his body fat by 5% (Baseline level = 27.1%-Week 52 = 23.7%), and reduced his BMI by 7.34%. The female lost 3.7 kg (- 6.5%), had a 6.6% decrease in body fat (Baseline level = 27.1%-Week 52 = 21.5%) and reduced her BMI by 13.3%. Trunk muscle endurance improved by 70% overall in the male and 147.5% overall in the female. Aerobic fitness improved by 25.0% in the male (+ 5.5 ml/kg/min) and 42.3% in the female (+ 12.2 ml/kg/min). Self-rated quality of life improved in the male 84.1%, 33.9%, 50.0%, and 28.6% and in the female by 17.4%, 33.9%, 25.3% and 27.5% in the physical, psychological, social relationships and environment domains respectively.” 

Clinmed Journal Done by Ben Schram, Wayne Hing and Mike Climstein

You can find a load of other benefits and studies on our SUP benefits page. 

Other Factors that Affect Paddle Boarding Difficulty

Here are a few other things that affect paddle boarding difficulty.

Fitness Level

You don’t have to look like this to be able to paddle board 🙂

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be the fittest person on the planet to do SUP. But if you are more active than not you will have an easier time learning. This is especially true for people who have surfing backgrounds. 

There’s a reason many people state that paddle boarding is a full-body exercise. A proper SUP stroke can work

  • Arms: Forearm, Biceps, Deltoids
  • Back: Trapezus, Erector Spinae, Lats 
  • Core: Abdominals 
  • Legs: Glutes, Quadriceps, IT Band, Hamstring, Calves, and Foot muscles

So if you were involved in some athletic domain that regularly worked out many of these muscle groups you would have an easier time. However, just because you may have become more sedimentary in recent days (thanks to Covid) doesn’t mean that Stand Up Paddle Boarding is impossible. 

Have patience with yourself, celebrate small wins, and remember that it’s more than okay to fall! It’s all part of the learning process. 

Where You Are Paddling

paddle board tides
The red circles are my friends who got swept by the wind/ tide (They were fine)

This will be one of the biggest factors that will determine how difficult paddle boarding is for you. When first starting out I would recommend regulating yourself to purely calm water conditions with hardly any wind. Check the weather forecast temperatures, wind and water temperatures for the area you want to try paddle boarding. 

Small to medium-sized lakes are perfect training grounds for this as there are fewer environmental factors to obstruct your learning. For those of you who live by the coast, checking tide tables are a must.

“I live next to a beach that does paddle board rentals in a tidal zone that can see some fairly significant movement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen beginners get pushed by the tide and struggle to get back due to poor paddling technique and a lack of teaching. If they went out during high tide when there is minimal movement they would have had a much better time learning the sport.

– Editors Notes

Slow-moving, bigger rivers are alright to learn on as well but it’s important that you know the area and know where it goes. White water is absolutely out of the question and needs years of training to master a SUP. 

Who You Paddle With

This is often very overlooked by other sites but I think it’s something that needs some mentioning. The people you paddle with will sometimes make or break your experience in just about anything you do

If you are with an experienced paddler make sure that they are patient, give you tips, and paddle along with you. 

The worst thing is when you just start to learn and your experienced friend just darts off in the distance with little regard for your learning curve. This can be a pretty frustrating experience so be sure to request they keep at your pace. 

When you are learning the sport with a friend or significant other it makes learning stand-up paddling even more fun. As you all are in the same boat and can clearly laugh at each other falling off and embrace learning the sport as newbies. 

More Paddle Boarding Tips from Someone Who’s Been There Done That

Below are a few tips that I have personally experienced in my time paddle boarding. Better you learn from my mistakes than make them yourself! 

  • Look Up Local Laws Before Going Out: Most of the time you need a PFD, whistle and or a leash on your SUP for it to be an approved vessel but be sure to look this up ahead of time because each country’s coastal/ water governing bodies can be different from each other. For most of my readers Transport Canada, US Coast Guard
  • Drink Plenty of Fluids: This is a big one for me. When I go paddle boarding for 2 hours I make sure to bring at least 2 insulated water bottles with me. You don’t realize how much the sun can take out of you until you are the furthest point from your launching spot!
  • The Feeling of an Inflatable SUP is Different from a Hard Paddle Board: I often get people who ask me why they can’t stand on their inflatable board as easily as a hard SUP. Usually the answer is they got the wrong dimension SUP or they are not used to the feeling. Hard SUPs feel more stable because they sit in the water while inflatable SUPs may feel more unstable to a beginner because they sit on top of the water!
  • Paddle Against the Wind/ Tide Going Out and Go With it Coming Back: I learned this the hard way kayaking in Deep Cove years ago. What I thought would be an easy hour and a half there and hour and a half back ended up taking twice as long coming back against the wind. The rental company was a bit concerned and charged us for the extra time it took to get back. 
  • If a Boat Comes By Kneel: Boats, are kind of annoying when you are paddle boarding because you often have to stop what you are doing and brace for the waves as soon as they come by you. If you are new I recommend just going back into the kneeling position if you want to keep dry. If you want to challenge yourself, feel free to stand! Just make sure the water is deep enough when doing so. 
  • Beware of Things that Lurk Below: No I’m not talking about alligators or sharks (although it’s good practice to know what to do if they live in the area). I’m talking about submerged logs, posts, and rocks that can come out of nowhere and give your fin a big WHACK. When paddling try to keep most of your focus ahead so that you can react in time. 
  • Bring Waterproof Floating Case or a Dry Bag/ Cooler: I often get asked “what do I do with my phone when paddle boarding?”. There are several ways you can go. You can get a waterproof drybag or cooler and place it inside or you can use a phone case that goes around your neck. I personally like to use the phone case as it’s handy to have around your neck in case something like a seal pops up and you want to take a quick picture. 

Paddle Boarding Difficulty FAQ’s 

Below are some common Faqs that I get about paddle boarding difficulty. 

Is Paddle Boarding Harder Than Kayaking? 

It depends on the type of kayaking that you are comparing to the type of paddle boarding. If we are just comparing both sports recreationally I believe paddle boarding is harder to learn straight off the bat, but kayaking is harder on certain muscle groups like biceps, triceps, deltoids, and hamstrings as you learn better technique. 

Is Paddle Boarding Tiring?

It sure as heck can be if you are out there for a long period of time! More time on the water + more sun exposure makes paddle boarding more harrowing. In my experience, I get pretty darn tired after 3 hours in the hot sun, even with lots of water and snacks aboard. 

If you don’t want to over-stress your body go for shorter periods of time and take plenty of breaks in between. 

Why Am I Wobbly On A Paddle Board? I Can’t Stand Up!

There can be a few reasons for being wobbly on a stand up paddle board.

1. Your muscle groups aren’t used to this so it’s harder to keep balance: Try to keep your body relaxed and don’t tense up. Easier said than done I know, but with experience, you and your body will get the hang of it. 

2. You don’t have the right paddle board: If you get a paddle board with the wrong dimensions you will have a much harder time standing up. I know because I’ve been there with my first board. Look for a board that is 10’6” – 11’6” with at least 32” width and above. Try a few different boards out if you can because often the differences are night and day.

3. You are paddling in the wrong conditions: If you are paddling in wind and waves, this will put your balance off kilter which adds just another thing your body has to learn to deal with. To Avoid this go on calm days. 

Can You Paddle Board If You Can’t Swim?

Yes, you can paddle board if you can’t swim. However, you must have a life vest and your leash on at all times. I do think paddle boarding is easier when you can swim. This is because there is less fear of the water if you do fall in. Which in turn helps your body be loose. 

Do You Need To Be Strong To Paddle Board?

Nope, you don’t need to be a 7X Olympic rowing champion to paddle board. In fact, paddle boarding is one of the most easily accessible watersports for most builds and body types. It just might take more practice for non-athletic people vs more athletic folks.

So Give it to Me Straight Is Paddle Boarding Hard? 

Paddle boarding is made easier when you are mindful of the type of board you are paddling and the conditions you are in. To summarize the most important points in this article

  • If you are feeling wobbly on the board it’s because your body is not used to the feeling or you have the wrong board. Get the right board for your height, weight, and body.
  • The Conditions will play a big part in how hard paddle boarding is. To make paddle boarding easy peasy, go on a small to medium-sized lake on a day when there is no wind and waves. 
  • Falling into the water may be one of your biggest anxieties but once you do it safely, it will feel like nothing and you will wonder what you were so scared of in the first place. Just make sure to have a PFD, and a Leash on to insure your safety. 

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Author:
Hey, My name is Derek and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports. My new-found passion is learning about and testing SUP's. I love teaching people what to look for.

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