In this article, we go over 17 paddle board tips I wish I knew when I started stand up paddle boarding.
These aren’t your run-of-the-mill brainless tips where I tell you to “Have Fun”. Rather I give you everything I have learned the hard way about stand-up paddle boarding in the last 10 years.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding in a nutshell is testing the limits of your board, falling over looking like an idiot (it’s mostly in your mind may I add), learning how to do the technique better, and trying it again.
For those looking to how to properly paddle board step by step take a look at our detailed How to Paddle Board Step by Step Guide.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
(Click Below to Jump to each tip)
- 17 Paddle Board Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started Out
- Choosing the Right Board Can Make or Break Your Experience
- Find a board with a universal fin box
- Spend a Little bit extra and get an Electric Pump
- Check Tide Tables and Weather before heading out
- Wearing a Leash and PFD is very important
- Bring a Lot of Liquids
- Dress for the Elements
- Go Against the wind first and getting back will be a breeze
- Paddling on an Inflatable feels different from a hard board
- Its Okay to paddle from your knees
- When standing look forward, don’t look down at your feet
- Stay Loose
- Engage Your Whole body in the Paddle stroke
- The More You Paddle away from the board the more it will turn
- Falling is an important learning tool
- Fall Away from your board
- Learn How to Brace for Waves
- Choosing the Right Board Can Make or Break Your Experience
17 Stand Up Paddle Board Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started Out
Stand Up Paddle Boarding looks effortless when you look at intermediate to advanced paddlers out there. I hate to break it to you but chances are it won’t be as smooth for those who are starting out. Those experienced paddlers got there by, well gaining experience!
So below are some things that I have learned over the past few years to make your SUP adventure safe, secure and best of all more enjoyable.
Choosing the Right Board Can Make or Break Your Experience
You may have heard that the right board will make or break your experience on other sites or blogs. Well, this is 100% true. Story time.
“The first board that I bought was from Craigslist and it was a no-name brand. Inflatable Paddle Boards even 7 years ago were a bit more expensive for cheaper quality materials than they are today. When I first started I could not for the life of me stand on the thing. As I got more experience I could start to stand on it but it took all of my concentration to stay standing which was taking away from actually enjoying my surroundings.”– Editors Notes
After trying a bunch of boards out it has become more and more clear to me that you really do get what you pay for! A 10’6” long 32” board will be good for about 80% of the paddlers starting out. If you are a taller or smaller individual then go down half a foot to a foot length-wise and up or down a few inches width-wise.
Find a Board with a US Fin Box
This advice won’t be important for those who are just starting out, but as you gain experience and want to play around with board set-ups. And one thing that can greatly impact the performance of the board is the fin.
Having a US Fin Box will give you a greater amount of choices not just from the manufacturer you bought from, but just about any SUP or Surfboard company that has the US fin box designation.
Having a proprietary fin set-up is not the worst thing in the world but it does greatly limit you to just the fins that the specific manufacturer has available to them. After a bunch of years, these manufacturers stop making these parts and oftentimes stop using the original fin box design.
Spend a Little Bit Extra And Get that Electric Pump
This is a big lesson I learned over the years but I can tell you one thing. I strongly dislike, no… I HATE manually pumping up a board. This is doubly so for those unfortunate souls like me who have had back issues over the years. I becomes even more painful to pump as soon as you get past that 5 PSI range.
So spend the extra $100 – $150 dollars and let the power of your car do all the work for you. This also gives you time to sip a refreshing (perhaps alcoholic?) beverage or take the time to further Set-up your SUP.
We have a guide on the Best Electric SUP Pumps Here.
Check the Weather and Tide Tables Before Heading Out
I have learned this lesson far more times than I would like to admit when it comes to getting out there and getting caught. So here is a list of things to check before heading out.
- Check the Weather Forecast an hour or two before going out. Look for low wind speeds and mostly clear skies.
- Check the Water Temperature of your area before heading out. Avoid water temperatures that are 50-60 F (10-15C). Unless dressed properly. Hypothermia is no joke!
- If you Live in Coastal waters check out your local tide table. You want to time your paddle so that you are in the middle of the highest or lowest tide where there is the least amount of movement.
Wearing a Leash and PFD is very important
I’m sure you are tired of hearing this from just about every blog, newsletter, or website on the internet but it can be a truly life-saving endeavor. It’s not so much that we don’t think you can swim but more that you never know what can happen or how the elements can take a turn for the worst.
“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)
So in layman’s terms, the PFD will help you stay afloat while a leash will always make sure that your paddle board is within 8-10 feet of you.
Bring a Lot of Liquids
I don’t see the emphasis put on this on other websites but I believe it’s very important. Make sure to have water or hydration beverages with you on the SUP at all times. And by hydration beverages, I don’t mean just beer and alcohol!
“In my experience when I paddle for over an hour and a half and I have no liquids near me I feel slightly vulnerable. So if I’m paddling for an hour and a half to three hours I always make sure I have at least two full water bottles with me. Better yet, put them in a cooler to insulate them away from the heat!”– Editors Notes
Dress for Falling in the Water and Not the Weather
A big rule of thumb for paddle boarding is to dress as if you will fall off your board. So if you are paddling in the winter and there’s snow everywhere you better damn well have a drysuit on!
The same can be said about summer, if it’s hot out and you want to take a dip to escape the heat, wear some swim trunks or a bathing suit!
Go Against the Wind First So That Getting Back Will Be a Breeze
I see first-time paddlers get this wrong all the time, and admittedly I’ve done this too on a sea kayak excursion. Before deciding on a direction to go. See which direction the wind is pushing you and your board and go against it.
Sure, it can be a bit tiring but it beats the hell out of paddling with the wind and trying to get back against it as you will expend much more of your energy.
This concept also goes for coastal paddling and tides. Going out, paddle against the wind/ tide, coming back, paddle with it.
Paddling on An Inflatable Paddle Board will Feel Different from a Hard Board
Chances are if you rented a paddle board from a local shop it was most likely a hard board. You paddle on it, figured out how to stand on it and now you love paddle boarding! So you decide to buy an inflatable board and you have some difficulties standing.
This is because the dynamics between a hard board and an inflatable SUP work a bit differently. Inflatable SUPs ride ONTOP of the water while Hard Boards Float IN the water. This makes them feel completely different in the water to a beginner paddler.
Assuming you’ve don’t your research and selected the best board for you, keep practicing on your inflatable and it will get easier and easier. I swear.
It’s Okay to Paddle From Your Knees
There’s been a few times starting out when smug boaters who are probably drunk yell at me “Hey It’s supposed to be STAND UP Paddle Boarding!”. Ignore them.
In fact paddling from your knees actually has a lot of benefits.
- It’s easier to learn the behavior of the board when paddling from your knees
- You can kneel or sit to give your legs and feet a break when they start feeling numb.
- Kneeling is an ideal position to be in when you need to grab something out of your drybag, grab a drink or adjust something on your SUP.
- It’s preferential to get on your knees and paddle when heavy winds come in. This is because you occupy less space and therefore less resistance against the wind. You also have a shorter center of gravity with your paddle stroke.
When Standing Look to the Horizon
As they say often say, “You end up where you look”. So if you are trying to stand and you are looking down, then chances are that is where you will end up! When trying to stand for the first few times try to look up at the Horizon. This helps give your body a more natural bearing to flow with the elements as opposed to reacting against them.
This takes a bit of practice but once you get used to it its like riding a bike.
Heading into my next point, it’s best to keep your body loosey-goosey. This is tough to explain to a beginner a lot of the time because your body is acting out of pure survival instincts so it tenses up in unfamiliar environments. The only way to learn to stay loose on your board is by practice.
An instructor can yell at you till the cows come home to “stay loose” but your body is reacting out of instinct due to unfamiliarity. So become familiar with your SUP and its environmental challenges and your body will become familiar with it too!
Engage Your Whole Body in the Paddle Stroke
Engaging your whole body in a paddle stroke doesn’t just make it easier and less tiring,but it also makes you paddle faster and more efficiently. It’s a good idea to watch a bunch of paddle technique videos and start experimenting with an efficient paddle stroke that is best for you and your body build.
You can find more about finding the perfect paddle stroke for you in our Paddle Boarding Techniques article.
The More You Paddle Away From The Board The More it Will Turn
Oftentimes folks might complain that their SUP doesn’t track and they blame it on their brand-new $800 board instead of realizing that most of the blame should be put on themselves.
The closer you paddle to the side rail of your paddle board the more of a straight line your SUP will go. The further away you paddle from your board the more it will turn.
This is why maneuvers like Sweep Strokes use a “C” stroke away from the board to efficiently turn.
Falling is the Most Important Learning Tool
There’s a big anxiety that new paddlers (including me at one point) have when trying new techniques to build their skill set. It’s that they are afraid to fall into the water and look like a fool to all the beachgoers and boaters around. But honestly, they don’t matter, and if anything your falling will just be a tiny little bleep in their memory.
The truth is we perceive and put more weight on what we think others think of us than what others actually do think. There you go, free life advice! ;).
Besides all true paddle boarders have had more than their fair share of falling into the water. It’s how they got to the point that they did!
So go in deep enough water and try that pivot turn, try that Sweep Stroke, or just jump off of your board into the water for fun!
“Quick Tip: Go swimming in the water first before paddle boarding. You being already wet will be less of a deterrent of falling into the water!”– Editors Notes
Fall Away From Your Board
When you do fall and trust me you will! Make sure it’s away from your board and not onto it. Try to fall from the side of the board so that you land in that soft refreshing water and not your harder board.
Learn How to Brace for Waves
There will always be those idiot boaters that won’t slow down when they wiz by you (shout out to Cultus lake!). Instead of wishing the worst for these people, think of it as an opportunity to learn how to brace for waves.
Whenever a boater weaves by me I turn my paddle board to face the waves and paddle confidently right through them.
I suggest doing this by starting off on your knees and then progressing to standing up and trying it. You will probably fall off a few times and give the boaters a laugh but once you keep trying you will be able to confidently ride through and give those boaters no satisfaction whatsoever!
I created this article specifically on How to Paddle Board In Waves here for more information on how to do this.