Learning how to paddle board can be a daunting task. Standing up on a board over water? Yeah, we understand why it scares some people off.
But the truth is that you will learn how to paddleboard faster than you might expect. It’s all about balance and understanding how currents affect the water’s surface.
To begin paddle boarding, you’re going to need a paddle board. Paddle boards or SUPs (short for standup paddle boards) come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, suited for different skill levels and for different styles of paddle boarding.
Key Point: In this step-by-step guide, we’ll provide all the information you need to know to find a great paddleboard and get started cruising down waterways standing up!
Choosing a Paddle Board That’s Right for You
Beginning paddle boarders should choose a board that is as wide, long, and stable as possible.
For these reasons, hard paddle boards are a little more difficult for beginners to get the hang of, so we recommend starting with an inflatable SUP, or iSUP.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing your paddle board, from Derek Lenze, founder of the Floating Authority, a valuable resource for getting started with all sorts of watersports.
“How you choose a paddleboard will be dependent on your basic needs,” Lenze says. Before settling on a SUP, consider how much space you have for storage, Lenze continues.
“If you are like me and you live in an apartment then it’s probably best that you get an inflatable board that can roll up for storage,” he says.
But if space is not an issue, stick with a hard SUP for otherwise improved performance.
Whether or not you choose a hard or iSUP, beginners should choose a board that’s between 32–34 inches wide, and medium in length, or about 12 feet long, according to David De Haan for Standup Paddle Board Reviews, and when it comes to picking a paddle, find one that’s about 6 inches taller than you are, he says.
Our Recommendation: Find a board that’s about 12 feet long with a paddle 6 inches taller than you. Start with an inflatable paddleboard if you’re on a budget.
In addition to hard and inflatable, there are different kinds of SUPs, depending on the kind of paddle boarding experience you’re after.
Most beginners stick with all-around SUPs.
- All-around SUPs are versatile, suitable for the ocean or flat water SUPing on the calm waters of a lake
- They’re also multi-purpose, switching gear easily for SUP surfing, touring, fishing, and even yoga
Another kind of paddle board is a fishing SUP.
- Wider than other kinds of paddle boards, fishing SUPs have extra storage for your fishing gear.
Practicing yoga in the water on a stand-up paddle board is increasingly popular.
Inflatable paddle boards works best for yoga since they sit higher in the water and are otherwise more stable.
- Like fishing SUPS, Yoga SUPS are wider than usual to accomodate extra movement.
Don’t worry, your yoga SUP can also handle heavy duty activity, just as any other paddleboard.
There are also touring SUPs.
Less wide with a pointed nose, touring SUPs are meant for paddle boarding long distances.
- Touring SUPs also usually have a displacement hull for better tracking.
Displacement hulls cut through the water with very little propulsion.
Tracking refers to the board’s ability to stay straight.
Some people even surf on a SUP rather than on a conventional surf board.
Designed for surfing waves in the ocean and popular with experienced surfers, surfing SUPs maneuver better and are more responsive.
- Surfing SUPS are also the least stable of all paddle boards and challenging for beginners to use.
Some people even race their paddle boards. Racing SUPs are challenging for beginners to use.
- Racing SUPs are the longest kind of paddle board to maximimze glide in the water, making them extra unstable.
It’s also important to remember you can often rent your paddle board, regardless of which one you choose.
“When I started paddleboarding a few years ago I started off by renting one,” Lenze from Floating authority says. “Renting is by far the best way to see if the sport is right for you before jumping in.
“If you have gone out and rented a paddleboard a few times, and you know that you like the sport then I would recommend getting a board for yourself,” he says.
Our Recommendation: Find a nice paddleboard rental shop nearby, and experiment with all the various types of board. Decide which type is well-suited to your desired activities, and then invest in a good one.
Additional Gear for SUPing
Besides your board, additional SUPing gear includes your paddle (we tell you how to find the right size paddle here), and a SUP leash, board bag, and a life vest or personal flotation device.
- SUP Paddle
Key factors in choosing a SUP paddle include:
- Your height
- Your arm length
- Teight of your board in the water (where it’s inflatable or hard)
- The kind of paddling boarding you intend to do
- SUP Leash
A SUP leash keeps your board attached to your calf or ankle, preventing your SUP from becoming a dangerous object in ocean waves in the event of a fall.
“Always wear a leash,” says DeHaan of Stand Up Paddle Boards Reviews.
- SUP Board Bags
A SUP board bag will keep your shiny new board free of nicks and scratches while also making transporting your board more convenient.
Inflatable boards often come with their own board bag.
- Life Vest
It’s important to understand the Life Vest Safety Laws before you try paddle boarding.
But really, any time you’re in the water paddlers should wear a life vest in combination with a personal flotation device. It really could save your life.
Another bit of gear you might consider is a thin wetsuit, especially if you plan on SUPing in a colder climate or season.
Our Recommendation: Take the time to put together all the necessary gear for SUP paddle boarding. Especially for beginners, having the right gear can really make the difference between a good time and a bad time.
Standing Up on Your SUP
Now that you’ve got your board and your gear, it’s time to get in the water and try to stand up on your board.
Standing on a SUP can take some practice.
Here are some pointers:
- Make sure the water is deep enough
You don’t want the fin of your paddle board hitting the bottom.
- Try kneeling at first
Stay in a kneeling position and try a few paddles with your hand on either side of the board.
- Stand up slowly
Once you try standing up with your back straight, keep your feet parallel to the stringer (the strip running from the nose to the tail of the board) and about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep knees slightly bended
Keep a slight bend in your knees and your core centered over the board.
Falling Off a Paddleboard is Part of the Experience
Be prepared to fall.
To make getting back up and trying again a little easier, Lenze says to try SUP boarding for the first time with some friends.
“When I first paddle boarded, I was in no way confident standing on a board in the middle of the water,” he says, “but as soon as I saw my friends do it, it forced me to not only attempt to stand but also to try to keep up.”
Also, when falling (and you will definitely fall, he says) make sure you fall into the water and not on your board.
Once you’re in the water, swim to your board first, not your paddle, he says.
An additional pointer for first-time paddle boarders trying to stand on their board for the first time is to “fix your eyes on the horizon if you want to maintain your balance,” De Haan says. And remember, “You can start on your knees until you feel confident enough to stand.”
Pro Tip: If you’re having an especially difficult time maintaining balance on your board, it could be because your board is too small. If this is the case, switch to a wider and thicker board.
Once You’re Up, it’s Time to Paddle: Use these 3 Techniques
There are three ways to paddle a SUP:
- Turning with a forward stroke
- Turning with the reverse sweep stroke
We’ll cover all three.
- To begin paddling forward keep your bottom arm straight and as still as possible.
- Then, pull your top arm toward your body, extending the paddle forward.
- To extend your reach, rotate your top shoulder forward.
- Put the paddle in the water as far forward as possible and as deeply as you can.
- Envision pulling past your paddle rather than pulling your paddle through the water.
- Take a few practice strokes on one side, then switch. This helps you stay in a straight line.
Beginner Tip: Don’t forget to switch the position of your hands when you move your paddle from one side to the other. This helps maintain the efficiency of your stroke.
Turning with the forward sweep stroke
Once you have simple paddling down, it’s time to try turning left with the forward sweep stroke.
It’s a simple two-step process.
- To turn left, put your paddle in the water on the right side while turning your torso toward the left.
- While keeping a low stance, pull to the right and toward the tail of the SU with your paddle.
- At the same time, twist and lean to the left with your torso.
- You’ll know you’ve done it right when you feel the board quickly shift to the left.
Beginner Tip: This is the best turning method to use when you want to turn smoothly while maintaining forward momentum. If you want to slow down and turn, that’s where the reverse sweep stroke comes in.
The reverse sweep stroke
Used when you need to turn your SUP to the right, the reverse sweep stroke is even easier to master than the forward sweep stroke.
- First, put your right hand paddle in the water near the tail of your SUP, and pull toward the nose.
- While doing so, shift your torso to the right.
The key to executing a successful reverse sweep stroke is keeping your knees slightly bent.
Beginner Tip: Use this method to rapidly slow down and change directions. Just make sure that you don’t turn too sharp and throw yourself off balance.
Tips for Practicing Turns
The best way to practice these methods of paddling and turning is to consciously set aside to practice.
Prepare yourself to fall off a lot, and practice these methods with different levels of force in your paddling, soft and had turning, etc.
Above all, it’s advisable to find an instructor or a guide when first learning to paddle board.
“When practicing, find calm, shallow water,” says De Haan from Stand-Up Paddle Boards Review. “Or even a pool — there’s no shame,” he says.
Our Recommendation: Find shallow and calm waters to practice all three of these paddling techniques. If you find these skills hard to build, it might be time to consult an instructor.
Additional Paddle Boarding Do’s and Don’ts
You’ve nearly made it to the end of our how-to guide to paddle boarding.
We’ll conclude with some additional do’s and don’ts, paddle boardings tips as well as things to try and things to avoid in order to make your first time on a SUP board a success.
- Always hold your paddle with one hand on the shaft and one hand on the top of the handle rather than like a baseball bat or broom, with both hands on the shaft.
- Keep your grip shoulder-width apart.
- Avoid the surf stance. Instead, always keep your feet pointed toward the front, or nose of the paddle board, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your feet parallel.
- Try not to paddle with your arms. You’ll wear yourself out a lot faster. Instead, power your paddle with your back muscles and shoulders by using paddle strokes that run parallel and closer to the board.
- Make sure you’re dipping the blade of your paddle completely in the water, and take as long of a stroke as possible.
Transporting Your SUP
Our advice for first-time paddle boarders doesn’t stop once you’re out of the water.
Hard paddle boards are large and unwieldy.
Here are some tips to make transporting your board just a little easier.
If your board has a carry handle installed at the center point of your board, using that is the easiest way to transport your board. Just pick up your board and go. Here’s what to do if your board doesn’t have a carry handle.
The shoulder carry
- Carrying the paddle in one hand, lift your board from the tail. Be sure to keep the nose of the board on the ground.
- Then, walk to the center of the board, shifting the board’s weight back to balance on your head and then to balance on your shoulder.
- When it’s time to lay the board back down, do the same thing but in reverse.
What about traveling with your board in a car or even on a plane? If you’re traveling on four wheels you’ll need a car rack.
Many cars come with a car rack already installed on the roof of the car, or you can install one on your own.
All sorts of different strap systems work to secure your board to the top of your car.
If you’re installing a rack on your own, look for one with a locking system to help prevent theft.
If you’re traveling somewhere truly exotic to try some paddle boarding, get yourself a paddle board travel bag for the plane.
It’s always a good idea to add a little extra padding to keep your board safe, even though most paddle board travel bags come with some padding.
Don’t forget, you’ll need to pay extra to check your paddle board.
Final Words on How to Paddle Board SUP Style
In the article, we covered the characteristics of different kinds of paddle boards, including all-around SUPs, fishing SUPs, yoga SUPs, touring SUPs, and racing SUPs.
We also gathered input from experienced paddle boarders and talked about some additional gear you may need to make your first attempt at paddle boarding a success. This gear includes:
- SUP leashes
- Board bags
- Life jackets
- A paddle
Next, we gave pointers on how to stand on your SUP, as well as how to paddle forward and stokes like the forward sweep and reverse sweep stroke. We even gave some tips for traveling with your board.
Conclusion: Paddle boarding is an easy and accessible water sport that can be as vigorous or as leisurely as you choose. But like many skills involving multiple interacting skill sets, it’s more of an art than a science and practice makes perfect!