Beginner’s Guide to
Stand-Up Paddleboarding


 

By Danielle Buenrostro, Last updated: 08/10/2016

Stand-Up Paddleboarding is the number one outdoor activity growing in popularity in the U.S. with 2.7 million people getting on board in 2014, a 38% increase from 2013, according to the Outdoor Foundation.

Paddleboarding has wide appeal because just about every skill level can enjoy getting on the water with an SUP. Born out of the surf culture of Hawaii, SUP boards are wider and more stable making it relatively easy to ride and maneuver most water conditions. Thanks to the addition of a paddle, there’s no need for wave propulsion unlike surfing.

This popular watersport is also a great way to take your fitness to the next level whether you’re casually paddling, wave riding, practicing yoga or even fishing. You also don’t need a boat ramp, motor or any certifications to enjoy being on the water on a SUP.

Benefits

Paddleboards are a great way to enjoy a new activity on the water for a fraction of the cost of a larger vessel like a sailboat or powerboat. They are an environmentally friendly way to explore waterways with the whole family. Because balance and core strength are required to remain steady on a SUP, paddleboarding provides a full-body workout and is great way to improve your cardiovascular health. Add yoga on a SUP and you’ve got the perfect prescription for a balanced mind, body and spirit experience!

Another benefit is the ability to get up close to marine life without disturbing them in their habitat. Cruise by a sea otter with her pup or watch a pod of dolphins swim by while on a SUP. Anglers will appreciate how an SUP can give them access to fish in hard-to-reach spots that may be too shallow or too narrow for a boat to navigate.


An example of the correct placement of the canted power face of the blade forward.

Skills Needed

Very little skill is needed to get started on a SUP. However, it is important to first be comfortable with being on the water and with the possibility that you might fall a few times. Beginners should start on calm waters and master being able to launch from a shore or dock with ease.

When launching your SUP from a beach, place the fin in the water first. This will ensure that you have enough depth before getting on to the board. If you launch front first and get on the board, you might find the water is too shallow for the fin to clear the bottom. Fin in first, saves a lot of fin box damage.

When you get on the board, start on your knees and place your body weight over the center of the board (usually, but not always the carry handle) while you establish balance. Before attempting to stand, take a few forward strokes to establish momentum. Then, with yourself at the center of the board, start on your hands and knees and come to a squat, with your feet evenly spaced on either side of the handle, then stand up with the paddle in your hands, keeping your knees slightly bent and core tight—and start paddling immediately to regain balance and momentum. Once standing, continue to bend your knees with a straight back for a sturdy stance. Avoid swaying side to side.

Next, paddle with a pull stroke making sure to position the paddle with the canted side facing away. To paddle straight, you must paddle on both sides of the board with the shaft perpendicular to the water and not at an angle, which will turn your board.

A proper paddle hold has your hands in an A-shape with your uppermost hand holding the T-grip. Keep your arms straight and remember to switch your hands as you move the paddle from one side of the board to the other. Place the paddle into the water at a comfortable distance ahead of you and pull your board through the water. The faster you go, the more stable you will be, even in choppy waters. If waves approach, bend to brace and remember you can use your paddle or go to your knees for extra balance.

Equipment


Holding your paddle in an A-shape and pulling with the proper technique will minimize fatigue and improve your performance moving through water.

Just a few basic pieces of equipment are needed to get started on a SUP adventure. Once you’ve purchased your SUP, you’ll need to find the right paddle. Read our article on Selecting a SUP Paddle. Consider cold weather clothing like a wetsuit if you’re paddling in cold-water conditions to prevent hypothermia in case you end up in the water. Plan on wearing sun protective clothing if you’re paddling in warm weather. Read our article on Understanding Sun Protection. Preparation is key to a successful paddling session. Use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need to enjoy the adventure.

Basic Gear Needed:

  • SUP with leash
  • Paddle
  • Life vest (inflatable belt pack or foam paddling vest)
  • Sun protective clothing and sunglasses, if applicable
  • Cold-weather clothing, if applicable
  • Whistle or sound producing device
  • Light if paddling after sunset

Safety

Paddleboarding can be a solo or group activity but for beginners, we recommend you go with a buddy. Make sure to check your equipment for any tears, holes or defects before hitting the water. It’s important to note that there are two types of leashes for paddleboards: straight and coiled. Both keep your SUP within reach if you fall off. However, use a straight leash if you’re wave riding to avoid having the board bounce back and hit you if you fall off. Use a coiled leash for paddling in calm waters to prevent drag or snagging items like kelp.

Planning for a safe SUP trip is the best way to ensure you have an enjoyable experience. If you’re going solo, it’s always wise to let someone know your location and timeframe for being on the water.

It’s a good rule of thumb to get a weather/surf report before hitting the water and keeping an eye out for weather changes. If a storm creeps up, seek shelter immediately. If you’re on the ocean, it’s a good idea to monitor the currents and rip tides. It’s easier to paddle with the wind if possible. Each state and region has different rules when it comes to interacting with wildlife. Some may be protected so make sure you know the guidelines for how close you can get to creatures. Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and avoid objects that could snag or flip your SUP. With a few simple precautions, your paddleboarding adventure will be one to remember!