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How Hard Is Paddle Boarding For Beginners? Expert Advice for Mastering the Basics

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Trying to balance on a paddle board on the water, while standing nonetheless, doesn’t seem like the easiest thing to do. But it looks so fun and the benefits of stand up paddle boarding aren’t few. 

When looking to get into a new sport, it’s understandable to want to know the degree of difficulty. Will it take a long while to learn? Is it easy for people with bad knees or a bad back? All these are important questions to help you know what you’re getting into. 

So, is paddle boarding hard for beginners? My short answer is, no, paddle boarding isn’t hard. That’s not to say it can’t be challenging – but in general, it’s a simple and gentle workout that you can tailor to your own needs. 

The great thing about paddle boarding is that there are ways to modify it and make it even easier and gentler on your body. 

RELATED: Discover the Best Stand-up Paddle Boards For Beginners

How Hard Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding? 

Stand up paddle boarding isn’t really hard. 

However, learning to hold your balance on a stand up paddle board takes some practice as well as core and leg strength. But still, pretty much anyone can do it. 

SUP is also a full-body workout and you may have to use muscles that you haven’t used in a long time. So if you’re not fit, you will feel the burn–in a good way because all your muscles will be engaged and made stronger. 

It Depends on the Type of SUP You Will Be Doing

The degree of SUP difficulty will also depend on the SUP discipline of your choice.

As paddle boarding becomes more popular people are finding more ways to use their paddle boards. This has given rise to multiple paddle boarding disciplines–some more difficult than others.

An activity like recreational paddle boarding involves easy paddling on calm water. It isn’t difficult and people of all ages, sizes and fitness levels can try it. 

However, other SUP activities like SUP racing, whitewater SUP, and SUP surfing are more challenging. They require a higher level of fitness and they’ll take a little longer to learn. 

For instance, a racing paddle board is much narrower and longer than your average paddle board. It takes much more effort and skill to maintain balance and maneuver in the water. 

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Is Paddle Boarding Easy to Learn?

No, I wouldn’t say that paddle boarding is hard to learn. The balancing part of it takes a little practice. The good thing is that there are ways to make it easier. 

Learning to make a proper paddle stroke is also not as simple as it looks. You want to make sure you’re getting your power from the core muscles and the other bigger muscle groups. 

At first, using your arms comes more easily but this style of paddling wears you out first. But with more practice, you’ll learn the proper paddling technique.  

Tips to Make Stand Up Paddle Boarding Easier

Paddle boarding, in general, isn’t hard. But depending on your size, fitness level, health, or skill level you may want to make it even easier. 

Here’s how you can do that.

Get the Right Paddle Board for Your Size and Skill Level

Using the wrong SUP board for your size and skill level can make your stand up paddling experience harder. 

When you’re a beginner, you’ll notice that balance on a paddle board doesn’t come as easy as it looks. And if you have an unstable paddle board, staying on will be much harder. You’ll end up spending more time in the water than on your SUP paddle board!

So as a newbie paddler, you’ll want to get a more stable board and this usually means a wider one. Wider and moderately long paddle boards have a larger, more stable surface that will boost your confidence. 

I typically recommend nothing narrower than 32 inches for beginners and about 10’6 to 11’6 long. Read more about the different types of paddle boards.

Make sure you also get the correct size board. If you get a paddle board that is too big, you’ll have a hard time controlling it. You won’t even be able to master the right basic SUP skills like the proper paddle stroke. 

If your paddle board is too small you may find it wobbly and sluggish. If it’s an inflatable paddle board, especially a lower quality one, it may flex or bend when you stand on it making SUP harder than it needs to be. 

Smaller and shorter paddle boarders would be better off with smaller boards, about 32 inches wide and 10 feet long. Bigger paddlers will want a bigger platform, so go slightly wider and longer. Its weight capacity should be enough to hold your weight too. 

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Have the Right Paddle

Never underestimate the power of having the correct paddle for your SUP adventures. It can make or break your experience. 

You have to choose the right length, blade size and shape, and material. 

A paddle that is too short will have you bending more than you need to and you’ll strain. One that is too long will feel bulky and awkward. As you can imagine, both of these situations will make paddle boarding harder for you.

To adjust your paddle to the right length, hold it vertically, parallel to your body. Lift your arm and try to rest it on the paddle handle. Adjust the paddle height until you can comfortably rest your wrist on the handle. 

Most paddles are made using aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon. Aluminum paddles are the heaviest and the least efficient, but also the cheapest. Carbon paddles are the lightest and the most efficient, but they are the most expensive. Fiberglass paddles are more efficient than aluminum paddles but not as efficient as carbon paddles.

If you can’t get your hands on a carbon paddle then try to find a fiberglass paddle.

Finding the right paddle blade size isn’t a straightforward process and it takes experience to know what’s best for you. Generally, larger paddle blades are more powerful but they require more effort. Smaller blades are less powerful but they don’t require too much effort.

So if you’re a beginner, pick a paddle blade according to your size. That is, a bigger blade if you’re bigger and a smaller blade if you’re smaller. Even better, visit a local outfitter and try different blade sizes to see which one’s more efficient for you.

Start in Calm, Sheltered Water

Another way to make paddle boarding easier is to choose your location carefully, especially if you’re a beginner. Fast-moving rivers and the ocean can be unpredictable, rough, and unsafe. 

Find sheltered, shallow water, like a small lake. A location like this is predictable and much safer. You also won’t have to deal with strong waves, currents, high winds, and fast-moving water. 

It will be easier for you to put all the paddle boarding tips you’ve been learning into practice. There’s also less to worry about there which puts your mind at ease so you can have more fun paddling. 

Practice Balancing on Your Paddle Board

Stand up paddle boarding is all about balance. If you have trouble balancing you’ll find it hard. Great balancing skills mean that you can focus on perfecting your paddle stroke.

Go to a calm location and take some time just learning how to attain and maintain balance. You can start by paddling while seated or in a kneeling position if you need a confidence boost. 

Once you’re comfortable on your knees, try getting to the standing position. 

Stand in the middle of the SUP board, where the carry handle is. With both feet shoulder-width apart and on either side of the carry handle, keep your knees slightly bent. Your back should be straight and relaxed–don’t arch or lean too far forward.

Start paddling immediately to gain momentum and look straight ahead. Don’t look at your paddle, feet, or paddle board. Find an object far ahead and fix your eyes on it. This will help you remain balanced. 


Paddle Properly

SUP will be hard if you aren’t paddling properly. You’ll be using too much energy doing very little and it won’t be fun.

First, don’t rely solely on your arm. I’ve mentioned this above. Twist your torso slightly as you begin your paddle stroke, reach as far forward as you can and plant the paddle blade fully into the water. Once the paddle blade gets to your feet, slice it nicely out of the water.

This is how you make a smooth paddle stroke and draw more power from the bigger muscle groups.  

Learn to Fall the Correct Way

Some people may be scared by the idea of falling off a paddle board. But it’s a part of stand up paddle boarding and nothing to be afraid of. Even advanced paddlers fall off their paddle boards. 

Learning how to fall correctly makes it fun and takes away the fear of falling. 

When you start to lose your balance, don’t fight it. Instead, relax and aim to fall away from the paddle board. This protects you from hitting your paddle board and potentially getting hurt. 

Take SUP Lessons

A few paddle boarding lessons will help you get started on the right foot. 

Bad paddling habits can be hard to unlearn. Taking paddling lessons helps you adopt the proper paddle boarding habits early on. Besides, it’s always safer to have someone experienced with you.

Another thing, SUP lessons are a great way to meet other paddlers. You’ll have an easier time paddling with others, exchanging paddling tips, and discovering new SUP spots with other people. 

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Don’t Forget SUP Safety Equipment

Always wear your personal flotation device (PFD) and leash while paddle boarding. 

It won’t be an easy paddling trip if you get caught in a situation without your safety gear. A life jacket keeps you afloat and prevents you from drowning. 

Your leash ensures that you don’t get separated from your paddle board if you fall off. If the weather and water conditions are a little rough, your SUP can drift away fast leaving you stranded. 

So never make the mistake of going paddling without your leash and life jacket. 

Relax and Have Fun!

Paddle boarding will be hard for you if you’re constantly tense and worried that something could go wrong. 

But if you focus on having fun, you’ll find that stand up paddleboarding can be an incredibly easy water sport. 

So as long as you’re taking all the safety precautions, relax and enjoy it all–including the unplanned swims.  

ALSO READ: 25 Paddle Boarding Beginner Tips – How To SUP Like A Pro Today

Frequently Asked Questions

How Hard Is Paddle Boarding for Kids?

Paddle boarding is not hard for kids.

But it’s important that you get them a children’s board that’s easy for them to handle. Also, start them off in shallow flat water where they can have fun and fall safely.

Is Paddle Boarding Hard on Your Knees?

No, paddle boarding is a low-impact, full-body workout that’s gentle on your knees. You can also try alternating between standing and sitting to give your knees a break.

Is Paddle Boarding Hard on Your Back?

No, paddle boarding is not hard on your back. However, you have to be careful to maintain a good form because the wrong one can cause more harm than good.

How Hard Is Ocean Paddle Boarding?

Ocean paddle boarding can be hard because the conditions are unpredictable (usually less predictable than paddle boarding on a calm lake, for example). You might have to deal with high winds, strong currents, strong waves, and, sometimes, sea animals like sharks.

It’s not a good idea for a newbie to go paddling in the ocean, especially if you’re on your own.

How Hard Is Lake Paddle Boarding?

Lake paddle boarding is easier than ocean paddling because the conditions are generally calmer and more predictable.

Although paddling on lakes is easier and safer, you still have to take the necessary SUP safety precautions.

Is It Hard to Balance on a Paddle Board?

No, balancing on a paddle board is not particularly hard, but it takes some practice. You can start from a kneeling position and then move to a standing position when you’re feeling more comfortable.

Wrapping Up

So, is paddle boarding hard? No, SUP isn’t hard and anyone can learn how to do it.

However, it depends on the SUP activity you’ll be doing. Some paddle boarding activities, like recreational paddling, are easier. But others, such as whitewater paddling, SUP racing, and SUP surfing are more challenging. 

You can make paddling even easier by ensuring you have the right paddle board and paddle. If you’re a beginner, you’ll be better off finding a calmer location. Consider taking a paddle boarding lesson so you can learn the proper paddling technique early on.

Lastly, relax and focus on having fun. Enjoy every step of your learning journey, including any time you fall! 

Happy paddling!  


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