Stand up paddle boarding looks so easy, but how do you get started? What gear do you need? How do you get on the board and paddle in a straight line? What about your safety?
These SUP board tips will get you on the water with your friends in no time.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in:
RELATED: See the best starter paddle boards of 2023.
- The first step to being a great paddler is getting the right gear. You need a paddle board, a paddle, a leash, and a life jacket.
- For beginners, the all-around stand-up paddleboard is the best. The right SUP paddle is one that is 8 or 12 inches taller than you.
- Learn how to hold a paddle the right way and master the basic paddle strokes. You should also learn how to properly fall off a SUP.
- Make sure you know how to swim because falling off the paddle board is a part of the experience.
- When learning to get up from your knees, look ahead and focus on the horizon to maintain balance. Don’t look at your feet.
1. Get a Good SUP and Paddle
This goes without saying. The paddle board and paddle you choose determine whether you have a great or frustrating time. Fortunately, it is not that complicated.
When picking a stand up paddle board, the most important factors to consider are the size and type. There are racing, yoga, touring, surfing, and all-around SUPs. For beginners, an all-around stand up paddle board is the best. It is wide, thick, and stable, making it suitable for all kinds of paddle board activities and conditions.
All-around SUPs also have a size that is ideal for everyone. They are mostly 10 to 11 feet long and 30 to 33 inches wide. Racing paddle boards tend to be longer and narrower while surfing SUPs are shorter and narrower. Both types are not beginner-friendly.
You won’t be able to do much paddling with a SUP paddle that is too long or too short. The right SUP paddle is one that is 8 or 12 inches taller than you. Most manufacturers make them adjustable which allows you to test and see what fits.
Ensure you buy a light paddle for the sake of your arms. That would be a fiberglass or carbon SUP paddle.
2. Use a Leash
If you buy an inflatable paddle board, you might receive a SUP bundle that includes a leash. Its purpose is to keep you attached to your stand up paddle board when you fall off. In those few seconds of coming up to the water surface, it can drift and get away from you.
When you look at this report summary for 2016, you see that there were a total of 20 SUP accidents. 15 resulted in death while the other five were non-fatal. All of those accidents had one thing in common: the victims were separated from their paddle boards. Think about that the next time you don’t feel like wearing your leash. It could save your life.
You should know what type of leash to wear and when to wear it.
The ankle leash is the most common. It can either be straight or coiled. The coiled one is suitable for flatwater leisure paddling. A straight ankle leash is mainly used for surfing because it does not have spring back.
A waist leash is attached to your waist and has a quick-release mechanism. It is used for whitewater where being attached to your SUP in an emergency is not always the desired option.
3. Hold Your Paddle Properly
This is not as simple as you may think—especially with the SUP blade angle.
Hold the top of the paddle with one hand and the shaft with the other. Place the paddle over your head. With one hand still holding the top of the paddle, adjust the other one. Both elbows should be at a 90-degree angle. Bring the paddle down with your hands in that position and start paddling.
One thing that brings confusion is the direction that the blade should be facing. A SUP paddle’s blade is curved to make it look almost like a spoon. When you hold it, the curve should be facing away from you. It will feel wrong initially.
If you hold it with the curve facing you, it will scoop the water with every stroke instead of smoothly pushing it back.
4. Learn the Right Paddle Strokes
Many people focus on learning how to balance that they forget the paddle stroke. Wrong paddle boarding techniques will wear your arms out. You could also get hurt.
Standing on your stand up paddle board, hold your paddle as explained above. Bend your knees slightly and reach in front of you with the paddle. Immerse the blade fully into the water and push it back up to your feet. Slice it out of the water. If the blade goes past your feet, the SUP will make a turn.
The whole time, your arms should be straight. While pushing the blade back, crunch your core a little to the side you are paddling. This ensures that you use your core muscles to make the stroke and not your arms. Don’t plant your blade too far from the stand up paddle board. Keep it vertical to help you move in a straight line.
Learn the basic paddle strokes from the video below.
5. Don’t SUP if You Can’t Swim
Not every person that takes an interest in SUP is a swimmer. You may have seen SUPers while sitting on the beach— safe distance from the water— and decided that you’d like to SUP too. Or maybe you thought that it would be nice to rent some paddle boards and take someone out on a SUP date.
Regardless of what your reasons are, you need to become a swimmer first.
6. Learn How to Fall
It’s difficult to avoid falling into the water while paddle boarding. If you are a SUP newbie, you may end up swimming more than stand up paddleboarding. Pros fall too.
Fortunately, it is not a big deal. It is normal and safe—if you do it right. So don’t be afraid, expect it.
Most of the time, you will know when you are about to fall. Your first instinct will be to land on your SUP and hold it. But that is how people get hurt. Your stand up paddle board is hard. They are made of materials such as wood and fiberglass. And even the inflatable SUPs aren’t that soft when fully inflated.
The water, on the other hand, is soft. So that’s where you should fall. Let yourself fall away from your board in the water and if you can, hold onto your paddle; don’t fall on it.
7. Know How to Get Back on Your Paddle Board
Since we have established that you will probably fall, it is only wise that you learn how to get back on the SUP.
Note: if you ever fall and let go of your paddle, get to the SUP. It doesn’t matter whether the paddle is closer. You can paddle with your hands to get to the paddle but you can’t use your paddle to get to the board.
If your SUP has a center carry handle, grab it with one hand. Kick your legs to make yourself float then make one strong kick to get your body on the paddleboard. Don’t kick underneath your board as it can flip and hit you. This process is accurately illustrated in the video below.
8. Start on Your Knees
Stand up paddle boarding on your knees is a paddling technique on its own. People use it when getting back on land or shallow water. It can also be useful when it is too windy and rough. But for beginners, it can be a way to introduce themselves to SUP.
You will get a feel of the sport, learn your board, and master the basics. When you become a pro, you can use the technique for the mentioned purposes.
Kneel on the paddle board. If you get tired you can sit on your heels. You will make a paddle stroke just as you would while standing. The main difference is that you won’t be able to hold the paddle at the top with one hand. Both hands hold the shaft.
9. Look Ahead, Not Down
One secret of attaining and maintaining balance on the board is not looking down. When learning to get up from your knees, you may be tempted to look down and see whether you are doing it correctly. This is the fastest way to take a swim.
Even after you have managed to stand, always look ahead. Fix your eyes on the horizon, wherever you are going.
10. Know Where to Stand on the Paddle Board
Again, this is one of those things that you assume you will know automatically. It is the case for some people, but not everyone.
Find the center of the paddle board and stand there. It is usually the most stable spot. If your paddle board has a center carry handle, that is where you should stand.
Your feet should be a shoulder width apart, with your toes pointed towards the nose, and your knees slightly bent. This is known as the SUP stance.
11. Learn the Bracing Technique
Will you be falling into the water every time you encounter an unstable situation? Well, not if you learn the bracing technique.
There are several types of bracing but the most common are the low brace and high brace. The two involve planting your blade into the water to regain stability. With the low brace, you will have the power face on the top side. The high brace will have the power face on the bottom side. The video below explains it perfectly.
This technique is not something you learn on the go. Practice it repeatedly until it comes to you naturally when losing balance.
12. Keep Distance from Fellow SUPers
There is a high likelihood that you will be sharing the water with other paddleboarders. They are friendly people and you may want to get closer to them for small talk. Don’t. If you have to, paddle parallel to whoever you want to talk to. Leave space between your paddle boards. Ensure that you are not in anyone’s way.
You don’t want people to hate you. And they will if you are all over the place making it hard for them to SUP peacefully. In SUP surfing, don’t hoard the waves. Let others enjoy the experience.
13. Check the Weather
Never take your paddle board out without knowing what to expect. The weather determines where, how, and for how long you will go paddling.
The strength and direction of the wind are very crucial factors. The friendliest wind speed for all skill levels is under 10 knots. Check the swells and tides too.
If things look like they may get rough, it’s okay to skip that day and wait for another time. It is better to overestimate than underestimate these conditions.
Check the sunset time as well. It is risky to paddle in the dark, especially when you are still new to the sport.
14. Know What to Do When It Is Windy
You may research the weather and plan accordingly. But plans fail all the time and the weather doesn’t consult you before changing. It is possible to find yourself caught up in a windy situation. When this happens, you need to paddle back to shore.
This will not be an easy task if you are paddling against the wind. Reduce resistance by kneeling. You will use less energy this way. In some cases, the resistance will still be strong even when in a kneeling position. Lie down on your stomach and put your paddle under you. Then paddle with your hands.
15. Wear the Right Clothes
People SUP all year round. What you wear depends on the season.
There is nothing much to say about dressing for SUP when it is warm and sunny. You can wear your swimsuit or shorts and you’ll be fine. Just make sure you know the water temperatures. As already mentioned, falling is very likely and you don’t want to freeze.
When SUPing during winter, get a drysuit or wetsuit. Layer up. The clothes you wear should be easy to take off, in case your body heats up. Cover your extremities as well. Paddling with numb hands is a pain.
16. Wear a Personal Flotation Device
The U.S. Coast Guard requires every paddler 12 years and younger to wear a USCG-approved life jacket. Those above the age of 12 should have a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD). They don’t have to wear it but they should have it. However, this should be a matter of common sense.
In 2018, 100% of SUP-related deaths were as a result of drowning. In 79% of all boating-related deaths, the victims did not have life jackets.
If things go south, a paddle board life vest stashed somewhere with the rest of your belongings won’t help. There are tons of comfortable PFDs for paddlers out there. You have no excuse.
17. Prioritize Your Safety
Going by the 2018 statistics, stand up paddle boarding is one of the safest watersports. But still, five paddlers lost their lives— and it could have been anyone.
Some things are out of your control. However, if you take the necessary precautions, you reduce the chances of something bad happening to you. The issue of leashes and PFDs has already been addressed—take it seriously. Use a leash and wear a PFD.
Other than that, always carry a whistle. Do not throw it in a bag together with your dry set of clothes. Attach it to your PFD so you can reach it fast if it comes to that.
18. Careful with the Waves
People use their paddle boards to catch waves all the time. It is so fun, you will want to join.
Start small. First master your stand up paddle boarding skills on flat water. If you are still falling off on calm water, wait before you start catching waves.
When you are ready, learn the proper surf stance. It allows for quick turns and enhances stability. To be on the safe side, let someone teach you how to do it.
19. Maneuvering Waves
It is not wise for newbies to play around with waves. And so many will choose to stay away completely. But this does not guarantee that the waves will stay away from you, more so while SUPing in the ocean.
The best way to handle waves is to paddle with your board perpendicular to them. You may fall but at least you’ll be fine as long as you fall properly.
20. Take Some Lessons
You can teach yourself how to paddle. With a few guides and YouTube videos, you will have an idea of what to do.
But also consider taking a couple of lessons. An experienced SUP instructor can teach you the basics as well as more advanced paddling techniques, like how to paddle in a straight line.
And who knows? You may make some SUP friends and become part of the community.
Speaking of friends…
21. Start Paddling with Friends
For many people, stand up paddle boarding is a way for them to escape and have some peace. So it is not uncommon for paddlers to go out alone. It is an awesome way to catch some air and clear your head. But it is not something that a beginner should do.
Don’t go far from your friends. Stay close and learn. See the different techniques they are using and let them give you some paddle boarding tips. This will be helpful if you don’t get the chance to attend a lesson.
22. Consistency Is Key
Everyone’s stand up paddle boarding journey is different. Some will master everything in no time while it will take longer for others.
It can feel frustrating when you can’t manage to stand upright without falling off. Or when you have trouble mastering the proper stroke. Regardless of how long it takes you, keep going. You may have to paddle very close to the shore for a while but don’t give up.
Whenever you have time, take your board and practice. Holding the paddle correctly and making an accurate stroke might not come naturally for you but you will get it. Stay consistent and be kind to yourself. Once you become a graceful pro, you will be happy you persisted.
23. Nourish Your Body
Stand up paddle boarding is a tiring activity. You will be thirsty and hungry after a while. A grumbling stomach and dry throat won’t let you have peace. Many paddle boards come with a bungee storage area that you can use for water and snacks. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal. But make sure you bring something that will sustain you for as long as you plan to stay.
24. Don’t Forget Your Essentials
Other than the safety stuff and snacks, there are a few more things you need to have for your comfort. One of them is sunscreen. Fried skin is not exactly anyone’s idea of fun. So while packing your SUP dry bag, throw it in there. And don’t forget your floating sunglasses and maybe a hat.
Your phone is another essential. How else are you going to get some great Instagram photos? Put it in a dry pouch.
25. Enjoy the Experience
Some of the statistics above may have scared you. Or you might be nervous to venture into a new activity. You don’t have to be. Follow the advice and you will be okay.
Stand up paddle boarding is a full-body workout. But it is also one of the most exciting exercises. And when you are finally a pro, you can try out its variations such as SUP racing, SUP surfing, and SUP yoga. Be free and make the most out of it.
With this knowledge, you are already ahead of many amateur paddlers. Stand up paddle boarding is not hard. You only need to master a few things and you’re good to go. Of all the points above, don’t forget those that involve your safety.
Did we cover everything? Share your favorite paddle boarding tips below.