Beginner Stand-up Paddle Boarding Tips

 Stand-up Paddle Boarding: Tips from a Pro

Stand up paddle boarding may just be my new favorite outdoor activity. Not only do you get a healthy dose of Vitamin D and get to be out of the water, it’s also a great form of exercise for toning up those abs. And now that summer is in full swing, it’s the perfect time to give it a try.

I recently went to Huntington Beach, California and had the chance to take a stand-up paddle boarding lesson with Rocky McKinnon. I had SUPed a couple of times before, but this was my first time learning stand-up paddleboarding tips from an expert. Rocky is a former pro-surfer, local instructor, and custom paddleboard maker, so I knew I was in good hands.

Rocky met us in the Huntington Beach harbor. For this first lesson, we would be paddling in an area where we would be sheltered from the waves, giving us a chance to work on our form and to get comfortable with balancing and steering.

Before heading out, Rocky gave us his best stand up paddleboarding tips including how to stand, hold the paddle, and move efficiently on the water. Here are the lessons I learned.

1) Choose the right equipment for your size and ability

Width equals stability. When you are first starting off, you will want a wide, stable board so you can focus on the correct paddling stroke without the constant concern of falling in the water. Wherever you are renting or borrowing your board from, make sure to tell them that you are a beginner, so they can set you up with the right board.


2) Check Conditions

This is an important step before venturing out for your SUP adventure. Make sure that conditions are safe and fit for your ability so you can have an enjoyable time. For example, if it’s really windy, that may not be the best time to try SUPing for the first time. Unless you have experience surfing, you’ll also want your first time to be on flatwater where you are sheltered from waves.


3) Learn Correct Paddling Technique

This is essential for maximizing power and torque out of each stroke. This will increase your paddling speed and give you more of a workout. By learning the proper technique, you will also have better control of the board and be able to maneuver more effectively.

How to Get up

  • Stand next to the board in shallow water. Keep an eye on the fin so it’s not dragging on the bottom.
  • Place your paddle down across the board
  • Plant your hands firmly on the paddle and kneel on the board just behind the board’s halfway point
  • When you feel like you are balanced, slowly stand up

How to Paddle

  • Your feet should be facing forward about hip distance apart with knees slightly bent
  • Keep your core engaged to help with your balance
  • Grip the top of the paddle with one hand and place your other hand at a comfortable distance about halfway down the paddle
  • The angle in the paddle should face away from you, which is the opposite of how you would hold a kayak paddle.
  • Keep your arms straight as you extend the paddle forward for each stroke.
  • Make 4-5 short, close strokes on each side of the board and then switch sides and reverse your hand position.
  • To turn, keep paddling on one side (paddling on the right will cause you to go left). Or for a quicker turn, drag your paddle backward

After a quick demo, we set off for an hour of paddling around the harbor. With Rocky’s SUPing tips, we all quickly got the hang of it and had a blast gliding through the water under that warm California sun.

Stand up paddle boarding tips from a pro

Stand up paddle boarding tips from a pro

Stand up paddle boarding tips from a pro


If you are new to stand up paddle boarding, Rocky also suggests taking a lesson or clinic. He said that whether you are just learning or an experienced paddler, there are always new techniques that can be picked up to enhance your paddling experience. If a lesson isn’t possible, here is a helpful video that demonstrates many of the things we talk about here.


SUP Lessons Huntington Beach…

I loved the class we took with Rocky and would recommend it for anyone who is in Huntington Beach and looking to give SUPing a try. Rocky offers private and group lessons ranging from 1-2 hours and includes all of the equipment you need. And he’ll even snap some photos of you while you are out there. For more info on lessons and pricing, visit the SUP page on Rocky’s website or give him a call at (714) 377-6101.

Stand up paddle boarding tips from a pro


*Thanks to Visit California and Visit Huntington Beach for setting me up with my stand-up paddle boarding lesson*

There are 25 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

25 Comments on “Beginner Stand-up Paddle Boarding Tips

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  1. I’ve always been intrigued by stand up paddle boarding, but have been a little too afraid. You have made it seem a little less scary, and I will have to look into a short class or clinic. Thanks for your tips!

      Go for it Laurie! My motto is to always try something once. If you decide you don’t like it, then you never have to do it again…but maybe you’ll find a new favorite hobby. Come back and let me know how it goes!

    Hey, great share……

    There has been a real surge in the popularity of stand up paddle boarding in the last few years. If you’ve never been on a stand up paddle board (SUP), it can be hard to understand the attraction.It is incredibly fun. Stand up paddle boarding is always more fun with a buddy.

    Thanks for sharing these pro tips on SUP . Keep sharing more….

    Really good tips here! I would definitely agree about checking the conditions. I remember when I thought it would be fun to take a surf lesson in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia. It was very windy and the waves were pumping. Great news for people who already know how to surf, not so great for us beginners trying to learn 🙁 I spent more time chasing my board as it rushed towards the beach getting carried by a wave than actually learning anything about surfing.

    On the contrary, when I did a couple windsurfing lessons, it was in a nice, calm protected bay which made learning actually quite fun and easier than expected. So learning in the right conditions matters!

    Hey, really like this post! I love getting out on the water with my dog. I’ve tried kayaks and canoes, but paddle boarding is certainly the best for my pooch! The traction platform really makes it ideal. Thanks for the post!

    Paddle boarding has also been a hard sport for me. I love it I just have such awful balance! I am getting better and now my husband and I go almost every weekend! Thanks for sharing such a great article.

    My fiancé bought me a SUP for Christmas! I’ve only rented ones in the past and have only boarded a few times. This post was extremely helpful! I should be doing yoga on it in no time LOL

    Great post, Kristen — I’m very excited to hear that you enjoyed your first paddle and hope that you continue with the sport. There are few activities that match stand up paddleboarding when it comes to health benefits and immersing you in natural beauty. Another thing that makes it so amazing is that anyone can enjoy paddleboarding, regardless of age or experience level.

    There is one critical thing that I wanted to mention which was not covered in your post — the importance of wearing a SUP leash. In certain conditions, falling off of your board without a leash can easily result in death as wind, waves, and currents can quickly separate you from your SUP. A SUP leash is an inexpensive and unobtrusive accessory that you should wear every time you paddle out, and they save lives.

    I did a detailed write-up listing this year’s best SUP leashes, perhaps you will find it helpful:

    Thanks again for sharing your first SUP experience and for the great tip list, Kristen. It’s super exciting to see so many trying our sport for the first time and I’m happy to hear that you had a great experience!

    Happy paddling!


    I have been really interested in learning how to use a stand-up paddleboard. I liked that you talked about how if it is windy out it might not be a great time to go paddle boarding. It might be a good idea for me to see if there are any places where I could rent some gear and get lessons. Then I could understand how to tell if conditions are good to go out.

    Great tips, especially enjoyed the tips on how to get up, that seems to be the most difficult part for a beginner:). I was wondering if the subject of inflatable SUPs came up during the class? I have been doing some research and it seems to me an inflatable paddle board is much easier to transport and store, not to mention most cases cheaper than a regular SUP.
    Anyway just wanted to ask, hope you are still enjoying paddle boarding, Huntington Beach and Manhattan Beach are my two favorite spots in California by the way:)

      Hello! Kristen and I both have actually been looking into getting inflatable paddle boards. Kristen already has an Oru Kayak that travels with her on the top of her van but having more than one water toy is always fun! I live in Santa Barbara and I am looking into getting one so I can paddle weekly.

      Hey Ozzie. Yes, inflatable SUPs definitely offer a lot more convenience when compared to rigid boards. They’re super easy to store, transport, and you can even check ’em with your luggage when flying.

      Over the past few years, inflatable construction technology has improved and the best iSUPs on the market right now are nearly as stiff as hard boards. Rigid boards do offer a slight advantage when it comes to performance, although this gap continues to get more and more narrow.

      For the vast majority of paddlers, an inflatable is the way to go. If you’re getting involved in SUP competitions, however, I’d still recommend a hard board.

      Hope this helps! If you have questions on specific inflatables or need help in any way, feel free to reach out. I review a lot of inflatables and I’m happy to help you however I can. By the way, I wrote an article last year comparing inflatables and hard boards, perhaps it’ll also be helpful for you to check out:

      Happy paddling.

    I would like to try paddle boarding someday 🙂
    looks like a good workout.

    Super post Kristen,
    Would you say your baseline fitness was instrumental in you getting off to a good start paddle boarding from your lesson?
    I am often asked the level of fitness required of a beginner before he/she can start paddle boarding.
    I am not sure of the right answer and would like to know your thoughts on this.


      Hi Bob, great question! As a former guide for an outdoor adventure outfitter that offered all types of SUP tours, I think being agile, flexible and having good balance is instrumental in having success with paddleboarding. Can almost anyone give it try? For sure! Is it difficult and does it require a minimal level of athleticism, yes, I’d say so.

    Great tips! For me the biggest revelation when I started learning to SUP was the realisation that you should put your paddle in the water and pull your body through the paddle, rather than pulling your paddle towards you with your arms. What a difference! Makes for a great core workout too!

    That’s exactly what I am looking for. Thanks for this post. I love your blog and all the ideas you shared about outdoor experiences. Keep it up!

    Thanks for sharing practical tips on stand-up paddle boarding. I find the tips quite interesting and I cannot hesitate to share them too. Keep up the good work.

    Nice beginner guide. Looks promising to me. I was exactly looking for the same paddle boarding guide. Thanks, dude for your efforts.

    While paddling the surfboards there is few things which you should keep an eye on that to avoid any miss happening, first of all you should choose the right equipment according to your size and ability. While in the learning phase you should always borrow the paddle boards so that you should be able to learn well without any difficulty and always take the lessons from the expert

    Hey, I have never paddle on sup board. Im 5.5 ft and 145 lbs. Dont have feeling to choose right board for me. Can you recommand me a board ? I prefer lakes and rivers.

      Hi Marko! Thanks for reaching out. We recommend heading into REI so they can support you in picking a board that is perfect for you & for what you are looking to do!

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