Stand-up paddle boarding (also known as SUP) is the perfect outdoor summer activity – from lakes to rivers to the ocean, stand up paddle boarding is not only an enjoyable way to be on the water, it’s a full-body core workout as well. And now that summer is in full swing, it’s the perfect time to give it a try!
Paddle boarding is a very beginner-friendly activity – no matter your age, size, or athletic ability, SUP is enjoyable. In this blog post, we share basics on how to paddle board, how to pick a paddle board, beginner paddle boarding tips, and what gear you need.
Looking to try out SUP? Read our complete paddle boarding for beginners guide below!
Important Reminder: As outdoor recreationists, it’s our responsibility to know how to recreate responsibly on the water whether we’re kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, rafting, or boating. Learn how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species with 3 easy steps that have a huge impact on our ecosystems.
What Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?
Stand up paddle boarding is a water sport that allows you to explore and enjoy the water without swimming in it. Unlike canoes and kayaks, paddle boards are completely flat boards (most similar to a large, flat surfboard) that you can stand, kneel, or sit on to paddle. SUP paddles are similar to canoe paddles with a blade on one end and a handle on the other, but they are longer than your typical canoe paddle so you can fully stand comfortably.
Paddle boarding has gained popularity in the last few years because it’s a relaxing, fun, and engaging way to paddle across various waterways (lakes, oceans, bays, rivers) and you can do activities such as SUP yoga or surfing with a paddle board as well.
How To Paddle Board
Learning how to paddle board properly is essential for maximizing power and torque out of each stroke as well as improving your balance. 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. Below are paddle boarding beginner basics for standing:
How To Stand Up On a Paddle Board
- 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
- Position yourself so you’re standing at the center of the board – it should be flat on the water with neither the nose or tail lifting up or pushing into the water
- Your feet should be facing forward about hip-distance apart or wider with knees slightly bent
How To Paddle On a SUP
- 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
- To watch a video on how to stand up on a paddle board, click here.
The best thing about paddle boarding versus kayaking or canoeing is that you have many options for how to paddle. While we outline how to stand up on a paddle board above, you can also paddle board while kneeling or sitting on your board. Beginner paddle boarders can feel out what works best for them, or what is most comfortable. Once you’re out on the water, you can even lie down on your paddle board to relax! Another helpful option is a packable chair that you can use to sit on a paddle board and paddle kayak style if you feel fatigued or are struggling with balance standing.
Types of Paddle Boards
Paddle boards are either solid or inflatable. If you are renting a paddle board, it will likely be a solid SUP. However, inflatable paddle boards are gaining popularity for their affordability, packable size, and versatility. Here are a few key differences between solid and inflatable paddle boards:
Solid Paddle Boards
- Pros: best performance on the water, no time to set up, more stable, less effort to paddle, easier to custom fit
- Cons: storing and transporting a solid paddle board is harder
Check Price: Backcountry
Inflatable Paddle Boards
- Pros: easily stored and transported, softer and more comfortable to sit or do yoga on, can paddle more places (like a short hike to a lake), better suited for rapids
- Cons: inflating and deflating is time-consuming, less stability
Check Price: REI
How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board
You should choose your paddle board based on the kind of activities you plan to use your board for and what kind of water you will be paddling on. There are two body types for SUP boards:
- Planing Hull: wide, flat body with a rounded nose. Best for leisure paddling, SUP yoga, surfing, and whitewater.
- Displacement Hull: narrower body with a pointed nose. Best for fitness paddling, long-distance or overnight paddling, and racing
For most beginner stand up paddlers, finding a board with a planing hull is best, because the wider width gives more stability so you can focus on the correct paddling stroke without the constant concern of falling in the water.
Other factors to consider when renting or buying a paddle board are weight capacity and length. It is important to calculate the total weight on your board (including gear, any pets, food, etc.) to ensure your board will sit high in the water and you will be able to paddle easily. Paddle boards usually come in 3 lengths: short boards (under 10′) are best for children or surfing, medium boards (10-12′) are best for leisure and everyday paddling, and long boards (over 12′) are best for long-distance and fitness paddling.
Beginner Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tips
This is an important step before venturing out for any SUP adventure. Make sure that conditions are safe and fit for your ability so you can have an enjoyable time. Flatwater (a lake or a bay) is best for beginners versus moving water in the ocean or on a river. I also recommend picking a calm, sunny day with little to no wind – mornings and evenings usually have calmer waters. If you are planning to paddle board in windy conditions, pick a spot where the wind will be at your back on your way back in, so you are not fighting against the wind when you are more tired. If you ever get caught in a windstorm, lay down on your stomach with your paddle underneath you and paddle like you are on a surf board.
Take a Buddy
If you are brand new to paddling, bring a friend! This will not only enhance your enjoyment on the water, but create a safer learning space. Try to pick a spot that is not crowded by boats, buoys, or other obstacles in the water. Do not plan a long trip for your first outing – paddle boarding is a full-body workout, and you may be surprised at how sore you are the next day!
Always Use a Leash
A paddle board leash loops around your ankle and keeps you attached to your board. Let’s face it – at some point, you might fall off your paddle board (and that is part of the fun of water sports!). To ensure you stay close to your board and can easily retrieve it, always use a leash. There are different leashes for different types of paddleboarding activities, so be sure to buy the correct leash.
Use Your Core
Don’t rely on your arms to do all the paddling – this is the quickest way to tire yourself out! Be sure to keep your core muscles engaged to even out how hard your body is working while paddling. Stand up tall while on your SUP. Your large back muscles should be doing the bulk of the work – be sure to also dip your blade fully into the water with each stroke to get the maximum resistance.
Consider Taking a Paddle Boarding Lesson
Whether you are just learning or an experienced paddler, there are always new techniques that can be picked up to enhance your paddling experience. Guided paddle boarding trips mean more structure, less planning, and a safe group to explore with. I highly recommend taking a lesson before paddle boarding in the ocean, or if you plan to do long distance SUP trips.
What to Pack for Paddle Boarding
If you are a beginner paddleboarder, it’s best to rent gear or borrow from a friend. Here is our recommended list on what to pack for paddle boarding:
- Stand Up Paddle Board
- SUP Paddle
- Personal Floatation Device (PFD)
- Leash – always use a leash to ensure you stay close to your board in the event you fall off
- Paddling gloves – if you plan to SUP long distances or are prone to blisters
- Dry Bag – to keep all of your gear protected since it will be sitting on top of your board
Besides the absolute basics listed above, we also recommend packing the following for paddle boarding:
- Reusable Water Bottle
- Camera – a GoPro is the perfect waterproof camera
- Carabiners – some paddleboards have bungee straps so you can easily strap down your gear. We also recommend attaching a carabiner to anything important (like your dry bag, portable speaker, etc.)
- Lip Balm with SPF
- Quick Dry Towel
- Waterproof Portable Speaker – who doesn’t love listening to tunes while on the water?
- Garmin Mini – I always recommend carrying an emergency communication device if you are out of cell range
What to Wear Paddle Boarding
Since you’ll likely be getting wet, you want to stay away from anything cotton which will leave you dripping and soggy all day. Assuming it’s warm and you don’t need a wet or drysuit of any kind, you’ll want lightweight, quick-drying layers – like a rash guard and boardshorts – which also provide sun protection. Here is what we recommend you wear while paddle boarding:
- Comfortable swimsuit
- Quick-dry clothing with UPF sun protection or a rash guard
- A pair of board shorts
- Polarized Sunglasses with a retainer so you don’t lose them in the water
- A protective sun hat
We hope these beginner paddle boarding tips inspire you to try SUP for the first time this summer. What questions or tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below!