How To Paddle Board: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

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Stand-up paddle boarding, SUP, is an exciting physical activity that you can take part in on oceans, rivers, lakes, and bays. It’s an exciting way to have fun on the water while also offering the benefit of a fantastic full-body workout. It’s a lot of fun for all sorts of people, regardless of body type, age, or skill level. One of the unique aspects of paddle boarding is that you can do it with a friend, significant other, child, or even pet.

If you’re wondering how to paddle board and get started with everything, never fear! We’ll share everything you could possibly want to know. We’ll go over the gear you need, including the board, techniques when paddling, and a few tips for your first time on your new stand-up paddleboard.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Types of SUPs

There are stand-up paddle boards of all different sizes and shapes. However, the one you will most commonly see is an epoxy board, also known as a hard paddle board. These boards are created of EPS foam core with fiberglass wrapped around it. There will be one or more fins that help the paddleboard track in the water.

Another type of paddle board you may frequently see on the water is an inflatable paddle board. This is a modern board that has different benefits than an epoxy paddle board. This and the epoxy are both excellent options depending on your needs and lifestyle.

The average paddle board will be quite a bit thicker than a typical surfboard. Most are about four to five inches thick, 28 to 32 inches wide, and eight to 12 feet long. Beginners tend to do best with a thicker, wider, and longer board. This gives the extra stability needed to learn the basics on a calm, flat body of water. Those who have more experience may move on to a paddle board that is smaller.

Related: Best SUP Paddle

Choosing the Right Beginner Stand-Up Paddle Board

There are a few different types of paddle boards, with the all-around being the most common for beginners. Here is what you should know about each type:

All-Around Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • The most versatile paddleboard option which can be used for several activities like SUP surfing, SUP touring, SUP fishing, and SUP yoga.
  • Ideal for beginners and more experienced boarders, this is the most common sort of paddle board.
  • Can be used in various conditions ranging from calm lakes to rough ocean waves.

Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • Another great option for beginners to paddle boarding
  • Rolls up to into the size of a sleeping bag for easy storage
  • Great for travel as it can fit inside of a vehicle
  • Durable and will not be damaged after being dropped

Fishing Stand-up Paddle Boards

  • Wider deck with space for your fishing gear
  • Can be easily used by a beginner
  • Has benefits when fishing compared to land fishing or fishing from a boat
  • Some models include attachments like bait trays and rod holders

Touring Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • Longer and less wide SUP featuring a pointed nose
  • Built to be ideal for long-distance paddling
  • Often includes a displacement hull for improved tracking

Yoga Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • May be used as a beginner’s board for recreational use
  • Has a larger deck for ease of practicing yoga
  • May be inflatable as you sit higher on the water for extra stability and dryness

Surf Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • Not the best choice for learning how to paddleboard, but practice will help
  • Responsive and easy to maneuver in the water
  • Designed specifically for surfing the ocean’s waves
  • Can be unstable in the water

Racing Stand-Up Paddle Boards

  • Longest type of stand-up paddle board which creates high speed and efficient glide
  • Can be extremely challenging for those who are beginners
  • Created to be used in race competitions

paddle boarding tips technique

Required Paddle Board Equipment

Now that you know a bit more about stand-up paddle boating, you need to realize that the paddling board is only part of the equation. There are a handful of other pieces of equipment that you will need to start. That includes a stand-up paddle, board bag, paddle board life vest, and board leash.

Stand-Up Paddles

You need a stand-up paddle to learn how to stand-up paddle board. There is a wide assortment of options with paddles made of aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, and wood. Each of these paddle types also can come with a variety of blades, handles, and shaft shapes. When it comes time to choose the right standup paddle, the paddle should be roughly six to 10 inches longer than the height of the person who is stand-up paddling. You want to go with the shorter of those options for surf paddling and the longer for flat water. Paddle board blades have a small bend at an angle to the shift which makes it easier to get forward reach whenever you take a stroke.

SUP Board Bags

When you’re out on the water, you likely won’t see a ton of situations where your board gets dinged. This tends to be more likely to happen when the paddle board is in storage or being transported. Those who want to avoid dings and dents will want to look for a SUP board bag to protect their paddle board. The bags are also fantastic for helping you carry the board wherever you go. If you go for an inflatable SUP, this will likely come with a board bag for no extra cost.

Personal Flotation Device

Everyone should use a life vest when they learn to paddle board, as should anyone who goes beyond basic recreation, paddling, and surfing use. In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard requires that you use a life vest that is USCG-approved. It’s crucial that you understand the relevant Life Vest Safety Laws before you take off into the water.

SUP Leash

The last piece of equipment that you need when taking stand up paddle lessons is a SUP leash. This is what keeps your paddle board attached to you using a Velcro strap around your calf or ankle. You will find leashes in a large number of sizes, but what you’re looking for is something the same size or a bit smaller than your board. If you fall off the board, wind and current can pull away your paddleboard and it can hit and injure someone. Always have a leash with you when you paddle board.

Basic Stand-Up Paddle Boarding Tips

Most people who are learning to stand up paddle are easily able to get up and go with a bit of basic instruction. There are three major things you want to understand first. You need to know the stand-up paddle techniques for standing up, balancing on the board, and what to do when you fall off of the board. We’ll go over the basics of each, so you have the knowledge you need on how to SUP.

How to Stand Up on a Paddle Board

It’s best to start your journey toward paddle boarding with a wide board on calm water. Most beginners will do best with a board of around 11 feet long and 30 inches across. When you attempt to stand up on the board, you should feel stable and comfortable. If you have attempted to stand up a few times and things still feel unstable, you may need a larger, wider board.

Here are the basics steps for how and where to stand on a paddleboard:

  1. Take your board out into the water where the fin isn’t hitting the bottom, but you aren’t in extremely deep water, either.
  1. You will want to start in a keeping position while doing so take a few strokes beside your board.
  1. Stand up with only one food at a time with your body in the middle of the board and your feet around shoulder-width apart.
  1. Bend your knees slightly and keep your core centered over the board.
  1. If you fall off, try again. It may happen a few times. A thin wetsuit can be helpful if you tend to get cold easily.

Staying Balanced on a SUP

After you’re standing and feel stable, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you keep your balance:

  • Keep your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart while centered between the board edges.
  • Keep your shoulders and head upright and steady; shift weight using movements of your hips.
  • Keep your toes pointed forward while keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent.
  • Don’t start at your feet; level your gaze at the horizon.

standup paddle board beginner

What to Do When You Fall Off of the Board

No matter how much you attempt to stay balanced on your board, you’ll end up in the water at one point or another. Don’t feel bad because even the most experienced paddlers fall in once in a while. SUP is a watersport so getting wet isn’t the end of the world. Here is what you should do when you begin to lose your balance:

  • Aim towards the side to avoid hitting the board and to hit the water instead. Hitting the board is much more likely to result in an injury.
  • Do your best to keep holding your paddle as you fall. If you lose it, get your board and climb back on before paddling with your hands to get the paddle.

There are also a few things that you should do after you have fallen off:

  • Move next to your board and in the center.
  • Take hold of the board handle with a single hand.
  • Allow your legs to float to eh surface then kick your legs and pull the handle to slide back up onto your board.

Basic Stand-Up Paddle Board Technique

You need to know a few basic techniques when beginning with a SUP. Each of them involves using your paddle as a lever. The hand on top drives the lever while the one on the bottom acts as a pivot point. The first thing you need to learn is how to paddle forward. There are a few steps involved in this.

  • Leave your bottom arm still and straight as much as possible.
  • Pull your top arm toward your body to cause the paddle to go forward.
  • Extend your reach and rotate your top shoulder forward.
  • Place the paddle as far into the water as possible and bury it deep.
  • Instead of pulling the paddle through the water, work to pull past the paddle itself.
  • In order to stay in a straight line, do a few strokes on one side before swapping to the other side.

You’ll also want to learn to turn left and right. This is fairly easy but can take a bit of practice.

  • When you want to turn left, put your paddle in the water on the right side of the board. At the same time, turn your torso to the left.
  • Maintain a low stance while pulling to the right and the tail with your paddle while leaning and twisting left with your torso.
  • To turn right, put the paddle near the tail while pulling toward the nose and shifting your torso right. Bending your knees will make it easier to turn.

Getting Started with Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

Now that you know the basics, you just have to go to the right place to get some practice. Since this is a seriously popular sport, almost any major body of water near you should have classes and paddleboard rentals for you to take advantage of. Google will give you a good idea of what is available near you.

If you’re going somewhere a bit less crowded, you can purchase your own SUP, or many lakes and ocean towns have rentals nearby. If none of these options work for you, you can always find advice and SUPs online. There are also local water sports stores that can provide you with information. This is a great way to get pushed in the right direction.