How To Start Paddle Boarding (SUP) – A Beginners Guide

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Stand-Up Paddleboard SUP (SUP)  is the latest craze in watersports and with good reason. Within the past year, paddle board sales have increased by 200%.

Once you learn how to paddle board, this popular sport offers various benefits including cardio fitness, core-strengthening, and improved balance and flexibility.

As opposed to other physical activities, such as running, SUP has virtually no negative impact on the body.

The idea of a total body workout may intimidate the less physically active, but the activity is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Balancing on a board upon the water may seem like a daunting task. Those SUP enthusiasts who were initially skeptical about their own abilities will now insist it’s easier than it looks.

Almost anyone can enjoy this sport because upper body strength is less important than is employing the proper technique. Those experienced in other paddling activities, such as canoeing and kayaking, know this to be true. Technique is key.

While it may appear as though experienced paddlers propel themselves along the water by using their arms, they actually engage the core which allows for more stamina and better balance.

When one attempts to use their arms rather than the strength of their core muscles, their energy is quickly depleted and a sport that should be fun becomes tiresome.

As a beginner paddle boarder, one should take several things into account before enthusiastically throwing themselves onto a board.

Choosing an area with calm water and minimal wind is essential. One should avoid areas with obstacles that may compromise their balance, for example places where logs and rocks lie right below the surface.

Note: Here is a guide to inflatable SUPs and traditional Stand Up Paddle Boards plus what to look for when buying one.

Paddle Boarding (SUP) Tips

There are several safety measures to consider. While all paddle boarders should follow these safety measures, they are especially crucial for the amateur:

  1. Use a leash  – A leash tethers the paddler to the board and is essential gear to ensure safety. In the event one falls, the leash safeguards against losing the board.  More importantly, because the board floats, it can be used as a flotation device for the paddler who is far from shore, exhausted, or injured.
  2. Fall correctly – While a paddler never plans to fall, it’s bound to happen at one time or another. Falling correctly is essential to avoid serious injury or at the least to prevent significant discomfort. Paddle boards are large and hard, thus unforgiving when our body unexpectedly slams into them.  Falling correctly means fall clear from the board.  It’s worth practicing this a few times
  3. Be aware – Be aware of your surroundings and of others who are out enjoying the water. Keep a sensible distance from other paddlers, swimmers, divers, etc.  Stay alert for other vessels that could possibly compromise your safety.  Take extra precaution if you are operating in limited visibility or at night. In these conditions, consider having a waterproof flashlight and a whistle handy.
  4. Personal Flotation Devices (lifejackets) – While wise to utilize in any water sport, PFDs will be disregarded by many paddlers. This is understandable, as they tend to decrease range of motion and can be uncomfortable in the heat. In spite of these disadvantages the amateur should always wear a life jacket while learning this new activity. This should be the case until they gain a basic sense of confidence in their skill and abilities.

It’s worth noting the U.S. Coast Guard considers the SUP a water vessel. Paddlers must follow the same rules and regulations required of other small vessels, such as canoes and kayaks.

In most cases a sound-producing device, such as a whistle or horn, and PFDs for each passenger must be onboard. There are some exceptions to these requirements which are too extensive to list here.  For the most up to date information, click here.

With these considerations in mind, it’s time to try your hand at getting onto and hopefully, staying on your board. Don’t be discouraged when you do fall. It’s to be expected. The first time won’t be your last!

When beginning to mount your board remember to avoid unnecessary obstacles and distractions. It bears repeating that the water should be calm and the wind should be minimal when starting out.

Wind is the single biggest factor in determining a paddling location. Ideally the point of entry should be a smooth one, such as a ramp, a graduated shoreline, or a dock.

In order to protect the board’s fin and to reduce the likelihood of falling, wade into the water with your SUP board until the water’s about knee-deep.

Using the carry handle as a point of reference, stand alongside the board and place your paddle in a perpendicular position across the deck right in front of the carry handle. Rest both hands on the paddle shaft. This will help you to stabilize the board and to maintain your balance while you mount the board.

Mounting The Board

Our goal is to begin in a kneeling position. When deciding on which side to climb atop the stand up paddle board, choose the side that feels most comfortable and secure.

If you decide to mount from the right side of the board, place your left knee to the left of the carry handle and your right knee to its right; and vice versa if mounting from the left side. Using a wider stance (i.e. knees placed closer to the edge of the board than to each other) will help with balance.

Once you are kneeling atop the board, get a feel for the center of gravity. Practicing paddling from a kneeling position is a great way to become acquainted with the activity.

You will get a better sense of what you can expect from the board, the water, and from your own body. Learning to paddle while kneeling is practical too.  It’s handy for situations in which there are environmental changes (i.e. unexpected rough waters) or if you need a break from standing.

Once you feel comfortable paddling around on your knees, it’s time to go for the gusto. You will move from kneeling to a squat-like position to standing.

  1. Start by laying the paddle on the board in front of you in a perpendicular position. Keep both hands on the paddle shaft.  Look straight forward at the horizon. This will assist with balance as you move from kneeling to standing.
  2. Tuck your toes under. One at a time, bring your knees to your chest so that you are in a squatting position. With a straight back use your leg muscles to move into a standing position.
  3. Be sure to keep your feet flat on the board. Place your paddle in the water immediately. Well-planted feet, a stable stance, and a submerged paddle all assist with maintaining your balance.
  4. Take note of the board’s position. The nose of the board shouldn’t be submerged, nor should it be completely exposed. Be aware of how your body feels in order to determine the “sweet spot” in terms of your ideal body placement.

Video: How to get on your paddle board.

How to Get Up on Your Stand Up Paddleboard

Standing Up

When standing, keep your knees slightly bent and your center of gravity low. Maintain a relatively erect stance, as moving the body too far to any side can compromise your balance. Avoid placing one foot more forward than the other. They should be parallel to each other.

If you find yourself struggling with sustaining stability, crunch down a bit until you regain your equilibrium. In the event you run into unexpected conditions such as wind or waves, returning to a kneeling position will lessen the possibility of you falling from the board.

That being said, remember that you WILL fall. Even the most experienced do. For that reason it’s important to remember how to fall correctly – away from the board, either to the right or left.

SUP is a fairly safe sport; however one of the biggest risks of the activity is impact between your body and the board.

How to Choose The Correct Size Paddle

As a general rule, size your paddle is very straight forward. You want you paddle to be roughly a foot taller than you are. This allow a comfortable grip while keeping enough of the paddle in the water. Size it a little shorter if you are going to be doing some surfing. Here is a guide on the best SUP paddles.

Video: Choosing the correct size paddle.

Stand Up Paddling - Choose the Right Paddle

Paddle Position

Correct management of the paddle will have a positive impact on your ability to control the board. By using proper form, you will tire less quickly and be a more efficient paddler.

Begin by holding the paddle with an overhand grip, one hand at the top of the paddle and the other placed approximately one arm’s length down the shaft. When paddling on your right side, the left hand grasps the top of the paddle and vice versa when paddling on the left.  The tip of the blade should protrude forward, as if you were holding a shovel.

Paddling Technique

When your body is in its proper stance and you are holding the paddle correctly, you are ready to begin paddling.

Reaching as far forward as you can without losing your balance, place the blade in the water so the entire blade is covered.

Move the paddle as though you were digging into sand and pulling it back toward your body.  While doing so, bend and twist slightly at the hips. Make certain the blade remains entirely submerged.

Engage your core muscles with each stroke. More specifically, allow your large back and shoulder muscles to do the work.

These include the fan-shaped latissimus dorsi, the erector muscles running along the spine, and the deltoids and trapezius muscles of the shoulder. Relax those muscles that are not responsible for propelling the board.

Your arms will serve as a support during paddling but do not provide the bulk of power used for driving the board.  If these smaller muscles are sore after paddling, that’s an indicator you need to be more aware of your body and ensure you are engaging those large muscles.

The paddle should be positioned in more of a vertical position than at an angle.  In other words, when you pull back, the blade should be fairly close to the side of your board rather than angled like an oar is positioned in a rowboat.

The elbow of the top arm should be bent at a 30 degree angle with elbow facing forward, while the other arm should remain relatively straight.

Extending your arms as far in front of you as possible without losing your balance will create the maximum momentum.

In spite of our best planning, sometimes the unexpected happens. For example you may find yourself in rough waters in an area that you expected to be calm or an unanticipated gust may come through on a still day.

Here are some tips to manage such conditions.

  1. Keep paddling – Your initial reaction may be to stop paddling.  You actually want to continue paddling through these conditions. You are less likely to lose your balance this way.
  2. Static brace If paddling alone isn’t sufficient to keep you atop the board, you can try a static brace by slapping the flat area of the paddle’s blade on the surface of the water.
  3. Sweeping brace Use the flat portion of the blade to stabilize yourself by applying pressure to the surface of the water. While applying pressure, slide the blade in one direction across the water’s surface.
  4. Bury paddle – Instead of lifting the blade from the water after each stroke, use it to slice the water as a means of regaining stability.  To do this, twist your wrists after each stroke so that the blade faces away from your board rather than toward it.  Slice the water with the blade by pushing the paddle forward. Alternate between this action and the forward paddle until conditions become more favorable.
  5. Micro bendEvaluate your stance. Make sure your knees remain slightly bent.  Attempting to paddle with straight legs will only reduce your ability to maintain your equilibrium.
  6. Kneel – Return to a kneeling (or even sitting) position until conditions become more manageable.

Advanced Paddle Boarding

Perhaps you have ambitions to move beyond novice to learn more advanced techniques.  Here is a brief review of some advanced activities you may want to consider as you become more skilled at SUP.

Stand-Up Paddle Board Yoga

Stand-up paddleboard yoga combines the popular Eastern practice with traditional SUP. Enthusiasts of this activity tout the benefits of the practice, which include increased flexibility, relaxation, and strength.

It requires a slower transition between positions and encourages an increased focus on core muscles with proper body alignment. In addition to the physical advantages of SUP yoga, practitioners point out this form of yoga offers a unique opportunity to commune with nature.

Stand-Up Paddle Board Racing

You don’t necessarily have to be a pro at paddle boarding to enjoy racing. Races vary in distance which allows even beginners to show their competitive side.

It should go without saying that you should consider your skill level when choosing a management distance. While you may be capable of running a 5K with ease, don’t confuse this with paddling the same distance.

SUP requires much more exertion and stamina, not to mention the use of different muscle groups.

Stand-Up Paddle Board Surfing

Typically you would try to avoid rough waters when stand-up paddle boarding; however, there are those who become skilled enough at this sport they are able to tackle surf.

The differences between traditional surfing and this activity include the use of a different type of paddle board as well as the use of a paddle to maneuver one’s way over substantially high waves.

Advanced paddling techniques are necessary to be successful at this challenging hybrid sport.

Wrapping It Up

SUP has a broad range of appeal because it offers something for almost anyone.  It can be practiced as a purely recreational activity; or it can be used as a means to push one’s limits by racing or becoming proficient in advanced techniques.

It is a relatively safe sport, especially if the paddle boarder takes into account certain safety measures such as learning to fall from the board correctly and regularly wear a leash.

The practice of standing atop the board and maintaining one’s balance is a great way to build up core muscles which improves posture as well as overall strength.

Finally, SUP is perfect for those who love being on the water because not only does it provide an excellent workout, it takes place in a relaxing environment where one can forget the worries of daily life.

I hope this guide was helpful on learning how to stand up paddle board. If you want to comment or recommend a tip I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

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