If you’re new to the sport of stand up paddle boarding, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. SUP boarding is one of the most fun on-water activities around. You can relax and play with friends and family, go fishing, try SUP yoga, go on camping adventures or even get a great full-body workout.
But before you head off for your first SUP outing, let me give you some valuable pointers. I’m going to take you through the basics of how to stand up paddle board. When you’ve finished reading my paddle boarding tips and hop onto your SUP for the first time, you’ll have a great idea of how to prepare and what to do.
How to Stand Up Paddle Board: Essential SUP Skills
Let’s look at the basic paddling techniques you’ll need to start stand up paddle boarding.
Set Your Paddle to the Right Length
Getting your paddle length set correctly is vital to paddle boarding properly. The paddle needs to match your height, so you’ll need to adjust it if you’re using someone else’s gear or indeed if someone has used yours.
The basic method for adjusting your paddle is pretty straightforward to do. It’s a good idea to make a quick check before you go onto the water in case the paddle clamps have moved.
- Assemble the lower sections of the paddle, but leave the top clamp undone
- Hold your paddle vertically in one hand with the blade touching the ground next to your foot
- Reach up with your free hand palm down. Extend the shaft of the paddle upward until the top of its handle rests onto the underside of your wrist with your arm completely extended
- Tighten the upper clamp and re-check the height
It’s worth knowing that this method is pretty accurate for open water paddle boarding. When you advance onto SUP surfing or SUP racing, you’ll learn that you’ll need shorter or longer paddles. You may also need to adjust slightly depending on your paddle board’s height above the water.
Carrying Your Board and Launching It
Before you pick your board up, attach the SUP end of the leash to the board’s D-ring so it’s ready to use.
Use the center carrying handle to lift the paddle board under your arm with the handle positioned on the outside. Hold the paddle in your free hand and take your board to the water.
Paddle boards can be tricky to carry if there’s a bit of wind. You may also find them heavy and unwieldy to move safely. For this reason, many boards have handles at the nose and tail so two people can carry them together.
Put your board down carefully on the shore when you reach the water. Check that you don’t put it on anything sharp. Now is the time to attach your leash around your ankle (be sure to opt for a quick release leash for safety).
When you’ve done that and are ready, pick up the board again and cautiously walk out until you reach knee-deep water. Put the board down next to you, so it floats.
Place your paddle across the board a little in front of the center. Keep your hands spread, pushing down on it gently for balance.
From standing next to the board, climb on one leg at a time, with your outer leg first, so you’re on the deck pad on your knees a little back from the center point.
Bring yourself upright on your knees and place the paddle lengthways on the board next to you.
Practice Paddling on Your Knees
While you’re on your knees, it’s a good idea to try paddling in a kneeling position. This helps you get a feel for the board with greater stability, so you’re less likely to fall. It’s also a valuable technique to know if you’re ever in difficult water and can’t stand.
Stay close to the shore in shallow water at all times while you’re practicing.
- Hold the paddle in both hands in front of you
- Set one hand in about the middle and the other towards the top of the shaft, so it’s comfortable
- Lift the paddle blade forward above the water until it’s at about a 45-degree angle in front of you
- Put the blade into the water no deeper than to its top
- Pull the paddle back in a smooth stroke to move the board forward until the blade is level with your body
- Lift the blade out and repeat
Move your weight gently from left to right, so you start to feel your balance on the board. Swap sides and see how your board moves in a line. Try firmly dropping your blade into the water slightly behind you on one side as a brake. Hold it and see how the board turns.
If you feel like you’re losing your balance, keep the paddle in the water and use it to get more stable.
Standing up on Your Paddle Board
Make sure you’re in calm, flat water for your first attempt at standing up. The water should be knee to waist deep so you can stand in it safely. It’s also a good idea if the bottom is soft and free from any sharp rocks in case you should fall.
- Place the paddle across the board in front of you and hold with both hands set wide on the deck pad.
- One foot at a time, slowly put your feet on the deck at about shoulder width apart in the center of the board
- Raise your chest until your body is vertical, then straighten your legs to stand up slowly
- Use the paddle in your hands to help you balance
How to Stay Balanced
When you stand up the first time, balancing might seem like something you’ll never master. However, here are some simple tips on how to stay balanced.
- Set Your Feet – Keep your feet parallel and evenly spread on the board. They should be at about hip-width distance
- Set Your Body – Keep your knees slightly bent for balance. Make sure your back is straight. Keep your shoulders steady. Engage your core
- Set Your Gaze – Keep your head up and try to look straight ahead at the horizon
- Balance Through Your Hips – Keep your feet planted and move your hips to shift your weight as needed
- Start Moving – Once you’ve stood up, start paddling. Forward momentum helps keep your paddle board steadier.
How to Hold your Paddle Boards Paddle
Set your SUP paddle so that the blade is angled forward and away from you as you face the nose. Hold the top with the paddle grip in one hand and your other hand a few feet down the paddle where it’s comfortable.
Your top hand will be opposite to the side that you’re paddling on. So if you are paddling on the left side of your board, your right hand will be on the top of the SUP paddle shaft.
It’s important to remember that you switch your hand positions when you swap sides.
Falling the Right Way and Getting Back On
You’ll inevitably be falling off fairly often when learning, so you might as well do it the right way.
If you feel that you’ve lost your balance, try and fall safely to the side, into the water. Falling onto the SUP board itself can hurt a lot and cause injury. Try to fall flat rather than jumping in if the water is shallow.
Keep hold of the SUP paddle as you fall, so you don’t have to worry about finding it in the water.
Assuming you’re in deep water, tread water and catch your breath. Get next to the paddle board by its center. Put one hand on the center handle and float your legs behind you. Kick your legs and pull with your hand to get back onto the board.
The Three Basic Paddle Board Strokes
As you start to paddle, there are three basic strokes that you’ll want to practice.
When paddling forwards, think of using your paddle as a lever. Your lower hand acts as the pivot, and your upper hand drives the lever.
To begin your forward stroke, set your bottom arm straight so it moves mainly from the shoulder. Bring your top hand towards your body and rotate your hips and shoulders so that the blade moves forward about two feet in front of you.
Push the blade into the water to its top. Press with your top hand and rotate your shoulders to glide the paddle back until the blade is level with your ankle.
Lift the blade out of the water and repeat the forward stroke a few times before switching sides to stay in a straight line. Remember that you’ll need to alternate your hand positions as you change sides.
To make the reverse stroke. Put the blade into the water behind you towards the SUP’s tail. Keep your arms straight and rotate your body to pull the blade forwards.
Your paddle board nose will turn on the same side as you make the backward stroke. You can use this stroke to turn, stop, or slow down.
The sweeping stroke is a paddle technique that lets you efficiently turn your board while moving or stationary.
You make the sweep turn on the opposite side of the board to which you want to turn.
Bend your knees and lower your arms to get into a low stance. Push the blade into the water in front of you. Twist and lean your torso away from the paddle. Sweep the paddle back with your arms straight in a half-circle arc from the nose to the tail.
You can make a reverse sweep stroke by starting at the tail and sweeping the paddle to the nose.
Common Mistakes Paddle Board Beginners Make
Avoid these common mistakes, and you’ll have more fun on your SUP, faster.
Facing the Paddle The Wrong Way – Remember that the blade angles away from you.
Not Holding the Paddle Correctly – Make sure you place one hand on top of the paddle and one mid-way down. Don’t put both hands on the shaft.
Standing Facing the Wrong Direction – It matters which way you stand on the board. Don’t face backward.
Standing with Feet Together – Set your standing position with your feet about hip-width distance over the center of the board. Use the carry handle as a reference point.
Paddling Only With Your Arms – Try using your core muscles for power rather than just your arms, and you won’t get tired so quickly.
Not Putting the Blade in the Water Properly – Try not to put the blade in too deep or shallow.
Dropping Your Head – Keep your head up and look to the horizon, and you’ll find balance easier.
Not Using a Leash – If you don’t use a leash, your paddle board will drift away from you when you fall off. Always use a leash in open water so you can get back to your board.
Alternating Your Leash Leg – You should always attach your leash to the same leg every time you paddle. That way you’ll never be confused if you have to reflexively release the leash – which is much better for safety.
Paddling in Unsuitable Conditions – As a beginner, only go out when it is calm, and there isn’t much wind.
Push Yourself Too Far – Stay close to the shore in shallow water and practice when you’re learning. Limit yourself to short sessions of no more than an hour to avoid getting overly tired. Always be mindful to stay reasonably close to the exit point.
Essential Paddle Board Equipment
Let’s take a brief overview of the vital equipment you’ll need to get paddle boarding.
The Paddle Board
SUPs come in many different designs and sizes. The right board for you will be determined by your weight, height, and what you want to use the SUP for.
For an in-depth look at choosing the perfect board, check out our best paddle boards for beginners buyers guide.
The heavier or taller you are, the longer and wider the board you will need. Manufacturers give their paddle boards a maximum weight rating. You should check that this will exceed your weight and any passengers and gear you might want to take along with you.
Most beginners do well on a board at least 10’ 6” long and above 30” in width. The wider the board, the more stable it will be.
When choosing your paddle board, there are two main construction methods to look at. There are also many different boards to consider that cover both general use and specific tasks.
Inflatable Paddle Boards
Inflatable paddle boards offer excellent functionality, durability, and ease of storage and transportation. You’ll keep your inflatable paddle board neatly rolled up inside its storage bag until you’re ready to use it. You then inflate it with a pump when you reach the water’s edge.
In many ways, inflatable SUPs are often the best choice for beginners. They tend to be less expensive to purchase and are more resilient to knocks and drops than hard boards.
Inflatable boards usually come with a complete accessory package. This also makes inflatable SUPs an excellent beginner’s choice, and you typically get more or less everything you need.
Hard or Rigid Paddle Boards
Rigid paddle boards are the original of the species. Before the invention of the inflatable paddle board, they were the only choice available.
Hard paddle boards are usually made with an EPS foam core that gives buoyancy. This is wrapped in a hard outer shell made from epoxy, plastic, wood, fiberglass, or carbon fiber.
Some users consider that rigid boards are faster than inflatables and are more suited to touring, surfing, or racing. However, modern inflatable designs have closed the gap.
A hard board needs plenty of space to store it, and they are more difficult to transport than an inflatable. They are also usually heavier and so more challenging to move.
The Different Categories of Paddle Board
You can now consider whether you’re interested in a general-purpose paddle board or one that specializes.
All-around boards are usually the best choice for beginners. They can be used for general open water paddling on lakes or the ocean and have the capacity to grow as your experience does.
They will usually have good stability and a reasonable weight capacity for you and your gear or passengers. You can use an all-around board for multiple activities, including a family SUP adventure, yoga or fishing, as well as regular paddling.
Higher Capacity Boards
Bigger people don’t need to be left out as there are plenty of larger boards to carry larger or heavier paddle boarders. Please look at our guide to paddle boards for big guys for more information.
You’ll also find specially sized boards for kids, so they’re not left trying to manage a large SUP. You can find out which are best by looking at our kid’s paddle board guide.
SUP fishing boards usually have a more expansive deck for stability and higher weight capacity to carry your fishing gear. They will also have several attachments so you can securely mount rod holders and tackle racks.
SUP Yoga Boards
Yoga on a SUP board is becoming a very popular activity. If this is something that you’re interested in, check out our best yoga paddle boards guide.
Yoga boards are wider than average for stability. They have large deck pads so you can safely and comfortably transition from downward-facing dog to sun salutations.
If you want to travel long distances and carry gear for an overnight camping trip, you might consider a touring paddle board. These are longer and narrower and have a pointed nose and displacement hull for improved tracking. Touring boards may need a bit more experience to pilot successfully.
Experienced paddle boarders use shorter than usual boards for SUP surfing. These can skilfully travel through waves and are a high-adrenaline version of the usually relaxed sport.
There are even paddle boards available that can take large groups of people out on the water. Our multi-person paddle board guide will show you everything you need to know if you want to paddle with a group.
A SUP paddle has a single blade at one end and a long, adjustable shaft. The blade is angled forward to increase the efficiency of your strokes.
Paddles can be made from wood, plastic, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Typically, the more expensive the paddle is, the stronger and lighter it will be.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
A PFD or a life jacket is an essential item of safety equipment, and it’s recommended that you always wear one.
In the United States, the Coast Guard requires by law that a suitable buoyancy aid is worn when using a paddle board outside a surf or swimming area.
A leash keeps you attached to your paddle board, so when you fall off, the wind or waves can’t dangerously separate you.
An open water leash fits around your ankle with a velcro strap while the other end attaches to a D-ring on the paddle board. The tether itself is often coiled so that it can stretch when needed and spring back so as not to get in your way.
There are different designs of leashes for use in the surf or flowing rivers. Make sure that you use the right one for your activity.
You should consider carrying safety equipment with you so you can signal for help if needed. Things to take might include your mobile phone in a waterproof case, a signal whistle, and a flashlight.
The Right Clothing
It’s easy to forget that you’ll be cooler on the water than on land. Make sure that you wear appropriate clothing when you go stand up paddle boarding. Beginners should always take a change of clothing with them and a towel to dry off if they fall in.
Even on hot days when you can paddle in your swimsuit, it’s a good idea to take a thin top with you so you can warm up if the breeze cools you.
Remember to apply plenty of sunscreen, and wear a hat to protect your head. Sunburn is probably the most common paddle board-related injury.
If you’re paddling in cool water, you might need to wear a wetsuit to protect yourself. You’ll undoubtedly want plenty of warm layers.
Unless it’s really cold, you won’t wear shoes. Going barefoot gives you a better feel for the board underneath you and improves your balance.
You’ll want to protect your paddle board during transport and storage with a board bag. A hard board can be pretty delicate, so a good bag is essential when you’re transporting it.
Inflatable paddle boards usually come with a board bag that can carry the SUP and its accessories.
Inflatable paddle boards need a pump and will usually come with one. The design of hand pumps varies from single chamber designs to dual-chamber, multi-action systems.
The larger and more expensive the pump, the faster it will usually inflate your board. A good pump is essential, particularly for larger boards.
However, an excellent electric pump is a great investment and lets you save all your energy for your paddling.
Seven Common Stand Up Paddle Boarding FAQ’s
Is It Easy To Stand Up Paddle Board?
It is pretty easy to stand up paddle board. You just need a little bit of patience to practice finding your balance and getting used to the paddle. All ages and fitness levels can enjoy stand up paddle boarding.
Where Should You Stand on a Paddle Board?
You should stand in the center of the paddle board with your feet parallel at about hip-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Keep your back straight and your head and shoulders up. It’s a good idea to keep your knees bent slightly. Shift your weight to keep balanced by moving your hips.
Is Paddle Boarding Bad for Your Back?
No, paddle boarding isn’t bad for your back. It can help strengthen your back by building your core. By maintaining the correct posture when you stand on the board and engaging your core muscles, you can avoid back pain when paddling.
Do You Wear Shoes When Paddle Boarding?
No, you generally shouldn’t wear shoes when paddle boarding. Going barefoot gives you the best grip and stability on the board. If it is cold, you can wear neoprene boots.
Do I Need a License To Paddle Board?
In most places, you don’t need a license to paddle board. However, in some countries, they are required to use inland waterways. You should check with your local Coast Guard to see what is needed.
Can You Kneel on a Paddle Board?
Yes, you can kneel on a paddle board, and many people will do this when finding their balance in the beginning. Kneeling is also an excellent skill to use if you are paddling in rough waters or high wind speed where it can be difficult to stay standing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial on how to stand up paddle board. It’s one of the most enjoyable watersports going, so I strongly encourage you to give it a try as soon as possible.
If you follow the paddle boarding tips I’ve laid out, you’ll be making your way across the water and having fun in no time.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Are there any helpful tips you’d like to add? If you have friends or family interested in starting paddle boarding, please feel free to share the article with them.