One of the reasons that stand up paddleboarding is the fastest growing water sport in the world is because it is just so darn easy to learn. Like riding a bike, after you learn the basics paddleboarding will be second nature.
Equipment You Will Need
The stand up paddleboard
Obviously you will need a paddle board to start. Most adults will want a paddle board that is at least 10 feet long. 10 foot 6 inches seems to be a standard length for boards nowadays but they can be longer than 12 feet or even 14 feet for racing boards. But if you are reading this begginers guide you probably aren’t wanting a racing board are you?
There are lots of different types of boards as well. Some boards, called soft tops, are made of a softer foam that is kind of like a dense pool noodle. These boards, like the Wavestorm or the CBC 10SIX, tend to be cheaper and better for beginners. Falling and bumping an elbow or knee on these boards won’t hurt as bad.
Fiberglass is the material choice for serious suppers. Fiberglass boards are stiffer and smoother which gives them a speed advantage compared to other materials. But the hard material comes with several disadvantages. Fiberglass boards tend to be more expensive which may not be what you want if you are just trying to get a feel for the sport. Fiberglass boards are also harder on your feet and can hurt if you fall on them.
There is also a category of board called inflatable stand up paddleboards, or iSUPs. Inflatable boards are great for people who don’t have a lot of space to store a hard board or don’t want the hassle of strapping a board to the roof of your car. iSUP’s are easy to deflate, roll up, and throw in the trunk. Many people who own inflatable paddle boards find themselves actually going out more because they are less of a hassle. The downside is that they don’t have the performance that you get with a more rigid board.
The paddle to a paddle boarder is like a samurai’s sword, an artist’s paint brush, or a sculptor’s chisel. Even people with relatively cheap paddle boards will spend more to get a quality carbon fiber paddle. Even the slightest weight differences in paddles can make a world of difference in how tired your arms get over the course of an hour.
Paddles are usually made of plastic, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. That list is in order from lowest quality to highest. Many beginner packages will come with a plastic or aluminum paddle. You may want to use the supplied paddle for a while but will probably be wanting a better one if the sport really catches you.
Most paddles are adjustable and you will want to set them so that the handle is about 6 inches over your head when the blade of the paddle is on the ground next to your feet.
A PFD (personal flotation device) is an important safety device. Beginners, children, and people who just aren’t strong swimmers will want to be wearing a PFD at times. Falling off your board can be disorienting and you may get water in your mouth or up your nose. It’s kind of like being thrown in the pool by your no-good friends. A PFD will help you in accidents like these, and even if you don’t wear one, you should have one strapped to your board just in case the water gets rough.
A leash, or tether, is what it sounds like. It attaches to the board on one end and your leg on the other. This is an important piece of safety equipment that you need to have. If you fall off your board, the board can shoot out away from you and you may become disoriented in the fall. Without a leash in this scenario it could be difficult to get back to your board.
In fact several people died recently while paddleboarding because they didn’t have a leash. Quick storms rushed in and made large wave that threw them off their boards. The paddleboarders weren’t able to get back to their boards to use for flotation and they unfortunately drowned.
Before You Begin Your Journey
Before you begin you need to prepare. First of all, tell someone where you are going and how long you will be gone. You don’t want to end up like the guy in 127 Hours. Call a friend or family member and tell them what body of water you are going out on, where the launch point is how long you will be gone. Do this even if you are going out with a group of people.
Use sunscreen. There is nowhere to hide when you are out there on the water, so lather up. Sunburn and skin cancer are no joke. Use at least 50 spf for a stand up paddleboarding trip. On the beach 15 or 30 spf might be fine but you are on dry land and can re-apply whenever you want. Out there on the water it’s not so easy and you might just forget. It is best to bring a bottle with you in a dry bag, just in case.
Make sure you are well hydrated. Drink lots of water before you go out and if you can, take some with you. It can be hot out there and paddle boarding is hard work. You can put some bottles in your drybag with your sunscreen. You will thank yourself when you are out in the hot sun.
Adjust your paddle height. While holding your paddle upright with the blade resting on the ground at your feet, adjust the handle to be about 6 inches above your head. Most adjustable paddles can handle people between 4 foot 9 and 6 foot 4.
Launching Your Paddleboard
Now that you gotten your board and your paddle set-up, you are hydrated and sunscreened, and you have your safety equipment, you are ready to launch.
Start out by launching in calm shallow water with your board facing in the direction that you want to begin traveling. Be sure that the water is deep enough that the fin on your paddleboard won’t scrape the bottom even with the weight of you on it. Most rear fins are about 9 inches long, plus add 2 inches or so for the draft of the board with your weight on it, so you will need at least a foot of water maybe more for most boards.
At this point lay your paddle lengthwise along your board on the opposite side of the board that you plan to hop on. So if you are standing next to your board on the left side lay your paddle on the right, and if you are standing on the right side next to your board lay your paddle on the left. I find it easier to lay the paddle so that the blade is at the front of the board and the handle is at the rear.
Now from standing next to the board put one knee on the board followed by the other kneed while using your hands to help stabilize yourself and the board. At some point during this process you should find yourself on your hands and knees centered on your paddle board and facing forward. Now just sit back on your heels and grab your paddle in the middle of the shaft.
While still on your knees and gripping the paddle with both hands on the lower half of the shaft, give yourself a few paddles on each side to help get you going and get you in deeper waters. Once you are away from the shore and in deeper waters it’s time to stand up, this is stand up paddle boarding after all.
Once you are ready to stand up you will want to lay your paddle back down on your board. Either lay it across the paddleboard in front of you, like a lowercase “t”, or lay it along the board next to you like you did when you were launching.
Now you will want to get in the hands and knees position again while facing forward along the board. Using your hands for stability against the board bring your feet up under you one at a time at about a shoulder width apart and without one being farther forward than the other. Now your you will be in a squatting position with your hands still on the board in front of you.
From this squatting position you can either try and stand straight up or you can stick your butt up in the air first. By sticking your butt in the air first you may fool people into thinking that you are doing paddleboard yoga, but indeed you are not.
Now that you are standing, the fun can begin (as if you weren’t having fun already!).
Proper Paddling Technique
You will want to stand with you feet shoulder width apart and you knees slightly bent. This is the same rule for getting married when you are standing at the alter. You don’t want to lock your knees because you will wind up on a YouTube fail compilation when you pass out. Keep your back straight and upright.
First off make sure you are holding your paddle correctly. See how the fin is angled in one direction? Make sure that it is pointed forward. Many newbies has been laughed at for using their paddle backwards. Don’t be one of them. Now with your paddle in the right direction, with one hand hold the paddle in the middle of the shaft and with the other grip the handle on the top. Make sure that the palm of your hand is literally on top of the paddle for the best gripping technique.
For a quality stroke you will want to use the paddle almost like a lever while your hand gripping the shaft in the middle is the fulcrum. Stretch out your fulcrum hand in front of you while pulling back on your top hand in order to stick the blade in the water as far ahead of you as possible.
When your blade is in the water push forward with your top hand while slowly and softly bringing your fulcrum hand down and back.
Do a few strokes on one side and then switch hands and do a few strokes on the other side. This will help you go straight and keep an even workout on both your arms and both sides of your abs.
How to turn
You can do big soft turns by just doing all of your powerstrokes on the opposite side of the board of the direction you want to turn. But what if you want to turn more sharply? We have an answer for that too.
For sharper turns you will want to use the twisting technique. To turn left, stick your paddle in the water on the right side and twist your torso to the left while sweeping the paddle in a semicircle toward the rear of the board. Think about physically turning the board with your feet.
To turn sharply to your right stick the paddle in the water near the rear of your board and and then twist your torso to the right while sweeping your paddle forward in a semicircle.
This technique works the same on the opposite side of the board as well.
Another easy way to turn is to simply use your paddle as a brake by dragging it in the water or paddling backward on the side that you want to turn toward.
Don’t Forget To Do The Most Important Thing
All of this stuff sounds way more complicated written down than it actually is when you go do it. The important thing is that you go out there and that you just do it. While technique is important and can help you, it isn’t more important than having fun. Fun is what paddleboarding is all about and if you aren’t having fun then you aren’t doing it right.
Some great instructions here. it gives me some insight on what skills are required. i am looking at getting the whole family in the water this summer , and this sport will be a great activity that we can all have a go at. Thanks
Thanks Carl! Be sure to check back later this week, I will be posting an article about stand up paddle boards for kids. There aren’t a lot of options out there for kids but I am researching them to see what’s available.
Thanks for the guide. I’ve been looking at a Paddle board for some time but have been getting confused with the different types out there, so this guide has been really helpful. I’ve seen the Wavestorm ones which seem to have some good feedback and look good for beginners. Do you think it will suit a starter for the first few years?
I’m glad you liked the guide Bailey.
Yes the Wavestorm is a very popular board for beginners. It should last you several years until you have more experience and are ready to upgrade. I wrote a review on the Wavestorm here.
Hey loved the article! Lots of good information on how to get started paddleboarding. I’m thinking that the Wavestorm may be the best way for me to go as I’m a beginner. Thanks for the informative article!
I’m glad you liked it, Jamil! You can read my review on the Wavestorm here.
Great article and fantastic instructions! Last year my brother-in-law tried to teach me how to paddle board and I totally failed! It was in Vero Beach, Florida and the ocean was a bit rough that day. Swore I’d never do it again, lol. But after reading this…I just might give it another go. Thanks!
You will have better luck in calmer water. Try a lake or river next time!
Very detailed and informative. Learning how to stand up paddle is no easy task for most, but the information you provide here will definitely provide a head start! I really like that you advise people to tell inform at least one other person that they will be going out, certainly a good idea!
I’m glad you liked the article, Julie!
Yes, it’s important to not end up like the guy from 127 Hours.
hey great blog so far. I would like to get some guidelines about paddle boarding. Can you please give me some more details?