Ultimate Guide To Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

Ultimate Guide To Stand Up Paddleboarding

There’s no doubt that stand up paddleboarding has become increasingly popular over the last few years around the world. It’s a fantastic sport with several benefits that can be enjoyed recreationally as well as on a more challenging level. But how do you get started?

If you’re interested in trying out paddleboarding for the first time then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a definitive guide that will teach you everything you need to know about how to SUP.

> Paddleboard vs Kayak

Why Paddleboarding Can Be Good For You

Aside from being good fun, there are several benefits to stand up paddleboarding.

Strength & Fitness

Ultimate Guide to SUP Fitness and Strength

Though it may look easy, SUP is in fact a full body workout.

Staying upright and balanced uses your leg, core and abdominal muscles, whilst the act of paddling gives your arms, shoulders and back a good workout too. As a result, you will strengthen your core, improve your balance and increase your overall strength. 

Once you’ve got the basics, it can also be good for cardio exercise too, particularly if you race your friends or chase some waves. And as your skills develop and you spend more and more time on the water, you will notice your overall stamina increasing too.

Mental Health

What’s good for the body is often good for the soul and SUP is no exception. Being out on the water in the fresh air getting the blood flowing is great for stress relief.

It’s also great for relaxation. As you stand on top of the board, you have a unique view of the water (and marine life below the surface) and your surroundings that you wouldn’t get by swimming or kayaking. It’s perfect for some alone time away from the world, taking in your beautiful and natural surroundings.

And if stress relief and relaxation are a priority of yours, you might want to check out the increasingly popular exercise regime of paddleboard yoga.

Where Can I Paddle, And When?

Generally speaking, wherever there is a safe body of water, there is an opportunity for paddle-boarding. There are hundreds of State Parks scattered across the US that will have plenty of options.

Adventurous paddlers explore rivers, creeks, lakes, reservoirs and surf-ridden beaches all year-round. With the more adventurous options, there are several safety precautions to consider which we will discuss below.

For beginners however, there are certainly optimum conditions for learning to SUP.

Where?

Woman SUP Stand Up Paddling At Sunrise

Beginners should stick to calm bodies of water such as lakes, reservoirs or beaches with very little surf or swell. The basics of SUP are fairly easy to grasp but you should give yourself the best possible chance of learning the skills by avoiding choppy waters and waves.

You should also be mindful of how many other activities are occurring around you. A lake may be calm when nobody is on it, but add some speedboats and jet skis and you suddenly have wakes and waves to worry about as well as moving objects to avoid.

When?

You can technically paddle-board all year round providing that the water is not frozen and that you have the correct clothing and equipment. Beginners however should stick to the warmer months.

Many rental companies in the US only operate between Memorial Day and Labor Day so if you want to give it a go outside these dates, plan ahead and make sure you can rent the equipment you need.

What Do I Need To Get Going?

Essentials

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    A Board (duh!)
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    Paddle
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    Life Jacket (PFD)

The bare essentials for paddle boarding are a board, a paddle and a PFD (Personal Flotation Device - also known as a life jacket). Even if you are a strong swimmer or have no intention of falling in the water, you still need a PFD as a matter of safety.

If you’re paddling in summer, you also need to consider sun protection in the form of sun cream or protective clothing. 

Man In Wetsuit On Beach

Depending on the season and weather conditions, you may not need a wetsuit or a dry suit

For colder months however and water temperatures below 60 degrees, you will need to think about insulation to avoid cold shock.

Extra Safety

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    Straight Leash
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    Helmet
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    Shoes
Leash

Whenever you’re out on the water, safety is paramount. A SUP leash is a piece of equipment that could well save your life if things go wrong. A leash attaches you to your board via a strap on your ankle, calf or waist so if you do fall off, your board won’t float away from you. In perfect conditions, it’s convenient and makes life easier. In difficult conditions it will save your life, ensuring that you have a floatation device nearby.

There are two types of leashes - coiled and straight. The straight leash is the most commonly used leash for recreational SUP, usually strapped around the ankle. Many racers or whitewater paddlers use coiled leashes as it keeps the board closer to you, making it easier to retrieve and re-join the race.

Helmet & Shoes

Depending on where you are paddling, you may also want to consider helmet and shoes. This is not necessary on lakes or reservoirs where your feet or head won’t hit any hard surfaces, but if you are paddling in a creek or river or anywhere with rocky terrain, you might want to consider adding these as a precaution.

How To Choose A Paddle Board

Hulls

The first decision you will need to make when picking out a paddle board is what type of hull you want. This essentially refers to the shape of the board. There are two types of hulls: planing or displacement.

SUP Boards - four

As a beginner, you will probably want the planing hull as it is wider and more stable. If you’re an advanced paddler looking to gain a bit of speed, you could look at the displacement hull as it is thinner and designed to cut through the water faster.

Hardshell SUPs

You will then need to decide between a hardshell SUP or an inflatable. Hardshells are generally easier to maneuver in the water and are often considered more stable making them a great option for beginners.

Inflatable SUPs

Inflate Inflatable SUP

Inflatables are easier to transport and store (as they pack down to the size of a rucksack). The technology behind the making of inflatable SUPs has developed dramatically in recent years so don’t be put off by the idea, they are widely used by recreational and hard-core paddlers alike.

Fins

Fins are used to improve tracking and stability on your SUP. They come in various shapes and sizes. As a general rule, larger fins will provide more stability than smaller ones. Smaller fins however make your board easier to maneuver.

Most fins are removable so you can try different shapes and see what works best for you. You can also have fins on an inflatable SUP. Some will come with rubber fins attached whilst others have detachable semi-rigid fins.

There are also several ways of setting up your fins.

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    Single fin - Great for calm, still waters.
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    3-fin / Thruster setup - Provides better tracking, especially on still waters. It’s also a great option for paddling in the surf as it offers more control.
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    2+1 Setup - This consists of one larger fin in the center with two smaller fins on either side. This combination is best used for surf paddling.

Volume and Weight Capacity

Finally, you need to make sure that the board has the correct weight capacity and volume for you. This will be determined by the length, width and thickness of the board.

As a general rule, the longer, wider and thicker the board, the higher the weight capacity and more stable the board becomes. The thinner the board, the more speed you are able to gain but most beginners will just want something stable to learn the basics of paddling.

Safety First: Before You Start Paddling

As we’ve already mentioned, it is possible to go paddle boarding throughout the year as long as you are prepared with the right clothing and equipment. Things can change quickly on the water so you need to be prepared.

Here are some things to consider before setting off:

Weather Conditions

How warm or cold is the water? Cold shock and hypothermia can kill and can occur in waters as warm as 60 degrees. It’s therefore imperative that you check the water temperature before setting off and use a wetsuit for warmth if required. If the temperature is below 45 degrees, even a wetsuit can’t help you and you should opt for a dry suit.

Water Conditions

Calm, still waters such as lakes, reservoirs or beaches without much surf are best for beginners. Ensure that you have enough space and that you are not battling against others such as surfers or jet skiers.

Sun Protection

Sunburn back

As little as 10 minutes of exposure to the sun can cause sun burn and subsequently skin cancer.

Make sure you are adequately protected from the UV rays via sun cream or a rash guard.

Stand Up Paddling: Techniques For Beginners

How To Stand Up On The Board

Learning to get on to your board is best done in shallow water. Put your board in water that roughly comes up to your knees and place your paddle across it, just ahead of the center.

Facing your paddle, get both your knees on to the board, resting them either side of the carry handle at the center. This is referred to by many as “the sweet spot” as it’s the perfect position for keeping you and your board balanced.

You should now be kneeling on the board, facing forward with your hands over your paddle handle and resting on the deck.

Woman Paddleboard Knees

Once you’re comfortable with your balance in this position, raise one leg and place the foot in front of you so that you are kneeling on one knee (with one leg bent at a 90 degree angle). Then, bring your second leg forward to meet it. You should now be in a squat position with your hands keeping you balanced.

When you’re ready, lift yourself up from the squat position (using your legs to push you up, not your back). You should lift the paddle at the same time. Once you are standing up right, insert the paddle in to the water for extra balance.

How To Stay On The Board

Your posture will determine how stable you are on the board. You should stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. This will make it easier for you to absorb any shock or movement from the water and stop you from toppling over. Keep your body and eyes looking forward and use the paddle for balance.

How To Hold Your Paddle And Stroke

Prone paddling

This is done by lying on your stomach on the board and using your arms to paddle forward (like a surfer). It can be used to move quickly and efficiently in to an ideal place for paddling. So as a beginner if you need to avoid some other paddlers, find a quiet spot before attempting to stand or need to retrieve your paddle after falling off, you can use the prone position to do just that.

Knee paddling

Once again, as a beginner if you are nervous to stand or find yourself in choppy waters, you can move by paddling from a kneeling position until you are confident enough to stand.

Forward Paddle

The main thing to remember when paddling is that the majority of the work will come from your core (with a little help from your arms). Hold the top end of the paddle in one hand and use the other hand to hold further down the paddle. Remember to keep your arms strong and straight. Place the paddle in the water, push down slightly and then back through the water.

Naturally, the boat will turn slightly depending on which side you’re paddling from so remember to alternate sides regularly to move forward in a relatively straight line.

Top tip: Make sure that the entire blade goes in the water. Many people only put half or two-thirds of the blade in which means they are putting in the same effort but getting less value out of their stroke. The paddle is designed to be fully immersed in the water.

Top tip: Make sure that the entire blade goes in the water. Many people only put half or two-thirds of the blade in which means they are putting in the same effort but getting less value out of their stroke. The paddle is designed to be fully immersed in the water.

Sweep Strokes

This stroke is used to turn the board around. Hold the top of the handle with one hand like normal then place your second hand a little higher than you would for a forward paddle. Place the blade in the water and then sweep in the form of a wide semi-circle from front to back.

A Reverse Sweep Stroke can also be used to turn the board around. Apply the same movement as you would a forward sweep stroke but starting from the back and moving forward.

Oh, And You're Going To Fall In The Drink! (but don't worry)

Falling off your board is an inevitable part of paddle boarding. It can even be half the fun! You shouldn’t fall in too often, but if and when you do, don’t panic… it happens to even the best paddlers.

Stay calm, retrieve your board, and perform the prone paddle technique until you have retrieved your paddle. Then, you can repeat the process of standing up again, or keep prone or knee paddling until you are comfortable.

Falling Off Paddle Board - And Getting Back On
Wrapping Up

Paddle-boarding is a fun activity for all ages and ability levels. It’s fairly easy to grasp the basics and provides a full body workout. It’s also great for stress relief and relaxation. It can be done as a calming solo exercise or for a great day out with friends and family.

In summer, all you need is a board, paddle, PFD and some sun cream and you are good to go! In colder waters, make sure you are prepared with the correct clothing to avoid cold shock or hypothermia.

Don’t be afraid to fall off your board, it happens to experienced and pro paddlers too. Just embrace the fun of learning, relax and enjoy the view.

Ultimate Guide To Stand Up Paddle Boarding