How to Paddle Board: A Beginner’s Guide to the Basics

If you’ve been by a beach, lake, or river lately, then the chances are high that you’ll have seen people gliding effortlessly across the water on paddle boards. That’s because stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is one of the fastest-growing watersports and an activity that’s accessible to almost everyone at any fitness level.

Have you ever wondered how to paddleboard and what equipment you need? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to see our complete paddle boarding beginner’s guide.

What Is Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)?

Paddle boarding is a watersport that was inspired by surfing. The original paddle boarders used their arms to move through the water while either kneeling, lying, or standing on a surfboard. This evolved into standup paddle boarding, in which riders using a paddle or pole to propel themselves. Modern SUP is credited to Hawaii’s legendary Waikiki Beachboys, such as John Ah Choy and Duke Kahanamoku.

Standup paddle boarding as we know it today can be likened to a blend of surfing and kayaking. You use the paddle to generate speed. People practice it everywhere, from rolling ocean waves to placid lake waters (the perfect place for beginners). You can even hop on a board and explore with your dog, kid, friend, or life partner. Why not bring a buddy along?

What Gear Do You Need to Paddleboard?

You might want to rent equipment or borrow from a friend when paddle boarding for the first time. Then, if you feel that the freedom of cruising across bodies of water is for you, you can think about kitting yourself out.

A Board

Standup paddle boards come in many shapes and sizes and are made from a variety of different materials. There are boards specifically designed for riding waves, fishing, long-distance touring, and floating yoga. A choice board is generally determined by a rider’s weight, height, and skill, in addition to the intended use of the board and the local water conditions.

Paddle boarding novices should opt for a long and wide board that offers plenty of stability. The most traditional are epoxy boards that feature an expanded polystyrene (EPS) core with several layers of fiberglass around the outside. Alternative beginner's boards are soft top, inflatable, and foam boards.
If you aren’t sure, take the South Bay Board Co. quiz to determine which board is right for you.


A Paddle

Now you’ve got your board, next up is a paddle. Paddles come in a range of material constructions such as aluminum, carbon fiber, plastic, and wood. They resemble an extended canoe paddle with a teardrop-shaped blade that’s bent at a minimal angle—this provides more forward reach with each stroke.
As a general rule, a SUP paddle should reach up to your wrist when you lift your arm straight above your head. Adjustable paddles are common—you can share one with friends and adjust it when it's your turn.

A Leash

A leash is vital when paddle boarding because it keeps your board close when you fall or jump off. Paddleboard leashes are designed to be fixed to the back of a board and then attached to the ankle with a soft velcro strap. Never go on the open water without your leash. Without one, your board can float away from you in currents and become a danger to others if floating around freely.

A Personal Floating Device (PFD)

Paddle boards are classified as vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard when used outside of bathing, surfing, and swimming areas. As such, there’re some recommendations and requirements to adhere to.

• Paddlers aged 13 or older must have a USCG-approved PFD with them at all times (although it’s not required to be worn).

• Any child aged 12 or under must wear a USCG-approved lifejacket.

• Paddle boarders must carry a whistle to warn other boaters of dangers and
emergencies.

• Flashlights are compulsory if paddling after sunset.


Appropriate Clothing

When the water temperature is warmer during the summer months, most paddlers opt to wear board shorts or a swimsuit with either a short or long-sleeved rash guard. When water temperatures drop, it's wise to use a wetsuit or drysuit—they offer buoyancy and protection from possible hypothermia.

Paddle Boarding Beginner's Guide: Basic SUP Techniques

With just a small amount of instruction, most first-timers can go from not knowing a thing about how to paddle board to standing up on their first ride.

How to Stand Up

1. Carry the board by its center handle until you are knee-deep in water (or to a depth where the fin is above the waterbed), then set the board down.

2. Grab the board by its edges and then move onto it in a kneeling position (knees
shoulder-width apart)—aim for the point just behind the center.

3. Maintain a firm hold on the board and then move your feet one at a time to where your knees were. You should now be in a squat position.

4. Slowly raise from the squat to an upright position, and maintain a slight bend in the knees.

How to Find Your Balance

1. Make sure that your feet are parallel and hip-width apart.
2. Point your toes forward, bend your knees, and straighten your back.
3. Look forward to the horizon and not down at the board.

How to Fall (It’s Going to Happen) and Get Back Up

1. When you feel a fall coming, aim to hit the water to the side of the board—falling
directly onto the board brings a higher risk of injury.
2. Try to keep hold of the paddle; otherwise, you’ll have to paddle with your hands to retrieve it.
3. Get back up by approaching the board at its central point.
4. Hold the handle, and then slide yourself up.
5. Use your legs to kick for some extra momentum.

How to Hold the Paddle

• Correct hand positions on the paddle will make paddling easier and less tiring.
• Hold the grip at the top of the paddle with your inside hand and the shaft with your outside hand.
• If paddling on the left, the left hand goes on the shaft and the right hand on the grip.
• If paddling on the right, the right hand goes on the shaft and the left hand on the grip.
• Rotate hand positions when switching paddling sides.

Have Fun Learning How to Paddleboard

Stand up paddle boarding is a leisurely activity and full-body workout rolled into one. To start, choose a place that’s quiet, has calm water, and is free of obstacles, such as a lake. Once you build confidence, you can move on to gentle ocean beaches and discover the joy of paddling into waves.

Get paddling!