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By: Karl Beckmen,
Paddle Boarding Enthusiast

Paddle Boarding 101:

Beginners Guide to Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Looking for an exciting and easy-to-learn hobby? Do you enjoy the outdoors and want to do something active? Are you considering an activity that can be done both casually and competitively? Something that can be enjoyed alone or with company?

Check the yes box to these questions, and stand up paddle boarding may be just what you’re looking for.

Easily accessible, available for all ages, and not at all hard to learn, it’s unsurprising that paddle boarding is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the world. A great way to explore nature, improve your fitness, or enjoy time with friends and family, a stand up paddle boarding is a dynamic hobby that offers an abundance of recreational and competitive opportunities.

But before diving headfirst into stand up paddle boarding, you may be asking yourself a number of questions:

  • How do I get started?
  • How do I choose a board?
  • How do I even learn to stand up paddle board?

The answer to all these: keep reading.

We’ve put together the most comprehensive beginners guide to stand up paddle boarding you can find. From explaining the various activities you can perform with a SUP, to breaking down how to find the right board, to balancing for the first time and becoming a paddling extraordinaire – we’ve made it easy to get you out on the water enjoying the SUP life.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand up paddle boarding is defined by standing upright on the board and using a paddle to move through the water.

What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

Stand up paddle boarding, often shortened to SUP, is a specific variation of the broader water-based activity that is paddle boarding. Whereas traditional paddle boarding refers to the act of propelling oneself via a butterfly-like swim stroke while kneeling or lying down on a surf or paddle board, stand up paddle boarding is defined by standing upright on the board and using a paddle to move through the water.

With its origins traced across several continents and purposes ranging between fishing, warfare, and even early modes of recreation, the act of stand up paddle boarding goes back centuries. It’s documented that Peruvian fishermen stood on rafts and moved themselves in the sea using a bamboo shoot. It’s also noted that certain Africa tribes used their spears as paddles while standing in their canoes to go undetected by enemies. Additionally, the iconic gondoliers of Venice, standing in their boats and maneuvering with a long pole, have been practicing a form of stand up paddle boarding since the medieval times.

The modern variant of stand up paddle boarding we engage in today has its roots in the Hawaiin surf scene of the 1940s. Through surfing teachers wanting a better vantage point to view their students, as well as a handful of surfers wanting assistance in accessing and riding waves, standing on a surfboard and using a paddle became a rare but existing exercise. But for years, paddle boarding remained a seldom used subclass of surfing, only increasing in popularity over the past two decades.

Spurred in part by the advent of inflatable paddle boards, stand up paddle boarding is today a popular outdoor activity throughout much of the world. Growing out of a modification to surfing, there are now various types of activities people can undertake on a stand up paddle board.

Getting Started: How to Paddle Board

Choosing a Paddle Board

Congratulations! You’ve decided to make stand up paddle boarding your new hobby. Perhaps you’ve tried it a few times during vacation and now want to devote more of your free time to it. Or perhaps you’ve never stood on a paddle board in your life, but it looks like so much fun you’ve decided to dive in. Whatever your situation, one thing is certain: you need a stand up paddle board. But as alluded to above, choosing the right paddle board is not always a straightforward task. There are various types of stand up paddle boards suited for various activities, with various nuances separating certain models from each other and making some boards better options than others. Is it complicated? Maybe a little bit. Do we make it easy for you? You bet. Inflatable SUP vs Hard SUP When beginning the process of purchasing a stand up paddle board, one of the first elements to consider is whether you want an inflatable paddle board or a hard paddle board. The basic difference between inflatable and hard paddle boards is the material they’re made of. A hard board, which is the traditional stand up paddle board structure, consists of an EPS foam core coated by layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin – common surfboard materials. Inflatable paddle boards obviously feature an air-fill core. The core is wrapped by a flexible, polyester-thread fabric material called drop stitch, which is surrounded by layers of pliant PVC material.

Performance

As far as performance goes, it still depends largely on the shape and build of the board, regardless of whether it’s a hard SUP or inflatable SUP. Given their structural similarities to surfboards, hard stand up paddle boards are typically regarded as better performance boards than their air-filled counterparts. Though heavier and more difficult to balance on, hard paddle boards provide optimal glide through rough and smooth water, as well as agility and wave-riding ability. Inflatable boards, however, aren’t necessarily wanting for performance. In fact, with substantial advancements in their materials and construction process over the past decade, many high-quality inflatable SUPs provide performance – whether in racing, surfing, or any other SUP activity – that is comparable, and in some cases better, than many hard boards.

Durability

One of the many perks of inflatable SUPs is their durability. With military grade PVC forming an incredibly stiff yet flexible surface, quality inflatable boards can run into rocks or take a fall in the parking lot without suffering damage. The same cannot be said of hard SUPs, which scratch and ding somewhat easily if run into a hard surface. Additionally, the forgiving surface of an inflatable board is less like to cause injury than a hard board should you fall on your board. But while inflatable SUPs are more resistant to everyday wear and tear than hard boards, severe damage, such as the rare but still possible puncture, is more difficult to remedy than a crack or hole in a hard board. While both board types are suitable for most lake and ocean settings, hard boards are not advisable on rivers given the common presence of surface level obstacles (read: rocks that will ruin your beautiful fiberglass board).

Inflatable SUP portability
iSUPs can be easily transported by foot, tossed in the back of a car, and even checked onto a plane as a regular piece of luggage.

Transport

A major advantage to owning an inflatable SUP is the portability. Once dried off and deflated after use, inflatable boards are incredibly easy to transport. Lightweight and often coming with their own carrying backpack, iSUPs can be easily transported by foot, tossed in the back of a car, and even checked onto a plane as a regular piece of luggage. Hard boards do not enable such a luxury. Fixed in their form, hard boards require either a car with enough trunk space or a special roof rack to transport via vehicle. With air travel, hard boards are regarded as surfboards, usually garnering extra fees as “oversize” baggage. If there’s any downside to transporting inflatable boards, it’s that inflating and deflating your board before and after each use could grow wearisome. But if it is possible to leave your board inflated, iSUPs are usually lighter weight and easier to haul than hard boards.

Storage

Just as with transport, the fact that inflatable paddle boards can be easily deflated gives them a huge advantage in the storage department. When deflated, inflatable boards can be easily stored in a cool, dry place indoors until next use. The same can not always be said for a hard board, as indoor storage depends on how much space you have to spare. While storing hard or inflatable boards outside in a covered area (such as under a deck) is not the worst storage option, it isn’t advisable in the long term. Even if kept out of the sun and rain, SUPs are better off inside than outside when not in use if you want them to last as long as possible. That said, keeping both hard and inflatable boards out of direct sunlight when not in use is imperative, as prolonged exposure to UV rays leads to color fading and structural damage.

SUP features to consider

Rocker

“Rocker” refers to how the nose of a stand up paddle board is situated in the water. A high or large rocker means the nose is turned upward out of the water, while a low or small rocker means the nose lays flat across the water.  

  • Almost exclusively used on whitewater boards, high rockers are present to keep the nose from being submerged while gliding over the water.
  • Standard on touring and racing boards, a low rocker enables greater glide and speed by placing more of the board in contact with the surface of the water.
  • Most all-around and many surfing SUPs feature a moderate rocker, allowing for reasonable speed and mobility, but also ensuring solid stability.
  • A general rule to remember is that high rockers provide better stability but less speed, while low rockers offer better speed but less stability.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
High nose Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

Fins

The fins found on the bottom of a SUP are responsible for stabilizing the direction of the board and keeping it straight as you paddle. Most stand up paddle boards feature either a single center fin, or three fins positioned in a triangular shape.  

  • Supporting tracking and minimizing drag, a single fin is best for flatwater paddling, racing, and touring.
  • A three-fin arrangement offers even more tracking stability and maneuverability, but does create more resistance than a single fin, making it best suited for choppy water and waves.
  • Fortunately, most quality SUPs feature a removable fin system, meaning you can change out fins depending on your activity and water conditions.
Three fins Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board positioned in a triangular shape.
Three fins iSUP

Deck Pad

Varying in size, thickness, and texture, deck pads cover the space on the board where you and possibly a companion are meant to be standing. It may seem menial, but for some SUP activities the deck pad can make a huge difference in performance and enjoyment.  

  • The main thing to consider is thickness, as the thicker the deckpad, the softer and more comfortable it will be, making a thicker deck pad ideal for yoga or lengthy tours.
  • A thicker deck pad may also be worth considering if you’re a beginner, as a softer pad provides a safer surface to break falls – which are often part of the learning process.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board with thicker deck pad
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board with thicker deck pad

Rails

The rails, or edges, of a SUP influence a board’s turning ability and speed. Rails vary in thickness and shape, with shapes varying from hard (angular) to soft (rounded).  

  • Soft rails, as seen on yoga and all-around boards, provide great stability but hinder speed.
  • Hard rails, as seen on surfing, touring, and racing boards, allow the board to better cut through the water – improving speed and agility but mitigating stability.
  • In short: thin, hard rails maximize speed and agility but give less stability. Thick, soft rails maximize stability but lessen speed and agility.

Hull

As the body of a SUP beneath its deck, the hull plays a critical role in the performance of your stand up paddle board. While there are boards that have a hybrid hull, the two main types of hulls seen on SUPs are either a planing hull or a displacement hull.  

  • Flat, wide, and with a rounded front, a planing hull sits atop the water, allowing the board to ride over waves, rather than through them. Seen on yoga and all-around, planing hulls provide stability and maneuverability at the detriment of speed.
  • Displacement hulls have angular sides coming to a pointed front, which cuts through the water rather than moving over top of it (in other words, it displaces the water). Found on touring and racing SUPs, displacement hulls provide greater speed and tracking than planing hulls, but at the cost of some balance and maneuverability.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board Hull
Displacement hull type of Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

What type of SUP do you need?

Exact measurements and features differ depending on brand, so the dimensions and features described are generalizations of each board type.

Find out which type of board is best suited for you, and also have a look at our master list of the best stand up paddle boards currently on the market.

All-Around

The most common shape for beginners, but also fit for advanced stand up paddle boarders, all-around boards are a reliable build fit for a variety of activities.

  • All-around boards feature a wide surface with rounded nose and tail, moderate rocker, and planer haul.
  • While offering excellent stability, all-around boards can lack in speed and agility compared to the streamlined shape of other board types.
  • General all-around boards perform best in calm water and are well suited for casual paddling, yoga, fishing. However, there are also plenty of performance-based all-around models that are adept for touring, surfing, and racing.

Touring

Providing a step-up in performance compared to most all-around boards, touring SUPs are built for better speed and efficiency.

  • Narrower and often longer than all-around boards, with pointed nose, flat tail, low or no rocker, and displacement hull, touring boards are built to cut through the water rather than ride on top of it.
  • This build offers more speed, sharper turning, and better tracking (i.e. stay on line) than all-around boards.
  • The narrow build and displacement haul makes for less stability than one gets with an all-around board.
  • Usually fitted with ample cargo space, touring boards are ideal for long excursions, but also fit for fishing, racing, and casual paddling.

Racing

Similar to touring boards but even more specialized for performance, racing boards provide the speed and agility needed to win competitions.

  • Long, narrow, with pointed nose, flat tail, no rocker, and displacement haul, racing boards are built to take you from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • As with the touring boards, the racing build sacrifices stability for speed and maneuverability.
  • If you’re keen on entering SUP competitions or just pushing your physical limits, a racing board may be right for you.

Yoga

While most all-around SUPs are fine for yoga, there are specific boards made to enhance the yoga experience.

  • Custom-yoga boards tend to be wider than a standard all-around, with rounded nose and tail for optimal stability and a large, extra-soft deck pad for space and comfort.
  • While they sorely lack in speed and agility, if you plan on your primary SUP activity being yoga, a yoga-specific board is definitely worth considering.

Surfing

As with yoga, there are many all-around boards geared towards surfing, but only a surfing-specific SUP can give you the very best performance in riding waves.  

  • Longer surfing SUPs provide better stability and straight-line riding, especially for heavier riders, while shorter boards allow for dynamic agility and mobility on the waves.
  • Surfing SUPs tend to have a rounded body, pointed nose, medium rocker, and flat tail.
  • Surfing SUPs aren’t ideal for straight-line speed (i.e. not for racing), but they certainly accommodate casual paddling if you want a break from catching waves.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Longer surfing SUPs provide better stability and straight-line riding

General Rules to Keep in Mind

The length, width, and thickness all work together to give a SUP particular qualities and make it better suited for certain riders, activities, and conditions over others. That said, there are few general rules to understand when considering which stand up paddle board is right for you.  

Length

  • Short boards tend to be best for surfing and for kids. Generally featuring a planing hull, short boards (less than 10’) are ideal for carving waves and not so ideal for straight line speed. For adults, they are also less stable than longer boards.
  • Mid-length boards (10’-12’) are often the most balanced boards – longer than a surfing SUP, but shorter and wider than a touring or racing board. All-around and yoga boards typically fall into this length class.
  • Long boards (12’+) are usually narrower and have displacement hulls, making them the fastest boards you can find (touring and racing). However, long boards can also have extra width, which provide more stability and are more fit for multiple riders.
  • In general: the shorter the board, the better maneuverability

Width

  • The wider the board, the easier it is to balance on.
  • If stability is an issue for you, maybe stay away from the narrower boards, at least until you’re more comfortable balancing on a SUP.
  • Wider boards are also slower than narrow boards, and depending on how wide the board is in relation to your body type, it can actually be tough to paddle or balance.
  • If you’re smaller, a narrow board will be easier to balance on than if you have a large build. Be sure to keep in mind your body type as you’re deciding on a board, especially with regard to its width.

Thickness

  • The thicker the board, the more weight it can support.
  • Even if you’re looking for a narrow racing board for the utmost speed, if you’re a heavier rider, you’re going to want to consider a thicker board.
  • A thinner board may also be fit for a heavier rider if the rider wants more responsive steering, which can be the case when it comes to surfing.
  • Remember to check the weight capacity of any boards you’re interested in. This is especially important if you plan on taking long excursions and hauling gear, or if you want to bring your dog on board, or even a second rider, as you’ll want to be sure your SUP can support both yourself and anything else you bring on board.
Thick Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Thick Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

Important Equipment

Paddle

The venerable paddle: the most important piece of stand up paddle board equipment. Without it, a SUP is little more than a sturdy chunk of synthetic driftwood.

Simple as they may seem though, not all paddles are created equal. While many, if not almost all stand up paddle boards provide a paddle with the board purchase, it is worth considering all your options.
Paddle Elements to Consider

Weight

Depending on how long you’re out on the water, even marginal differences in paddle weight can make a big difference in your SUP experience.

  • If you plan on using your SUP predominately for casual paddling, yoga, or other laid back activities, the weight of your paddle should not be a huge concern.
  • If you plan to embark on long tours or compete in races, lighter paddles will help prolong stamina and boost performance.
Stiffness
  • Depending on your upper body strength or if you have any issues with your shoulders, arms, or wrists (i.e. prior injuries, ongoing soreness), you may want to consider a paddle that gives a little.
  • Despite the general description of stiff paddles providing the highest performance, be sure to consider the fact that a stiff paddle won’t necessarily provide you the best performance depending on personal factors.
Size

Like your SUP itself, finding the correct size for your paddle is a crucial step to getting the most enjoyment and performance out of your SUP experience.

  • For a standard sizing, your paddle – with the edge of the blade flat on the ground – should stretch vertically to about 3-4 inches over your head.
  • Another way of measuring is to stretch your top arm up over your head and size the paddle so your hand can comfortably grip the top of the handle.
  • Remember that these measurements are just standard guidelines, as the main factors in sizing a paddle should be your own personal preferences and intended activities.
  • Shorter paddles are best for choppy conditions and waves, while longer paddles are better off in flatwater.
  • SUP surfing is best performed with a shorter paddle to allow for better control and agility on the waves.
  • For touring and racing, a longer paddle is recommended to enable more powerful straight line strokes.

Adjustable Paddles vs Fixed Paddles

Another element of SUP paddle sizing to consider is whether an adjustable or fixed paddle is right for you.

  • Despite being regarded as beginners paddles, adjustable paddles offer the utmost convenience in being able to shift the size to fit a particular activity or change in preference.
  • Adjustable paddles are also usually capable of being deconstructed into two or three pieces, making them more transport-friendly than the fixed variety.
  • If you see yourself using your SUP for a wide range of activities or traveling often with your board, the versatility of an adjustable paddle may be just what you’re looking for.
  • Fixed paddles are the style of choice for those seeking peak performance.
  • Made from a single piece of material, fixed length paddles tend to be lighter, stiffer, and more durable than their adjustable counterparts – providing more power and greater efficiency with each stroke.
  • Fixed length paddles are ideal for racing and touring, but obviously necessitate more focus on finding the correct size.

Paddle Shafts

  • Aluminum: common in classic beginners paddles, aluminum is the most affordable paddle option – though not as lightweight, rigid, or durable as carbon fiber or fiberglass. Usually featuring a plastic handle and often a plastic blade, aluminum paddles are more susceptible to wear and tear, and are prone to faster sinking if dropped in the water
  • Fiberglass: the mid-level paddle material, fiberglass paddles represent a notable step up in paddling performance from aluminum or plastic. Light, stiff, and more durable than the other two, a fiberglass paddle is a quality option to consider for more efficient leisure paddling, as well as touring or surfing.
  • Carbon Fiber: the cream of the crop, carbon fiber is the lightest, stiffest, and more durable paddle shaft material on the market. Carbon fiber shafts provide the best power and performance when it comes to powering through waves, cruising through calm water, and making precise maneuvers. Though usually the most expensive kind of SUP paddle, a carbon fiber paddle is ideal for touring, surfing, racing, and anyone desiring the very best in their paddleboard performance.
  • Wood: Wood paddles are a bit of a wild card. On the one hand, it’s hard not to love the timeless aesthetic of a finely crafted wooden paddle. Depending on the quality, the performance of the old-fashioned material can be quite good as well. However, top quality wooden paddles can be as heavy as they are pricey and are probably not ideal for touring or competitive activities.

Paddle Blades

SUP paddle blades can be made from plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or wood. Carbon fiber or fiberglass are the best bets for lightweight performance, but unlike shafts, your blade of choice is more contingent on your preferred shape than anything.

  • A tear-drop blade is wide and rounded at the bottom, which catches more water upon placing it in the water. With more surface area in contact with the water, tear-drop blades offer a powerful but heavier stroke – making them ideal for a slower paddling rhythm.
  • A rectangular blade is flat and narrower at the bottom than the tear-drop. With less surface area touching the water upon initial placement, rectangular blades offer a crisp, easy stroke compared to the tear-drop shape, making them optimal for up-tempo paddling.
  • Another blade element to be aware of is offset. Offset refers to angle of the blade and the degree to which it’s pitched forward from the shaft.
  • The greater the offset, the less vertical the blade lies in relation to the shaft. The less vertical the blade when dipped into the water, the more power can be generated from each stroke.
  • While offset shouldn’t be a huge concern when it comes to casual paddling, it is something to keep in mind if you plan on racing or touring.

Based on SUP activity, ideal blade offsets are as follows:
Standard Paddling & Mixed Use: 10 degrees
Racing & Touring: 12 degrees
Surfing: 7 degrees

Paddle Blades
A tear-drop paddle blades

Personal Floatation Device

As with any activity revolving around watercraft, a personal floatation device (PFD) is an absolutely essential piece of equipment to have while stand up paddle boarding. While it’s required by law on many bodies of water to wear, or at least have PFD on board your SUP, such policy should be applied no matter when or where you paddle board.

Though a personal floatation device may seem extreme for an activity as laid back as stand up paddle boarding, there’s an endless list of examples that indicates otherwise. Be it a violent current, volatile weather, a bad fall, the overestimation of your own stamina, or a punctured or broken board, there are countless reasons to always have a PFD on hand while out on your SUP.

In most scenarios, it will never come into play. In the rare, worst case scenario, it could possibly save your life.

There are a few different options to consider when deciding on a PFD.

  • The most standard PFD is the classic, “always on” inflatable you know as a life jacket. Life jackets are an affordable PFD option that require zero effort to put into practice beyond strapping it on. For basic stand up paddle boarding on calm water (i.e. not white water or surfing), a thin life jacket is a solid option to keep you afloat in the water while staying out of your way while paddling. This is a popular PFD for beginners.
  • Another option is the low-profile PFD. Low profile PFDs feature inflated padding on the chest and back, but not over the shoulders as a standard life vest does. This allows for more shoulder and upper body mobility, making it easier to paddle in any water conditions.
  • The most serious, heavy duty personal floatation device out there is a rescue PFD. Most common for use in river, whitewater, and other strenuous paddle boarding conditions, rescue PFDs feature a low profile build but with added protection and perks. In addition to strong “always on” floatation, most rescue-style life vests contain a releasable belt to tether to objects, external latches to carry extra utilities, and a series of pockets for survivalist accessories.
  • The least obtrusive PFD option is the self-inflating belt pack. Worn around the waste and resembling a fanny pack, the pack inflates in emergencies via a manually operated pull-string. Though lacking the reassurance of an “always on” device, the self-inflating belt pack allows for the most freedom while paddling and a reliable back stop in calm waters.

When choosing between a standard, “always on” PFD and a self-inflating PFD, be sure keep in mind the following factors:

  • Maintenance: “Always on” PFDs require little to no maintenance, while self-inflating PFDs require attention to ensure they function correctly and a new CO2 canister after every inflation.
  • Automatic vs Manual: “Always on” requires zero effort on your part to ensure you don’t sink like a rock when falling into the water. Self-inflating PFDs require your attention and action in order to do their job.
  • Comfort: Despite how streamlined and unobtrusive some “always on” models have become, the self-inflating belts will always offer more freedom of movement and be cooler than PFDs of the standard life vest shape.
  • Your SUP activities: Self-inflating PFDs are not at all advisable for high-speed activities like whitewater, or paddling in rough ocean conditions, as those activities carry the risk of incapacitation and potential of being unable to inflate your PFD. Additionally, kids under the age of 16 are recommended to use an “always on” PFD, no matter the SUP activity or water conditions.

REMEMBER: you can never predict a freak accident. Especially considering you already have a floatation device in your board that you should be attached via an ankle leash (see next section), putting on PFD just to go paddling may seem like overkill.

But even if you don’t wear one at all times, it’s at the very least wise to bring one with you on your board. Just in case your inflatable SUP pops or you end up stuck in heavy waves, it’s comforting to know you have a backup floatation device on hand.

On that note, check out some of the best life jackets and vests available right now.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boarders with life jacket

Ankle Leash

Another essential piece of SUP equipment, the ankle leash is what keeps a day of stand up paddle boarding from turning into a day of frantic swimming. As seen on surfers, an ankle leash is a lengthy tether connecting the SUP rider to their board by the ankle, thus promising the board won’t make a dash for the horizon should the rider fall off.

While the ankle leash isn’t the most complex of SUP accessories, it still warrants some thought when making a paddle board purchase.

An ankle leash consists of five components: the cuff, cord, swivel, swing, and rail saver.

  • The cuff is the part that wraps around your ankle, making it the most important part of the ankle leash in regards to comfort. The best quality ankle leash’s feature layered neoprene cuffs with ultra-strong velcro. Cuffs should fit snug around the ankle, tight enough to stay put, but loose enough so you’re not strangling your foot.
  • The swivels attach the cuff to the cord, and often the cord to the leash plug on the board. They allow the cuff to freely rotate without the cord becoming twisted. A sign of a good leash is the presence of swivels on both ends of it, as this makes a huge difference in preventing tangling.
  • The cord is the literal “leash” that extends from your board and keeps you attached to it. Made from polyurethane (an elastic plastic material), surf and SUP cords are designed to withstand forceful stretching without snapping. SUP cords are generally coiled, which helps keep the leash out of the water and prevent drag while paddling, but the traditional straight cord is also an option if preferred. The thicker the coil, the stronger it is – but thicker coils also cause more drag if they do dip in the water.
  • The leash string and rail saver are the parts of the device that you tether to the board. The leash string is a short nylon rope that you tie to the leash plug or D-ring on your board. The rail saver is a layer of velcro you wrap around the string to protect against it cutting into the board, which is a possibility when the string is pulled taught. Not all ankle leashes feature a string, as some have a simple velcro strap to attach to the board.

The one simple rule to keep in mind regarding a SUP ankle leash is to ALWAYS WEAR ONE. Even if you’re paddle boarding in calm, contained waters like a pond or lake, it’s a good habit to keep. Chances are slim you’ll really need it, but if an accident does happen, or if your board tries to escape via current or wind, you’ll be glad to be attached to it.

iSUP Ankle Leash
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board Ankle Leash

Dry Bag

It isn’t mandatory, but unless you’re not bringing any personal items with you on your SUP, a dry bag is extremely useful to have with you. Dry bags are lightweight, waterproof bags that are generally made from tightly woven nylon and a synthetic plastic, such as PVC or polyurethane. The traditional dry bag is more or less an extremely portable sack that is sealed by tightly rolling the top down 2-3 times and then attaching the sides via a buckle.

  • Smaller dry bags can safely stow your phone, wallet, keys, and perhaps some snacks while aboard your SUP.
  • Larger, heavy duty bags have space for all the above, plus cloths, food, and other gear, making them ideal for longer SUP excursions.
  • While standard, lightweight dry bags work perfectly fine for most paddle boarding activities, you may want to consider a heavier, more durable PVC bag if you plan on venturing into white water or heavy surf.
  • Regardless of activity or length of trip, a dry bag is always a good idea to bring with you when stand up paddle boarding for the sake of keeping important personal items safe and dry.

For an idea of what to look for in a dry bag, check out this list of the best dry bags on the market.

Sunscreen

This is probably a no-brainer, but given that stand up paddle boarding is an outdoor activity, we wanted to offer a gentle reminder to remember sunscreen on your SUP.

Even if you plan on staying atop your board, and even if you lather up in waterproof sunscreen before setting off from shore, there’s always a chance you end up in the water, and there’s always the possibility of the sunscreen washing or wearing off.

It may depend on the weather, but including at least a small tube of sunscreen in your dry bag never hurts.

Dry bags can safely stow your phone, wallet, keys, and perhaps some snacks while aboard your SUP.
Dry Bag

Wetsuit

It isn’t a necessary piece of equipment for stand up paddle boarding, but depending on various factors, you may well want to wear a wetsuit while on your SUP.  

  • If the water is warm enough and the weather is nice – especially if you’re just casual paddling or touring – a wetsuit is not necessary.
  • If you’re surfing, riding whitewater, or paddle boarding in any conditions that make it likely you’ll end up in the water, a quality wetsuit will ensure you stay warm and comfortable throughout your SUP session.
  • On top of warmth, wetsuits also provide extra padding and protection from abrasions, which is especially nice if you’re engaged in high impact activities on your SUP. If you’re engaged in any such activities but the conditions are too warm for a wetsuit, a good rash guard also protects against abrasions.
  • Even if you don’t plan on getting wet but like to ride in chilly weather or cold water, a wetsuit makes a good safeguard just in case you do find yourself tossed from the board.
Wetsuit
Wetsuit will ensure you stay warm and comfortable throughout your SUP session.

How to Stand Up Paddle Board

You have your paddle board. You have your equipment. You’re ready to take to the water!

But how do you get started on your stand up paddle board? After all, balancing on the board can appear tricky for some who have never tried before.

As tricky as may seem though, standing up and balancing on a paddle board does not take long to master. This is especially so when using a solid beginners board (i.e. a wide all-around board), and when following some simple pointers.

Getting on and standing up on your paddle board

  • When learning to stand up paddle board, you want to begin in flat water, such as that of a lake or bay. Waves and river currents will only make things more difficult.
  • Start the process by putting your board in the water deep enough so the fin doesn’t touch the bottom.
  • Lay your paddle horizontally across the front of the deck pad, steady the board with your hands on the edges, and mount the middle of the board on your knees.
  • Before trying to stand up, first find your balance while kneeling, begin paddling while still on your knees, and get accustomed to the feel of the board on the water.
  • When you feel comfortable balancing and maneuvering the board while kneeling, it’s time to stand up.
  • Place your paddle horizontally across the deckpad in front of you, gripping the shaft so your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart – near the edges of the deck pad.
  • Pressing through the paddle for leverage as needed, pull on foot forward into a half kneeling position.
  • Pushing through your hands and the forward foot, slowly rise and bring your second foot forward, even with the other and shoulder width apart.
  • Keep your knees flexed and chest slightly forward, slowly straighten into an upright position.

Like that, you’re standing on your board and ready to roll.

Getting on and standing up on your paddle board
Before trying to stand up, first find your balance while kneeling, begin paddling while still on your knees, and get accustomed to the feel of the board on the water.

Balancing on your paddle board

As you begin to paddle while standing on your board, there’s a few basic points to remember that will help you get used to balancing on the board faster.

  • First, stay in the middle of the board. It’s the most stable part of the board, and there’s no reason to be moving around on the deck pad as you get adjusted to life on a SUP.
  • As with most physical activities demanding balance, keeping your feet about shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent will maximize your stability.
  • While taking relaxed paddle strokes, your upper body should stay calm, with shoulders upright and back straight (aka: Good Posture!).
  • Any shift in weight should be dictated through your hips. At least until your balance becomes automatic, try keeping your eyes forward – directed straight towards the horizon (or distant shore).
  • Avoid looking down, as looking down at your feet can throw off your balance.

Holding your paddle

Given that standing up and balancing on the board receives the bulk of a new paddler’s focus, it’s actually not surprising to see many beginners holding their paddle incorrectly. Fortunately, this is an easy error to fix.

  • When gripping the paddle, your bottom hand should be on the same side you’re paddling on (paddling to your left, left hand is the bottom hand). Your top-hand, should grip over the top of the handle (the top of the “T” shape).
  • To be sure your bottom hand is in the correct position, raise the paddle up over your head with your top hand in the “T” grip so that both your arms are bent at 90 degree angles. Wherever your bottom hand grabs to enable this 90 degree arm bend is the correct place to grip the paddle.
  • When switching to paddle on the other side of your body, simply reverse your hands.
  • Blade position is also an important factor to remember when holding your paddle, which brings the pitch of the blade into play.
  • When placing the blade in the water to stroke, the blade should be pitched away from you – so that it’s angling forward towards the nose of the board.
  • Although blade placement can change for special paddling techniques, this position – the blade pitched forward, is the standard.

What if I fall off my board?

While there’s technically no guarantee it’ll happen, chances are extremely high that at some point in time – be it two minutes into your first ride or after several dozen trips on the water – you will fall off your paddle board. If it’s hot outside or you’ve been paddling hard, you may want to fall off on purpose to cool off! But whether voluntarily or not, taking a plunge is part of the SUP experience. As such, there’s a few things to keep in mind to stay safe and make clamoring back onto the board as effortless as possible.

  • If you do lose your balance and a tumble is inevitable, try your best to fall horizontally into the water away from your board. It’s not always possible to fall with style, but doing what you can to avoid falling into your board is ideal.
  • When taking a tumble, hold on to your paddle and try to position it away from your body to prevent injury. If you do lose your paddle, grab hold of your board first, then retrieve the paddle.
  • To get back onto your board, position yourself beside the middle of the board and place your paddle vertically across it.
  • Grab the handle in the center of the deck pad with one hand, and pull yourself enough to reach to the opposite edge with your other hand (almost all boards, especially all-arounders, have a handle in the center of the deck pad).
  • Allow your legs to rise towards the surface of the water and kick to assist as you pull yourself back onto the board.
  • Back on the board, simply situate yourself into the center of the deckpad, grab your paddle, and stand back up.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Keep your balancing while on your paddle board

Paddling Tips and Techniques

Forward Paddling

Forward paddling is basic SUP paddling. It’s not complicated, but mastering good form is the best way to get the most enjoyment out of paddling and enable the learning of more complex techniques going forward.

  • Keeping your arms fairly straight – especially the bottom arm – stretch the paddle forward, reaching out with your lower shoulder and recoiling back with your top shoulder.
  • When fully extended, plunge the blade all the way into the water.
  • Avoid pulling too much with your lower arm, instead pushing down with your top hand to propel the paddle back through the water.
  • Engage your core as you stroke, twisting slightly to the side you’re paddling on, and even flexing your knees as you thrust the paddle back.
  • Keep in mind that paddling is a full-body exercise – not just for the arms. Your arms, core, back, and even legs can all contribute to make the smooth, sweeping motion as powerful and efficient as possible.
  • Bring the blade back through the water to around your ankles before bending your arms to take it up.
  • Keep the paddle on a fairly straight line as you pull it out of the water and reach forward towards the next stroke. Avoid unnecessary swinging or circular motions that bring the blade over top of the board or further out over the water. Keeping the blade on a straight line helps preserve energy, prevents discomfort in the shoulders, and maximizes efficiency.
  • To stay on course, you must switch sides with your paddle after every few strokes. Exactly how many strokes to alternate on each side can vary depending on how straight and powerfully you’re paddling, so simply adjust and make the switch as you see fit.
  • Keep in mind that smooth, well-postured paddling is the best way to maintain energy and avoid unnecessary soreness. Even if you’re just casually paddling and aren’t concerned with speed, it’s important to make proper paddling technique a habit in order to get the most enjoyment out of your SUP trips.

Back Paddling (Reverse Stroke)

Simply the opposite of the forward stroke, back paddling is enlisted to slow down, stop, make turns, or completely turn your board around. It functions in essentially the same manner as the forward stroke, just backwards.

  • Reach the paddle back toward the tail of your board, keeping your bottom arm straight, and dip the blade all the way into the water.
  • Push forward with your lower arm and pull back with the top, twisting your core and shoulders the direction of your top hand.
  • Paddling backwards to the left side of your board will send the nose to the left, backwards strokes to the right side will send the nose right.

Sweep Stroke (C Stroke)

Named for its wide, sweeping movement, which traces the shape of the letter C, the sweep stroke is excellent for on-the-fly turning. Whereas back paddling slows the board to a crawl or complete stop to make a turn, sweep strokes allow you to maintain speed and forward momentum while changing direction. This stroke is also useful to turn your board if it’s already at a standstill.

  • Reach forward with the paddle like a basic forward stroke, but as you dip the blade in the water, drop your upper hand (or that shoulder) to point the blade more outwards, away from the board.
  • Swing the blade away from the board, pull through the water in a broad, arcing shape. Your bottom arm should reach away from your body, while your top arm comes across your front.
  • As you bring the blade back towards the board it should end up somewhere behind you towards the tail, completing the “C” shape and directing the board the opposite direction from whichever side you’re paddling on.
  • A sweep stroke on the right will turn your board left. Sweep stroke on the left turns your board right.

Pivot Turn

More advanced than the aforementioned turning techniques, the pivot turn allows for sharp changes in direction without having to slow down beforehand. It may be more applicable in surfing or racing situations, but it can nevertheless be a fun maneuver to perform at any time once you feel confident with your balance on the board.

  • As you prepare to make your pivot turn, position your paddle on the opposite side of the direction you want to turn.
  • Shuffle your feet slightly backwards, then step the foot opposite the direction of your turn backward, pivoting your body open so you’re facing opposite the direction of your turn.
  • Now in something of a surfing stance, press your weight into your back foot so the tail of the board dips into the water and the nose pops upward out of the water.
  • Make shortened sweep strokes to rapidly turn your board.
  • Once the turn is complete, shift the weight towards your front foot as you step the other foot forward, back into a shoulder-width, forward-facing stance.
  • As you reestablish your footing in the center of the board, be careful about putting too much weight forward on your front foot as you step the other forward. You want to avoid over correcting and falling forward.

As the pivot turn can be tough to perfect, falls are likely to happen and patience is important. Be sure to practice this maneuver in fairly deep water (at least 4 feet), so you have plenty of depth for a comfortable fall, and so your fins don’t scrape the bottom as you push the tail down into the water.

Paddling Tips and Techniques
Learn the Paddling Tips and Techniques

Caring for your SUP

While both inflatable SUPs and hard SUPs are noted for durability and longevity, both characteristics are contingent upon how well you care for your board. Whether finishing up a week long tour or wrapping up an hour long cruise, there are a handful of easy steps you can take to prolong the lifespan of your paddle board after pulling it out of the water.

  • Especially after riding in saltwater, be sure to rinse off your paddle board. If left to dry on the board, saltwater residue can be extremely damaging to both inflatable and hard SUPs.
  • Even when riding in freshwater, it’s a good idea to rinse your board.
  • Be sure to wash off sand, dirt, and any other debris before storing your board. Fresh water works fine, while chemical-free, biodegradable soap or watercraft cleaner provides further cleaning and is good for removing stains from an inflatable board.
  • Dry your board. This is especially important with inflatable boards, as lingering moisture can easily lead to mold when deflated and stowed. While it’s ok to let your board air dry if you leave your iSUP inflated or you have a hard board, toweling off your board before transporting or storing it is never a bad idea.
  • Avoid dragging, dropping, or scraping your SUP against any surface that isn’t water. Yes, quality stand up paddle boards are tough as nails and built to withstand everyday wear and tear, but wear and tear does take a toll over time.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Activities

Recreational Paddling

The most straightforward thing one can do on a stand up paddle board, recreational paddling is the simple endeavor of stepping onto your SUP and propelling yourself over the water. From tranquil streams to ocean waves, recreational paddling can be performed on virtually any body of water as long as it’s deep enough to keep your board off the bottom.

Recreational Paddling
Recreational Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Yoga

Bringing fresh challenges and tranquility to the popular practice of fitness and well-being, SUP yoga has roared into vogue over the past ten years. As the title implies, SUP yoga is the practice of yoga while floating on a stand up paddle board. Given the prerequisite of balancing on a paddle board and the risk of falling in the water, SUP yoga is noted for being a more difficult workout for both body and mind than yoga on solid ground. Coupled with the peacefulness of the outdoors and weightlessness of floating on water, it’s not surprising SUP yoga has become a highly-acclaimed experience.

Yoga Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Yoga Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Touring

Like canoes or kayaks, there are certain stand up paddle boards built to cover long distances. SUP touring is defined as a long stand up paddle board excursion that can range from a full day trip to a multi-day journey. Touring paddle boards are narrower and often longer than standard, all-around boards or surfing paddle boards. With a pointed nose and flat tail, they are designed to cut through the water with speed and maximize the efficiency of your paddling. Touring SUPs also provide plenty of cargo space with bungees and D-rings. Whether on river, lake, or ocean, SUP touring promises exciting adventures, which can include camping, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

Touring Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Touring Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Racing

Looking for a physical challenge and the adrenaline pump of competition? SUP racing offers the complete package. Exploding in popularity alongside leisure paddling, stand up paddle board races are now common occurrences at countless waterfront locales. SUP racing can take place on any body of water and can be structured in various forms, including straight line sprints, agility courses, multi-heat circuits, and long distance marathons. While some races are designed for elite and even professional stand up paddle boarders, there are plenty of events organized to fit any skill level. Technically you can throw yourself into a competition with any type of board, but if you’re keen on competing with the best, a racing SUP is encouraged. Similar to touring models, racing SUPs are long, narrow, and streamlined for speed and efficiency. SUP racing is a fantastic way to exercise and push your physical limits, while also enjoying the outdoors and meeting other SUP enthusiasts. Just consider a little bit of training before signing up for your spot at a starting line.

Racing Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Racing Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Surfing

The original stand up paddle boarding pastime, SUP surfing continues to be a popular activity anywhere there are waves to ride. Like traditional, paddle-free surfing, SUP surfing takes some time to get the hang of, especially compared to other SUP activities. But putting in the time and tumbles is well worth it to experience the excitement of cutting through swells. Like other SUP activities, paddle surfing can be performed on virtually any board, but a specific, surf designed board is ideal for maximizing wave-riding abilities and enjoyment. Surfing SUPs vary, with performance contingent on the rider’s size and desires (i.e. short, wider boards for better performance and agility, longer boards for stability), but the shape tends to be closer to an all-around board with a squared-off tail. While it may seem daunting to learn, some say it’s easier to catch waves on a stand up paddle board than a traditional surfboard once you get the basics down.

Surfing Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Surfing Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Fishing

Another classic outdoor activity adapted to stand up paddle boarding, SUP fishing has grown into a go-to alternative to kayak fishing in recent years. In addition to offering more freedom than canoes or kayaks to move around on the deck, the maneuverability of stand up paddle boards allows anglers to access spots that are difficult for other watercraft to reach. While you can fish from almost any type of stand up paddle board, there are boards custom made for fishing that feature rod holders, paddle holders, extra storage space for gear, and attachable seats. Whether you’re an avid angler or just enjoy casting a line once in a while, a stand up paddle board is a fantastic vessel to improve the fishing experience.

Fishing Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Fishing Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Kayaking

Ok, it’s not exactly stand up paddle boarding when you decide to sit down to paddle, but we’d be remiss not to mention that many stand up paddle boards can double as kayaks. In some cases the board is a typical stand up paddle board that offers an attachable seat and paddle extensions to allow the rider to sit and paddle as if in a kayak. Others, however, are specifically designed as SUP-kayak hybrids (SUP-yaks), with the hull of a kayak and the flat, stable platform of a SUP. Boasting the benefits of both types of watercraft, a SUP-kayak hybrid is a versatile option that’s become increasingly popular for fishing, touring, and leisure paddling.

Whitewater

Who says you have to sit down in a raft to feel the rush of cascading through a raging river? Believe it or not, whitewater stand up paddle boarding is a thing. It’s by no means the easiest or safest mode of stand up paddle boarding, but if you’re looking for an immense physical challenge with stand up paddle boarding, there may be nothing better than navigating whitewater rapids. Unsurprisingly, specialty whitewater boards – short and wide for increased stability and agility – are all but required to keep yourself upright while traversing a frothing torrent. It may not be recommended for beginners, but for enthusiasts with enough experience, whitewater riding might be the most exciting thing one can do on a stand up paddle board.

Whitewater Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Whitewater Stand Up Paddle Boarding

FAQs

How hard is stand up paddle boarding?

Stand up paddle boarding is not very hard, especially compared to other outdoor activities and water sports. Following a few simple steps, you can learn how to stand up paddle board within hours.

What to wear stand up paddle boarding?

What to wear when stand up paddling boarding varies depending on the weather, water conditions, and your SUP activity. In general, you’ll want to wear a swimsuit or something waterproof. If it’s warm enough, just a swimsuit or board shorts will do. A long or short sleeve rash guard is also advisable for sun protection or protection from abrasions if you’re SUP surfing. For cool and windy conditions, a waterproof jacket will help you stay warm, while in cold water, a full wetsuit is recommended for comfort and safety.

Check out these lists of the best swim trunks and swim shorts available to find something comfortable and stylish to wear on your stand up paddle board.

How much does a stand up paddle board cost?

It’s difficult to say, as quality stand up paddle boards cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000. Anything less than $300 is to be avoided, while the most expensive boards are usually highly specialized for touring, surfing, and other specific activities. Generally ranging from around $700 to $2,000, the price of hard boards begins and ends higher than inflatable boards, which run from around $300 to $1,300. But as a basic benchmark, anything between $500 and $900 will be a high-quality, well performing board, often coming with a solid package of equipment and accessories.

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