Tips for Beginner Paddle Boarding
Starting out paddle boarding can be intimidating, but it’s easier than you think. As with most things, preparation is key! The most important things a beginner should do when paddle boarding are: have the right equipment, consider the location and weather, know basic launch, balance, and paddling techniques, and practice patience as these skills develop on the water.
If you’re starting out with an instructor, you can expect them to make these considerations already—from the right board and safety equipment to water, weather, and technique tutorials. But, if you’re starting out on your own, here is your beginner’s guide to paddle boarding.
What You Need
The right equipment plays a big role in having fun on your first time paddle boarding. The essentials: a board, paddle, leash, and/or life vest can all affect balance and control, as well as your comfort and confidence. Chief among these for security is your life vest. When paddling in calm waters, it might be okay to use the board itself as a flotation device, but when in doubt, dawn the vest.
There are so many SUPs on the market, but some are definitely better for beginners than others. Choosing a stable board will make practicing your technique much easier, but your interest, individual athleticism, storage capabilities, and budget are all influential factors in this decision, too. So just keep this in mind: the bigger your board is, the more stable it is likely to be. Here’s a list of the best paddleboards for beginners to give you a complete rundown and reviews as you make your decision.
Make sure your paddle is the right length for your height. This allows you to stand fairly upright on the board. A good rule of thumb is about ten inches (24cm) taller than you are. Many, if not most, paddles are adjustable, and thus, accommodate various heights. Inflatable SUP packages often include a paddle that will do the job, but here are some good, affordable options if you’re on the market for one.
Leashes, Life Vests, and Other Accessories
Leashes: Even the most experienced paddle boarders stress the importance of wearing a leash. In the event that you fall in, it keeps you connected to the board so you can return to it quickly in strong current or windy conditions. They can also be great if you decide to take a quick dip to cool off! Like paddles, many SUP packages include a leash, but if not, we’ve got options for you to consider.
Life vests: Swimming ability and the depth of water can determine if and when you choose to wear a life vest. But for the safety and peace of mind they provide, we couldn’t recommend life vests more highly. Some, however, can be more comfortable with the motions of paddling than others, so this list of life vest options will help guide your choice.
Accessories: If you need to carry your devices or plan to snap a selfie, some practical accessories like dry bags for cell phones and other items are available to keep those items safe. Also, we always recommend good sunscreen or water clothing to protect your skin.
The Buddy System
Paris Hilton says, “The best accessories a girl can have are her closest friends.” As you get started, having someone to practice with or rely on for help loading the board, or for any emergency, provides another great source of comfort. So bring a friend!
Weather and location can make or break early attempts at paddleboarding. Find a smooth, flat body of water. Small lakes, ponds, reservoirs, or even large pools are ideal because there are little to no waves or currents, and they are often shallow and easier to swim in if (and when) you fall in. If rivers and oceans are your only option, be sure to wear a life vest and bring a friend along.
Google Maps is a great resource for planning both entry and exit points. It’ll also help any logically planning as some of the inflatable SUP boards might be somewhat heavy to carry long distances–despite the backpacks in which they can be packed.
Avoid windy days and storms. Having to rush your practice because of a looming storm or finding yourself paddling in circles against a strong gale is unsafe and no fun. To avoid this, go out on calm, sunny or overcast days. If you find yourself fighting harsh conditions—get low on your board. Paddle on your knees, or, lay flat with the paddle beside you and use your hands like a surfer to improve your control.
When you’re ready for the water, here are a few simple strategies to make the process as easy as possible:
To carry the board, lift it at the side (or “rail”) closest to you, tilting it away from you until it is resting on its side and you can easily grab the center handle if there is one. Walk the board tucked under your armpit between your body and arm like you might hold a laptop.
Find a shallow spot on the shore where you can walk into the water. As you set the board down, look back to check that the fin is far enough into the water that it’s not touching the ground. Alternatively, you can flip the board on its head with the fins up until the water is deep enough that the fins won’t hit the shallow bottom.
Lay the paddle on the board, either lengthwise or across the front in a “T,” and slowly walk the board into the water, placing your arms and chest on the center of the board so your weight is centered over the handle. Bring your first leg up onto the board, followed by the next as you shimmy your whole body into a square, centered position, moving into a seated position on your knees.
Paddle on your knees as long as you want. It is always a good default position if you feel tired or unstable. When you’re ready to stand:
- Lean forward on your hands and knees.
- Lay the paddle across the nose of the board just past the center handle, with your hands shoulder-width apart on top of it.
- Once your weight is centered in this position, step one foot up just behind one of your hands, in line with the handle of the board, and begin lifting your weight up onto that foot as the other foot follows suit.
- Looking forward at a fixed point, rise to a standing position and begin paddling, which works like a walking stick to keep you stable.
- Keep your chest square, weight centered, gaze forward, and paddle away!
The keys to balance are staying centered on the board, looking in the direction you want to travel, and having a little bend in your knees. Being too far forward or back on the board will dip the nose or tail too much in one direction. To move forward or back, gently hop with both feet in the same direction at once, or return to your hands and knees and gradually adjust your position before standing again, this prevents shifts from side to side and tipping.
Yoga instructors often encourage students to fix their gaze on one point for balance. The same concept applies to paddle boarding! You will travel in whatever direction you’re looking, so setting your sight on one point will not only create a steady body position but keep you moving where you want to, as well.
Stay loose. By keeping a slight bend in your knees, you’re in a ready position and can adjust your weight more easily to waves, wind, or weight shifts while paddling.
Don’t hesitate to rehearse all of these motions and positions with the board in a yard or at a park! By familiarizing your body with the movements beforehand, you’ll be more comfortable putting them into practice on the water. (Be sure to remove or make room for the fin so it doesn’t get damaged.)
Paddling and Steering
Hold the paddle as straight as possible with one hand at the top and the other about halfway down the shaft. Make sure the angle of the blade points toward the board’s nose.
Extend your arms as much as is comfortable with the blade down fully in the water. Use your core, not arms, in a twisting motion to pull the blade straight back along the rail beside you. Let the paddle lift easily out of the water before repeating the stroke.
Do this on both sides as needed to stay moving straight. Favor one side or the other, sweeping the paddle blade on a diagonal angle to turn. For more dramatic turns, you can reverse this motion, stroking backward on the side of your desired direction.
Advanced stroke styles will eventually make you more efficient, but in the meantime, remember that paddling on the right pushes you left and paddling on the left pushes you right.
Returning to Shore
Here, simply reverse the steps in the “Launch” section above. Return to your knees as you approach land, and step one leg at a time off the board into shallow water, maintaining your weight at the center until you’re on your feet again. Lift and tilt the board at the rail closest to you, grab the center handle, and carry it onto shore.
Remember—paddleboarding is a water sport, and getting wet is one of the best parts! Falling is inevitable, so forgive yourself when it happens. As your skills develop, a good goal is actually being able to get on and off the board at your leisure. Considering this, make sure you have the right equipment and safety measures, scout your location, and try dry runs and shallow water practice when starting. After a little bit of this preparation at the beginning, stand-up paddleboarding can become lifelong fun.
Paddle boarding is increasingly joining the sailing world as well as yoga. For some, it’s part of a lifestyle that values the outdoors and the contentment that comes from getting out on the water.
Need more paddle boarding tips?
Read our other SUP Guides
What size paddle board do I need?
The Best Places to Paddleboard in the US
What to Know When Renting a Paddle Board
How to Paddle a Stand-Up Paddle Board