Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, has taken the world of outdoor recreation by storm. The sport that was totally obscure just a few short years ago has exploded into the fastest growing water sport in the country.
If you’re ready to get going take a look at our 12 tips, rent some gear and start enjoying a whole new way to get on the water.
For your first time out on the water you’ll need a stand-up paddleboard, a paddle, a PFD (personal flotation device) and a leash. There’s plenty of gear you can add, like lights, dry bags and so on, but those items are the must-haves. If you’re trying stand-up paddling for the first time, you’ll probably want to rent the gear.
The rising popularity of this sport has prompted companies to design boards in lots of different shapes and sizes. The most important thing to remember as a beginner, though, is that wider boards will be more stable in the water. For your first SUP adventure, pick a long and wide board—look for boards that are more than 11 feet tall and more than 30 inches wide.
Much like the boards, there are many different variations of paddles. As a beginner, the most important thing to know is that your paddle should be a little bit taller than you. When standing next to the paddle, it should be about six to 10 inches taller than you.
Aside from your life jacket—which is non-negotiable, especially for beginners—you’ll want to dress for the water temperature. If the water is cold, opt for a wetsuit or dry suit. If you know the water will be warm, you might want to wear a bathing suit or clothing that will be comfortable even when wet. It’s likely you’ll fall in at least once on your first time out.
One of the best aspects of stand-up paddleboarding is that you can do it on just about any body of water—from lakes to canals and out into ocean waves. For beginners, though, it’s best to find water that’s relatively calm—on flat water it will be easier to keep your balance. Standing up might also be tough at first, so if you want to ease into it you can kneel on the board and paddle.
The easiest way to get on your board is to bring it out into shallow water and, holding both sides with your hands, put one knee on at a time until you’re kneeling just behind the middle of the board. The board should be balanced in the water and you can start paddling while kneeling to get used to the board. When you’re ready to stand up, do so one leg at a time and make sure your feet are where your knees just were.
When getting on and off from a dock, always remain on your knees until you’re far from the dock.
Once you’re up on the board, the right stance is crucial for balance and generating power for your stroke. Your toes should be pointing toward the front of the board, your feet should be roughly hip-width apart (depending on the width of your board), but don’t stand on the rails (the edges of the board). Your feet should remain just behind the center of the board, knees slightly bent, back straight and keep your head up. Looking down at your feet will make it harder to keep your balance and know what’s going on around you. Once you start moving forward it will be easier to balance and you can make adjustments as you go along.
When holding your paddle on the board, be sure to grip the very top with one hand and hold the middle of the shaft with the other hand. Your elbows should be at roughly a 90-degree angle and you can always adjust for comfort and find what works best for you. Probably the biggest mistake beginners make, though, is trying to paddle with the blade facing the wrong way. At first it seems like it should be “scooping” the water, but in actuality the very bottom of the blade should be farthest in front—the angle of the blade should face away from you.
Now that you know how to hold the paddle, the motion tends to follow naturally. Reach out and dip the full blade of the paddle in the water, as far in front as is comfortable. Pushing down with your top hand, try to leverage the strength in your core and keep the paddle mostly vertical. You should be finishing your stroke by your ankle and in order to keep a straight course switch sides with the paddle every few strokes. To turn, you can either add more strokes on one side or you can experiment with shifting your weight and different types of strokes.
A big part of any learning process is getting it wrong and when it comes to SUP that means getting wet. Falling off your board is almost guaranteed to happen; you should learn how to fall safely. First, be mindful of any objects around you and try to avoid them when you feel yourself tipping. Be sure to kick your board away when you start to lose your balance, as falling into water is less painful than falling on your board. And finally, if you start to fall in shallow water, do a belly flop and protect your head—never dive into water unless you’re sure it’s deep.
There are a few ways to get off your board, but the safest way is to slowly approach shore and come down from standing position onto your hands and knees. When it starts to get shallow, dip one leg in to feel for the bottom and when your foot touches, get off the board and guide it to shore. Be sure that the fins don’t drag on the bottom.