We all have to start some where.
Stand Up Paddleboarding or SUP, can seem challenging to someone that has never tried it before but, I'm here to tell you it's easy and you can pick up the basics, enough to have a fun enjoyable time on the water, in your very first attempt.
Ideally you'll want to make your first ever attempt at SUP on a calm day with little to no wind. The wind can blow you around and make it difficult even for an experienced boarder. But, often you'll attempt to SUP for the first time on vacation and you can't wait til there is a calm day.
If you can't wait for a calm day, try to find a lake or a pond to start in. If you don't have a small body of water, try to find an area of the water that is protected from the wind and waves. This will make your first attempt so much easier and fun.
Ok, now that you have a spot to learn to SUP, you need to choose a paddleboard.
I like for a beginner to start out on an rigid or solid board if possible, because solid boards don't flex at all and this is just one less thing a beginner has to deal with.
If all you have access to is an inflatable paddleboard (iSUP), that's fine too. Remember, the best board is the one that you have! Just make sure to pump up the inflatable as much as possible. When fully aired up the inflatable is almost as firm as a rigid board.
This makes it is just a bit easier to balance on. Often times folks get lazy and don't fully pump up their inflatable and when they get on the water the board starts to sag, flex, and even bounce a little. Don't be lazy! Make sure your inflatable is fully pumped up.
This makes it easier for you on the water.
Now that you have your board, make sure you have a leash. A leash will have a Velcro clash that wraps around one of your ankles with the other end of the leash attached to the rear of the paddleboard. The leash keeps the board from floating away. Make sure the leash is firmly attached to your ankle and the board.
Next you'll want a paddle. Play around with adjusting the length of the paddle and realize that once you get a little more experience, you'll probably adjust the paddle to a length this is more comfortable.
With your board, leash, paddle, and calm body of water, you're now ready for your first attempt.
Walk the board out into about 1 or 2 feet depth of water. You want to get deep enough so that you make sure your fin, located on the bottom rear of the paddleboard, is not touching the sand. You want to make sure the water is deep enough so that the fin is moving freely, so it doesn't get damaged.
Getting on the Board:
Now you gotta hop on the paddleboard. Do whatever feels good to you. If you can stand on it right way, great. If you need to slide on to your stomach, then pull your knees under you, then stand up, that's fine too.
Just make sure that you have your paddle in hand as you mount the board, AND that you have already attached your leash to your ankle before you get on the board.
Once you are standing on your board the first thing you need to do is to relax. A lot of first timers are so tense and worried they are going to fall off, that their muscles get tired and sore and they start to cramp. Relax! So what if you fall off?
You're on the water to have fun and get wet. Relax.
When you are starting out for the first few times learning to SUP, it may be helpful to "cheat" a little bit. I say cheat, but it's not cheating, it's simply a technique to help beginners.
The technique is to get on the board, but then instead of standing up, you simply get up on your knees so that your torso is upright, but your bent at your knees.
This can be helpful because you have more balance due to a lower center of gravity. Do be afraid to SUP on your knees. This is a very common technique to use when you are just starting out.
And to let you in on a little secret, experienced paddlers use this technique also.
Sometimes, you'll go out of a paddle on beautiful sunny day, and because the weather is nice you get out pretty far on the water. Then, out of nowhere, the winds can pick up.
When the winds pick up it can feel like you are swimming against the current. It's super difficult to make progress going against a strong wind because your body acts like a sail on a sailboat pushing you backward.
To combat this problem, even experienced paddlers will drop down to their knees and paddle from a lower point of gravity. This also has the benefit of giving the wind less surface area to push against.
So don't be afraid to use the "cheat mode" when you are learning to SUP.
How You Want to Position Your Body:
Part of the relaxing is that you want to bend your knees. Don't stand straight up, bend your knees a little. Bending your knees a bit will also give you a lot more stability. Think of the athletic stance, like an outfielder on a baseball field.
If you have your feet at shoulder width apart, and your knees with a slight bend, your legs will act like shocks and struts on a car, absorbing the bumps while keep your torso level.
Probably the biggest trick to maintaining your balance on a stand up paddleboard is to look forward with your eyes to the horizon.
Most people, when they're starting out, are worried about falling over and they have their head down and they're staring at their feet or the board. This is not good for balance and this is not good for your neck, it will start to cramp up. Staring at your feet means that your aren't relaxed either.
So lift your eyes up and look at the horizon. I can't tell you the physics of why this technique dramatically improves your balance, I just know that it does, and this is what I do.
Balance with Your Paddle:
This is the second biggest thing you can do to keep your balance while standing on your paddleboard, keep your paddle in the water. By keeping your paddle in the water, it will act as a natural stabilizer or a rudder. You could even think of the paddle as a third leg.
Usually, beginners will be worried about falling into the water so they will hold their paddle in their hands. The paddle can't help you if it's not in the water! It sounds trivial but it's the truth.
When I first tried paddleboarding I made the same mistake and for whatever reason I was holding the paddle out of the water and my instructor kept telling me to put the paddle in the water. Once I realized what I was doing and kept the paddle in the water, I instantly felt more secure, stable, and balanced.
Check Your Grip on the Paddle:
Now that you're successfully standing on your board, look at your hands. Specifically, look at your hand that is holding on to the top of the paddle. Are you gripping the top of the paddle for dear life?
It's common for beginners to hold on to the top of the paddle with an intense grip (I did this when I started out too). The reason for this is because you are not relaxed. Relax your grip on the paddle handle. You want a firm grip but you don't want one so tight that your hand will cramp up.
You're up on the board, you're relaxed, your head is looking forward to the horizon, your knees are slightly bent, and your paddle is in the water, so now it's time to go. Start paddling!
Reach the paddle in front of you, then pull back. When you reach forward, don't stretch forward, just do what feels natural. You're not in a race.
When you pull the paddle back, keep it fairly close to the board. And remember, keep your paddle in the water for as much of the stroke as possible.
This will do 2 things. It will give you more stability and balance because your paddle is in contact with the water longer, and it will give you more forward momentum.
It's common for beginners to lift their paddle out of the water too soon. When I first started, I didn't realize I was lifting so early, and I was basically doing about a 1/2 stroke.
As you paddle, you'll need to alternate between your left and right side. It's normal to paddle twice on one side, before needing to switch to the opposite side, to keep you on a generally straight path.
Now just have fun with it. Experiment with standing more toward the front of the board, or more towards the middle or back, to see which placement feels best to you.
Bounce around on your board and don't be afraid to make a mistake and fall in the water. That's all part of the experience.
And remember, the most important part of learn to use a Stand Up Paddleboard is to have fun!
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Bruce Paulson is the owner of PaddleboardSurf and an avid water sports enthusiast with a lifelong passion for all things aquatic. From stand-up paddleboarding and surfing to boating, kayaking, and canoeing, he thrives on the joy of being on the water. As an advocate for water conservation and environmental stewardship, Bruce shares his adventures and insights through his writing, inspiring others to embrace the beauty and excitement of life on the water.