Whether you love adventures, challenging yourself, or just being on the water, you can benefit from the sport of stand up paddle boarding. Paddle boarding, or SUP, can be a leisurely way to explore the local nature scene, but it also yields the physical benefits of challenging your core strength, balance, and endurance, all in one low-impact activity.
You don’t have to be a gymnast to successfully balance on a stand up paddleboard, but if you don’t like feeling like a fish out of water, a few lessons can give you the confidence and strategy to handle a SUP with grace. An experienced paddle board instructor can walk you through proper technique to mount and dismount, hold the paddle, navigate on the water, and perform more difficult maneuvers.
In your first lesson, you’ll learn important skills such as:
- Holding your paddle correctly. It feels more intuitive to pull the water toward yourself with a scooping motion, but the paddle should actually be angled out. Stack your top hand directly above your lower hand and keep your strokes straight.
- Making sure that you’re facing the right way. The fin needs to be in the back of the paddleboard, not the front, in order for you to steer effectively.
- Using your core to stabilize your body and exert more power. Your arms shouldn’t be doing all the work.
- Watching the weather for conditions and changes. If the wind becomes too strong, you can lie down prone on your board to make paddling safer and easier.
Try before you buy
Before you commit to purchasing your own SUP gear, take advantage of the touristy trend and rent a water toy at your favorite destination. Stand up paddle board rentals are an affordable way to test out different boards as well as different locations. If you have the option, try renting a SUP on both a lake and on the ocean. Try out different styles of paddles and boards to find one that feels comfortable for you. For less than $50 a day, you can experience some fun in the sun while ensuring that you’re ready to take the plunge into SUP ownership.
When choosing a board, you may notice some variations in shape. The longer and wider the board is, the more stable it will be in flat water. Shorter paddleboards work in flat water, too, but are even better suited to surfing ocean waves. A planing hull is the best shape for most beginners; similar to a surfboard, it’s a versatile and stable board with a rounded front. If you’ll be doing a lot of racing or long-distance, paddling, though, you might like one with a displacement hull, which will cut through the water more efficiently with a narrow, pointed bow that resembles that of a kayak.
Materials matter, too. Most paddleboards are made of a foam core wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy, but some also have a memory foam or EVA top. If you plan to use your board for children, pets, or yoga, one of these upgraded boards will increase comfort and stability. You’ll want a little padding when you’re practicing your headstand!
Finally, keep transportation in mind. Chances are good that you’ll have to haul this board for a ways to reach the water, and possibly even strap it on top of your car. Make sure the board that you choose is one you can carry and handle outside of the water as well as in it.
Put the P in SUP
Once you have your board, the next step to SUP is to add a paddle. An aluminum paddle with a plastic blade will work, but for long distance comfort, you may want to upgrade to a lighter weight material. Fiberglass or carbon fiber paddles are easier to grip for long periods of time, and the stiffer blade of higher quality paddles gives you more force with each stroke, making it easier to glide through the water.
For general purposes, choose a paddle that is roughly six to eight inches taller than you are. You may want to experiment with different blade sizes to find what works best for your particular body type and paddling style. Many serious paddleboarders like to have a selection of different sized blades available, but one quality paddle will be more than sufficient to get you started.
It may share a name with a pet accessory, but a leash is also a vital safety tool for stand up paddleboarders. A properly fitted leash can mean the difference between life and death. In the event of an emergency, a leash keeps you tethered to a lifesaving floatation device (namely, your board). And not only does the leash keep you safely attached to your board; it also keeps your SUP safely attached to you, rather than letting it drift or blow across the water, where it could cause an obstruction to boats and fellow water users. No matter how skilled you are, you can expect to fall off the board at some point, so learn to fall away from the board (not onto it) and trust that your leash will keep you from losing your SUP.
Leashes come with calf or ankle attachments in both straight and coiled varieties. Some find the calf attachment easier to reach or preferable for keeping the leash out of the water. An ankle attachment is typically more comfortable for wave paddling, and is a perfectly sufficient choice for flat water paddling. A coiled leash can help prevent tangling and minimize drag, but a more traditional straight leash is a great choice to the beginner.
Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to get started in the peaceful yet exciting world of stand up paddle boarding. Gather up your new gear, and prepare for adventure: you’re ready to stand up and paddle away.
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