How to Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) | Beginners Guide

Beginners Guide to Standup Paddle Board

The Stand Up Paddle Boarding Boom!

One of the fastest growing watersport in the World, stand up paddle boarding is growing leaps and bounds. You can do it on any body of water from oceans, lakes, rivers and bays – even a swimming pool if it's big enough. It's a great full body core workout and is a whole new way to experience the water in the outdoors. People of all ages, skill levels, and experience can be up and riding in no time. There is even room to throw a small child or man's best friend on board.

Who Invented Stand up Paddle Boarding?

Maui surf legend Laird Hamilton was looking for a way to cross train for big waves in the early 90's. He grabbed a canoe paddle and his longest surfboard and found paddling while upright to be a fantastic workout. Many mistakenly believe he invented the sport of paddle boarding however its original roots date back over thousands of years to ancient Hawaiian, Peruvian and African culture. All 3 cultures had some form of paddle boarding however the Hawaiians are given the credit as the first to actually surf waves with a paddle for actual sport and had a word to describe surfing with a paddle - Hoe He'e nalu.

Standup Paddle Board Equipment

Here are all the items you need to get out on the water paddling

  1. Stand Up Paddle board - Paddleboards come in all shapes and sizes. The most common construction method is epoxy and fiberglass wrapped around an EPS foam core with one or several fins to help the board track in the water. A standup paddle board is much thicker than your average surfboard. Paddle boards typically range from 8'-12' in length, 28" – 32" wide, and 4" – 5" thick. If you're just starting out the best thing to do is select a wider, longer, thicker board. This type will offer the greatest stability to learn the paddleboard basics on a flat body of water. As you gain experience you can progress to a much smaller board.
  2. Paddle - Stand Up Paddles come in a variety of constructions from plastic, aluminum, wood, and carbon fiber with a variety of handle, blade and shaft shapes. The general rule is a paddle used with your paddleboard should always be 6 – 10" above the height of the paddler. Size your paddle on the longer side for flat water use and the shorter side for use in the surf. The blade is typically bent at a slight angle to the shaft to allow for more forward reach when taking a stroke.
  3. Leash - A leash keeps your paddle board attached to you with a Velcro strap around your ankle (or calf) that is attached to the paddleboard. Leashes come in a variety of sizes and the general rule is to use a leash around the same size or slightly smaller than your board. In the event of a fall currents and winds can quickly sweep your paddle board away from you and in the ocean your board becomes a lethal weapon when carried with the force of an ocean wave. Always remember to use your leash.
  4. Traction Pad – Most paddle boards come equipped with a traction pad preinstalled on the deck of the board. The traction pad is a soft layer of EVA foam typically grooved to provide grip and a soft cushion for the feet much like the sole of a shoe.
  5. PFD (personal floatation device) – If you use your stand up paddle board beyond the limits of a swimming , surfing or bathing area the US Coast Guard requires you to have a USCG Approved life vest. Please see the following link by the WPA (World Paddle Association) regarding the Life Vest Safety Laws.

Transporting your Paddleboard

Since paddleboards are so large getting your SUP to the local beach or your next travel destination can be a difficult task. Here are some tips to help make it easier.

  • Shoulder Carry - With the paddle in one hand lift the board from the tail with the nose on the ground. Walk to the center of the board and shift the board's weight back to balance on your head. You can then shift the board over to balance on your shoulder. To lay the board back down just follow the steps in reverse order.
  • Handle Carry -. The carry handle is a small handle installed at the center point of the board to carry it to and from the water easily. Just lift the board by its handle and go.
  • Wheels - Many products on the market offer wheels to attach on one side of the board and a handle on the opposite side. This can be used to wheel the board along or be attached to a bicycle.
  • Car Racks - Paddle boards can be strapped on any vehicle with car racks. Most surfboard soft racks will fit a paddle board. Or if your vehicle already has an existing rack system you can simply use straps to tie down the boards to the existing hard rack. Some racks even having locking devices to secure the boards from theft. Many people just throw a towel on top of the car and run straps thought the doors.
  • Air Travel - For airplane travel many companies make travel bags to carry your paddleboard. These are typically padded but it's always recommended to add some extra padding of your own such as towels or bubble wrap. Also keep in mind the latest surfboard and paddleboard board bag charges and size limits of your airline before you book your ticket. Here is a breakdown of board bag charges by airline.

Getting Up, Basic Strokes and Techniques

Select a Stable Paddle Board

  • Select a wide 30"+ and stable 11'+ board to start. Always start in calm, flat water
  • The board should feel comfortable and not tippy when standing without forward motion. If after several attempts to gain your balance it still feels too tippy then try a larger, wider board.
  • Many people start out on a board much too small and can never seem to gain balance and become disheartened. Don't let this be you. Choose the right size board to start out and when in doubt always go wider and thicker.

Follow these helpful tips for holding the paddle

  • Always grip the paddle with one hand on the top of the paddle and the other on the center of the shaft. Hold the paddle in front of you with elbows bent at 90 degrees. This should give you comfortable spacing for paddling.
  • The blade will be angled and when paddling remember to keep the blade angle facing away from you.
  • Paddles float so if you fall and must let it go - it won't sink.

How to Stand Up on your Paddle Board

Always start out in calm flat water and keep in mind you could be falling so unless you're in the tropics a wetsuit may be a good idea

  • Get the board out into in water so the fin is free from hitting the bottom
  • Start out on your knees and take a few strokes on each side of the board
  • Slowly stand up with one foot at a time and stay in the middle of the board with feet parallel to the stringer about should width apart
  • Keep a slight bend in the knees and your core centered over the board.

Basic Strokes: Forward Stoke

There are a few basic philosophies on paddle technique but all revolve around using your paddle as a lever. Your top hand will be driving the lever and the bottom hand will act as the fulcrum point. So with that in mind we provide the following strokes and tips.

  • Keep your bottom arm straight and relatively still
  • Pull your top arm toward your body to extend the paddle forward
  • Rotate your top shoulder forward and extend your reach
  • Insert the paddle into the water as far forward as possible and bury the paddle into the water
  • Rather than pulling you paddle through the water, think about pulling past your paddle.
  • To stay in a straight line take a few stokes on one side then switch to a few strokes on the other and always remember to switch the position of your hands when your paddle changes sides

Basic Strokes: Turning with the Forward Sweep Stroke

  • To turn left place the paddle in the water on the right side at the same time turning your torso to the left side.
  • Keep a low stance and pull to the right towards the tail with the paddle while twisting and leaning to the left with your torso and feel the board shift to the left quickly.

Basic Stokes: Turning with the Reverse Sweep Stoke

  • To turn right place the paddle near the tail and pull toward the nose while shifting your torso to the right.
  • This will spin your board's nose to the right hand side. The more you bend your knees the easier it will be to turn the board.

Beginners Beware: Don't make these common mistakes

  • Always hold the paddle from the top of the handle. Lots of people always want to hold the paddle like a broomstick with both hands on the shaft. Don't do it! Always grab it from the top handle with one hand and the other on the shaft.
  • Keep your feet parallel and spread shoulder with apart. Everyone wants to get in a surf stance and it makes paddling on the flat water ten times harder and you will fall. Save your surf stance for the surf and keep your feet parallel with toes pointed toward the nose.
  • Make sure your grip on the paddle is shoulder width apart. Short grips will give you a powerless stroke.
  • Dip the blade fully in the water and take a long stroke letting your large back muscles do the work. Many people put the full brunt of the stroke on the arms. Let the big back muscles do the brunt of the work.
Marc Miller fro Isle Surf and SUP

About the Author -is the founding partner of Isle Surf & SUP an online retailer of paddle boards & surfboards. He has been involved in board manufacturing, product development and website management for Isle since its inception in 2004. He also writes the Isle Surf & SUP Blog. An avid surfer and paddler for the past 2 decades when hes not in the office he can be found on foreign shores searching for waves and fun.