How to Paddle Board
So you want to be like the cool kids and learn how to paddle board. Let us help you figure out how to do it.
During the pandemic, you couldn't find a stand up paddle board to save your life. At the time, paddle boarding was a safe escape from any possible danger from the latest variant and shops couldn't keep paddle boards in stock. In this article, we will discuss what you need to get started in the sport and/or lifestyle of paddle boarding.
Reasons for the popularity of paddle boarding
Stand up paddle boards (SUPs) have taken off in popularity for many of the same reasons that kayaks did in years prior. The paddle board provides a means to navigate beautiful waterways and can get beginner paddlers more in touch with nature while getting a workout.
Paddle boarding also gives paddlers a fresh perspective of our waterways because they are elevated rather than sitting on top of the water. SUP has often been described as "walking on water" and one of the main benefits is that you can see marine life darting about in front of your stand up paddle board which you probably would miss in a low riding kayak.
The two factors that paddle boarding builds in the body are strength and aerobic capacity. Although most people find it so enjoyable that they don't associate it with the same pain that they do with a visit to the health club.
Paddle boards for strength
Paddle boarding provides noticeable strength gains due to the uniqueness of the platform. Following is a breakdown of the muscles that SUP builds.
Most people assume that a paddle board is only going to strengthen their upper body but nothing could be farther from the truth. SUP boards actually substantially work the muscles in the lower body as well because of the balance you need to stay upright on the paddle board and also because you use your lower body to help leverage your SUP paddle stroke.
There are over 100 muscles in the feet which is why your feet can cramp up after a paddle session on rough water. Building foot strength helps with reaction time and also will help fight your foot arches natural propensity to flatten with age.
Stand up paddle boards also activate the calf muscles especially if you are surfing SUPs (which are quite different than surfing a regular surfboard) because you use them quite a bit when you feel unstable or are using them to push on the rails of the board to turn. Strong calf muscles are important for running and jumping as they give you that last push to propel you forward.
The quadriceps and hamstring are the front and back muscles of the thigh. The hamstrings activate(best stretches for paddle boarding) when you bend your knees on the paddle board and function to keep you from falling while the quadriceps push against the board to give you the leverage needed to create a powerful paddle stroke.
As you pull the SUP paddle through the water, you are working your back muscles quite thoroughly. Your latissimus dorsi (lats) are the biggest muscles in your back and pulling on the paddle is akin to doing upright rows in the gym while the rhomboid muscles in the upper back get worked as if you were doing wide grip rows on the cable machine.
If you want to carve out some terrific abs, spend more time on a paddle board! Your oblique muscles which are on the sides of your abs really benefit from the turning and pulling that you do during the power phase of the paddle stroke.
Arms and Shoulders
Because of the pulling, dipping and lifting that is done during the paddle stroke, paddle boarding builds great shoulders. Due to the pushing and pulling that takes place during the SUP paddle stroke, both your biceps and triceps also get a great workout. Your forearms also get a workout from the gripping of the paddle shaft.
Cardio benefits of SUP
Yes, paddle boarding is good for your heart as well according to a study by the American Council of Exercise (ACE). The study found that experienced paddlers were able to get their heart rate up to a level that allowed SUP to be an alternative to traditional cardiovascular endurance sports such as biking, jogging, and swimming
Paddling your stand up paddle board
The first paddle board that most of us tried was usually at a hard paddle board rental livery. Your best bet for success is to rent that first board on a placid lake that doesn't have a lot of chop from boat wakes. Trying to learn while on your ocean road trip is a recipe for frustration as you will find yourself doing more swimming than paddling.
Most SUP rental outfits rent all around paddle boards with a planing hull which means that you have a very flexible SUP that is shaped like a surf board although most of us weren't thinking about riding waves on our first expedition on the water. There is plenty of time to catch waves once you have mastered the basics.
Getting the paddle right
First and foremost let's get the paddle blade direction correct because nothing drives paddlers of all skill levels nuts than a newbie who holds the paddle backwards. Note that the paddle angles forward and it looks like you should be pulling the "scoop" of the paddle towards you.
This is actually the opposite of what you should be doing. The paddles were designed to improve efficiency of the paddle stroke so that you can go longer distances at faster speeds without needing to switch your paddle to the other side of the board.
It will seem counterintuitive but you want to have the back of the scoop pulling towards you. If you use the scoop portion to generate your power, your paddle board will start making a turn and you will need to switch sides to straighten your path out. Using the other side of the paddle will allow your board to track nice and straight.
Sizing the paddle
Make sure that the paddle has been properly sized for you by reaching your hand up to the T-top handle while you are standing on the ground. The handle should rest under the bend in your wrist if the paddle is sized properly.
To position your hands correctly on the paddle lift the paddle and let it rest on your head while one hand is on the T and the other on the shaft. Position the hand on the shaft so that both of your arms form a 90 degree angle. You may find it helpful to mark where your hand on the paddle shaft is with a piece of tape.
To perform a proper paddle stroke, you should feel like you are "throwing" the blade up towards the nose of the paddle board. Now pull the paddle towards you and pull it out of the water slightly past your feet. Your arms will have the correct amount of bend to them if your arm is in the correct position on the shaft which was determined by the 90 degree tick mentioned above.
If you plan on doing a lot of long distance paddling, you may want to upgrade to a carbon fiber paddle. Carbon fiber is a very strong material but it's main benefit is that it is lighter than aluminum so you won't tire as easily. At most races, you will only see only carbon fiber paddles.
Standing for the first time
Most people find the prospect of standing on an unstable board in the water for the first time pretty daunting. The key is to take things slowly and adapt to the feel of the paddle board.
Ideally, you will want to start in thigh deep calm water the first time that you mount your paddle board. Put your paddle across the board about a foot in front of the handle that is in the middle of the board.
You've got to crawl before you can stand
Next crawl onto the board and make sure the handle is directly below you. Slowly progress from all fours onto your knees as you pick up your paddle.
Since you are on your knees you will not be able to grip the T handle on the paddle but instead will have to put your top hand a foot or two below it and your lower hand will need to be closer to the paddle blade.
Paddle around on your knees for a bit so that you can get a feel for the water conditions and how your paddle board reacts to them. Because you have lowered your center of gravity significantly, it should not be too difficult to balance in this position.
One smooth movement from your knees to feet
Now for the moment of truth! Time to take a stand!
The key is to build up some speed while still on your knees as the board will have a more stable feel with the momentum. Once you are feeling bold enough to take the next step, put your paddle back across the front of the board and both hands on deck pad in front of your knees.
In one single, smooth move push yourself up to standing position. The trickiest part of this maneuver is to grab your paddle as you are standing. If you don't grab your paddle on the way up, you are going to have to bend over once you are standing to pick it up which could compromise your balance significantly.
The SUP paddle becomes an additional limb
You will feel a bit unsteady when you first get to your feet. The trick is to get your paddle blade in the water quickly as the paddle will act as a third leg to balance on. Even though the paddle is in the water, you will be amazed how well that third touch point will stabilize you.
You will find that you remain stable as long as you are paddling. A common mistake with paddlers of all skill levels is to freeze up when a boat wake approaches them which increases the chances of falling exponentially. It's much better to paddle right through the wake.
Turning your SUP
Sure, paddling in a straight line is fun for a bit but eventually you are going to want to get back home. So how do you turn this thing?
The slow turn
An easy way to get your SUP to turn is just to paddle on one side. The paddle board will make a slow arc in the opposite direction. It's actually a pretty good technique while you are still unsteady on your board because there are no sudden movements.
A quicker turn
Once you become more comfortable on your stand up paddle board, you can accelerate your turn by using your paddle as a brake. In this case, you will want to put your paddle in the water on the side that you want to turn on, slightly behind your feet with the scooper portion of the paddle facing the nose of the paddle board. Now pull that scooper portion of the paddle blade towards the nose of the board.
This backward paddling not only slows your forward momentum but it also speeds up your turn quite a bit. Once the turn begins, switch the paddle to the other side of the board and paddle normally. This will complete the turn for you and get you started in the opposite direction.
The quickest turn of all
For a quick turn that is used by SUP racers to speed up turns around buoys, you need to be a fairly advanced paddler but it's a fun one once you are ready. In this case, you will move your feet into a surfer's stance with one foot forward to the nose of the board and the other back on the tail.
Transfer your weight to the foot that is on the tail of the board so that you push the nose out of the water. Then paddle on the opposite side of the board of the direction that you want to turn. Having the nose of the stand up paddle board out of the water will increase the speed of the turn exponentially. You will undoubtedly fall quite a bit before you master this move which leads us into our next section.
How to get back on the paddle board
Falling off of a stand up paddle board is just part of the sport, especially while you are learning. The trick is being able to do so safely and to be able to get back on quickly.
When you feel yourself starting to fall, try and hold onto your paddle and try to fall flat away from your board. Falling flat will keep your fall shallow in case there are rocks near the surface of the water.
Your SUP paddle should float so let it float close to the paddle board. Then grab the handle of the board and use it for leverage so that you can grab the board rail (side of the paddle board) on the side of the board that is away from you. Now, kick hard with your feet to get your chest up on the board. Once most of your upper body is back on the board, it is fairly easy to get back on all fours.
The best paddle board for beginner paddlers
Beginners usually begin paddle boarding on flat water but typically need more stability than they would get on a touring SUP board. An all around paddle board which is shaped more like an old school surfboard tends to work better for those new to the sport.
Hard paddle boards that have this shape usually have a board thickness of 1 to 2 inches so they tend to be less tippy than the thicker touring solid board. They also are usually 3 to 4 inches wider than a touring board. If you are looking at an inflatable paddle board, the thickness rule doesn't apply since most of the more rigid inflatable SUPs are 6 inches thick.
Check the board volume
The board length on most all around paddle boards is usually 10 to 11 feet so they tend to be a shorter board than a touring SUP. An 11 foot board length will give you more board volume over a 10 footer so keep that in mind when figuring out the board volume that is right for you.
Other advantages all around paddle boards
An all purpose SUP board makes sense if you are trying to get the entire family into paddle boarding. Some family members might want to use it for SUP yoga while others might want to throw on a shorter fin and go river paddling or catch waves at the beach.
After trying some of the other SUP disciplines, you may decide that all you want to do is go long distances on flatter water. If that is the case, you can always change the board out for a touring board.
Paddle boarding on flat water
When most people start their stand up paddle board journey, they focus mainly on flat water paddling. The right board fo long distance paddling on flat water typically has a pointed nose and a displacement hull for extra glide with less effort.
Displacement hulls are designed so that the hull slices through the water in front of you and will shed it to the sides of the paddle board. This is quite different from planing hulls which are built to skim over the surface of the water once the paddle board has gotten up to the necessary speed.
Performance characteristics of touring boards with displacement hulls
Touring paddle boards tend to be a longer board that is built to travel long distances. Touring SUP boards are designed to track straighter than an all around paddle board that utilizes a planing hull.
Advanced paddlers typically want a touring board that is as narrow as possible. Those that want a more stable feel usually go with a board that is at least 30 inches wide or more.
Get more glide from your paddle board
A touring paddle board length is typically 12 to 14 feet. Longer boards have a higher weight capacity than a shorter board does and will glide further with each paddle stroke.
The fin base typically accommodates a single fin to improve efficiency when paddling. There is no need for a 3 fin setup with touring paddle boards.
Inflatable paddle boards or hard SUPs make for thicker touring boards
The board thickness on hard boards with displacement hulls is typically 5 to 6 inches. Most inflatable paddle boards are already in that thickness range unless it's a cheaper board.
Touring SUP boards typically have multiple attachment points for storing gear. The weight capacity of the SUP is based on the board volume so make certain that you factor in this extra cargo weight when figuring out the weight capacity that you need your SUP board to have.
The displacement hull requires less effort to get up to speed than a planing hull does. There are some race SUP boards with planing hulls but the displacement hull makes more sense if you want a smooth ride and the ability to get up to speed quickly.
Paddle stroke for touring boards
A touring SUP paddle stroke is a longer stroke that maximizes glide as opposed to a shorter stroke that you would use in river paddling. This is a truism whether you prefer a solid board or an inflatable SUP. The idea is to let the displacement hull cut through any chop on the waterway and let you perform more paddle strokes on one side of the board before switching sides.
Inflatable paddle board considerations
For those that live in small spaces where storage space is minimal an inflatable SUP makes a great alternative to a hard stand up paddle board. Because there is no foam core in an inflatable board, you just deflate it and put it in its storage bag which fits in most closets.
Inflatable paddle boards have become hugely popular in recent years because of both ease of storage and transportation. With recent gains in inflatable board technology, boards from top brands have 90 percent of the rigidity of a hard stand up paddle board.
Paddle boarding has surged in popularity over the last 2 years. Many new paddlers became aware of the health benefits of SUP. Whether you are interested in an inflatable paddle board or a hard SUP, these tips should help you get started in this incredibly fun sport.