How to Paddle Board Like an Expert

So you want to learn how to paddle board but have no idea where to start? We give you the basics here.

Want to master the faster growing water sport in the world?

paddle boarding

Stand up paddle boarding is a watersport which allows you to explore waterways without necessarily going into them (although you've always got a chance to!). Unlike canoes and kayaks, the paddle board is a flat board on which the paddlers can stand up, kneel on or lie down for paddles.

It's like a canoe paddle but longer

SUP paddles are similar to canoe paddles with a blade at one end and a handle at the other but are longer than most paddles because you are standing, not sitting on a SUP board. SUP has gained popularity in the past couple of years as an enjoyable and relaxing means of traveling diverse waterways such as lakes, ocean, bays, rivers.

Is paddle boarding difficult?

paddle board sup with dogs on it

Spoiler Alert: paddle boarding is not hard! It's easy to learn the basics with a few days of work. There are more difficult forms of SUP such as SUP surf and long distance SUP touring but for just basic paddle boarding, you can pick up the sport quite quickly.

Get geared up to SUP

man lying on paddle board deck pad

Good news: It only takes two pieces of gear to enjoy paddle boarding: a stand up paddle board and a SUP paddle. Getting your first paddle boarding excursion together may require you to rent gear or borrow it from friends. Once you’re happy and have the skills needed, you can look into buying SUP gear.

What kind of paddle boarding will you be doing and where will you be doing it?

Your board choice depends upon your intended use and local circumstances. Different boards excel in different sports including whitewater, surfing, touring, racing and SUP yoga. If you are renting a board, the rental team will guide you through your choices.

Obey the Coast Guard

Regardless of whether you rent or buy, make sure that you have a personal flotation device (the Coast Guard requires one) and that you use a leash. A safety whistle isn't a bad idea as well.

Types of paddle boards

Paddle boards are available in various sizes. Most SUP boards are between 6'6" - 12 feet in length and can measure 31" - 35" in width. SUP boards are larger than a regular surfing board in most cases. Beginner paddle boards should have a total height of at least 11'6 inches and 31 inches width. Make sure your board can hold a sufficient amount of weight . See: A Guide to Choosing a Paddle Board for Beginners.

Why do some people get hard boards and some inflatable SUPs?

knees bent on paddle board sup

There is a lot of confusion out there about inflatable SUPs versus hard boards. A lot of factors come into play when choosing one over the other.

It all started with the hard SUP board

first sup outing

Stand up paddle boards are available in different forms and sizes. The most commonly used paddle boards are your typical epoxy paddle board or hard paddle board. An epoxy board can be wrapped around an EPS foam core and has a fin for on the bottom of the board.

Then came inflatable SUPs

group around sup board

In 2014, the inflatable paddle board was introduced. Increasingly inflatable paddle boards have become very popular. The inflatable SUP is a good stand up paddle board option because they offer a variety of advantages compared to epoxy paddle boards.

The main advantages are ease of transport and the fact that they don't require much in the way of storage space when they are deflated. Because of advances in technology, a well made inflatable paddle board is 90% as rigid as a hard board.

Both types of paddle boards offer a variety of options, depending on your lifestyle needs. How does a person choose between different options?

Paddle boarding for beginners

jumping around a stand up paddle board

Stand up paddle boarding or SUP is basically using a long paddle to power a giant surfboard through the water. Sure, it sounds boring but trust us, once you learn the ropes, it's an absolute blast and a full body workout! Paddle boarding was inspired originally inspired by the surf industry.

A sport you can do when there are no waves

Unlike surfing, though, paddleboarders can move forward with their trusty paddles whenever they like. They don't need to wait for a wave to propel them forward.

Sizing your paddle

woman kneeling on paddle board

You want to make sure that your paddle is sized properly to make sure you are getting the most out of every paddle stroke and that the stroke isn't impacting your tendons in a negative way. The correct size for a SUP paddle varies wildly depending on who is paddling and what kind of paddling you plan on doing.

Start with an adjustable paddle

It's best that you start with an adjustable paddle so that you can try a variety of SUP paddle sizes. For long distance paddling you will want a longer paddle length than if you are SUP surfing or trying whitewater SUP. This article sheds more light on the process: SUP paddle sizing.

Make sure your paddle is facing the right way

kids on paddle boards

The direction that the paddle should face is not intuitive at all. Common sense tells us that our paddle should scoop the water as that would let you move more water with each paddle stroke. The paddle, however, faces the opposite direction which results in a softer paddle stroke and less strain on the shoulders and elbows.

Don't scoop!

You will also find that if your paddle is in "scoop mode" that you need to switch sides as you paddle more frequently because the board will start to turn on you. Switching sides of the paddle board constantly slows your momentum.

How to paddle board

two girls paddle boarding

It’s critical that we learn proper paddle boarding techniques to increase power and torque, and increase balance and strength. It improves your paddling speed and improves your workout time. By learning the correct technique it helps increase the stability of the board and allows for more maneuverability as well. Following are some helpful tips to get you started paddle boarding.

Practice standing for the first time on land

woman holding sup paddle

It's a good idea to practice standing up when you are off your board initially just so that you understand the motion required before you try it on the board. Your carpet at home will work well for this.

Start by lying with a flat body on the carpet. From that position use your hands to push yourself onto your knees. Make sure your knees are shoulder width apart and then use your arms to help push yourself into a standing position quickly. You want to use your legs to pop you up in one smooth movement because the longer you take, the more likely you are to be going for a swim.

Your first SUP outing

sup yoga with blade forward

Now that you have a feeling for the motion to get yourself into standing position, you are ready for your first SUP adventure! Once you have rented the right board for your height and weight, stand next to the paddle board in knee deep water.

Prone position first

Lie down on the board with your paddle across the board slightly in front of you. From this position, you will paddle the board with your arms as you have probably seen surfers do to get out to deeper water. If the deeper water is a ways out, put the paddle blade under your chest so that the paddle shaft hovers above your SUP board.

Start paddling on your knees

inflatable sups with carbon fiber paddles

Once you get to water that is about waist deep, push yourself up onto your knees and grab your paddle. Make sure that your knees are at the center point of the board which is located directly around the center handle.

Put both hands on the paddle shaft as you won't be able to reach the handle while on your knees. Paddle the board forward in a straight line for bit to get up some momentum. Speed will make your board easier to stand up on as it will tend to be more stable.

Time to stand on your board

inflatable sups with boy paddling

Once you have gotten the paddle board moving, put the paddle across the deck pad, slightly in front of your knees. Now get on all fours and push yourself into the standing position in one fluid motion.

Remember that if you slowly stand, you are more likely to fall. Make sure that your feet are hip width distance apart on the center of the board with your knees slightly bent and your toes pointed forward and your feet parallel to each other. Then reach down to pick up your paddle. Which brings up our next section...

Fall off your board the proper way

falling off of a paddle board

Even pros fall occasionally when stand up paddle boarding and standing for the first time on your board often results in a fall. It’s important to be aware of the water depth before you fall off.

Much like practicing tricks or wave riding, practicing falls or knowing how to jump safely off your board can help prevent injury. SUP boards can hurt when hitting the paddler who is doing the falling.

Practice falling away from your stand up paddle board and "falling shallow" if the water you are in isn't too deep or their are rocks or logs close to the surface.

Getting back on your paddle board

Hopefully you are still in waist high water as that will making getting back on the board easier. Position yourself on one side of the board, with your hands straddling the handle. Now, give a little jump with your feet and pull yourself back on the paddle board. If you are in deeper water, do a little frog kick as you are pushing with your arms.

Get back into kneeling position on the paddle board and start the standing process all over again. Remember to get your momentum up while on your knees.

Paddling Techniques

The paddle technique for the forward stroke on a paddle board is fairly straightforward. You'll have the upper hand pushing the handle while your lower hand functions to pull the shaft.

The hand positions are different than you used when you are on your knees as you can now reach the top handle. Keep a fairly loose paddle grip so that your muscles don't get too tense.

Forward stroke

Starting on the right side of your paddle board, put your left hand on the top handle of the paddle and your right hand lower down the shaft. Keep your arms straight so that they create an A frame with the paddle. This will help you activate the larger core muscles when you paddle.

Keep your shoulders steady and reach forward with the blade towards the nose of the paddle board. Keep your heels flat and pull the blade along the side of your board until it is slightly past your feet at which point you will remove it from the water and start the stroke over again.

As you paddle forward, you will keep the board straight by switching paddle sides when the board starts veering too far in one direction. In order to switch sides, finish the paddle stroke, pull the blade out of the water and switch hands to opposite positions on the shaft as you put the blade in the water on the other side of the board.

Don't waste too much time with this maneuver because having the paddle in the water helps you maintain balance because it's another point of contact for stability, much like a cane is on land.

Paddling with your core

You should never be using only your arms to paddle. It might feel odd initially, but a proper paddle stroke requires the bigger muscles in your body like your core and legs to engage as well.

Arm paddling is extremely inefficient and will tire you out quite quickly. It also places unnecessary stress on your tendons and ligaments.

Look at the horizon

stand up paddle board from a distance

When you start to paddle, the natural tendency is to glance up for oncoming boats or to watch the surface of the water and pray that you won't be falling in it. To achieve maximum stability you should keep your head upright with your back straight and your knees bent slightly. It may seem silly, but when you look at water, it can throw off your equilibrium and before you know it, you will be in it!

Paddling techniques for turning the board

You can't paddle in a straight line all day, at some point all paddle boarders are going to need to turn around to go home. We have several different paddle boarding tips for how to turn your board.  Each one depends on how quickly you need to turn.

The Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke is the easiest turning technique to learn because it's also the slowest means of turning your paddle board. You are unlikely to fall when you deploy this method.

Start the stroke with your blade forward up by the nose of the board. Instead of pulling the blade along the rails (sides) of your paddle board, sweep the blade out several feet so that you create an arc that finishes around your feet. Keep repeating this stroke until you are heading in your chosen direction.

If you want to speed this stroke up, reverse the blade so that you are scooping more water with each stroke. Just be prepared for someone yelling "NOOB!" at you because they'll think you have your paddle backwards unintentionally.

The Reverse Sweep Stroke

how to paddle board

This reverse stroke takes a bit more skill than it's forward variation but it will also turn your paddle board quicker. Once you've mastered it, you will probably use it more than the other techniques.

For the reverse stroke, you will start with the blade slightly behind your feet. You are going to reverse the blade for this maneuver so that you are using the "scooper" to push more water. Sweep the paddle out a few feet from the back of the board to the nose. You will find that you only need a few of these strokes to turn your board around.

The Step Back Stroke

knees slightly bent on inflatable paddle boards

Also known as the "pivot turn", the step back stroke is something used by advanced paddlers. It was perfected by SUP racers that need to turn around buoys quickly during a race.

As the name implies, you are going to step back on the tail of the paddle board with one foot to raise the nose of the board above the water. Keep the other foot up in the middle of the board. Now use the forward stroke with a little sweep to it to turn the board.

Because the nose of the board is out of the water, there is little resistance to fight against and you will turn very quickly. Prepare to fall A LOT until you have perfected this one!

Beginner Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tips

paddle forward on sup board

Let's conclude with a few paddle boarding tips that will make your first experiences on a paddle board more productive and enjoyable.

Don't stress about falling. Remember that you are falling into water and even if it's fairly shallow the water has a cushioning effect - just ask any white water paddle boarder!

When stand up paddle boarding on a windy day, always wear a leash and PFD and start your paddle board session into the wind. Otherwise, you run the risk of the wind propelling you far downwater and you will be fatigued as you try and fight your way back to your starting spot.

Always check the weather before heading out. Many parts of the country have freak storms that can come up even in the summer.

If you do get caught in a storm and it's too windy for you to paddle back to your starting spot, get in the prone position with your paddle blade under your chest. You will be amazed at how much quicker you can cut through the wind when you are no longer a Human Sail.

Remember when you are in shallow areas that you have a fin that reaches 9 to 10 inches below your board and if it catches on a rock or log, you will be falling head first off your board into that shallow water. You also risk breaking the fin or - even worse - damaging the fin box that houses the board.


sitting on inflatable paddle boards

Paddle boarding has been the fastest growing water sport in the world for several years now. It is very accessible to most people. If you follow the simple suggestions in this article, you will keeping up with the expert paddle boarders by the time the summer is over!