What's The Difference Between Paddle Boarding On a Lake Vs the Ocean?

We break down the differences between paddle boarding on lakes versus the ocean.


stand up paddle board bag and sup paddle

Stand up paddle boarding is a fun and relaxing to explore the outdoors. Find out in this blog article what the differences are between paddle boarding on a lake vs the ocean, and which one you might want to start out on.

What is the difference?

stand up paddle board in a straight line

Paddle boarding on the placid water of a lake is much different than ocean paddle boarding. There are typically much fewer waves and swell to contend with. This makes for a much more stable and predictable experience. With ocean paddle boarding, you are often contending with larger waves and more unpredictable conditions. This can make for a more challenging but exciting experience.

My personal experience

shoulder carry strap and sleeping bag on a paddle board over marine life

There can also be more cross currents and trade winds to take into account when paddling a SUP board in the ocean. My first SUP outing was in the ocean in Hawaii and I spent most of that time in the kneeling position. When I did stand up, I would take a few strokes and either the wind or chop would knock me back into the ocean. I thought the Coast Guard was going to need to rescue me from my first SUP adventure!

What are the benefits of paddle boarding on a lake?

stand up paddle t grip on sup board

Most people are going to have easier access to a lake than the ocean, unless you are one of the lucky few who live on the coast. Proximity aside though, you will pick up stand up paddling and improve your skill level much quicker in calm water.

Paddle boarding on flat water can be a great way to get out and enjoy nature. Paddle boarding can help to tone your muscles and improve your balance (assuming you can stay balanced!)

If you have the proper technique, paddle boarding not only can be an incredible workout but the calmer water allows you to see much of the marine life that is swimming below your stand up paddle board.

Is it easier to learn on a lake or in the ocean?

inflatable paddle boards and hard paddle boards

There are many factors to consider when wondering if it is easier to learn stand up paddle boarding on flat water or in the ocean. The type of board, the size of the waves, and the wind conditions are just a few things that can affect the difficulty level of paddle boarding.

In general, flat water is going to be easier to learn on than the ocean. This is because there are less variables that can affect your balance and stability on the board. When you're first starting out, it's important to have as much stability as possible so you can focus on learning the proper techniques.

However, that doesn't mean that learning on the ocean is impossible. If you have access to calm waters and small waves, you'll still be able to get a hang of stand up paddle boarding relatively quickly. Just be prepared for a little more challenging conditions than what you would find on flat water.

What are the benefits of paddling in the ocean?

hand positions for carry handle and reverse stroke or reverse sweep stroke

Getting out to paddle your SUP board on the ocean can really be a treat. Advanced paddlers typically like to try their hand at catching waves while SUP surfing. Because stand up paddle boards are so buoyant and because the paddler is already in the standing position, it makes it possible to surf even ankle high waves which can do wonders for one's confidence. Just make sure that you aren't in a swimming area when you attempt this.

Ocean SUP surfing basics

sup paddle technique and paddle forward on your paddle board

Surfing your paddle board isn't all that difficult but it helps if you use a shorter paddle than you would on a lake a learn a few strokes like the reverse and forward sweep stroke to compliment the forward stroke and reverse stroke that most paddle boarders are already familiar with. The sweep stroke is similar to a standard paddle board stroke, however, you bring the paddle out a foot or two from the board so that you can turn yourself much more quickly when a wave comes.

To really master surfing your paddle board, you will want to be able to easily transition from the normal SUP stance of knees slightly bent, feet parallel, shoulder width apart to a surfing stance where one foot is on the tail of the paddle board and the other foot is up by the carry handle which is the center point of the board.

When a swell is developing behind you, you will want to use a sweep stroke so that you turn your board to face the beach. Keep your feet parallel and paddle with your arms straight to active your core muscles and take a few strokes to give your board some momentum to catch the wave more easily. Your paddle stroke should be fairly short at this point. It's a good idea to practice these paddling techniques prior to finding yourself catching a wave!

Once you feel the wave propelling you, perform a smooth jumping motion to switch the one foot to the tail of the board and the other on the center point. Adjust your paddle grip so that that you easily use your SUP paddle as either a brake if you get to far ahead of the wave or so that you can make even quicker paddle strokes if the wave starts to get ahead of you. Try that trick on a surfboard!

And, just like that, you're SUP surfing!

What kind of paddle boards should you buy?

stand up paddle board equipment with sup paddles

In order to decide what kind of paddle board is right for you, you first need to think about where you'll be doing most of your paddling. If you're planning on mostly flat water paddling, like on a lake then a touring paddle board with a pointed nose is a good choice.

These boards are versatile and can be used in a variety of conditions. They also have a displacement hull which is great for cutting through lake chop when SUP touring.

If you're planning on doing more ocean paddling, then a surf-specific or all around board might be a better option. The planing hull on these boards will help with SUP surfing (also known as "paddle surfing"). They tend to perform more like a regular surfboard.

Sizing your Paddle Board

inflatable sup paddles

When it comes to choosing the right size paddle board, it's important to consider your height and weight. You want to make sure you get a board that's big enough to support your weight, but not so big that it's unwieldy to maneuver. If you're unsure about what size to get, it's always best to err on the side of caution and go with a larger board.

Types of Hard Paddle Boards

paddling techniques on inflatable sups require the paddle blade forward

Finally, when it comes to choosing the right material for your hard paddle board, there are three main options: fiberglass, epoxy, and carbon fiber that cover the EPS foam core of the board. Fiberglass is the most affordable option and is often used in entry-level boards. Epoxy is more durable than fiberglass and is a good choice for intermediate paddlers. Carbon fiber is the lightest and strongest option but also the most expensive. Ultimately, the material you choose should be based on your budget and intended use for the board.

Types of Inflatable Paddle Boards

stand up paddle board forward with knees slightly bent

Inflatable paddle boards or inflatable SUPs as they are also referred to are easier to store and easier to transport than their hard paddle board brethren are. You can throw an inflatable SUP board in a board bag and store it as luggage on a plane.

Inflatable paddle boards are typically manufactured with layers of PVC that cover a drop stitch core. Stiffness on SUP boards that use newer technology is just a hair below hard boards.

Inflatable SUPs are made in shapes that are similar to hard boards. If you plan on paddling on a lake or the open ocean out past the breakers, you will probably want a longer touring type board. If you are more interested in paddle surfing while in the ocean, you will want to look for a shorter board that is easier to turn and maneuver in the waves.

You May Need a Different SUP Paddle Depending on the Waterway

stand up paddle board equipment with a forward stroke

Touring paddle boards tend to be thicker thicker than all around paddle boards so you will want to make sure that you have a longer SUP paddle to adjust for the difference in board thickness. When paddling on flatter water, you will usually have your arms straight and feet parallel so that you can reach forward with the paddle to take longer strokes using your core muscles rather than just using your arms.

Stand up paddle boarding tips for beginners

stand up paddle boards for paddle surfing on first sup outing

Once you've chosen the right board, it's time to start learning the basics. If you're new to paddle boarding, there are a few helpful tips you should keep in mind:

1. Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) –Stand up paddling is a relatively safe activity, but it's always best to err on the side of caution. Wear a PFD at all times, even if you're just paddling around in calm water.

2. Don't go out alone – It's always best to paddle with at least one other person. That way, if something happens, there's someone there to help.

3. Be aware of your surroundings – Pay attention to the weather and water conditions before heading out, and be sure to avoid areas with strong currents or high waves.

4. Other safety equipment that you should invest in are: a paddle board leash and a safety whistle. A leash is a must in the ocean but also a good idea in a lake as the wind has a tendency to sent paddle boards away from the paddle boarder.

5. Consider a dry bag for your valuables. Make sure it's a dry bag that floats and can be synched down under the bungees on our paddle board.

What do I wear for paddle boarding on the ocean?

stand up paddle board leash and personal flotation device

Assuming you have the proper paddle boarding gear, you will want to wear a swimsuit or quick-dry clothing. You may also want to wear a rash guard or t-shirt to help protect your skin from the sun and salt water. You will also want to wear shoes that can get wet, such as sandals or water shoes. Finally, don't forget to apply sunscreen to protect you from UV rays!


sup yoga with left hand and top arm on an inflatable paddle board

If you've been interested in trying out paddle boards and are thinking that you will wait until your next beach vacation to give it a try, you may want to reconsider and rent a stand up paddle board at your local lake. Learning the paddle board basics and paddling techniques before you head out to the ocean will make your ocean SUP adventure, exponentially more fun and rewarding!