Welcome to our comprehensive beginner's guide on how to stand-up paddleboard for beginners. Whether you're a seasoned surfer looking to try something new or a complete water sports novice, SUP is an exciting and accessible activity that everyone can enjoy. This guide will provide step-by-step instructions, tips, and tricks to ensure your first SUP experience is fun, safe, and rewarding. Let's dive in and start your SUP adventure!
What Gear do I need to Stand Up Paddleboard - The Bare Minimum
Stand Up Paddleboard (you have a choice between Inflatable or Hard Paddleboards)
When you first head out, renting is the way to go. Most rental companies offer very stable, all-round boards which are ideal for learning. As you gain more experience, ask to try different styles of boards - various lengths, widths, volumes, planing boards vs displacement boards, and inflatable vs hard boards. This is how you will learn what features you like and don’t like which will be helpful if you decide to buy your own board.
Read our post about what to consider when renting a board.
As you paddle more, you will start to get a feel for the type of paddling you might like to pursue - recreational, SUP yoga, touring, racing, SUP surfing or river SUP perhaps, Gather as much information as you can from professionals to help inform your future investment in boards and other gear.
If you would like to learn more about the different types of paddleboards consider reading our post on Planning vs. Displacement Haul Paddleboards or our post Inflatable vs. Hardboard - Which Paddleboard Type is Best for You.
If you want to jump straight to purchasing a paddleboard consider reading our guide on factors to consider when purchasing a Paddleboard.
The paddle is your conduit to the water, your motor that propels you forward, and your rudder that helps you navigate. It's a fundamental extension of your body when you're on the board. Most often, when you purchase a paddleboard, especially inflatable ones or beginner-friendly options, a paddle will be included. This is a great starting point for newbies.
However, with hard boards and some high-end brands, a paddle is not always included in the package. This is because they assume that you either already have a paddle or that you would prefer to select one that suits your specific needs in terms of size, weight, and material.
The coiled SUP leash is a safety device for keeping you connected to your board. It’s important to stay tethered to the board so it doesn’t drift away or become a hazard for other paddleboarders, swimmers, and boats. It also keeps you from getting separated from your gear (especially if you happen to fall off in deep water
It is highly recommended by the Canadian Coast Guard that you always wear a PFD or life jacket when you are Stand Up Paddleboarding. It’s important to choose the right fit, style and design for your size and needs, so make sure to shop around before making a choice.
You can learn how to pick the right PFD by reading our article about What is the Best PFD for Paddleboarding.
Dress Appropriately - Wear the Proper Gear
Choosing the right clothing when paddleboarding is paramount for safety and comfort. Weather conditions and water temperature significantly influence your clothing choice. In warmer climates, a swimsuit, board shorts, or light synthetic garments could suffice.
However, in colder conditions, you might want to consider a wetsuit or drysuit to maintain body heat. Always opt for quick-drying, sun-protective clothing. Remember, cotton is a poor choice as it retains water and might leave you cold and uncomfortable. Footwear is typically not required, but water shoes can offer extra grip on slippery surfaces.
Don't forget to bring along a hat, sunglasses, and high-SPF waterproof sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun's potent rays. Remember, always dress for the water temperature, not just the air temperature – if you fall in, you'll be glad you did.
Want to learn more about how to dress for paddleboarding? Read our guide "Ultimate Guide on What to Wear Paddleboarding - Dress Right & Stay Comfy"
10-litre dry bag with day kit
This essential accessory serves as your floating backpack, offering dry and secure storage for all your necessities while you're out on the water. Not only does it accommodate your first-aid kit – an absolute must-have for dealing with any minor injuries or emergencies – but it also provides room for spare clothing, ensuring you're prepared for any weather changes or water mishaps.
Your electronics, such as your phone or GPS, can be safely stowed away in a dry bag, protecting them from water damage while keeping them within easy reach. And of course, it's the perfect place to stash your snacks for when hunger strikes mid-paddle.
But beyond these basics, a dry bag can also hold other useful items like sunscreen, hydration packs, and even your car keys. It's truly a must-have for every paddleboard outing.
If you are not sure how you are going to fit all these items into your dry bag read our article "How to Pack a Dry Bag for a Day Trip"
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit should always be taken on a paddleboarding trip. The kit should contain the necessary items to attend any minor injuries or emergencies that may occur, such as band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and painkillers. Additionally, it's important to include items such as sunscreen, insect repellant, lip balm, etc.
Pealess whistle or other sound signalling device:
This is an essential item to carry with you, as it can help signal for assistance in case of emergency. Make sure the whistle or other sound signalling device is easy to use and loud enough for people nearby to hear. A pealess whistle is recommended, as there are no moving parts that could get stuck or break and will work in any condition
5 Easy Steps to Start Stand Up Paddleboarding
New to Stand Up Paddleboarding? We have just the thing for you! Our 5 Easy Steps to Start Stand Up Paddleboarding PDF Resource was created by one of Vancouver Islands' top SUP Instructors, Pam Martin. This comprehensive guide provides you with everything you need to know so you can hit the water safely this summer!
The Essential Paddleboarding Techniques to Know
How to properly size your paddleboard paddle
There are many ways to size your paddle and many factors to take into consideration when determining the perfect paddle length for you. Arm length, your height, strength, experience level, board thickness and the type of SUP activity you are doing - recreational, racing, surfing or touring - all have an impact on your desired paddle length. To keep things simple for paddlers just starting out, I recommend this quick and easy method that will help you prevent injury while still efficiently propelling you through the water.
Unlock the mechanism that locks your adjustable paddle in place - this could be a lever, button or other contraption on or near the handle grip.
With one hand hold your paddle in front of you with the blade tip resting on the ground.
Raise your opposite arm and place the inside of your wrist at the flat edge of the handle grip. Let your hand drape gently over the T grip.
Now, move the paddle shaft up or down until you find the sweet spot where your arm has a slight bend at the elbow and your wrist is bent over the top.
Once this position is determined, bring the paddle length down approximately 2.5cm (1 inch). Most shoulder injuries are caused by paddles that are too long.
This is a great starting point for most beginners. Once on the board, you can adjust the paddle a little in either direction if necessary. Remember, a paddle too long may cause shoulder injury and a paddle too short may cause you to tire easily if you need to bend over too far to take a stroke.
How to Hold a SUP Paddle
To hold a SUP (stand-up paddle) paddle, grip it with both hands, ensuring that the blade is facing forward (curve of the paddle facing the back of the board). Your top hand should be on the paddle's handle, and your bottom hand should be on the shaft, keeping your arms straight and maintaining a comfortable shoulder-width distance between your hands.
How to Launching and Landing Your Paddleboard
When launching from a dock or shoreline, always start out kneeling. That way, if you fall in, you are less likely to injure yourself on the dock, rocks or other obstacles. When coming in for a landing, get back down.
If launching from shore, be mindful of the fin under your board and make sure it does not drag on the ground or hit rocks. Water shoes, sandals or booties are good to wear when launching and landing and can be stowed on board.
Point the nose of your board into any waves that may be coming towards you. You want to prevent your board from being pushed back sideways into you.
How to Turn and Stop Your Paddleboard
Practice turning and stopping while you are still on your knees.
Turning right: Fully submerge the paddle blade, at an angle, in the water on the left side of the nose of your board. Create an arch or rainbow through the water ending at the back of your board. This will push the nose of your board to the right.
Turning left: Fully submerge the paddle blade, at an angle, in the water on the right side of the nose of your board. Create an arch or rainbow through the water ending at the back of your board. This will push the nose of your board to the left.
Stopping: Fully submerge the blade of your paddle in the water beside and slightly behind where you are sitting or standing. Push the paddle forward to slow down or stop quickly. The harder you push the faster you will stop. You will also turn the board this way and may need to switch sides and repeat in order to stay facing the direction you want.
How to stand up on a paddleboard
If you choose to stand up on your board, do so away from shallow water, docks, rocks or other paddlers. The centre of balance on a board is at the position of the centre handle or slot. To start out, place your knees on either side of this handle.
The first step in standing is to place your paddle across the board in front of you while you are in a “tabletop” position.
Take a deep breath and relax.
Look gently towards the nose of your board.
Slowly lift one knee up, bring your foot forward and place your foot where your knee was. Do the same with the opposite leg.
Ground your feet firmly into your board and slowly lift your body up while straightening your legs. Leave a relaxed bend in your knees - an athletic stance.
As you are rising, begin slowly paddling. Don’t worry about your technique at this point - the goal is to start moving in order to add stability to the board. Like riding a bicycle you are more stable when moving than when stationary.
Remember to kneel when necessary - There is no shame in kneeling and in fact there can be great advantages. Fatigue, wind, waves, or boat wake can all be countered by kneeling which keeps you from acting like a sail and can also allow you to put more power into each stroke. As you find yourself near rocks, docks, boats or shallow waters, kneeling will ensure that you don’t injure yourself should you fall.
Where to stand on a Paddleboard
Stand near the center of the paddleboard, with your feet hip-width apart and parallel to the board's edges, to maintain balance and stability while paddleboarding.
Once gain confidence on your board, you can experiment with your positioning for improved agility and control of the water.
Tips for Staying Balanced on a SUP
When possible keep paddling
Keep your feet hip-width distance apart
Avoid staring at your feet
Stand tall and proud to engage all your balancing muscles
Consider getting a wider board
Proper Falling Technique when Paddleboarding
When falling while paddleboarding, aim to fall to the side, not onto the board, to reduce the risk of injury. Try to hold onto your paddle during the fall; if you lose it, retrieve your board first, get back on, and then paddle with your hands to recover the paddle.
Be extra cautious not to fall in areas that have excess debris or underwater hazards.
Proper Technique to Get Back on the Paddleboard
When it comes to recovering from falling in the water there are 2 main techniques for remounting your paddleboard.
The Side Mounting Technique
For this technique, position yourself near the center of the board. Once there, grab the handle at the center of the board or reach past it and grab the other side. Once you have securely gripped the board, kick hard with your legs while simultaneously pulling the board in with your arms.
This should get your chest onto the board. After that, you can inchworm (wiggle) yourself until you feel stable enough to get the lower half of your body onto the board.
The Back Mounting Technique
This technique is relatively similar to the side mountain technique, but instead, you start at the back of the board. Reach almost as far up the board as you can and grip either side of the board. Once you have a secure grip, perform the same hard kick and pull motion employed in the side mountain technique. After you get your chest onto the back, inchworm your way all the way onto your feet and all.
Watch this video for further instruction or consider joining a SUP lesson with Pam here in Sidney, BC.
Basic SUP Paddle Strokes
Forward stroke is the most important stroke to learn and master in order to efficiently propel yourself in a straight line on your board.
Here are 3 things to keep in mind when first learning the forward stroke:
1. The Blade Angle
You will notice that a paddle is not entirely straight. There is an angle where the blade of the paddle meets the shaft. The direction of the angle is important when you are placing the paddle in the water. You want to always have the blade angled forward, away from you.
This allows the blade to enter the water smoothly and gives you increased stability and power. It also helps protect your shoulder from injury.
2. Your Arm Position - The A-Frame
You should always paddle with a relaxed, slight bend in your top arm and your bottom arm straight but not locked. Use the A-Frame method to find the best hand position for you.
With one arm raised above and slightly in front of your head, hold your paddle by the T grip (the handle at the top). This should cause your paddle to hang in front of your body at an angle. This top arm should be relaxed with a slight bend at the elbow.
Reach your other arm horizontally and grasp the paddle shaft directly in front of you. Allow your torso to easily rotate to reach. This bottom arm should be straight but not locked at the elbow.
This is the arm and hand position you will use to paddle most of the time. Try it on both sides as you will switch sides frequently when paddling.
3. The Return
Keep your A-Frame throughout each stroke. This will allow you to use your stronger core muscles rather than your weaker arm muscles. The following notes should help you accomplish this sometimes confusing method of return.
Don’t bend your elbows to bring the paddle forward again after a stroke.
Keep your arms in the A-Frame position and twist the paddle by turning the thumb on your upper hand (the one holding the T grip) towards the nose of the board. This will allow the blade to turn so that it easily slices its way back to the starting position.
Yes, this is more advanced and takes practice but it’s a concept well worth introducing right from the get-go so that you know what you are aiming for as you become a more efficient paddler.
These are all skills covered in the Basic SUP Skills course (plus way more).
This stroke is similar to the forward stroke but like the name suggests it is performed in reverse. Placing your paddle in the water behind you and pulling it to the front of your board. This stroke is great in situations where you need to slow yourself down or make a dramatic change in direction.
Sweep stroke is a very useful technique for turning your board. This stroke is performed when you want to make a large change in the direction your paddleboard is headed while still moving in a forward direction.
Here's how to perform this stroke.
If you want to turn to the left, reach your right arm forward so far as to drop your right shoulder. This will help engage your core throughout the entire stroke and give you the largest area to stroke from.
Once the paddle is at the front of your board submerge the entire paddle blade into the water.
Sweep the paddle in a large arcing shape from the nose of the board to the bow of the board. Engaging your core the entire way through the motion by rotating your torso.
Want to learn more about the different paddle boarding strokes? Read our post “Guide to Paddleboard Strokes”
Things to consider your first time out on a Paddleboard
Get Local Knowledge
Knowing where to paddle for the first time can sometimes be a challenge. The most important thing to remember, no matter where you go, is to first access local knowledge. Paddle shops, SUP groups, and instructors will be happy to give you safe suggestions and warn you of potential hazards in a particular area.
If you are in Sidney, BC consider dropping by our shop for local intel on the area.
Where You Should Go For Your First Paddleboarding Adventures
Here are some suggestions for choosing the area you can safely paddle in, no matter what your level of expertise.
Near a paddle shop - easy access to local knowledge and gear rentals.
On smaller, warmer lakes or ponds - sheltered with less chance of hypothermia, getting lost and rough conditions.
Beaches with lifeguards - can stay in the surf zone to start with safety support and easy access.
Marinas - sheltered with launch ramps and easy access to local knowledge.
Smaller, sheltered bays with lots of easy launch and landing opportunities.
What's the wind doing?
This is a factor to consider no matter what skill level you are. Wind can be unpredictable and can make paddleboarding extremely difficult and even dangerous in certain circumstances. That is why it is always advised to be aware of what the wind is doing in the area you plan to explore.
To learn more read our post “Paddleboarders Guide to Wind Conditions”. This post will give you a good idea regarding what intensity of wind you should be in depending on your skill level, along with tools to help you determine what the conditions are going to be like in your area.
Learn the safety stuff (Don’t skip this one!)
Transport Canada requirements: You are required to carry onboard the following: a PFD or lifejacket that fits properly, a pealess whistle or other sound signalling device, and a buoyant heaving line not less than 15 metres in length. If operating after sunset, before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility, then navigation lights are required. If navigating outside of sight of seamarks then a magnetic compass is also required - know how to use it. If you wear your PFD or lifejacket at all times, then neither a buoyant heaving line nor navigation lights are required. In this case, a watertight flashlight is required instead.
Additional safety requirements: Reputable paddle shops and instructors will have additional safety requirements. We, at Blue Jellyfish SUP Adventures, require, in addition to Transport Canada’s requirements, that you always wear a coiled SUP leash when paddling on flat water (there are exceptions for moving water and surf ) - a leash is your lifeline to your board and in cold or windy conditions, you will never regret having a board to climb onto if you happen to fall in.
Dress for immersion: Bathing suits look great in photos but if the water and/or air is cold you need to avoid developing hypothermia. The best way to do that is to assume you will fall in and either wear a wetsuit or drysuit or have a dry bag securely strapped to your board with plenty of warm clothing to change into.
Leave a trip plan: ALWAYS tell a friend where you are going and when you expect to be back. Include details that would make it easy for search and rescue to find you such as type and colour of equipment you are using. You can do this a few ways but our favourites are to leave a hard copy with a reliable person or download and use the free Adventure Smart Trip Plan app.
Take a SUP lesson or better yet, a course
While Stand Up Paddleboarding can be fairly easy for most people, there is much more to know than how not to fall in. Paddle Canada offers a great and affordable option for beginner paddlers, Basic Flatwater SUP Skills, available throughout Canada.
Learn the potential hazards
In order to paddle safely, it is important to know what to watch out for in general as well as specific to your location. Tides, currents, weather changes, winds (intensity and direction), boat and ferry traffic (know your right of way), air and water temperature, injury and equipment failure are only some of the potential hazards you may come across when out for a paddle. Be aware of them all and know what to do before you meet up with them.
How to Transport, Store and Carry Your Paddle Board
Well, this has nothing to do with the actual act of paddleboarding, it is just as important to know in order to safely get to and from your desired paddling location.
How to Carrying Your Paddleboard
There are 5 main ways to carry your paddleboard.
This technique is ideal for individuals who need to transport their board solo, particularly if they lack the shoulder strength required to lift it overhead. The method involves carrying the board using the carry handle in the center of the board, akin to carrying a suitcase or briefcase.
Over the Should or Over the Head Method
This carrying technique is highly effective for covering long distances, as it relieves your arms from bearing the entire weight of the paddleboard. The method entails raising the board above your head and delicately placing it on top of your head or shoulders. By employing this approach, you can effortlessly transport the paddleboard while minimizing strain on your arms.
This technique is applicable when you have a paddle partner accompanying you. It entails placing both boards on the ground, with one person holding the front of each board while the other takes charge of the back. This approach is particularly useful for long-distance carries, portages, or whenever you venture out with a partner, as it offers the utmost convenience.
This method is as straightforward as it sounds. Grasp the back of the board and smoothly glide it across the ground to the desired location. This technique is suitable for navigating sandy terrains and is particularly suited for inflatable boards, as they are less prone to scratches compared to hardboards.
Watch this video to see each of these carries in action.
How to Transport Your Paddleboard
This all depends on what type of paddleboard you have.
Transporting Your Inflatable Paddleboard
If you have an inflatable SUP you have 2 choices when transporting it. You can either deflate the board and pack it back into the carrying backpack that it came with. Or you can tie it to a rack or to the back of your truck.
Alternatively, if you do have a roof rack that can hold larger items you can leave the board inflated and securely tie it down to the rack for safe transportation. This is a great option for those who are tired of inflating the deflating their board with every adventure they go on.
Transporting Your Hardboard
Transporting a hardboard paddleboard typically involves these steps:
Use roof racks or a paddleboard-specific rack system on your vehicle.
Place the paddleboard on the racks with the deck facing up.
Secure it tightly with straps or tie-downs.
Ensure it's stable and won't shift during transport.
Drive carefully to your paddleboarding location.
Storing Your Paddleboard
To store your paddleboard:
Clean it thoroughly.
Remove the fin (if applicable).
Store it indoors, if possible, in a cool, dry place.
Keep it upright on racks, wall mounts, or a padded surface.
Protect it from prolonged sun exposure and extreme temperatures.
In conclusion, Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a delightful and invigorating recreational activity that allows you to connect with nature while reaping significant physical and mental benefits.
However, to enjoy this sport to the fullest and ensure your safety, it's crucial to understand and adhere to the guidelines outlined in this post. From dressing appropriately, understanding potential hazards, and learning how to transport and carry your SUP, to storing it correctly - each step plays a pivotal role in guaranteeing a safe and enjoyable SUP experience. Remember, the key to a successful SUP adventure lies in preparation and awareness. Enjoy the ride and happy paddling!
Where To Go From Here
Have you experienced the joy of Stand Up Paddleboarding and are now wondering where to go next? Let us provide you with some recommendations to get you started
Sign up for a Paddle Canada Course (or two)
Take Navigation & Trip Planning Courses
See you on the water,
Blue Jellyfish SUP Adventures
Sharing passion for the ocean through Stand Up Paddleboarding