A Beginners Guide To Stand Up Paddleboarding

Updated: Mar 1

Stand Up Paddleboarding (commonly known as SUP) has become one of the fastest-growing sports introducing people of all ages and athletic abilities to water adventures. In this post, I want to tackle some of the FAQs that beginner paddlers often ask so that you will be equipped with the knowledge to enjoy a safe and rewarding SUP journey.

What is the best thing about SUP? Simply, that it provides something for everyone:

  • Families looking for fun together

  • Athletes who cross-train or are drawn to competition

  • Outdoor enthusiasts searching for new ways to get outside

  • Adventurers wanting to push their boundaries a little (or a lot)

  • Yogis who feel the serenity of the water would enhance their practice

  • People searching for a connection to a like-minded community

Stand Up Paddleboarding and its endless opportunities are easily learned by most people. It’s important to note, though, that there are many safety and other considerations to be aware of before you set out for your first paddle.

The Top 5 Things SUP Beginners Need to Know...

1. Take a 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.

2. It's ALWAYS challenge by choice

Never feel as though you MUST stand up! Paddleboards are quite stable but when you are first learning, you can do everything kneeling or sitting on the board that you can do standing, including having fun!

3. Learn the safety stuff (Don’t skip this one!)

  1. 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 than15 metres in length. If operating after sunset, before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility, than navigation lights are required. If navigating outside of sight of seamarks than 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

4. 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.

5. Know "What to Bring"

Any time you go out for a short paddle, you should have all of the following either on you or in a waterproof dry bag secured to your board.

Wear Note: Always dress for immersion - assume you will fall in and get wet!

SUP Footwear - Not sure what footwear you need? Check out our comprehensive guide on What to Wear While Paddleboarding for more tips and tricks!

Bring Note: These must be secured in a waterproof dry bag.

  • Sun hat

  • Warm fleecy

  • Water

  • Healthy snacks - fruit, berries, nuts, soup, crackers & hummus

  • Communication device - fully charged cell phone, VHF or Garmin

  • Camera if desired

  • Extra clothes in case you go in for a swim

  • Rain jacket and rain pants

  • Map or chart of area and compass

  • In colder air or water temperatures add: toque, wool socks, puffy jacket, a thermos of tea/coffee, gloves

  • First Aid kit that you know how to use

  • Emergency blanket or shelter

  • Firestarter

  • Watertight flashlight


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!

Grab your copy here!


What Gear do I need to Stand Up Paddle on Flatwater?

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. 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.

What to Look for When Renting SUP Gear...

  1. Either a hardboard or an inflatable board (iSUP) with a fin securely attached - if it's an inflatable board make sure it’s fully inflated - if the board “tacos” when you stand on it, it definitely needs more air.

  2. Your board rental should come with:

  3. A Leash - a coiled sup leash needs to attach you to the board (there are exceptions in moving water such as rivers and surf). Avoid moving water if you are a newbie.

  4. A buoyant heaving line not less than15 metres in length.

  5. A properly fitted PFD with an attached whistle - it should feel snug, with all buckles and zips firmly fastened and should be worn.

  6. A SUP paddle adjusted for you.

  7. Local knowledge of paddling regulations, routes, conditions and hazards.

What to Consider When Buying

  1. Rent or borrow a few times first. Like many sports, people may grow out of their board quickly as their abilities improve and interests develop.

  2. Displacement vs planing boards (check out our detailed guide here)

  3. Paddleboards are created for specific purposes: A displacement board works best if you are touring or racing, whereas a planing board can be perfect for families having fun or playing in the surf. River SUP and SUP surfing require boards that are even more specialized.

  4. Inflatable vs hard boards

  5. This is a very personal choice. Both hard and inflatable boards come in both displacement and planing styles and can be used for most types of paddling that you are interested in.

Here is what to decide before you purchase a board: