Updated: Apr 26
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 FAQ 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 connection to a like-minded community
Stand Up Paddleboarding and it's 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 have fun!
3. Learn the safety stuff (Don’t skip this one!)
Transport Canada requirements: You are required to carry on board 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.
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.
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!
PFD or life jacket
Coiled SUP leash
Water shoes or sandals for beach landings
In colder air or water temperatures you should wear: wetsuit, drysuit or neoprene technical paddling gear, a toque, wool/neoprene socks, gloves, booties, and possibly rain jacket and pants.
In warmer air and water temps, you can get away with bathing suits or workout clothes similar to what you would wear running in similar conditions.
Bring Note: These must be secured in a waterproof dry bag.
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
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!
What Gear do I need to Stand Up Paddle on Flatwater?
Stand Up Paddleboard
Coiled SUP leash
10 litre dry bag with day kit (see the What to Bring list above)
PFD or life jacket
Buoyant heaving line not less than15 metres in length
Pealess whistle or other sound signalling device
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...
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.
Your board rental should come with:
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.
A buoyant heaving line not less than15 metres in length.
A properly fitted PFD with an attached whistle - it should feel snug, with all buckles and zips firmly fastened and should be worn.
A SUP paddle adjusted for you.
Local knowledge of paddling regulations, routes, conditions and hazards.
What to Consider When Buying
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.
Displacement vs planing boards
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.
Inflatable vs hard boards
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:
Storage - Do you have room at home or at another location to store a hard board?
Transportation - Will you use roof racks to transport your board or use the trunk or hatch of your vehicle?
Travel - Do you want to fly with your board? Most airlines allow you to check-in an inflatable as oversized luggage.
Windy conditions - Inflatable boards blow around more in windy conditions, so consider the weather you will most often encounter where you paddle. Good quality displacement iSUPs can help alleviate the problem.
Rough landings - Hard boards may get more easily damaged if you are pulling up on rough beaches and barnacle clad rocks, but are also more easily temporarily patched if something goes wrong.
Loading and unloading - Hard boards typically weigh more than an inflatable and are less durable if dropped while loading onto your vehicle. There are tricks to solo load a hard board, if that's the way you want to go.
Pumping - Inflatables need to be pumped up before getting on the water. It’s a good warm-up (about 10 minutes of pumping) but can be made easier by using an electric pump connected to your car.
How To - The Basics
Adjusting Your 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 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 propel 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.
Launching and Landing
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.
Turning and Stopping
Practice turning and stopping while you are still on your knees.
Turning right: Fully bury 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 bury 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 bury 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.
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 breathe 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.
Forward Stroke Basics
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).
Where To Go For Your First Paddles
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. In general 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.
Where To Go From Here
So, you’ve tried Stand Up Paddleboarding, have felt the stoke, and want to know where you can go from here? Here are some suggestions to get you started as well as some to get you dreaming.
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