How to Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) | Beginners Guide

SUP – The World’s Fastest Growing Watersport

The fastest growing watersport in the world, stand up paddle boarding came from humble beginnings back in 2004 when it first touched down on U.S. shores. It’s now overtaking nearly every body of water in the world. You can do it in oceans, lakes, rivers, and bays – even a swimming pool if you so desire. It’s a great full body core workout, and it’s a whole new way to experience the water in the outdoors. People of all ages, skill levels, and experience can be up and riding in no time. There is even room to throw a small child or man’s best friend on board!

Who Invented Stand up Paddle Boarding?

Maui surf legend Laird Hamilton was looking for a way to cross train for big waves in the early 90’s. He grabbed a canoe paddle and his longest surfboard and found paddling while upright to be a fantastic workout. Many mistakenly believe he invented the sport of paddle boarding; however, its original roots date back over thousands of years to ancient Hawaiian, Peruvian, and African culture. All three cultures had some form of paddle boarding. However, the Hawaiians are given the credit as first to actually surf waves with a paddle for sport. They had a word to describe surfing with a paddle – Hoe He’e Nalu.

Laird officially brought paddle boarding to U.S. shores on Sept. 11, 2004 paddling out at Malibu on a stand up paddle board holding an American flag. The rest is history.

Basic Paddle Board Equipment

Here are all the items you need to get out on the water paddling:

  • Stand Up Paddle board Paddleboards comein all shapes and sizes. The most common construction method is epoxy and fiberglass wrapped around an EPS foam core, with one or several fins to help the board track in the water. A standup paddle board is much thicker than your average surfboard.
    Paddle boards typically range from 8 to 12 feet in length, 28 to 32 inches wide, and 4 to 5 inches thick. If you’re just starting out, the best thing to do is select a wider, longer, thicker board. This type will offer the greatest stability to learn the paddleboard basics on a flat body of water. As you gain experience, you can progress to a much smaller board.
  • Paddle – Stand Up Paddles come in a variety of constructions, from plastic, aluminum, wood, and carbon fiber – all with a variety of handle, blade and shaft shapes. The general rule is that a paddle used with your paddleboard should always be 6 to 10 inches above the height of the paddler. Size your paddle on the longer side for flat water use and the shorter side for use in the surf. The blade is typically bent at a slight angle to the shaft to allow for more forward reach when taking a stroke.
  • Leash – A sup leash keeps your paddle board attached to you with a Velcro strap around your ankle (or calf) that is attached to the paddleboard. Leashes come in a variety of sizes, and the general rule is to use a leash around the same size or slightly smaller than your board. In the event of a fall, currents and winds can quickly sweep your paddle board away from you – and in the ocean, your board becomes a lethal weapon when carried with the force of an ocean wave. Always remember to use your leash!
  • Traction Pad – Most paddle boards come equipped with a traction pad preinstalled on the deck of the board. The traction pad is a soft layer of EVA foam, typically grooved to provide grip and a soft cushion for the feet (much like the sole of a shoe.)
  • PFD (personal floatation device) – If you use your stand up paddle board beyond the limits of a swimming , surfing, or bathing area, the U.S. Coast Guard requires you to have a USCG-approved life vest. Please see the following link by the WPA (World Paddle Association) regarding the Life Vest Safety Laws.

Transporting your Paddleboard

Since paddleboards are so large, getting your SUP to the local beach or your next travel destination can be a difficult task. Here are some tips to help make it easier.

  • Shoulder Carry – With the paddle in one hand, lift the board from the tail with the nose on the ground. Walk to the center of the board and shift the board’s weight back to balance on your head. You can then shift the board over to balance on your shoulder. To lay the board back down, just follow the steps in reverse order.
  • Handle Carry -. The carry handle is a small handle installed at the center point of the board to carry it to and from the water easily. Just lift the board by its handle and go.
  • Wheels – Many products on the market offer wheels to attach on one side of the board and a handle on the opposite side. This can be used to wheel the board along or be attached to a bicycle.
  • Car Racks – Paddle boards can be strapped on any vehicle with car racks. Most surfboard soft racks will fit a paddle board. Or, if your vehicle already has an existing rack system, you can simply use straps to tie down the boards to the existing hard rack. Some racks even having locking devices to secure the boards from theft. Many people just throw a towel on top of the car and run straps through the doors.
  • Air Travel – For airplane travel many companies make paddleboard travel bags to carry your paddleboard. These are typically padded, but it’s always recommended to add some extra padding of your own (such as towels or bubble wrap.) Also keep in mind the latest surfboard and paddleboard board bag charges and size limits of your airline before you book your ticket. Here is a breakdown of board bag charges by airline.

Getting Up, Basic Strokes and Techniques for Beginners

Select a Stable Paddle Board

Select a wide 30”+ and stable 11’+ board to start. Always start in calm, flat water.

The board should feel comfortable and not tippy when standing without forward motion. If it still feels too tippy after several attempts to gain your balance, try a larger, wider board.

Many people start out on a board much too small, and can never seem to gain balance and become disheartened. Don’t let this be you. Choose the right size board to start out and when in doubt, always go wider and thicker.

Follow these helpful tips for holding the paddle

Always grip the paddle with one hand on the top of the paddle and the other on the center of the shaft. Hold the paddle in front of you, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. This should give you comfortable spacing for paddling.

The blade will be angled, and when paddling remember to keep the blade angle facing away from you.

Paddles float, so if you fall and must let it go – it won’t sink.

How to Stand Up on your Paddle Board

Always start out in calm, flat water and keep in mind you could be falling! So unless you’re in the tropics, a wetsuit may be a good idea.

  • Get the board out into in water so the fin is free from hitting the bottom.
  • Start out on your knees and take a few strokes on each side of the board.
  • Slowly, stand up with one foot at a time and stay in the middle of the board with your feet parallel to the stringer – about shoulder width apart.
  • Keep a slight bend in the knees and your core centered over the board.

Basic Strokes: Forward Stoke

There are a few basic philosophies on paddle technique, but all revolve around using your paddle as a lever. Your top hand will be driving the lever and the bottom hand will act as the fulcrum point. So with that in mind, we provide the following strokes and tips.

  • Keep your bottom arm straight and relatively still.
  • Pull your top arm toward your body to extend the paddle forward.
  • Rotate your top shoulder forward and extend your reach.
  • Insert the paddle into the water as far forward as possible and bury the paddle into the water.
  • Rather than pulling you paddle through the water, think about pulling past your paddle.
  • To stay in a straight line, take a few stokes on one side then switch to a few strokes on the other. Always remember to switch the position of your hands when your paddle changes sides.

Basic Strokes: Turning with the Forward Sweep Stroke

  • To turn left, place the paddle in the water on the right side. At the same time, turn your torso to the left side.
  • Keep a low stance and pull to the right, towards the tail with the paddle, while twisting and leaning to the left with your torso. You’ll feel the board shift to the left quickly.
  • Basic Stokes: Turning with the Reverse Sweep Stoke.
  • To turn right, place the paddle near the tail and pull toward the nose while shifting your torso to the right. This will spin your board’s nose to the right hand side. The more you bend your knees, the easier it will be to turn the board.

Beginners Beware: Don’t make these common mistakes

  • Always hold the paddle from the top of the handle. Lots of people always want to hold the paddle like a broomstick, with both hands on the shaft. Don’t do it! Always grab it from the top handle with one hand and the other on the shaft.
  • Keep your feet parallel and spread shoulder width apart. Everyone wants to get in a surf stance, but that makes paddling on the flat water ten times harder. Plus, you will fall. Save your surf stance for the surf, and keep your feet parallel with toes pointed toward the nose.
  • Make sure your grip on the paddle is shoulder width apart. Short grips will give you a powerless stroke.
  • Dip the blade fully into the water and take a long stroke, letting your large back muscles do the work. Many people put the full brunt of the stroke on the arms. Let the big back muscles do the brunt of the work.