5 Helpful SUP Tips For First-Time Paddlers

We want your first paddle board experience to be a joyous and successful experience! Like any new activity, it’s going to take some time to master the basics and make the transition from beginner to intermediate participant. So make sure to be patient and kind with yourself in regards to your progress.

In order to help get your adventure off to a great start, we’ve got 5 helpful SUP tips for first-time paddlers to consider. Once you’ve mastered these paddle boarding basics, you’ll be ready to learn how to improve your paddle board technique and become a true  waterman.

Practice On Solid Ground First

We recommend that first-time paddlers get a feel for standing up on solid ground before taking their new board into the water. Be sure to remove your center fin and find balance and confidence in your pop-up on dry land, but make sure to use a gentle and even surface like sand or grass. Once you feel comfortable, it is time to hit the water.

  • Start on your knees in the center of the board.
  • Take a few fake paddle motions you’ll need to gain a bit of speed.
  • Place your hands on the board under your shoulders and your paddle shaft under your palms.
  • While looking at the horizon, move your left foot up on the board so your knee moves toward your armpit.
  • Keeping pressure on your hands, move your right foot up so your feet become shoulder-width apart. 
  • Stand up as quickly as you can while maintaining equal balance on both feet over the center carry handle of your board, shoulder-width apart with your hips facing the front of your board.
  • Smile and start paddling.

Pro Tip: Just like it’s easier to balance on a bicycle that’s moving, it’s easier to stand up on a paddle board that’s moving. Take a few strong paddles on each side of your board before your pop-up.

woman entering water on a SUP

Find An Easy Spot To Launch Your Board

For your first time out, you’ll want to launch your board from a beach with soft sand and a gentle slope into the water. While intermediate paddlers will have no trouble launching from docks or rock-covered beaches, you want to make sure you’ve got a soft surface under you for your first time out.

  • Walk into the water until your almost knee-deep.
  • Get onto the center of the board on your needs, making sure your center fin remains clear of the ground. If your fin isn’t clear of the ground, take a few more steps into the water and try again.
  • Take a couple of strong paddles on both sides to pick up some speed.
  • Focus on the horizon ahead and stand up just how you practiced on firm ground.
woman holding SUP paddle above her head

Hold Your Paddle The Right Way

There’s a right and a wrong way to hold your paddle, and it can be counterintuitive if you’re new to the sport. First, you’ll want to adjust your paddle length so it’s 3-4 inches taller than you. The correct way to hold your paddle is with the angle of the blade to the front of your board. If you have an ISLE SUP paddle, you’ll want the logo facing the front of the board. It’s important to get some distance between your hands for the most efficient paddle stroke as well, keeping one hand on the top of the paddle and the other hand lower on the shaft. Follow the steps below to find exactly where to place your hand on the shaft.

  • Holding the end grip with your right hand, raise your paddle over your head so it’s parallel with your shoulders.
  • Adjust your position until your right forearm is vertical between your right hand and elbow.
  • Grab your paddle shaft with your left hand and adjust until you create another vertical line between your left hand and elbow.
  • Keep this hand position while you paddle, switching hands when paddling on each side of your board.
man falling off paddle board

Prepare To Fall Away From Your Board

While it’s very likely that you’ll stay completely dry even on your first-time paddle boarding, the chance of going for a swim is always a possibility. If you do find yourself losing your balance, do your best to fall away from the board. Don’t reach for your board when you’re falling, as any hard object under you could turn into a hazard. And because you would never attempt to paddle board without your trusty SUP leash, you never have to worry about losing your board during a fall. So, if you feel yourself falling to the right, make sure to fall further toward your right than you may if you let gravity do all of the work.

  • Always attempt to fall flat on the water, much like a belly or back flop, to keep yourself from being injured by anything hiding below the surface of the water.
man getting back on his paddle board after a fall

Get Back On Your Paddle Board Easily After A Fall

Having the confidence to get back on your board in deep water will alleviate any fear you might have about falling in. If you’re worried about getting on your board in deeper water, practice in waist-deep water to build your confidence.

  • While treading water next to your board, place your paddle on your board.
  • Grab your carry handle with one hand.
  • Grab the side of the board (or rail) farthest from your body with your other hand.
  • Kick your legs while pulling with both arms, and slide your body onto your board.
SUP Leash and PFD for safety

Pro Tip: Two Pieces Of Essential Equipment For First-Time Paddlers

  • Always wear a SUP leash to make sure you’re never more than a few feet away from your board. While we recommend that every SUP rider wear their leash, this bit of advice is especially important for first-time paddlers.
  • Always wear your Coast Guard-mandated personal flotation device. While the USCG does not require adults paddling in “surfing, swimming, or bathing areas” to wear a life jacket, begging paddlers should play it safe by wearing a SUP life jacket no matter where they paddle.
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Posted in Paddle Boarding Tips & Tricks
Jeff Hale - Jeff is the Content Manager at ISLE Surf and SUP. He's been an avid surfer and paddler for over 20 years, and he's always looking for an excuse to spend more time in the water. Jeff grew up in Southern California where he earned his Bachelor's in English at UC Irvine and his MBA at Chapman University. You can find him in the water after work and on weekends in San Diego.