Paddleboarding: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting on Board

As the sun glows over the shimmering water, a new breed of adventurers takes to the open seas, lakes, and rivers. They stand tall, poised on elongated surfboard-like vessels, gliding across the surface. Their secret? Paddleboarding – a captivating water sport that combines tranquility, exhilaration, and a whole lot of fun.

Whether you want a thrilling workout, a peaceful escape, or an opportunity to explore the waters, paddleboarding can offer you all these. In this article, learn about paddleboarding so you can be equipped with essential knowledge should you decide to try it on your own.

What is Paddleboarding?

Paddleboarding, also known as standup paddleboarding (SUP), is a water sport that involves standing on a large surfboard-like board and using a paddle to propel oneself through the water. The paddle used in paddleboarding is similar to the one used in kayaking, with a long shaft and a blade on one end.

The basic idea of paddleboarding is to balance yourself on the board while using the paddle to move forward, steer, and maintain stability. It is a versatile activity that can be enjoyed on various bodies of water, including oceans, lakes, rivers, and even calm streams.

Paddleboarding offers a great full-body workout as it engages the core, arms, legs, and back muscles. It also provides an opportunity to explore the surroundings, observe marine life, and enjoy the peacefulness of being on the water. Some people also use paddleboarding as a means of transportation, especially in coastal areas and waterways.

Paddleboarding is done recreationally for leisure and enjoyment or can be practiced as a competitive sport. There are paddleboarding races, surfing competitions incorporating paddleboarding, and even yoga classes conducted on paddleboards.

What are the Benefits of Paddleboarding?

Paddleboarding offers numerous benefits for both physical and mental well-being. Here are some of the key advantages:

Full-body workout

You may think of paddling and think of it as an upper-body workout. But it engages muscles all over the body. Balancing on the board activates the core muscles while paddling works the arms, shoulders, and back. Additionally, the legs are used for stability and maintaining a proper stance. Over time, paddleboarding can help improve strength, endurance, and overall fitness.

Low impact

Unlike high-impact activities like running or jumping, paddleboarding is a low-impact exercise that puts minimal stress on the joints. Low impact means it can’t cause serious damage to your tendons and ligaments. It provides a great option for people who want to engage in physical activity with a reduced risk of joint or muscle injuries.

Improves balance and coordination

Paddleboarding requires constant balancing so you can stand up on the board. This means you will be practicing your core stability, leg strength, and the body’s ability to sense and control its position in space. Regular paddleboarding can improve balance, coordination, and body awareness.

Boosts cardiovascular health

Paddleboarding can be an aerobic activity, depending on the intensity and duration of your paddling sessions. It raises your heart rate and improves cardiovascular fitness, helping to strengthen the heart and lungs. Paddleboarding can function like cross-training, aerobics, and running.

Reduces stress

Being out on the water and surrounded by nature can have a calming and relaxing effect on the mind. Paddleboarding allows you to disconnect from daily stressors and enjoy the serenity of the water. It promotes mindfulness and can be a form of meditation, reducing anxiety and improving overall mental well-being.

Equipment Used in Paddleboarding

To engage in paddleboarding, you will need several key pieces of equipment, such as:


This is the main piece of equipment and is essentially a large, stable board designed for standing on. Paddleboards come in various shapes and sizes, including all-around boards for beginners, touring boards for longer distances, and surf-specific boards for wave riding.

You may want to rent or borrow it from a friend for the first time or two. If you decide you would want to do it more, consider buying your own. The paddleboard you choose must be appropriate for your weight, skill, intended use, and local conditions.


The paddle used in paddleboarding is typically a long shaft with a blade on one end – much like a stretched-out canoe paddle with a teardrop-shaped blade. The paddle can be made of materials like fiberglass, carbon fiber, or aluminum. Choosing a paddle that suits your height and the type of paddleboarding you plan to do is essential. To determine the right paddle length, raise your arm above your head. The paddle must reach up to your wrist when placed on a stand in front of you.

Personal flotation device (PFD)

It is crucial to have a personal flotation device or life jacket for safety. The US Coast Guard considers paddleboards as vessels, so if you’re paddling outside a swimming or surfing area, you need to have a PFD. Ensure it’s properly fitted, especially in areas where it is required by law or when venturing into rougher waters.


A leash is a cord that attaches to your ankle or calf and connects to the paddleboard. If you fall off, it helps prevent you from getting separated from the board. The leash is particularly important in areas with currents or when paddling in rougher conditions.

Proper attire

Wear appropriate clothing based on the water and weather conditions. Since you’ll be wet, stay away from fabrics that will leave you dripping and soggy. Depending on the temperature and your preference, you may opt for a wetsuit, drysuit, board shorts, rash guard, or swimwear.

Sun protection

Since paddleboarding often takes place under the sun, protecting your skin is essential. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, and consider using sun-protective clothing.


Some areas require paddleboarders to carry a whistle as a safety precaution. It can be used to signal for help or alert others in case of an emergency.

Safety gear

Depending on your location and the conditions you paddle in, you may need additional safety equipment, such as a signaling device, a first aid kit, and a waterproof phone case.

How to Paddleboard

To paddleboard effectively and safely, learning and practicing some fundamental techniques is helpful. Here are the basics of paddleboarding and how to do it:

1. Standing up and staying balanced on a paddleboard

This is the first thing to master to successfully propel yourself on a paddleboard. It may take a lot of tries and lots of falls before you can stand on the paddleboard for more extended periods. Here’s how to stand on a paddleboard:

  • Stand next to the board in about knee-deep water – just deep enough so that the fins don’t hit the bottom.
  • Place your paddle down across the board.
  • Hold the board down by the edges and work your way up by kneeling on it, just behind the board’s center point.
  • Keep your hands to the sides of the board to stabilize it, and move one foot at a time to put your feet where your knees were.
  • When you feel like you are balanced, stand slowly. Rather than standing in one motion, raise your chest up first while keeping your knees bent. Once your chest is vertical, extend your legs to stand up.
  • Keep your feet parallel, hip-width apart, and centered on the board. Your feet should be facing forward, about hip-distance apart or wider. Slightly bend your knees for stability.
  • Keep your head and shoulders upright and steady, and shift your weight by moving the hips.
  • Don’t look down at your feet – gaze at the horizon.

2. Holding the paddle

You need to learn how to hold the paddle correctly so you can propel yourself efficiently and correctly in the water. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold the paddle with one hand on the top grip and the other on the shaft, slightly wider than the shoulder width apart.
  • The angle of the paddle blade should face away from you, which is the opposite of how you would hold a kayak paddle.
  • When paddling on the right side of the board, your left hand will be on the top grip, and your right hand a few feet down on the shaft. When switching sides, reverse your hand positions.

3. Paddling the board

Once you have quite mastered balancing on the board to be able to stand longer, now you can paddle. To start paddling:

  • Keep your core engaged for balance.
  • Keep your arms straight as you reach forward with your paddle and insert it into the water.
  • Make 4-5 short, close strokes on each side of the board, then switch sides and reverse hand positions.

4. Turning the board

To turn the board, you can use a few different techniques:

  • Keep paddling on one side if you want to go in the other direction (floating on the left will cause you to go right, and vice versa).
  • Use the back paddle stroke on one side of the board to pivot it around.
  • For a sharper turn, step back towards the tail of the board and use a sweeping stroke with the paddle towards the tail to initiate the turn.
  • For a quicker turn, drag the paddle backward on the side you want to turn in the direction of.

5. Falling down and getting back on

When learning how to paddleboard, plan to fall and expect that it’s going to happen. Don’t worry; even experienced paddlers take the plunge from time to time, so if you’re wobbly, remember that paddleboarding is a water sport, so it’s okay to get wet. You have to practice falling away to avoid injury and damage to the board. When you lose your balance:

  • Aim your body to the side so you fall into the water and not on the board to prevent hurting yourself.
  • Try to hang onto your paddle while falling. If in case you get separated from it, get your board first and get back on, then paddle with your hands to get the paddle.

Then, practice climbing back on your board until it becomes easy for you, and you will have no more reason not to panic. To get back after falling off:

  • Position yourself next to the board near the center.
  • Using one hand, grab the handle at the center of the board.
  • Let your legs float up the surface behind you, then kick your legs while pulling on the handle to slide yourself back to the board.
  • Swing around to face the front, get on your knees, and stand again once you’re ready.

6. Bracing

Bracing is a technique used to maintain balance and stability in choppy or wavy conditions. It involves placing the paddle blade flat on the water’s surface to create support and prevent falling off the board. Use the paddle as a brace on either side of the board as needed to maintain balance and counter the forces from waves or currents.

It’s beneficial to take a lesson or receive guidance from an experienced paddleboarder when learning and practicing these techniques correctly.

Paddleboarding Strokes

If you want to get good at paddleboarding, you have to learn basic paddle strokes – it’s where the real fun begins! Here are the basics strokes to know so you can effectively maneuver and propel yourself on the water:

Forward Stroke

This is the primary stroke used to propel yourself forward.

  • Hold the paddle with one hand on the top grip and the other on the shaft, slightly wider than the shoulder width apart.
  • Plant the paddle in the water by reaching about two feet forward, then push the blade all the way under the surface.
  • Engage your core and use your torso to give more power. Pull the paddle blade back towards your ankle, keeping your arms straight.
  • As you pull the paddle back, twist your torso slightly towards the side of the paddle stroke. This adds power to your stroke.
  • Exit the water smoothly, near your ankle, and repeat the stroke on the other side by switching your hand position and rotating your torso in the opposite direction.

Remember to maintain a relaxed grip, avoid excessive wrist movement, and focus on engaging your core muscles for stability and power.

Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke is used for turning the board or making wider turns.

  • When paddling on the right, rotate your shoulders so your right shoulder comes forward.
  • Reach and plant your paddle in the water with the blade fully submerged.
  • Sweep the paddle away from the board by making a wide arc from the nose of the board to the tail. Do this by rotating your torso and using your legs and hips for leverage.

This will turn your board to the left, so do this on the other side if you need to turn to the right.

Reverse stroke

It is used to reverse or slow down your forward momentum. It also allows you to control your speed and direction, especially in tight or crowded areas.

  • Start with planting the paddle near the tail of the board, with the blade facing forward and the shaft at an angle away from the board.
  • Plant the blade into the water at the tail of the board, keeping the blade angled slightly towards the board.
  • Pull the paddle towards the front of the board while maintaining pressure on the blade to create resistance, so you can slow down or reverse. Keep your arms straight and twist from your torso rather than pulling the blade forward using your arms.

Remember to practice these paddleboarding strokes on both sides to develop balanced strength and control. It’s also helpful to take lessons or receive guidance from an experienced paddleboarder to ensure proper technique and maximize your efficiency on the water.

Tips for Safe and Efficient Paddleboarding

Paddleboarding can be a safe and enjoyable activity when proper safety precautions are followed. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind when paddleboarding:

Make sure you can swim

Since standup paddleboarding takes place on the water, knowing how to swim is essential. Even though you’ll be connected to your board with a leash and wearing a life jacket, swimming skills are essential for your safety and enjoyment.

If you can swim, you won’t be afraid of falling off the board, which is expected when you’re still learning. Getting back on the board from the water is relatively easy, so swimming can even be a fun part of your paddleboarding adventure, especially on hot summer days.

Wear a personal flotation device (PFD)

Always wear a properly fitted PFD or life jacket when paddleboarding. It ensures buoyancy and can be crucial in case of an unexpected fall or emergency.

Use a leash

The sooner you are aware of how vital the leash is, the safer for you and everyone else when you’re paddling. Tethering yourself to your board prevents it from drifting away in various conditions, keeping it within reach if you get tired or find yourself far from shore.

There are different types of leashes (straight or coiled) and attachment points (ankle or calf) to suit your preference and paddling style. Opt for a high-quality leash that won’t break off but can be detached quickly, allowing you to free yourself if needed, such as in strong currents or entangled underwater plants.

Remember, falls can push your board away, and by the time you resurface, it could be far off, especially in windy or current-filled conditions. Attach one end of the leash to the back of your board and securely fasten the Velcro wrap around your ankle or calf. Although it may seem like a minor inconvenience, you’ll appreciate having your board close by when you need it most.

Get the right gear

Just like any other sport, having the right gear is crucial for your enjoyment and safety in standup paddleboarding. Before diving in, ensure you have the gear that matches your skill level and the type of environment you’ll be paddling in.

It’s typically recommended for beginners to start with a thick and wide all-around standup paddleboarding (SUP) board that offers stability in calm and wavy waters. Another option is a touring SUP, which is beginner-friendly and also great for advanced paddlers looking to cover longer distances at a faster pace.

When it comes to your paddle, selecting the correct length is crucial. This prevents you from stooping or bending over excessively, so you can conserve energy and maintain stability.

Ensure your paddle is correctly positioned

When standing up on your paddleboard, the paddle works more effectively when the blade is facing the opposite direction. This not only results in a smoother paddle stroke but also reduces stress on your shoulders and elbows. As you perform the strokes, the shaft acts as the leading edge, allowing you to pull the blade through the water in a slightly trailing position. This enhances blade stability, and during the stroke, the blade remains vertical, providing the best angle for maximum power through the middle of each stroke.

Face the right direction

It’s not always immediately clear which end of the paddleboard is the front/nose, especially for those new to the sport or unfamiliar with water activities. Beginner boards often have a round nose and tail, offering excellent stability and a comfortable area to move around (and potentially fall).

Before hopping onto the board, take a moment to locate the fins and ensure they are positioned at the back when you paddle. Having the fins at the back of the board is essential for two reasons: it helps the board maintain a straight course while you paddle (known as tracking) and provides a better grip when riding waves.

Keep your head up and look ahead

When you first start paddling, it’s tempting to look down at the board to observe the water around you while hoping to avoid falling in. However, for optimal stability, it’s essential to keep your head up, keep your back straight, and put your body weight over your toes. It may sound funny, but if you constantly look down at your toes, you’re likely to shift your weight backward and end up taking an unexpected plunge into the water.

Give yourself space on the water

Despite the vastness of the ocean, lakes, and rivers, it’s common for paddleboarders to flock to the same small area. However, it’s important to remember that paddleboards are large and can cause harm if they collide with someone. Be considerate of other water users and mindful of your surroundings, especially when you’re still learning. Make sure you have ample space to practice standing, falling, and paddling without interfering with others.

Fall safely

Even the most experienced paddleboarders take tumbles, so falling is a natural part of the sport. What matters is how you fall. Just as you can practice tricks and wave riding, it’s essential to practice falling or at least be aware of how to fall safely to avoid cutting your session short due to injury.

When you fall, it’s crucial to fall away from your board. Don’t worry, you’re securely attached to it with your leash so that it won’t float away. Falling clear of the board allows you to gracefully enter the water without landing on the board or fins. This is especially important in locations with currents or waves, as the board can move independently of your control.

Ride waves you can handle

When it comes to enjoying water sports like bodyboarding, surfing, sailing, or standup paddleboarding, it’s essential to ride waves that match your abilities. Even if you’ve spent much time around the ocean, it’s natural to feel intimidated by big waves. Remember, we engage in these activities for fun, and most of us aren’t out there to prove anything.

Remember, there’s no rush to tackle big waves right away. Take your time, enjoy the process, and gradually progress as you become more confident and proficient in handling different wave conditions.

Be mindful of the wind strength and direction

Before heading out for a paddleboarding session, it’s crucial to assess the wind conditions and check the weather forecast. When you’re standing on your SUP, your body acts like a sail, making it susceptible to the influence of strong winds. As a beginner, it’s best to avoid windy situations that can make paddling challenging and unpredictable.

If you find yourself caught in unfavorable wind changes, it’s important to adapt your technique. Lie down on your board with your belly facing down and tuck your paddle under your body. This technique, known as paddling prone, allows you to paddle your board like a regular surfboard, providing more control and stability in windy conditions.

Prepare for waves

It’s also important to prepare for waves, especially when encountering boat wakes or similar disturbances. Turn your board to face the waves head-on, which helps maintain stability compared to having waves hitting the sides of your board. You can drop to your knees while paddling when you need extra stability.

Be aware of the surroundings

Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Look out for other watercraft, swimmers, obstacles, and potential hazards such as rocks or submerged objects. Be mindful of currents, tides, and wind direction, as they can affect your paddling experience.

Learn basic water rescue techniques

Familiarize yourself with basic water rescue techniques, such as helping others who are in distress or learning how to self-rescue in case you fall off the board. Knowing these techniques can be essential in emergency situations.

Remember, safety should always be a priority when paddleboarding. By following these guidelines, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.