How to Stand up paddle board and tips for stand up paddle boarding: gear, planning your first trip and essential paddling strokes for beginners
Are you looking to learn how to stand up paddle board? Here is an introduction to Stand up paddle boarding, from the perspective of someone who wants to go out and start paddling.
Here you can expect to find answers to the following questions
First thought directly linked to the quesiton how to stand up paddle board is whether it is hard to do it? There are many kinds of stand up paddle boarding. If I had to give you a short answer, based on my years teaching SUP to kayakers, runners, bikers, climber,s tango dancers and people from different walks of life, the answer is: hard enough that you should respect the sport and not take it for granted, but easy enough so that everyone can do it.
What makes SUP easy or hard?
Firstly, the sport requires very specific group of movements, which need to be trained. That is why it takes a bit of time to get good at it. Secondly, paddle boarding uses many groups of muscles. This means it requires both strength and aerobic capacity. Both of these can be trained, and the best thing is – it’s so fun you forget it’s training.
Can I learn how to stand up paddleboard?
Everyone can learn to SUP and gradually learn to paddle better, faster, further. That is the appeal of the sport. If you want to compete – you can. If you want to have a splash fest and have fun messing with the board – you can. If you want to go to the next island – you can (but you need to know some things before you go out). If you want to paddle for 20k – you can. If you want to paddle for an hour – you can. Life is fun, and so is stand up paddleboarding. Life also gives us responsibilities. So does stand up paddle boarding.
Stand up paddle boarding is a sport that is still evolving and new categories of boarding are emerging. You can see the history of how the sport developed at the end of this post.
First, let’s look at three key performance characteristics of stand up paddle boards. This will make it much clearer in understanding different aspects of SUP.
Agility – how easy it is to turn the board left or right. The shorter board will be easier to turn. At the same time, as short and agile board will be harder to keep going straight and maintain speed on flat water.
Stability – how stable is the board, carrying the paddler and some other gear. The wider the board, the more stable it will be. The wider the board, the less fast it will be.
Traction – how well the board tracks (keeps a straight line) and maintains speed. In other words, how fast and easy does it glide forward? The longer the board, the more traction it will have and go faster. A longer board will also be harder to turn.
This is a simplified way to look at it and obviously, all three characteristics overlap with each other. Bottom line is, there is no best board for everything. So, choosing your stand up paddleboarding activity starts with defining your need and affinity. Think about whether you are up for doing distance; are you carrying any stuff with you (tents, sleeping bags); for having fun in the bay; do you plan to surf or go downwind?
Once you figure out what you want to do, and based on these three functions of the boards, we have some main categories of stand up paddleboarding.
SUP touring is about going the distance and having the stability to carry the paddler and support gear (tents, sleeping bags, food etc.) in mixed (open water) conditions. These boards are built to handle the choppy seas, side winds and all conditions you may find on a SUP expedition. Those boards are long (12'6 to 14’’) but wide enough to provide stability (around 30’’)
SUP racing is about getting to the finish line as quick as possible. The board delivers the speed and the paddlers learn to be stable on it. Those board are even longer (14’-18’) but narrow (27’’ or 30’’) to allow for maximum speed.
SUP surfing is all about maneuvering down a breaking wave, but stable enough to keep control even at high speeds. These board are around 9’ long and around 30’ wide.
All-round SUP boards are fun, easy to control for messing around in protected waters. It is the kind of board that your average rental shop will have for complete beginners. As it is with things in life: one thing that is for everyting is ok for most things but not ideal for any of them. What makes this category all round is that is easiest to start with and most stable and easiest to turn. It may not be the best for all SUP categories. For example, an all round board wouldn't work for a 20k overnight trip. If you have ambition to do more than have a splash fest, consider identifying what you want to do with your board and get a longer-narrower one.
As I said, SUP is a new sport and it is still evolving. Based on these four categories, we have some new categories with hybrid functionalities:
So, you’ve decided which elements of SUP appeal to you? Then you chose which category will suit you best. Now it’s time to make the next step and see what you should bring with you to your SUP session.
So, you are committed to go. You have decided to try out stand up paddle boarding for the first time. Here is a list of things to keep in mind as you prepare for your paddle session.
We will take a look at each of the things listed above and explain why you should not go out on the water without it.
Board design is very much tightly connected with different SUP categories. We have covered the 4 main categories above and would now like to spend more time on the rest of the gear you will need. Starting with your paddle.
How do you use a SUP paddle? The first thing you will notice about SUP boards is that the blade is at an angle compared to the shaft. When you hold the paddle in your hand standing up, so that the blade is touching the floor, the part that is pointing down to the floor is the power face. This is a crucial detail for all strokes. Remember that for now – the power face.
SUP paddle consists of three parts.
The blade is the part that hits the water. When buying your paddle consider three things.
Firstly, what is the blade size? The bigger the paddle, the more power it will create. It will also be more tiring to paddle and create more force on your body.
Secondly, we look at how the blade is designed and how the water will run down the blade. You can have a flat blade, a dihedral (slightly tilted sides of the blade) that allows for smoother running through the water, or a V drive, that captures the water and creates even more force.
The shaft can be either thin (for people with smaller hands and fingers) or standard. It can be a fixed length or be adjustable. If you are going for your first paddle, definitely go for adjustable.
The handle can have an oval shape or a straight T design and be made out of rubber, carbon or plastic. This is a matter of personal preference and you will likely develop your preference over time.
The paddles can be made out of plastic, fiberglass, carbon or combination of all three.
Plastic SUP paddles will be the least stiff. That means the paddle it will lose some of the force you put into it because of material's vibrations. It will also be most durable material and heaviest to paddle. Plastic paddles start at around 50EUR a piece.
Fiberglass SUP paddle will be more stiff and lighter than the plastic. Fiberglass paddles start at 150EUR a piece.
Carbon SUP paddles will be the stiffest and deliver the best transfer of energy from your body down to the board. They will also be most fragile. Carbon paddles will start at around 300EUR per piece.
One of the smallest (I know it looks huge on the photo, but it is small :)) but the most important pieces of equipment you will need for stand up paddle boarding is your leash.
One of the message to bring home from this post: do not go out on the water without a leash. It is your best safety tool. Also, in case you fall off the board, the board is always faster drifting downwind than a swimmer, particularly when you have to hold the paddle doing it.
There are several leash types, but for now, it is enough to know that you can tie your leash to your ankle or to your knee. The former is great for beginner stand up paddler, as it allows for a comfortable kneeling position.
The second thing you should absolutely need to have before going out on the water is your personal floating device (PFD).
There are two types of PFDs. The first type is inflatable life jackets illustrated above.Without getting too nerdy about the Class III or Class V jacket,s the idea is that they inflate once you pull the handle. The pro is that, when worn, they are most streamlined belts and easy to forget you have them on. The cons are that it’s a buoyant cushion or requires you to position it around your neck. In open water, that is some extra work.
The second type is regular chest PFDs, very similar to kayaking and general life jacket designs. The advantage of those is that they help you float every time you fall in the water. They may be a good choice for your first stand up paddle boarding session, when you may play around and fall over in the learning process.
To put things into perspective: what is your best flotation safety device when standing up paddle boarding? It’s your board that is attached to your leash. So, make sure that you never go out on your board before attaching your leash.
The final thing which should always be with you when going out on a Stand Up Paddleboarding session on your own is a mean of communication. The purpose is that you have a mean of talking to someone on the mainland in case something unforeseen happens. It can be anything from a whistle or mobile phone (with enough battery and signal) to a radio station. The later will very likely not be the first thing you’ll buy for your first SUP trip, but it illustrates the point: things can happen (particularly at sea), and it’s good to have communication in the back of your head.
Depending on where you are paddling, consider what nature will throw at you as you are paddling. In Croatia, a liter and a half of drinking water, sun protection (t-shirt, hat) and tube of sunscreen is a must. In Ireland, it may be a wetsuit. Stand up paddle boarding teaches us to respect the nature and understand our position in it. As the Irish say: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad (inappropriate) clothes.
In deciding on which gear you will need, it starts with a question: what kind of Stand up paddle boarding will you do? Based on this you can narrow down your selection of gear. Below are some tangible facts to add to the discussion about which board type to go for.
Touring SUP - for stand up paddle boarders that do more than 4 kilometer long trips or sessions with 2-3 hours of pure paddling time in varying conditions, then a touring set up will work best for you. That means you will go for a board of 12’6 long and 29’’-30’’ wide (if you are weight up to 90kg) or 14’ long if you are a bigger stand-up paddle boarder or will likely use a lot of gear. Since you will
For those 3-hour paddle trips, you may want to go for fiberglass paddle and definitely adjustable paddle so that you can have a shorter paddle in windier conditions and slightly longer for more relaxed sessions.
All-around SUP - Paddleboarder that want’s to take it easy and plans to use the board for messing around the launch point, doing short trips of up to 2km with very calm sea state, then an all round board is a good choice. The wide board will give stability and the short board will be maneuverability for quick turns around the marina or in nearby stone stacks. A plastic paddle may be your good choice – a sturdy variant for optional kicks on the rock.
Racing SUP - If you are transitioning from another competition sport and you see yourself doing sprints and quick and fast sessions, then a racing board may be your cup of tea.
Surfing SUP - If you have surfing aspirations on breaking waves than you will go for shorter, more agile boards. Note that if you are up for down winding with little breaking waves, you may want to go for a longer touring-racing type board that will catch those smaller swells.
Stand up paddle boarding is very fun. It also looks very easy. Just like with most things, if something looks easy, it means that person has mastered it. Be ready for a steep learning curve as you start paddling. Having said that, best way is to start with an experienced SUP course.
As a teaser before that, I understand that you may want to give it a go on your own just to see how you like it.
So, if you are going on a beginner Stand Up Paddle Boarding session for the first time, consider a few things.
What are the safety concerns for the are where I am paddling?
US Coast Guard is defining a stand-up paddle board as a vessel and needs to follow navigation rules. US may be leading by example in terms of SUP regulation, but bear in mind that with stand up paddle boarder you need to respect the sea and understand and follow some navigation rules. Here are a several practical things to consider.
The state of the sea is impacted by currents, winds, and swells.
Are there any strong currents or swells in the area where you are standing up paddling and where are the currents going?
Wind direction greatly impacts the movement of the SUP. Going downwind is easy, but going upwind may be more difficult and sometimes requires significant stamina and skill. Consider what is the wind direction before, during and after your planned session. In case something happens, where will you drift and what is the alternative exit point?
Is the area where you are going to paddle part of a route of boats (enter into a fishing harbor for example), swimmers, windsurfers (hopefully not for your first SUP session) or sailboats.
What kind of entry is required – do you walk in the sea with the board, do you have to step up on the board? Is there a no fall zone due to shallow water that you should avoid?
How will you communicate in case something happens on your board and wind picks up? Is there someone one mainland who knows your planned route? How will you track time?
Last but not least, what is your fitness level and how does that match the conditions. In Croatia, we have a few winds that sometimes pick up with very subtle warning signs recognizable by an experienced eye. It is always good to know what the locals say about the state and make sure you can match the conditions.
Here are some Stand-Up Paddle instructions on how to start your first SUP session.
Firstly, start your paddle boarding session on dry land
It is wise to try out a first few exercises on the dry land. From my experience, dry land try-outs allow you to focus on the actual exercise. As opposed to trying it on the board where your lower brain is in the ‘survival’ mode, overwhelmed by the rocking board underneath you and number of other factors.
Two things here. Firstly, the power face is facing you.
Secondly, you want to have your one hand on top of the paddle (handle) and the other one-half way down the shaft. Experiment with the position – it should allow you to do the stroke from the torso.
For you kneeling session, it is good to hold the paddle with the upper hand on the shaft, facing upwards, instead of the handle. This allows for correction in paddle length as you kneel instead of stand.
You can do a few tryouts if you get on the side of the dock, to get a feel for the movement.
On the dock, it is also good to practice standing up from kneeling position. You first put your paddle on the board and hold it with both hands. You hold it perpendicular. You touching the board with 4 points: two hands and two knees.
You then replace one knee with one foot – balancing your self on the other 3 points.
Then you replace the second foot. You are almost there. Now put the paddle up, and push the blade against the center of the board. As you stand up, keep pushing down on the paddle, using is as your ‘3rd leg’.
Now we are ready to get out on the water.
Secondly, double check you have all for stand up paddle boarding on the water
Now that you know how to hold the paddle, and do initial strokes, it’s time to hit the water. A few things to remember here:
1) The leash – before you launch on the board, make sure you have you leash tied on to both the board and yourself. For the start make sure the leash is around your ankle, not the knee. It makes initial training kneeling down much more comfortable.
2) Board fin – make sure you carry your board so that the back end is entering the water first. This way the fin goes to the deepest water.
3) Your body position on the board – once you are up kneeling on the board, you want to make sure that your knees are shoulder apart. The knees need to be positioned at the very center of the board – which is where you main handle is in the middle of the board.
All right, so you are now on your board, floating happily and enjoying it. The currents are favorable and you are in a safe cove, close to the shore with no swimmers or obstacles around you. The next thing to do is: learn how to move your board around or how to stand up paddleboard.
At this stage, you will want to be able to actually move through the water on your board with the power of your body.
Before actually standing up, I always like to get paddlers learn a few strokes on their knees. This allows you to get a feel for the board and how it moves in the water, and also allows you to focus on learning the actual strokes.
This is the most important stroke for several reasons. Firstly, you will be using it majority of the time. Secondly, with so many repetitions in your SUP session, it is important to have a correct stroke to prevent injuries. Thirdly, your pleasure of SUP will be greatly derived from the ease of moving forward.
A fundamental thing is that the key here is to move your board straightforward. It means, avoiding movement of the bow left or right. You do that by:
1) Holding the paddle vertical to the sea (not sideways, as that will make it go to the side) and with your power face facing down.
Notice in the image above:
Notice in the image above:
Common pitfalls here:
As you start messing around with the board you will figure out how to stop it, here is some general direction:
Next fundamental thing is how to turn the board sideways when you are standing still.
The sweep stroke starts at the very front of the board and you move the paddle away from the board, making a semi-circle that finishes at the end of the board. You start by touching the bow and finish by touching the stern of the board.
A final thing to practice is doing a full circle with your baord. You do that by repeating the sweep stroke until you do the circle. This stroke comes in handy as you manouver among the obstacles (or if you left part of your gear at the launch place and need to turn to go back :))
These are the key maneuvers you need to know on your stand up paddle board in order to be self-sufficient moving on the water. Once you have mastered these few strokes, you can add more strokes. For a more comprehensive list of strokes, check Canoeing Ireland list of SUP strokes.
Hand position – your lower hand can move up or down the shaft. See which position delivers the most power to your torso twist. As a rule of thumb always try to hold it a tiny bit lower, as your lower hand by default starts moving up.
Body position – your back should be up straight and your stroke is initiated by your torso rotation, rather than arms pulling the paddle.
Arm position – Arms should be straight, allowing for the body to make the stroke.
Paddle position – Remeber, power face is facing you, and your paddle is perpendicular to the waterline (it is not hitting the water sideways – that would be a sweep stroke). Your paddle enters the water as far to the front as comfortable and you cut it through the water and then sink it as deep as possible. This 'sinking' is where you develop the force unique for SUPs.
Stroke start and finish – The stroke starts as far to the front as comfortable (with your arm straight) and finishes just behind your feet. Note that there are different stroke types, but for maximum efficiency try to learn this one.
Always look forward – this gives you stability. If you look down, you are more likely to fall.
Silent paddle entry in the water. You don’t even hear a splash.
The paddle feels like it wants to bounce back from the water. This means you have the perfect angle and are developing the force.
You are moving your torso a lot and you translate that rotation force to the paddle.
If you want to dive into more details about stand up paddleboarding skills, check out Paddlefit series of videos. I recommend you stick with our digested list of things to do before going through all the videos on the link. It may just add a bit of confusion.
The history of Stand up paddleboarding has been a subject of debate and there are many opinions on what is the start of SUP. Without pinpointing to any specific origins, here are several facts and concepts that are interesting as a study to the background of the history of stand up paddleboarding.
Cabalitos de Totora (Peru) is one of the examples where people have been using rafts to stand up on them and surf the waves as they returned from a fishing trip.
Surfing has Polynesian ancestry – in 1778 James Cook reported Hawaiian surfers. He’endu on boards from Koa tree. At the time the length of the board correlated to the social position of the surfer. The longer the higher status. In practice, longer boards mean that you can catch the wave earlier and go in front of the line.
Tel Aviv Lifeguards have been using Hassakeh ( SUPs) since an early 20th century. Then there are the Venetian Gondolas that take a form of paddling and standing up. This is to illustrate how people paddled standing up in different parts of the world.
Two names you need to know is John Pops AhCoy who has been standing up paddle surfing in Hawaii and John Zapotocky who continued the tradition and became the oldest SUP surfer in the world at the age of.
At the same time while Hawaii had its renaissance under the media spotlight, following guys were developing the sport in their parts of the world:
- Osmar Gonzales and Joao Roberto Hofers
- Fletcher Burton from California
Stand up boom happened when Hawaiian surfers had their photos were taken in surfing magazines: Laird Hamilton, Archie Kalepa, Biran Keaulana. Rick Tomas brought SUP to California in 2004 helping to spread the word.
It is interesting that SUP kicked off on top of a surfing boom as an alternative way to train when the swells were down. Stand up paddle boarding is rooted in the cool surfing, but with much fewer limitations. You can only surf so few places in the world and best spots are ‘reserved’ for the locals. With SUP there are more waves you can catch, more waters where you can paddle and there are new SUP categories that are replacing kayaking and canoes. With a SUP you can go everywhere.
For a more comprehensive deep dive into the history of the surfing and SUP check out the video here.
At the end of the day, SUP is about moving our physical limits, about learning the rhythm of nature, hanging out with friends but above all, it is about having fun.
If you would like to join us one of our SUP multiday trips on islands in Croatia, see more here.
If you would like to take one of our SUP courses, drop me an email to email@example.com