Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)

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Woman Stand Up Paddleboarding on Blue Water

SUP (short for stand up paddleboarding) is an increasingly popular water sport for the summer months.

An offshoot of surfing, stand up paddleboarding takes a more laidback approach. Instead of riding waves, you use a paddle to propel yourself through the water while standing upright on the board. Although most users stick to flat water, including lakes and slow-moving rivers, you can certainly take your SUP out into the ocean, even riding waves like traditional surfers.

As a SUP beginner, here’s everything you need to know to get started stand up paddleboarding today!

Index

  1. Benefits
  2. How to Choose a SUP
  3. SUP Accessories
  4. How to SUP
  5. Additional Tips
  6. Safety Advice
  7. FAQ

Why Go Stand Up Paddleboarding?

Woman Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ocean

One of the best things about stand up paddleboarding is just how versatile it is.

Although they do come in different shapes, sizes, and styles, most SUPs share an element of stability. They’re typically wide, long, and very stable on flat water.

This stability has given rise to a wide variety of SUP uses. Although recreational riding is popular, others use their stand up paddleboard for sightseeing, fishing, and even yoga.

Those that prefer a more extreme approach often try SUP surfing on waves in the ocean, whitewater SUP in river rapids, or even SUP touring with special model boards designed to hold all the gear required for a long-distance, overnight trip.

In addition to this versatility, stand up paddleboarding is very fun and a great full-body workout for those of all ages. Because you stand upright on the board, another benefit is the unique full-height vantage point that few other flat water sports offer.


How to Choose a Stand Up Paddleboard

Bird's Eye View of Woman SUPing on Clear Blue Water

We recommend renting a SUP (or borrowing from a friend) for your first outing or two just to make sure you like the activity.

But once you do find that you enjoy the sport, it’s important to buy the right stand up paddleboard that matches your personal needs and preferences.

Here’s exactly how to choose the right stand up paddleboard:

Solid or Inflatable

The two main types of SUPs are solid and inflatable.

A solid SUP uses a solid construction type, typically with a foam core that’s surrounded by layers of epoxy and fiberglass.

The benefits of a solid core stand up paddleboard are the lightweight and durable construction as well as the relative affordability.

Another option for a solid SUP is carbon fiber. While this material is even stronger and lighter, it’s also much more expensive than the standard solid construction. Most beginners won’t get much extra benefit from a carbon fiber SUP.

The other type of stand up paddleboard is an inflatable SUP. These feature a PVC exterior with an inflatable air core.

In addition to their affordable price and overall user friendliness, the main benefit of an inflatable stand up paddleboard is their portability. You can simply deflate, pack down, and stow in your trunk during transport and store in your closet at home.

When it comes down to it, both solid and inflatable boards work well for beginners. The right one for you depends on your personal needs. A solid SUP is better when performance is your top priority while an inflatable SUP is better for those that travel often, live in a small apartment, or don’t have a pickup truck or roof rack for transport. 

* Remember that inflatable stand up paddleboards are completely rigid when fully inflated.

Size (Length, Width, Thickness)

Most beginners will do best with a slightly larger board that provides greater stability while intermediate and advanced users often prefer a thinner board that offers slightly increased performance.

That said, it’s essential that you choose a stand up paddleboard that works well for your size (both height and weight).

Most importantly, your SUP must be able to support your weight. In other words, it must displace enough water to keep you afloat.

Most stand up paddleboards come with a weight capacity rating. This is the easiest way to gauge if your SUP will hold your weight.

You should also keep an eye on volume while searching for the right board. The higher the board’s volume, the more weight it’s able to support.

As for length, this dimension plays an important role in handling and performance. Long SUPs are often the fastest and easiest to paddle. They’re ideal for long distances. Short boards, on the other hand, are ideal for surfing or for children.

Most beginners, however, should seek out a medium-length SUP. Something in the range of 10 feet to 12 feet works well. These boards are stable yet easy to paddle. They’re also versatile and can be used in a variety of different weather conditions.

Hull Type

The two main hull types for a stand up paddleboard are a planing hull and a displacement hull.

A planing hull is most similar to a traditional surfboard. The hull is flat and wide. These boards sit on top of the water. They’re typically very easy to maneuver.

A displacement hull is much narrower. They are shaped more like a traditional kayak or canoe than a surfboard. The narrow nose and tail and wider middle make these SUPs faster and higher performing than planing models. They’re ideal for traveling long distances at high speeds.

In addition to planing and displacement hulls, some manufacturers now offer hybrid hulls that are a mixture between the two.


Additional Stand Up Paddle Board Gear

Stand Up Paddleboarding Through Water

Although the stand up paddleboard itself is undoubtedly the most important piece of gear, there are several other pieces of equipment you need for a successful day of SUPing.

Here’s a little bit more about these SUP accessories:

Paddle

A standard SUP paddle has a long handle and a paddle on one end. They look much like a canoe paddle, except that they’re one sided. Many have a T-shaped handle on the top for better grip and paddling power.

Personal Flotation Device

A PFD, or personal flotation device, such as a life jacket, is essential for many stand up paddleboarding applications. In fact, they’re required by the United States Coast Guard if you’re paddling outside of a designated swimming or surfing area. When in doubt, wear your PFD!

Leash

A board leash is a small tether with one end that attaches to your ankle. The other end of it attaches to your board. The purpose of a leash is to keep your SUP within easy swimming if you fall off. They’re especially important when paddling far from shore or in choppy conditions.

Clothing or Wetsuit

A swimsuit is the most standard type of clothing for stand up paddleboarding, especially during the warm summer months. If you’re SUPing in the off season or in cold water, then a wetsuit is likely necessary.

Car Rack and Tie-Downs

If you own a hard-shell SUP, a car rack and tie downs is the easiest way to transport your board from place to place. Those with an inflatable SUP don’t need either.


How to Stand Up Paddleboard

Man and Woman SUPing on River

SUP is a great activity for people of all ages because of just how easy it is to learn how to do.

With just a few basic techniques, and a tiny amount of instruction, most SUP beginners can learn to stand up paddleboard in just a few minutes. That said, basic knowledgeable of the most important techniques is helpful.

Here are a few of the SUP techniques that all beginners need to learn:

How to Stand Up

Practice getting up onto your board in shallower water. About knee deep is the easiest depth for beginners. It gives you increased stability while standing up but is still deep enough to cushion any falls.

Attempt to board your SUP at the center of the board. The most stable place for standing is slightly back of the vertical center. Hold the edges of the board with your hands with your legs to each side of the board with your body facing the front.

Gradually work from this sitting position to a kneeling position. Continue holding the edges of the board with your hands. Once comfortable, stand into a full upright position with your feet about shoulder width apart. Don’t stand up in one swift motion. Instead, gradually raise yourself to your full height.

How to Stay Balanced

Staying balanced is one of the trickiest parts of learning how to SUP. Luckily, making mistakes isn’t a huge deal as you can just jump into the water if you lose balance!

The key is to position your feet so that they’re parallel and facing forward on the board. About shoulder width apart is ideal, although this depends on your personal preferences. It’s helpful to slightly bend your knees while keeping your back straight.

Although it might feel intuitive to look at your feet or straight in front of the board, your best bet is to look forward at the horizon. Keep your head, shoulders, and back steady at all times. Make turns by shifting weight with your hips instead.

How to Paddle

Now that you’ve learned how to stand up and stay balanced, it’s time that you learn how to paddle your SUP.

Although there are a countless number of strokes to learn, there are three key strokes that will greatly benefit all beginners.

The first of these is the forward stroke. This is the stroke that propels you forwards through the water. Reach about two feet in front of you on one side of the board and pull the paddle backwards, keeping your torso pointed forwards. Alternate strokes from side to side to ensure a straight path. Or, paddle more on one side of the board to turn in that direction. The more vertical your strokes, the straighter you will go.

Second up is the reverse stroke. This stroke is much the same as the forward stroke except that you paddle from backwards to frontwards. Use your core and torso muscles to help propel the paddle through the water instead of relying solely on your arms. The reverse stroke is best for stopping or turning the board, rather than trying to propel yourself in reverse.

The final stroke all SUP beginners should learn is the sweep stroke. This is much the same as the forward stroke except that you sweep the paddle outwards in a wide arc while simultaneously paddling from front to back. The goal of the sweep stroke is to more quickly turn the board in one direction.

No matter the type of SUP stroke you’re attempting, make sure that the blade of the paddle is fully submerged in the water.

How to Get Back on After Falling

Falling down is a natural part of stand up paddleboarding – so, don’t worry if you fall, especially on your very first SUP outing.

The key is figuring out how to get back on your board after you fall. Make sure to practice getting on and off your board within easy swimming distance of shore. You don’t want to be stuck off your board far from shore (although laying down and kicking your board back to shore is always a last ditch option).

As you fall, try to angle your body away from your SUP. It’s far better to fall straight into the water than to bang yourself on your board on your way in. Keep a tight hold of your paddle if at all possible. Otherwise, you’ll have to swim to retrieve it after you retrieve your board.

Once you’re in the water, swim towards your board. Grab onto it while positioning your body just to the side of the vertical center. Most SUPs have a handle at the enter. Grab this and pull yourself over the board until one hand is able to grab the far edge.

Use your legs to kick yourself up onto the board while simultaneously pulling with both of your hands. You can let your legs float to the surface of the water before kicking to give yourself even more propulsion power.


Additional Tips for Your First SUP Outing

Woman On SUP Near Shore

Planning your first SUP trip might be intimidating. But it’s actually quite easy. Here are a few of the most important tips to remember:

  • Calm Water – A smallish lake or pond is the ideal place to learn how to stand up paddleboard. Look for such a body of water without many in-water obstacles, such as buoys, other boats, or partially submerged branches.
  • Wade into Water – The ideal location to learn how to SUP as a beginner is somewhere with a sandy beach that gradually goes into the water. Wading out into about knee-high water is the perfect place to get the hang of how to stand up and stay balanced.
  • No Wind – As a beginner, don’t attempt to go stand up paddleboarding on a day with wind in the forecast. A sunny day with little to no wind makes learning much easier.
  • Stay Near Shore – Don’t venture far from shore on your first SUP outing. The closer you are, the easier it is to paddle back when you’re tired out.
  • Go with a Buddy – If possible, go stand up paddleboarding with a more experienced friend the first time. Their pointers will undoubtedly help you learn faster. It’s also much safer to go out with a partner, especially if you’re a first-timer.

Employ these top tips on your first SUP outing and everything is sure to go smoothly.


Stand Up Paddleboard Safety Tips

Man Hauling Stand Up Paddleboard Into Water

Staying safe on your SUP is easy with a little common sense and the right equipment.

First and foremost, a personal flotation device (PFD) is essential, especially in open ocean water and for those that aren’t strong swimmers. In fact, the United States Coast Guard actually requires you to wear a life vest if you paddle outside of “the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area.”

Another important piece of safety equipment is a loud whistle. If you are in trouble out on the water, you can use your whistle to alert others out on the water or on the shore of your situation.

Finally, it’s essential to always tell someone where you’re going. Never head out for a day of stand up paddleboarding without telling someone about your plans. This is even more important if you plan to SUP somewhere private or remote where there won’t be many other people around.

Along these same lines, it’s smart to never SUP alone on a body of water that no one else is using. Furthermore, never attempt to SUP outside of your skill level, such as in river rapids when you’re a beginner.


Stand Up Paddleboarding FAQ

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Here are answers to some of the most common beginner questions about SUP:

Q. How difficult is stand up paddleboarding?

A. One of the first questions that newcomers to stand up paddleboarding have regards how difficult it is to stand up.

Although the answer naturally varies from person to person, in general, almost all beginners will be able to stand on their first trip out. This is a far cry from traditional surfing. In fact, most people will be able to stand up within a few minutes (on flat water).

Paddling on flat water is just as easy for most beginners. You might fall in a handful of times on your first go so make sure you have your swimsuit on!

Q. What is the easiest way to learn how to stand up paddleboard?

A. By far the best way to learn how to stand up paddleboard is to just try it out. It’s a highly intuitive activity that most people can pick up quickly. Familiarize yourself with the basic techniques (discussed above) and you should have no problem learning for yourself! Make sure to start out on flat water, like a lake, on a day without much wind.

Q. What equipment do I need for stand up paddleboarding?

A. The absolute basic equipment needed to SUP is the paddleboard itself and a paddle. Beyond that, a comfortable swim suit or other clothing, a board leash, and a PFD (required in certain areas) are helpful accessories.

Q. What type of board do I need for stand up paddleboarding?

A. There are a huge range of boards available for SUP. Many are manufactured for a specific type of use, like touring, fishing, racing, or yoga. However, most beginners will do best with a longer, wider board for increased stability. As you progress, you might find you prefer a narrower board that’s able to reach higher speeds on the water.

Q. How do I transport my stand up paddleboard?

A. The easiest way to transport a standard hard-shell stand up paddleboard is on a roof rack on top of your car. You can also use the back of a pickup truck. Don’t have either? Then an inflatable stand up paddleboard might be your best bet. Just deflate, pack in your trunk, and you’re good to go!


Get Started Stand Up Paddleboarding!

Are you considering giving SUP a shot for yourself?

Then we urge you to just get out there and do it! The best way to give this popular water sport a try for yourself is to rent a stand up paddleboard for the day. Most bodies of water popular with water recreation now have SUP rentals available nearby.

Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help answer any questions you have about how to start stand up paddleboarding! 

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