Surfing is probably one of the most recognizable watersports on the planet and you had to figure that at some point, someone would come up with different uses for a board on the water. Enter paddleboarding, a fun and healthy way to get out and stand on the water, moving along with a paddle. Is paddleboarding fun? Absolutely. Is paddleboarding hard?

Not at all. It is a sport (if you can call it that; perhaps leisure sport would be a better term) that requires a level of balance, but nothing so bad as learning to ride a hoverboard, skateboard, or just a regular pair of skates. The only difference is that it’s on the water, so if you lose your balance, you won’t lose an inch of skin on both of your knees.

Once you get your balance down pat, paddleboarding is rather easy. It’s definitely one of those leisure sports that you could easily turn into something more strenuous if that is your wish. You simply stand, centered, on a paddleboard (that is shaped like a surfboard), with a paddle in your hand that’s long enough to dip into the water and propel yourself along.

Before you get started, make sure you know what to wear to stay warm.

How to learn how to paddleboard

Boy paddleboarding
Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

It helps that the paddleboard is a larger and thicker version of the surfboard. It easily floats on the surface of the water, even with you standing on it. Some water may lap up over the sides of the paddleboard but it’s not going to sink, even if you stomp on it.

Getting started with paddleboarding isn’t difficult but it does mean knowing your boards and what to look for. Just like skating, or any other sport that requires balance, there are beginner options and your journey towards becoming an expert paddleboarder starts with a beginner’s paddleboard.

Choosing a paddleboard for beginners

Inflatable paddleboards are the way to go when you’re first getting started. You want three things: a high level of stability, portability, and affordability. If paddleboards required you to take out a second mortgage to afford, there wouldn’t be very many beginners to the sport.

When choosing your first paddleboard, you want to look for a little extra width, a shorter length, and thickness. It’s going to be your first rodeo out on the water so you don’t want to go with the smallest and sleekest paddleboard you can find.

  • Medium Paddleboards: The best option for beginners is something that is sort of in the middle and about 9’ to 12’ in length. Short paddleboards are good for beginners as well but are generally best for kids rather than adults
  • Thickness: The more you weigh, the thicker your board should be. Thicker boards have more buoyancy and can hold more weight. This isn’t a beginner thing so much as the best thickness for your weight.
  • Paddleboard Width: Beginners need a wide paddleboard, which is a paddleboard that is wider than 31” in the center. Wider paddleboards are slower on the water so they are best for those who are trying to paddleboard for the first time.

Every paddleboard on the marketplace comes with the dimensions listed above and recommendations for rider weight. Pay attention to the fine print on the paddleboard before you take it to the front counter and walk out the door with it.

One of the best places to shop for a paddleboard online is ROC SUP CO. Not only are there a ton of paddleboards available on ROC, but they also have a complete breakdown of specifications so you can choose the best beginner paddleboard available.

Choose your starting location

As a beginner, ready to get out on the water for the first time, you don’t want to get started on the beach, on a windy day, or anywhere that has a lot of chop. You want to get started on a lake, pond, or even a swimming pool, where the water is calm and flat.

Be sure to check the weather before you head out. It doesn’t matter how calm the waters usually are if the wind is really kicking. The best environment to learn paddleboarding in is not during a thunderstorm rolling in over the lake.

Learn how to launch and mount your SUP

The best way to launch your paddleboard is to do so from the shoreline rather than from a dock or something similar. From the shoreline, you can walk out until your paddleboard is closer to being waist level before you get on.

Start from a kneeling position on your paddleboard. Let’s say that you’re on the right side (starboard) of your paddleboard. Place your left knee just left of the center of the board and kick off with your right foot. Use your forward momentum, staying low and center, to bring your right knee up next to your left knee.

Don’t bother standing. You’re not used to it so give your body some time to adjust to the ebb and flow of the paddleboard by remaining on your knees, in the center of the board. You can paddle from here. Move around the area and get used to how the board reacts when you paddle to the left and right (port and starboard) of the paddleboard.

Time to make your stand

Once you’re comfortable with how the SUP moves in the water and how it reacts to your body weight in the center of the paddleboard, you can try to stand up. The key to standing on a paddleboard is to not stare at your feet but to keep your face straight forward as if you are staring at the shoreline.

There is typically a center handle that you can grab ahold of that will help you maintain your balance as you stand up for the first time. Don’t pop straight up but move to a standing position with your knees bent, avoiding looking all around you to see who is watching you.

Stay center and stand up with your feet positioned shoulder length apart. Don’t take it fast and don’t try to do too much at the same time. Once you are standing straight up, now it’s time to learn how to paddle while standing and maintaining your balance at the same time.

Paddling isn’t too difficult to do standing up, even though it may feel a little bit awkward at first. The key is not to slap at the water with your paddle but to simply dip your oar and push, then switch sides, rinse and repeat. It’s easier to turn your paddleboard as well.

If you want to turn right, simply dip your paddle (while you’re moving forward) to the right of your SUP, blade flat against the current, and you will turn to the right. For harder turns, do the same thing but reverse your paddle stroke in the water, without altering your body’s stance in any way.

How to not get tired when learning how to paddleboard

Paddling on a Paddle North board in Iceland
Photo by Paddle North / Unsplash

One of the biggest things that affect beginner paddleboarders is getting tired quickly. Of course, paddleboarding, even when done right, is meant to be a good workout. However, that doesn’t mean that your arms are supposed to be limp noodles within 15 minutes of launching from the shoreline.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Increased momentum increases stability
  • Maintain your posture and stance
  • Paddle with your core and not your arms
  • Don’t stand too far forward
  • Don’t lean and bend while paddling
  • Don’t lock your knees
  • When paddling, fully immerse your blade with the logo facing away

These are a few good tips for starters and they really make a difference out there on the water. It’s meant to be a good workout but it’s not meant to be enormously exhausting. It’s also important to understand that it shouldn’t be a struggle to maintain your balance.

To help with that, you want to maintain your momentum. Forward motion is surprisingly beneficial when you are trying to maintain your balance as a beginner. It’s also important to maintain your posture and stance.

If you spend a lot of time leaning and bending when you paddle, you’re going to wear out quickly. You should be able to paddle without having to adjust your body. If you have to reach to get your paddle in the water, you either have a short paddle and need a longer one or you’re not doing something right.

Stay centered on your board and allow your core to do the majority of the work, which includes using the paddle. If you’re slapping the water and purely using your arms to propel you through the water, you’re going to tire very quickly.

Don’t lock your knees either. One of the fastest and easiest ways to pass out is to keep your knees unnecessarily locked while standing staring up for a long period.

Final thoughts

Paddleboarding is supposed to be a blast and it’s not a difficult-to-learn experience. As a beginner, you will be surprised at how quickly, easily, and naturally you learn to stand on a SUP while moving through the water. It does take some time, but with patience and a dash of willpower, you will find yourself shooting through the water with a smile on your face in no time.