Looking for a fun, new summertime hobby? If you live by a lake, the ocean or another body of water, stand up paddle boarding can be a relaxing alternative to heading out on a kayak or simply swimming. However, you’ll need a few things to get started, including the right gear, as well as a few tips for brand-new beginners.
A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started Paddle Boarding: What You’ll Need
In terms of gear, here’s what you’ll need for stand up paddle boarding (sometimes simply referred to as SUP):
- A paddle board (of course)
- A paddle
- A leash
- A life vest
The paddle board is obviously non-negotiable. You may want to rent a few different paddle boards at your nearest outfitter before you purchase your own, so you become familiar with what brands and models you like most. Not all paddle boards are the same, and you’ll want one that fits your intended use.
What are the Different Ways to Use My Paddle Board?
On that note, have you considered how you’d like to use your paddle board? There are a lot of different uses for paddle boards and, accordingly, different gear that you’ll need based on your intended use. Travel blogger Anne Abreu with She Packs Lite recommends renting a paddle board (or two) before making your big purchase; that way, you know whether you enjoy the sport and that particular board.
You’ve likely seen a lot of paddle boarders out on your nearest body of water, quickly making it from one side of a lake to the other, but paddling isn’t the only use for your paddle board, despite the name.
Some paddle boarders use their boards for surfing (and some say that using a stand up paddle board for SUP surfing at first is a great way for beginners to learn to surf (as the board is easier to use than a surfboard). Others use their boards for pilates or SUP yoga (and you can usually find paddle board yoga or pilate classes if paddle boarding is already popular in your area). Others like to fish from their paddle boards.
However you envision using your paddle board, you’ll want to keep that intended use in mind as you shop.
What Kinds of Paddle Boards are There?
There are many, many different paddle board brands and designs available, but really only two main hull shapes.
A planing hull is wider with a rounded tip. You’ll want a paddle board with a planing hull if you intend on using your paddle board for more leisurely activities, as well as activities that require a little bit more space, such as yoga or pilates.
A displacement hull has a pointed nose and is on the narrower side. They cut through the water faster, so they are good if you want speed and if you plan on using your stand up paddle board for racing or paddling long distances.
Once you start shopping, you’ll see that you can choose between solid and inflatable stand up paddle boards. The hard boards are more suitable for those who are serious about the sport and intend to get out on the water on a regular basis.
Inflatable SUPs are more suitable for casual users or just for those users who don’t have a lot of storage space, as you can simply inflate them when you need them. Abreu loves to paddle board during her travels and prefers the inflatable boards, which are lighter and easier to transport. (Plus, they tend to be a bit cheaper.) Some stand up paddle board yoga practitioners also prefer the inflatable paddle boards for their soft exterior.
Other factors to consider when shopping for a paddle board? Weight capacity, length and width. All of these will play into how easy the paddle board is to maneuver, as well as what activities it’s best suited for.
But Back to the Gear…
Once you’ve decided on the right paddle board for you, you can move on to shopping for the other must-have gear items on your list.
Next up, you’ll need a SUP paddle — and just like there are different paddle boards for different users, there are also different paddles. You’ll want to get a paddle that’s the right length for you, the right weight for your intended use and the right shape. You can find paddles made from a variety of materials, including carbon, fiberglass, aluminum, plastic and wood. The lighter the paddle, the more suitable it is for strenuous activity, but also the more expensive it will likely be.
Abreu adds, “If you go for the inflatable board, invest in a pump. Just do it!”
If you’re a casual paddler, you may want to choose a mid-range paddle and possibly one that’s adjustable so that everyone in the family can use the paddle, regardless of their height. If, though, you’re a more serious paddler and you want a paddle made with your specific height, weight and use in mind, you may want to go with a more expensive option.
A board leash is also an important accessory for stand up paddle boarding. A lightweight chord that simply attaches your ankle to your board, it can keep the two of you connected in the event that you fall off. The last thing you want is for your board to float away, leaving you stranded in a large body of water. Look for a leash made for the type of board you buy, as well as your intended use (sometimes leashes can differ based on the type of body of water you intend to paddle in most).
Lastly, you’ll also want a life vest or personal flotation device (sometimes referred to simply as a PFD). In many areas, it’s the law that you must use a life vest while paddle boarding. Additionally, some regions also require you to bring along additional safety gear while paddle boarding, such as a light and safety whistle. Check the regulations in your area for your body of water, and make sure that you’re outfitted with everything you need for a safe experience. When purchasing that life jacket, always purchase one that’s the appropriate size and fit.
Other Non-Essential But Nice-to-Have Gear
There are a few other pieces of paddle boarding gear that you may find handy and nice to have but that aren’t as essential as the items listed above. These include the right clothes (you’ll want something that dries quickly and keeps you protected from the elements, whether that’s the sun or cold, potentially life-threatening water); a car rack to easily transport your paddle board; and a board bag to protect your board while you’re transporting it between the car and the water.
Getting Out on the Water with Your SUP
Paddle boarding as a sport is relatively easy. All you have to do is stand up and start paddling… right?
While that’s more or less the gist, stand up paddle boarding does require a learning curve, but luckily, it’s one that beginners typically overcome quickly. If you’re not taking a class and taking your paddle board out on your own for the first time, you’ll want to walk your board out into the shallows (about knee depth) and then climb onto the side of the board from there, knees-first. Once you’re in a kneeling position, straighten the upper portion of your body, and then slowly replace your knees with your feet, one at a time. Once your feet are in place, rise to a standing position.
Keeping your balance is easier with better posture, so while on your board, try to keep your feet at hip-width and centered on the board. Don’t lock your knees, keep your back straight and your feet facing forward and look ahead, not down.
Once you’re successfully standing and balancing on your board, it’s time to start paddling.
You’ll want to put your blade in the water toward the front of your board, angling it forward. If you paddle on the right side, keep your left hand on the top grip and your right hand a bit lower. Switch that position if you switch sides. As you become a more advanced paddle boarder with a greater skill level, you may want to practice different paddling techniques, but at first, just focus on mastering going forward, backward and turning.
Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get back on my board!
So what are you supposed to do if you fall off your board after you paddle out into the deep water?
First things first, if you feel yourself falling off, try to angle your body away from the board. You actually want to fall in the water, not on your board (which can hurt). Try to hold onto your paddle, too. You definitely don’t want to lose it.
Luckily, if you’ve attached your leash to your board, you won’t fall too far away, and you’ll be able to simply grab your board and float in place. From there, climb back aboard at the center of the board by allowing your legs to float up perpendicular to the board and then sliding your body onto the board from there.
Then, you can follow the same process for getting into your upright position: get to your knees first, then your feet, all while keeping good posture.
Beginner Paddle Boarding Tips
A few tips for getting started as a stand up paddle boarder?
1. Choose the right conditions.
Make things a little easier on yourself by choosing the best possible conditions for paddle boarding. Go out on calm, flat water versus the raging ocean, and pick a day with little wind. Note: if there is going to be wind, you want conditions that are under 10 mph. Look for wade-friendly water so you can practice actually getting up onto your board for a while if needed.
2. Go with a friend.
Find a friend who also wants to try paddle boarding or one that’s already an accomplished paddle boarder. They may be able to help you out when you get stuck. Plus, as with any outdoor activity, going paddle boarding with a friend versus alone is just safer.
If you don’t have a friend to take with you while you’re still a beginner, consider taking a few paddle boarding classes, just at the start, to get you comfortable with the process. That way, there’s someone there to answer all of your paddle boarding questions.
3. Stay clear of other paddlers.
If you’re paddling with a friend or group, you’ll want to keep enough distance between you and the other paddlers. This means leaving at least enough space between you so that if you fall, you’re not falling onto someone else’s board — causing a chain reaction of falling boarders!
4. Store your board the correct way.
After you’ve invested in and purchased a paddle board, you don’t want to end up damaging it just because you didn’t store it properly. Whether you store your paddle board on a wall rack or on foldable floor stands in a corner of your garage or basement, you want to ensure that all of the paddle board’s weight is evenly distributed. That means not just leaning it against a wall.
5. Make sure everyone in your party is safe.
Once most paddle boarders get a little more comfortable with paddle boarding, they want to bring others along for the ride. Whether you’re bringing along a friend, child or even the dog, if you’re adding another individual to your board, make sure that (a) your board can handle the extra weight and (b) that the individual is outfitted with the proper gear, too. That means life jackets for everyone, including the dog. You also only want to bring along a passenger who knows how to swim, just in case they do fall off the board at some point.
Ready to Get Out on the Water?
Paddle boarding can be a fantastic, low-impact water sport for anyone who fancies heading out onto the waves for some fun but who would prefer a more low-key sport. Just remember to stay safe and prepare for your adventures ahead of time, for the most enjoyable experience possible — no matter how long it takes you to get up on your paddle board the very first time.
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