When first getting started at stand up paddleboarding, it can appear to be a daunting task to try to learn by yourself. Several skills can be challenging to figure out alone. I have been paddleboarding for many years and can give you a definitive answer on whether you should get lessons.
You do not need SUP lessons to get started as a beginner. Anyone can figure it out for themselves if they learn the basics of how to get on the board, how properly positioning and balance on the board, how to paddle and turn the board correctly, and SUP safety.
I have nothing against taking lessons to learn how to SUP. In fact, the first time I rented a paddleboard, I got a free 30 minute lesson with the rental. However, I learn much better by doing (and making my own mistakes) than by hearing. This article will give you what I think are the four primary things you need to be on the water as soon as possible. Then you can get out there and experiment and teach yourself. You’ll probably fall off a time or ten, but who cares? I’m sure you’ll have your leash and life jacket.
1. Getting On (and Back On) Your Board
The first time I took my son out to SUP, I tried to give him some lessons. He just wanted to get on the water. So, I put his leash and life jacket on and sent him out on a calm bay to fail. He fell off a couple of times, but within an hour, he was confidently paddling around the bay and begging to go out into the ocean.
I found the hardest thing to learn for him was how to get back on the board. There are three fundamental ways you can get on your paddleboard:
Getting on a Paddleboard From a Dock
To get on your paddleboard from a dock, start by putting the paddleboard in the water with your leash already on. This ensures that your board won’t float away while you are trying to get on. Once your board is in the water, place your paddle in the middle of the board and slide onto your board, staying on your knees and in the center of the SUP. This is very important to keep your balance. Once on the board and balanced, remain on your board and paddle away from the dock on your knees. You don’t want to try to stand up until you are far enough from the dock, so you won’t hit it if you fall.
Getting on a Paddleboard From the Shore
This is the easiest way to get on your SUP. Take your SUP into about knee-deep water. You want to make sure you are deep enough for the fin not to drag when you get on. From the side of your SUP, kneel on your board facing forward about the carry handle. Keep your mass centered and low. Stay this way, and get a feel for the board.
Getting on a Paddleboard From the Water (After Falling In)
Let’s assume that you fall off your board. Getting back on is a piece of cake. Just swim back to the board, or pull it to you with your leash. From the side of the board, reach up and grab the carry handle and, with a simultaneous big kick, reach across the board with your other hand, grab the opposite rail, and pull yourself onto the board into a lying down position. Re-position yourself so that you can get to your knees.
So, in all three of these examples, you end up on your knees. But this is a STAND-UP paddleboard, you say. So let’s tackle how to stand up next.
2. Position on the SUP and Balance
To stand up on a SUP from your knees, make sure you are near the grab handle and in the center of the board. Keep your hands on the board in front of you as you bring one foot onto the board. Do the same with the other foot and slowly stand. Make sure to keep your feet about shoulder length apart and equidistance from each rail.
That’s all there is to it. It might take a few practice times, but you’ll get the hang of it.
3. Paddling and Turning
Ok, now you are on your feet with your paddle in your hand. When paddling, make sure the concave part of the paddle points forward. If your paddle were a spoon, that would be the part that holds your cereal. It doesn’t seem quite right, but the physics seem to work out. Hey, if you don’t like to hold it that way, then don’t. You’ll still get where you’re going, just not as efficiently.
So with the paddle in hand, reach forward on either side and retrieve the paddle straight back. This will help you go straighter. To do this, try to keep the hand on the handle directly over the hand holding the shaft. This is called stacking your hands.
Two easy ways to turn are sweeping your stroke out wide and reversing your stroke on the opposite side than you want to turn.
To turn using the sweep stroke, start your forward stroke just as you would a straight stroke, but instead of pulling straight back, reach your paddle out wide in a “sweeping” motion. Your hands will not be stacked when you do this. This stroke will turn you slowly to the opposite side as the paddle.
To turn a bit faster, simply use a reverse stroke on the opposite side of the board than you want to turn.
Since you are just starting, choose a location that doesn’t have much current, wind, and waves. The perfect place would be a calm body of water without any boat traffic.
Make sure to wear your safety equipment. You’ll l need to make sure you either have onboard or are wearing a properly sized life jacket. Make sure you also use a leash with your paddleboard. It will keep your board close, even if you kick it away when you fall off.
Don’t worry if you let go of your paddle when you fall in. It will float. Just get back to your board, get back on, and use your arms to paddle to retrieve your paddle.
Alright now. You have the basics. Get that SUP and hit the water. Be safe out there. Let’s see…a few last-minute tips. 1. Turn your board, so the bow (nose) hits waves first. A SUP is very unstable when wakes or waves hit it from the side. 2. Seriously, wear a leash. Your board can kick yards away from you if you wipe out. 3. And lastly, don’t get discouraged.
How do you paddle straight? I like to say that momentum is master, meaning it is easier to go straight once you have some forward momentum going. Second, it is best to use a bow draw to start your forward stroke. You can read more here, “How do you Paddle a SUP Straight?”
Is it hard to learn to SUP? That question gets a big “It Depends…” For most people, learning the basics can be done in a few minutes, and it only takes a little while more to feel comfortable.