how to go paddleboarding

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) offers a fun, relaxing way to play on the water. With a minimum of gear, you can paddle ocean surf, lakes and rivers—no waves required.

SUP delivers a full body workout and thus has become a popular cross-training activity. And since you stand at your full height, you can enjoy unique views of everything from sea creatures to what's on the horizon.

This article discusses basic SUP gear and techniques to get you started.

Paddleboarding Gear

Good news: You need just a few key pieces of equipment to enjoy this sport.

  • Stand up paddleboard: This is by far your most significant gear investment. Sizes are based on the paddler's weight and experience. See the REI Expert Advice article, Stand Up Paddleboards: How to Choose, for details.
  • Paddle: Stand up paddles have an angle or “elbow” in the shaft for maximum efficiency. Choose a paddle that's roughly 6” to 8” taller than you are (note: some manufacturers recommend an 8” to 10” differential).
  • PFD (Personal Flotation Device): The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddleboards as vessels, so always wear a PFD whenever you're paddling navigable water. One popular option is the inflatable PFD (see our video, below, and search for "inflatable PFDs" on REI.com).

 

  • Proper clothing: For cool conditions where hypothermia is a concern, wear a wetsuit or dry suit. In milder conditions, wear shorts and a T-shirt or bathing suit—something that moves with you and can get wet.
  • Sun protection: Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Shop REI's selection of paddleboarding gear.

Techniques: Getting Started

How do you transport a SUP board (or boards) on your vehicle? Our video gives you the basics:


Carrying Your Board to the Water

Most SUP boards have a built-in handle. Just lean the board on its rail (edge), reach for the handle (a grip in the middle of the board) and tuck the board under one arm. Carry the paddle with your other hand.

For longer distances—or if your board has no handle—you should carry your paddleboard on your head. Here's how:

  • Stand the board on its tail (end) with the deck (top of the board) facing you.
  • Lay your paddle on the ground within easy reach.
  • Grasp the rails (the edges of the board) with both hands.
  • Walk yourself under the board so that your head is about midway between the nose (front) and the tail.
  • Stand upright with the board overhead, still holding it by its rails.
  • Bend down to pick up your paddle and head for the water.

Mounting the Paddleboard

When you're new to the sport, it's best to start out in flat, calm water that's free of obstacles like boats and buoys.

At first, you may find it easier to kneel on the board rather than to stand upright. Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Standing alongside the board in shallow water, place your paddle across the deck of the board and use it as an outrigger. The paddle grip is on the rail (edge) of the board; the blade rests on the water.
  • Hold the board by the rails. One hand will also be holding the paddle grip.
  • Pop yourself onto the board into a kneeling position, just behind the center point of the board.
  • From that kneeling position, get a feel for the balance point of the board. The nose shouldn't pop up out of the water and the tail shouldn't dig in.
  • Keep your hands on either side of the board to stabilize it.

Once you're ready, stand up on the board one foot at a time. Place your feet where your knees were. You might also bring a friend to help stabilize the board as you get the hang of standing on it.

Techniques: On the Water

Paddleboarding Stance

To maintain your balance as you stand upright on the board:

  • Your feet should be parallel, about hip-width distance apart, centered between the board rails (edges). Don't stand on the rails.
  • Keep toes pointed forward, knees bent and your back straight.
  • Balance with your hips—not your upper body.
  • Keep your head and shoulders steady and upright, and shift your weight by moving your hips.
  • Your gaze should be level at the horizon. Avoid staring at your feet.
  • Much like bicycling, when your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.

Paddleboarding Stroke


Once you're comfortable balancing on the board in flat water, it's time to take off on a longer excursion—where the real fun begins. Some pointers about the basic paddleboarding stroke:

  • If you're paddling on the right, your right hand is lower and on the paddle shaft. Your top (left) hand is on the top of the grip.
  • The elbow (angle) of the paddle faces away from you. This may look and feel counterintuitive at first.
  • Keep your arms straight and twist from your torso as you paddle. Think of using your torso to paddle rather than your arms. You have more strength in those abdominal muscles than in your arms.
  • Push down on the paddle grip with your top hand.
  • Plant the paddle by pushing the blade all the way under the surface, pull it back to your ankle, then out of the water.
  • At first, keep your strokes fairly short and close alongside the board. No need to overpower it.
  • A small draw stroke at the beginning of the paddle stroke will keep you going forward.
  • To go in a reasonably straight line, paddle about 4 or 5 strokes on one side, then switch to the other.
  • When you switch sides, you'll reverse hand positions.


Paddleboarding Turns

There are several easy ways to turn a paddleboard.

  • Sidestroke: One way to is simply to paddle on one side until the nose turns in the direction you want to go. Want to turn right? Paddle on the left. Headed to the left? Paddle on the right.
  • Backpaddle: A faster way to turn or reverse direction is to simply drag the paddle or paddle backwards on either side of the board.
  • Sea ("c") stroke: Plant your paddle towards the front of the board and take a long sweeping stroke towards the tail. This is sometimes called a sweep stroke.

Other tips:

  • Stepping back on the board or looking over your shoulder to the direction of your turn also helps in making a turn.
  • Another turn that works well, especially in surf, is to paddle on your dominant side (left foot forward, paddle on your right side). Really bend your knees and put more weight on your back foot. This allows the board to pivot and turn quickly.

When You Fall

Stand up paddleboarding is relatively easy to learn, but expect to take the occasional fall as you're gaining skills. For those inevitable times you lose your balance:

  • Aim yourself to the side, so that you fall into the water and not onto the board. Falling onto the board is more likely to cause an injury.
  • If you get separated from your paddle and your board, get your board first, then paddle it to retrieve the paddle.

Common Beginner's Mistakes in Paddleboarding

These mistakes are easy to make when you're starting out. Try to avoid them and you'll have a lot more fun on the water:

  • A hunched posture. Keep your back straight, shoulders level.
  • Staring at your feet instead of the horizon.
  • The elbow (bent angle) of the paddle facing in the wrong direction. It should point away from you.
  • Having both hands on the paddle shaft. Your top hand belongs at the top of the paddle, on the grip.
  • Standing straight-kneed. It's much easier to balance with bent knees.

Paddleboarding: Next Steps

Once you've mastered the basics, there's almost no limit to the watery worlds you can explore on your stand up paddleboard. Play in the waves and ocean surf, carve turns or learn new strokes. You might find yourself wanting a narrower, more maneuverable board as you become more adept.

Meanwhile, get out there, enjoy the view and have a great time on your SUP!

Stand Up Paddleboarding FAQs

Q: Do I need waves in order to paddleboard?

A: Even though paddleboards look like oversized surfboards, you don't need waves in order to enjoy this self-propelled sport. In fact, flat water is preferred for building your paddleboard skills.

Q: Where can I rent a board?

A: Most surf shops that sell paddleboards also rent them. It's a great way to test out the sport before you commit to buying.

Q: What size paddleboard is best for me?

A: The choice is determined by a combination of paddler weight and skill, your intended use and the local conditions. Talk to an REI paddling specialist for help choosing the right paddleboard for you.

Q: What should I wear for paddleboarding?

A: Wear clothing that lets you move and can get wet: a T-shirt and shorts or a swimsuit work well in warm climates. In cold weather when hypothermia is a concern, wear a wetsuit or drysuit. Always wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

Q: Do I need to wax the top of the paddleboard?

A: Most paddleboards sold at REI have a traction pad attached to the top of the board. These provide reliable grip and should not be waxed. If you choose a paddleboard that doesn't have such a pad or soft-top, you'll need to use a base wax and a grip wax to provide traction.

Q: How do I transport the board on my car?

A: A roof rack is best. Use a bar pad on the rack in order to protect the board. Be sure to stack the board on the roof with the fin up, towards the front. Use surf-specific straps that won't crush the board's foam when you strap it down.

Watch the Expert Advice video for tips on transporting watercraft.

Q: Can the fins on a paddleboard be removed?

A: Yes, they can be removed for travel or storage. They help you navigate through the water, though, so be sure you paddle with them attached.

Q: Where is the best place to stand on a paddleboard?

A: Just behind the center point of the board. The nose (front) of the board shouldn't pop out of the water, and the tail shouldn't dig in.

Q: Can I take a paddleboard in rivers?

A: Yes, you can paddleboard almost any navigable body of water.

Q: Can you surf with a paddleboard?

A: Yes, but learn to surf in an empty break before you enter the lineup. When you get good, remember to share the waves!

Q: What does a full paddleboarding setup cost?

A: Depending on which models you choose, the cost of a board and paddle ranges from about $1,100 to $2,100. Take a look at REI's online selection of paddleboard gear.

Contributors: REI paddling enthusiasts Leland Ching, Lea DeJarlais, Dustin Kingman, Joel Oerter, Jason Sutherland.