Choosing the Right SUP Board
One of the first steps when getting into stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is choosing the right board. There are a few main considerations when selecting a SUP board as a beginner:
Board Type – There are two main types of SUP boards: all-around and specialty boards. All-around boards are wider and more stable, making them ideal for beginners. Specialty boards like racing, surfing and yoga boards are meant for their specific activity.
Board Size – Board size is measured by length and width and is a key factor in stability. Longer and wider boards are most stable. Beginner boards generally range from 9’6″ to 11’6″ long and 30-35 inches wide.
Board Thickness – Thicker boards are more buoyant and stable. Beginner boards tend to be 4-5 inches thick. Thinner boards are faster but less stable.
Your Height/Weight – Your height and weight help determine the right board volume and length. General guidelines: under 5’6″ = 9’6″-10’6″ board; 5’6″- 6′ = 10’6″-11’6″; over 6′ = 11’6″ or longer.
Skill Level – As a true beginner, start with an all-around board at least 10’6″ long and 32″ wide. Progress to a smaller board as skills improve.
Where You’ll Paddle – Consider the conditions. Larger, thicker boards are best for ocean and choppy water. Smaller boards work for calm lakes and rivers.
Nose Shape – Beginner boards often have a rounded nose for stability. More advanced boards have pointed noses that cut through the water.
Fin Setup – Beginner boards typically have 1 central fin for tracking. Boards with 2 or 3 fins are faster but require more skill.
Material – Epoxy boards are durable but heavy. Inflatables are portable but may be less rigid. Fiberglass boards are lighter but more delicate.
Choosing the Right SUP Paddle
A proper paddle is also key for comfortable, balanced SUP. Paddle sizing depends on your height.
Paddle Length – For beginners, choose a paddle 7-8” taller than your height. Paddles range from adjustable to set lengths up to 86”.
Blade Size/Shape – Larger blades (around 8”-10” wide) provide more power for beginners. Smaller, narrower blades require more strokes. Blade shapes vary by paddleboarding type.
Materials – Fiberglass blades are light but less durable. Carbon fiber is strong and lightweight. Aluminum or nylon are heavier but economical options.
Adjustability – 2 or 3 piece adjustable paddles allow you to change length. Good for beginners unsure of size.
Grip – Ergonomic grips that fit your hand prevent fatigue. Many are oval or have finger grooves.
Leash – Use a coiled ankle leash to attach the board to your leg for safety. Prevents board from floating away if you fall.
Essential Safety Gear
Safety should always come first when paddleboarding. Here is some essential gear:
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – The U.S. The Coast Guard requires you to have a personal flotation device (PFD) on board. Wearing one gives an added layer of safety. Look for PFDs designed for paddleboarding with unrestricted arm movement.
Proper Clothing – Wear a rashguard and boardshorts to prevent sunburn and protect against abrasion from straddling the board. Neoprene booties can protect feet in cooler water.
Helmet – Recommended for paddleboarders going in the ocean or rivers due to risk of hitting subsurface rocks. Also good for paddleboard yoga.
Ankle Leash – Always use a sturdy ankle leash designed for SUP to keep board attached to you if you fall off.
Whistle – Have an emergency whistle attached to your PFD to alert others if needed.
Water – Carry drinking water in a pack or water bottle holder on the board. Dehydration is a risk, especially in heat.
Sun Protection – Use waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and wear a hat and sunglasses. The water reflects sunlight.
Rescue Float – Pack an inflatable rescue float or extra paddleboard as backup for emergencies.
Finding Good Beginner Locations
Finding a suitable location is an important first step to having a safe, enjoyable paddleboarding experience as a beginner.
Lakes – Ideal for flatwater paddling. Look for a protected cove away from powerboats and high winds. State park lakes often have paddleboard rentals and concessions.
Rivers – Slow-moving rivers and streams with little boat traffic are suitable for beginners. Avoid turbulent rapids or currents above your skill level.
Oceans – Choose a calm protected bay or lagoon for beginners. Avoid crowded beaches with intense wave action unless you have proper ocean paddling skills.
Beginner SUP Tours – Many paddleboard shops and outfitters offer beginner skills courses in ideal learning spots. Guided tours provide boards, gear, and instructors.
Paddleboard-Friendly Parks – Some parks like those along intracoastal waterways have launch sites, paddle trails, and areas perfect for novices.
Session Time – Go when conditions are calmest. Early morning sessions often provide glassy water before winds pick up. Avoid choppy mid-day conditions.
Water Temperature – Colder water makes capsizing more dangerous. If water is frigid, wear a wetsuit or drysuit and go with a partner.
Learning Basic Paddleboarding Skills
It takes practice to get comfortable balancing and paddling on a SUP board. Master these foundation skills first:
Getting On – Start on your knees in shallow water. Maintain a centered stance grabbing the rails at board’s center. Then slowly stand using core strength, one foot at a time.
Stance – Place feet parallel about hip-width apart. Bend knees slightly for shock absorption. Keep head up looking forward. Maintain centered weight over board.
Proper Paddling – Keep paddle vertical using long strokes. Alternate sides. Reach forward and pull through along board’s edge. Avoid windmilling or short unstable strokes.
Directional Control – Twist torso and paddle deeper on right side to go right. Paddle deeper on left to go left. Draw straight back for reverse.
Stopping – Jam blade vertically deep in water near tail of board to stop momentum. Or drag paddle at rear as makeshift rudder.
Turning Around – Stop board then sweep paddle in wide U shape away from direction you want board to turn. Repeat sweep strokes to fully spin board 180 degrees.
Getting Off – Approach beach or dock at slight angle heading into shore. Balance on knees then carefully step off keeping weight low.
Falling Safely – If you do fall, hold onto your paddle and stay relaxed. DO NOT try standing immediately. Get back on carefully on your knees then stand using proper technique.
General Paddleboard Rules and Etiquette
Here are some key paddleboard rules and etiquette guidelines to follow for safe, responsible fun:
- Respect all marine traffic laws. SUP boards must follow regulations like staying clear of channels and buoys.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid crowds and do not get in the way of swimmers, kayakers, or other watercraft.
- Practice the “3 S’s” – Safety, Sharing, and Smiles!
- Give right of way to faster paddlecraft like wakeboard boats. Pass on right whenever possible.
- Never paddle directly at or over a swimmer, even if you have right of way. Move your path to avoid collisions.
- Be helpful to others in need, but avoid closely approaching struggling paddlers who may unintentionally capsize your board.
- Respect private docks and avoid paddling close to shore at private residences. Most lakes have public shore rights.
- Do not litter! Secure your belongings and pick up any trash you encounter. Help keep waters clean.
- Be courteous if approaching anglers. Pass them at a distance to avoid disturbing their fishing.
- Avoid paddling out farther than your skill level or swimming capabilities allow.
- Use caution and common sense during low visibility foggy conditions. Wear bright colors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to transport a paddleboard?
Most paddleboards between 10-12 feet fit on the roof of a car with foam cradles or paddleboard racks. Make sure to carefully secure the back and front with straps or cords. For long vehicles, pads or racks that fit in truck beds or allow an extended tail