Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
Expert advice & information from REI.com
Paddleboarding offers an amazing full body workout and is becoming a favorite cross-training activity for skiers, snowboarders and other athletes. And since you're standing at your full height, you'll enjoy excellent views of everything from sea creatures to what's on the horizon. It's almost like walking on water!
Stand up paddleboard: This is by far your most significant gear investment. Sizes are based on the paddler's weight and experience. More experienced and lighter paddlers can choose narrower boards. Novice paddlers should choose wider, flatter boards, which offer more stability.
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 (though 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.
Proper clothing: For cold 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.
Techniques: Getting Started
For longer distances, or if your board has no handle, you can more easily carry your paddleboard on your head.
Paddleboarding on Calm Water
Mounting the Paddleboard
Standing alongside the board, 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 wade out about knee-deep with your board. Have your friend stabilize the board as you get the hang of standing on it.
Techniques: On the Water
Your feet should be parallel, about hip-width distance apart, centered between the rails (board edges). Don't stand on the rails.
Keep toes pointed forward, knees bent and your back straight.
Balance with your hips—not your head.
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 the temptation to stare at your feet.
It's much like bicycling: When your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.
Once you've practiced balancing on the board in flat water, it's time to take off on a paddleboarding excursion—where the real fun begins. Here are some pointers for getting started with 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.
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.
When you're beginning, 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.
Sidestroke: One easy method 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: Another fast 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
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
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 very top of the paddle, on the grip.
Standing straight-kneed. It's much easier to balance with bent knees.
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
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 store employee for help with choosing the right paddleboard for you.
Q: Why does the paddle have an angle?
A: The elbow in a paddle provides a more powerful, effective stroke. When you're paddling, the elbow causes the paddle blade to align straight up and down as it comes alongside the paddleboard.
Q: What should I wear for paddleboarding?
A: Wear clothing that lets you move and that can get wet: shorts and a T-shirt or a swimsuit work well in warm climates. In cold weather when hypothermia is a danger, consider a wetsuit or drysuit. Always wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device).