There are few, if any, activities with such versatility. Learning to paddle board truly opens up a whole new world. Once you learn and become reasonably proficient you can do SUP yoga, surf, fish, tour, race, workout and more anywhere there is water including the ocean, rivers, lakes, and creeks.
A lot of people want to learn to SUP but are concerned they won’t be able to do it. In general, we have found that if you can move from all fours to a standing position on land you are fully capable of paddle boarding, and can learn to do so rather quickly. That said, many things can make your experience learning to SUP a success or failure. Below is a list of the things we think are most important to making your experience a success.
Start with a stable and properly sized board. Our favorite paddle board size is between 10 and 11 feet long by 32 to 34 inches wide. In addition to providing stability these boards are still maneuverable and light weight (e.g., under 30 lbs.). Many people think they need a 12 foot board that is 34 inches wide for stability. With modern equipment (i.e., a board made in the last 2 to 3 years), this is simply not the case.
Use an adjustable paddle properly sized for you. We also suggest using a paddle made from carbon fiber or fiberglass. These paddles are much lighter and more comfortable to use compared to aluminum paddles. A heavy paddle adds unnecessary difficulty especially for kids and smaller adults.
Wear the proper safety equipment. This includes both an inflatable PFD and leash. The inflatable PFDs are low profile. You won’t even know your wearing one. The leash will keep you attached to your paddle board in the event you fall or jump in the water. This will enable you to focus on learning to paddle board as opposed to swimming after your board with a paddle in your hand. A loose paddle board is also a safety hazard to others in the area e.g., children, swimmers, etc.
Check the wind forecast before you go. Ideally wind conditions should be well below 10 mph. Believe it or not, first-time paddle boarders can struggle to make forward progress with just an 8 to 10 mph head wind. Wind can also make the water conditions choppy.
Check the water conditions. Calm waters as opposed to choppy are critical. Learning to paddle board in the surf is not a good idea for many reasons. If on the coast, make sure to check the tide charts. Tidal current can make it difficult to learn. Calm water will enable you to easily balance on the paddle board and focus on paddling technique (the hard part).
Pick a good location. Boat traffic, waves, fishermen, oyster beds, bridges, shallow water all can create additional challenges and safety issues for a novice paddle boarder. While the location doesn’t have to be perfect, a good location can accelerate learning.
Get proper instruction. Knowing where to stand on the board makes balancing easier. Believe it or not just a few inches forward or backwards can make standing and paddling difficult. Holding the paddle blade facing in the right direction gives you more power. Knowing the proper paddle stroke ensures you can paddle in a straight line as opposed to zig-zagging all over the place. Some aspects of SUP are intuitive and can be figured out on your own. Others, especially paddling techniques, are somewhat counter intuitive and can take a lot of trial and error. By taking a SUP lesson you will avoid wasting time and get straight to learning. A good instructor will be there to give you immediate feedback on your technique. Last, when selecting an instructor make sure they maintain a certification from one of the major paddling associations (e.g., ACA, WPA).
The learning curve for paddle boarding is steep but short. It can be dramatically shortened (and flattened) if you follow these suggestions. Using the right equipment in the right conditions with proper instruction enables the first-time paddler to focus on balancing on the paddle board and learning to paddle proficiently.
Time and time again, our clients tell us they thought paddle boarding was going to be much harder than it was. By following these suggestions nearly all of them are standing and paddling within the first 30 minutes of the lesson. So, if you have been wanting to learn to SUP, don’t be nervous. In the right conditions, you will be a paddle boarder in no time.