SUP Tips, Safety, and Techniques

Learning to stand up paddle board doesn’t need to be difficult, and often the biggest and most annoying or even scary challenges arise because of lack of information, unawareness to safety, and incorrect techniques. To make sure your paddle boarding lifestyle gets off to a great start, take note of the following tips, safety advice, and techniques.

Paddle Boarding Tips and Safety

When picking your location for your first supping experience, find a calm and flat body of water such as a lake, pond, or harbor that has an easy way of entry such as a sandy beach that you can wade in from. It’s also a good idea to avoid areas that have a lot of boat traffic, or very busy weekends such as public holidays since you may not have very good control of your board initially.

The weather is also an important factor that can greatly affect the difficulty level of paddling, so make sure to keep an eye on the local weather forecast for the days leading up to and on the day of your first paddleboard outing. Ideally, you should try to pick a sunny day with little to no wind, since strong winds can catch an experienced paddler on a SUP board like a sail to propel them out further than one may want to go. In Southern California, this usually means going out earlier in the day rather than later since there is a tendency for high winds to kick up in the afternoons. If there is a little wind, you want to be paddling into it on your way out so that you don’t have to paddle against the wind on your way back in when you are likely getting tired. And on that note, keep in mind that you will need to SUP back the same distance that you are paddling out so be sure to turn around when you still have plenty of energy for your return journey.

Of course, not everything always goes to plan, so if you do happen to find yourself caught out in strong winds despite these precautions, drop down to your knees then lay down on your belly with your SUP paddle tucked under you and paddle yourself back to shore “surfer-style”. Be sure you go with a friend at least for your first few outings, so you can watch out for each other - preferably one who has experience with supping. Especially in open waters, the safest way to go Paddle boarding is always with another person.

Having the right gear while stand up paddling is also important for safety. A personal floatation device (PFD) is required by law to be carried or worn by all suppers since stand up paddle boards are considered to be a vessel by the U.S. Coast Guard. If you are a weak swimmer, we recommend that you wear a vest, otherwise you may prefer an inflatable PFD in a belt pouch which can be worn around your waist. A SUP leash is also a good idea so that you don’t get separated from your paddle board, since it is your most effective floatation device.

Finally, don’t forget to pack personal items such as sunscreen, water, and appropriate clothing for the weather to protect you from the elements and dehydration. You may even want to pack some easy-to-carry snacks such as trail mix or energy bars just in case you are out on the water for longer than planned or expected. Dress with the expectation that you will fall in the water at some point: check both air and water temperatures and consider wearing a wetsuit if temperatures are low.

With all of these preparations, you should be ready to go out to enjoy applying and practicing the SUP techniques outlined below!

Paddle Board Techniques

  • Getting On
    • Wade into the water with your paddleboard until you are around knee-deep and lay it flat on the water with the fins down and pointing back away from you and the nose of the board pointing forward. Make sure that you are in deep enough water so the fins won’t touch the bottom when you get on the board.
    • Hold your SUP on either side and climb onto an upright kneeling position (i.e. so that the bend at your knee is a right angle), just behind center of the board (i.e. the handle)
    • Practice paddling on your knees on each side of the board until you feel comfortable enough to try standing up.
  • Getting Up
    • It’s easier to stay balanced while the board is moving, so take a few strokes on your knees to propel forward before trying to stand
    • Hold your paddle across your board with both hands and slowly get on your feet with your chest up and knees bent into a frog-like squat position, moving one foot at a time.
    • Raise your chest up into vertical and slowly extend your legs to stand up, bringing the SUP paddle with you in your hands
  • Staying Balanced
    • Stand with your feet parallel and toes pointing forward, hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your back straight
    • Keep all of your weight centered over the instep of your foot rather than on your toes or heels
    • Your head and shoulders should remain straight and steady while using your hips to shift weight as needed
    • Keep your eyes on the horizon rather than down at your feet or paddle board
  • Falling and Getting Back On
    • If you feel yourself losing balance and falling, aim yourself to the side to fall in the water rather than onto the board, and don’t reach out to grab your paddleboard to break your fall as this could cause injury. Try to keep your arms close to your body as you fall into the water.
    • Try to hang onto your paddle while falling, but don’t worry too much if you do lose hold of it since it will float. Your priority will be to get back on your board first, then you can retrieve your SUP paddle by using your hands to paddle toward it on your SUP
    • As you come up to the surface of the water after a fall, watch your head to make sure you don’t hit your board on your way up.
    • To climb back on, position yourself so you are next to the center of your paddle board, then grabbing the handle with one hand and gripping the board with the other, kick your legs behind you while pulling yourself up
  • Holding a SUP Paddle
    • Make sure the blade angle is facing forward away from you. This is counter-intuitive for many people who are unfamiliar with paddle boarding or rowing, so pay attention to this detail!
    • Place one hand on the t-grip at the top of the paddle with the other hand about halfway down the shaft in a loose grip. The right hand will be on top with left hand on the shaft when paddling on the left, and vice versa
  • Stroking
    • Forward stroke
      • Reaching as far forward as you can, bury the paddle into the water. Make sure the entire blade is submerged for optimum propelling power. Keep your arms straight with the lower arm fairly still and your top shoulder rotated forward to extend your reach. Hinge from your hips with a straight back rather than bending at the waist as you reach forward
      • Imagine that the paddle remains planted in place while you use it to as leverage to pull your body and your board up past your paddle. As you pull yourself forward, your upper body should also straighten back up from the hinged position
      • Pull your paddle out as soon as your heels have passed by it and repeat your stroke. Keeping the paddle in too far behind you causes drag
      • Focus on letting your core do most of the work without straining your arms and shoulders to conserve energy and allow you to stay out on the water longer.
    • Sweep stroke
      • To turn left, rotate your torso to the left as your right shoulder pushes forward, and bend your knees further into a low stance – think almost-squat position
      • Bury your paddle into the water on the right side of the nose of your board, submerging the entire blade
      • Sweep the paddle away from the board in a big arc toward the rear of your stand up paddle board as you twist your torso back to the right while leaning to the left
      • To turn right, apply the above instructions on the opposite side
  • Extra Tips for Paddling in a Straight(er) Path
    • Generally, paddling on the right will cause you to veer slightly left, and vice versa. Start by alternating around 3-4 strokes per side, then adjust as needed. That said, there are techniques to minimize the “snaking” effect and allow you to take more strokes on each side before having to switch
    • Paddle close to the SUP railing overall, but start the stroke slightly away from the rail in front, and end closer to the rail by your feet so that the stroke path is not quite parallel to the board
    • There is a tendency to put more weight on the side you are paddling on, so to keep weight balanced and prevent drag, move your hips to the opposite side of your stroke.
    • Keep your SUP paddle as vertical as possible while angling your blade slightly inward towards the board

Familiarizing yourself with these techniques before you paddle board should get you off to a pretty good start, so go out and have some fun! Also, some paddle board companies such as SUP to You provide you with a mini-lesson with their paddle board rentals when they drop the board off to you, so take advantage of these resources whenever available to ensure you get the most out of your first paddle boarding experience!