Skip to main content

Introductory Guide to Stand Up Paddleboards

Paddleboarding is fast becoming the number one watersport in the US and around the world. Paddleboards and paddleboarders now come in all shapes and sizes. There are boards for overnight journeys for you to find your own private camping spot. Other paddleboarders find the calm and relaxing zen that comes from paddleboard yoga and there are even paddleboards designed to tackle the raging rapids of white water rivers.

There are loads of places to rent a board and give paddleboarding a go. But if you’re serious about getting into it, you’ll save time and money by getting your own gear. First, you’ll need the right paddleboard and paddle, as well as the best paddleboarding equipment to go with it. The right gear is useless in the wrong hands though. Fortunately for you, we’re here with our guide to stand up paddleboarding so that you can take to the water with confidence and become part of the paddleboard boom.

Looking up from the water at a paddleboarder, with mountains behind.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pick the Right Board

You’re not going to get far without a paddleboard and a paddle. Beginner paddleboarders usually start out with an all-around paddleboard. These are wide and stable, with a slightly upturned nose to help you paddle through waves. Many paddleboarders will never need to change from an all-around board, which is great on calm water, ocean bays, and gentle rivers. Paddleboarders with long journeys, big surf, gnarly rivers, or who plan to dedicate their time on the water solely to yoga will require a more specialized board, but starting with an all-around board gives you the chance to try a bit of everything.

Most paddleboards are between nine and eleven feet long, and between thirty-two and thirty-four inches wide. Taller and heavier paddleboarders may find they need a larger board than this for better stability. Paddleboards all come with a weight capacity, but remember to include any equipment and pets you plan to take on the water with you when you work out your weight. A lot of board packages now come with an adjustable paddle, too. Your paddle should be eight to ten inches taller than you are for optimum paddling.

Dress To Get Wet

We can’t tell you exactly what you need to wear on the water because it varies between places, seasons, and sometimes hour-to-hour. Whether you head for the water in a full wetsuit or just your swim trunks, it’s important that you’re always ready to get wet — just in case. This means stowing your important equipment in a waterproof dry bag and securing it safely to your board, too. When you’re on the water you will be exposed to the full force of the sun, so we recommend wearing sunscreen and a swim shirt to protect you from potentially harmful rays.

Paddleboards are considered by the USCG to be vessels, just like a boat. This means that if you’re heading out onto water that is not designated for swimming or bathing, you must have a personal floatation device with you at all times. Paddleboarders often prefer manually inflatable PFDs, which they can deploy if necessary, relying the rest of the time on their board. Attaching the board to yourself with a leash prevents the board from drifting off and you being left stranded in the water.

A man stands holding his Paddleboarding by the water's edge.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Get a Successful Launch

Once you’ve inflated your board, you’ve got a ten-foot-long inflatable that you now have to carry to the water. Most boards have a handle in the center. By tucking the board under your arm and carrying it like a briefcase, you can reach the water without being blown around the beach. Once you reach the water’s edge, find a soft area to place your board down and attach your fin and any equipment you’re taking out securely. Secure your leash and walk your board into the water until you’re about calf-deep and then climb on board.

Starting on your knees is more stable than standing and can be a great way to get a feel for paddleboarding. Kneeling is also useful if conditions get rough, or in shallow areas, to reduce the chance of falling off your board. When you’re ready to stand, put your paddle across the board in front of you and place both hands — palms down — on the paddle. Plant the balls of your feet onto the board and stand up slowly with your feet in a wide stance. Don’t forget to pick your paddle up, too. If you need to move around your board, use your paddle as a crutch for extra stability.

Keep Your Head Up

Standing up can feel shaky at first, but you get used to it quickly. Paddleboarding requires you to use almost every muscle group to balance and to paddle. You should keep your feet in a wide stance — a little more than shoulder-width apart — and your knees slightly bent. This helps to maintain balance but also keeps you ready for any lumps and bumps along the way. Try to relax and keep looking ahead of you at all times. You’re more likely to fall in if you’re staring down at your paddleboard and you also won’t know where you’re going.

Most paddleboards work best when you are standing around the midpoint. Moving backward on your board can make it easier to turn in tighter space, but this does depend on board design. Once you’re confident standing on your board, try moving around and see what difference it makes to how it paddles. This will also help to increase your balance and boost your confidence but be prepared that moving too far forwards or backward will probably end up with you in the water. Don’t worry, that’s all part of paddleboarding.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Prepare to Fall and Learn to Climb Back Onboard

You should always be dressed to get wet because you never know when you might accidentally fall in. When you head out paddleboarding for the first time, it can be a good idea to practice falling in and rescuing yourself. That way, when you really need it, you already know exactly how you’re going to get back on your paddleboard. Remember to keep your important equipment secured to your board and in a waterproof dry bag.

If you fall in, try to keep hold of your paddle. Swim back to your board, or pull it towards you using your leash. If your board has turned over, climb onto the base and reach for the far side so you can pull it all the way over towards you. Once your paddleboard is up the right way, place your paddle across it as you did to stand up and reach for a handle on the far side of the board. Climbing back on your board is like getting out of a swimming pool. Kick your leg up and climb your body on board, keeping the board as flat as possible.

Reap the Rewards

Paddleboarding is a great full-body workout and most people find that after the first time, they’re hooked. These boards roll up and hardly take up any room at all while giving you easy access to explore lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Whether you pack them into the RV for your next holiday or become a daily sunrise paddleboard enthusiast, there’s no doubt that there are huge benefits to paddleboarding. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can get out there and enjoy it in a way that’s right for you.

Editors' Recommendations

Tom Kilpatrick
A London-born outdoor enthusiast, Tom took the first ticket out of suburban life. What followed was a twelve-year career as…
The ultimate ski helmet and snowboard helmet guide: MIPS, Koroyd, WaveCel, and which helmet protects best
You only get one brain - better protect it
Ski helmet upside down on the snow

If you ski or snowboard, you should wear a helmet—end of story. I mean, the exponential improbability of the universe alone should be enough for you to consider at least getting one. The hard part, though, is where to start. This buyer’s guide will help enrich your helmet know-how, uncover the science behind these next-gen melon protectors, and ultimately help you find the helmet that fits you best.

Which type of protection is best?
Historically, helmet engineers focused mainly on protecting the skull from fracturing. And while it’s important to prevent skull fractures, researchers deemed that brain injuries are more common and can lead to more traumatic outcomes – mainly due to a thing called rotational motion.

Read more
Our simple guide tells you which ski and snowboard wax to use for any conditions
There's a simple trick for knowing which ski or snowboard wax to use, and we have it
Snowboard ready to wax

Thanks to new snowmaking technology, the ski and snowboard season is getting longer each year, in some areas, it can even stretch into summer. If you want to take advantage of the extended season, instead of the usual springtime storage wax, this year, you might need to keep your snowboard gliding into July. Waxing your skis or snowboard is one of the fundamental skills that every rider should learn as part of tuning their setup. Sure, you can drop your gear at the store to have it tuned — it's good to support local businesses, and getting a pro tune once a season is not a bad thing — but if you're riding regularly, the price starts to ramp up.

By the time you've paid for a few waxes, you could have got yourself a tuning kit and gone for the DIY approach to ski care. That means ironing on the ski wax, letting it cool, and scraping off the excess. While your iron and scraper will do the job for every waxing session, your wax won't. Snowboard wax is temperature dependent, and getting it wrong can affect your riding, so here's our guide on how to pick the right wax for your ride and how often you should wax your snowboard or skis.

Read more
Pop and jib this winter with our snowboarding flex guide
It's important to opt for the right snowboard flex rating for you
Snowboarder mid-flight

Along with snowboard length and style, one of the first things you'll see when looking at a new board is the flex rating. A list of numbers is one thing, but what really matters is performance. Picking any kind of snowboard gear is a highly personal choice. Some snowboarders get on with the flex and bend of a softer board, while others enjoy the float and stability of a stiffer model when they're snowboarding.

Once you've ridden enough boards, you'll start to get a feel for what you prefer. With that in mind, we strongly recommend taking any and every opportunity that you get to test out or borrow boards. But while you're finding a way to get your hands on every snowboard on the market, we've put together this snowboard flex rating guide so you can make the right decision on your next snowboard.

Read more