Paddleboarding Beginner’s Guide (SUP)

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // June 1, 2022

If you’re new to paddleboarding—SUP for short—welcome! In this guide, you will learn how to paddleboard and why it’s not only fun but an effective workout!

Skyrocketing in popularity since the early 2000s, paddle boarding is an excellent form of exercise that all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. It doesn’t take as much skill or balance as you might think. All you need in order to learn how to paddleboard is a calm body of water and some basic technique.

Health and Wellness Benefits Of Paddleboarding

woman sitting on paddleboard in peaceful setting

Why stand-up paddleboard when you could run, bike, or swim? Here are just a few of the health and wellness benefits that make stand-up paddleboarding an amazing activity and effective workout!

Provides A Full-Body Workout

First,  paddle boarding provides an amazing full-body workout. Your legs are engaged to keep you balanced on the board. Your core is pulled in tight for added stability. Your upper body is paddling you through the water to strengthen your shoulders, arms, and upper back – it truly covers you in strength from head to toe!

Improves Your Balance and Stability

Balance and stability tend to decrease as we age. Ironically, that’s just when we need it the most. Paddleboarding requires balance from the moment you step on the board until the moment you get off. So the more you paddle bard, the better your stability will become.

Gives You A Cardio Fix

Once you get strong enough to stay up longer on the paddleboard, you’ll also find yourself wanting to move more on it which will get your heart rate up in the process. The SUP is one of those awesome activities that provide both strength and cardio all in one.

Paddle Boarding Is A Low Impact Workout 

Paddleboarding is an excellent way to work out without putting so much stress on your joints, especially the knees, hips, and lower back.

Strengthens Your Core and Lower Back

Speaking of your lower back, paddle boarding required that you pull in your abdominals in order to stabilize and keep from tipping over. This gives you a stronger middle which includes a better lower back. With a strong lower back you can expect fewer injuries and less back pain.

Paddleboarding Relieves Stress

Breathe deep and enjoy the sensation of skimming across the water. Soaking in the sunshine and the sounds of the birds and nature is one of the best ways to relieve stress and clear your head.

How to Find The Right Paddleboard

If you're a newbie to SUP (or don't even know what SUP is!), check out our Beginner's Guide To Stand-Up Paddleboarding!

Let’s start with the biggest piece of the paddleboarding puzzle: the board.

For most of you, fun and fitness are the main goals, and not racing which requires a different shape and length board altogether.

Some come in bright colors, some are lighter to carry down to the beach, and some are better for transporting in a car with ease.

Medium-Length Paddleboards

Medium-length paddleboards measure between 9’ and 12’ with a planing hull (vs a displacement hull) and are great for all-around use on calm lakes and in small waves according to REI experts.

My family owns three 11’ and one 10’ Hulakai board. The 11’ is just a little more stable.

Inflatable Paddle Boards

We own two inflatable boards that are amazing. I will go on record saying they are the bomb! I ordered off eBay from a company close to home in St. Paul, MN.

Flash forward a year, and there are hundreds of options online. They literally fit in a backpack, so you don’t have to worry about transportation. When you get to the lake or beach, you just blow them up with a pump, and off you go.

These are the Top Rated Inflatable paddleboards:

  1. SereneLife Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
  2. DAMA Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board 

I recommend an electric pump, but the hand pump works just fine too and we actually use that the most often. It takes about 10 minutes to blow up which is no problem. The inflatable board feels exactly like a normal paddleboard. My family and friends literally can’t tell the difference.

You can also talk to a stand-up paddleboard expert before you purchase. I personally trust the experts at sites like Hulakai and Isle Surf and SUP to find the right board.

Choosing Your Paddle Length

woman kneeling on paddleboard

The paddle is used to propel the board through the water. A paddle that is too short or too long will stunt your ability to maneuver your paddleboard with ease.

A good rule of thumb when picking a paddle:

  • For Racing: your paddle should be 10-12 inches taller than you

  • For recreational cruising on flat water: your paddle should be 8-10 inches taller than you

  • For surfing: your paddle should be 6-8 inches taller than you

  • For the majority of those reading, go with the cruising height!

If you’re buying a paddle or two for the whole family, an adjustable paddle is a smart bet.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Your First Spin Class

More Paddleboarding Gear

woman doing headstand on paddle board in pink shorts

Safety Gear

Life Jacket The US Coast Guard requires that all paddleboarders must wear a life jacket or have it with them on his or her board.

Safety Survival Whistle The Coast Guard also requires that you carry a safety whistle to warn other boaters. 

What To Wear Paddleboarding

Depending on the weather or whether or not you plan on jumping in, your activewear can vary. You can wear just a bathing suit, a bathing suit and rash guard combo, or just workout clothes. Here are some of my favorites to wear when I’m on the paddleboarding:

These are my favorite picks for the best bathing suits for women over 50.

Sun Protection

Sun beating down on water is just asking for a sunburn. Stay safe with water-resistance sport sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. If you go for a swim, the hat and sunglasses will stay safe and sound on the board.

Paddleboarding Technique And Form

man and woman on standup paddleboards in a lake

Starting Position

Option 1:

  • Pull your board out into shallow water, lay your paddle on the board, and carefully climb on. Start paddling from your knees for a few strokes.
  • Then, carefully stand up one foot at a time until you are situated in the middle of the board with your feet hip-width apart and parallel.

Option 2:

  • Pull your board out into shallow water that is deep enough for your bottom fin to be free.
  • Stand with your feet evenly placed. Utilize a hand from a  friend to get into this position if it’s your first time.
  • You should be standing about one or two step back from the center of the paddleboard.

As you Paddle

  • Always keep a slight bend in your knees, your toes pointed forwarded, and your eyes facing forward and not on your feet. This will help your balance!
  • You should keep your arms straight and twist from your torso as you paddle. You have much more strength in your core muscles than in your arms.
  • Stick the paddle in the water as far forward as possible, pull your paddle through the water to your ankles, and then lift it out of the water and repeat.
  • Paddle four to five strokes on one side of the board and then switch to the other side in order to stay in a straight line.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Strength Training

Paddleboarding Exercises

warrior yoga position on paddleboard

If you want to take your SUP paddleboarding workout to the next level, put your paddle down and add in some strength moves on the board.

These are our favorite strength exercises and yoga poses to do floating on the water. SUP yoga is so popular right now, that you can easily find a class at your local beach or lake!

1. Basic Squats

2. Stationary Lunges

3. Russian Twists (holding the paddle)

4. Crescent Lunge

5. Down Dog

6. Warrior 2

If you're a newbie to SUP (or don't even know what SUP is!), check out our Beginner's Guide To Stand-Up Paddleboarding!

How Hard Is It To Fall Off A Paddle Board?

woman doing yoga on paddleboard at sunset

Ahh, the question you’ve been dying to ask. Here’s the deal: unlike pool floaties, the boards are very sturdy. You can stand up, sit down, lie down, and paddle from your knees without falling in.

Paddle Boarding takes a little practice, and starting on your knees may help, but most folks get the hang in a few minutes.

If you do some yoga on your paddleboard might make you fall in 🙂

It’s not that it’s hard to do, it’s overcoming the fear. PS: It’s very easy to get back on the board from the water if you do take a dive!

woman doing yoga on red paddleboard

Changing your workouts is important for the overall health of your body. One day is a run, the next day is weight lifting, and another day is paddleboarding. Change is good!

READ THIS NEXT: The Beginner’s Guide To Barre

Beginner Guides, Fitness

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on Reply

I like your explanation of not paddling with your arms but pulling your body towards the paddle. I teach many friends and family how to SUP and I’m definitely going to use this explanation. Thanks.

on Reply

Thank you for taking time to share with us this guide, it really helps me out to understand some Stand-Up Paddleboarding basic.

on Reply

I have been wanting to learn SUP for a while now but never had the chance to. I loved reading this. Thank you for sharing. Is it necessary to know swimming before trying SUP?

    on Reply

    Hi there - happy to hear that you enjoyed learning more about Stand-Up Paddleboarding! I would say that it's important to know how to swim and also be confident in the water. While it might not seem necessary, I think it would just make things easier and you to feel more confident in the water.

on Reply

PFD wearing is actually a rather complicated affair, with different state and federal regulations applying to different bodies of water. This gets even more complicated when SUPing near waves is involved as diving under a wave with a PFD is difficult and poses its own safety risks. Yes, I am aware that the ladies in the pic are probably not practicing yoga near waves though :)

on Reply

Really great guide for people that are just getting into paddle boarding. I myself fell in love with paddling years ago and continue to do it still. It's fun, plus gives great benefits to my health as you've already mentioned :)

on Reply

Thank you for taking time to share with us this guide, it really helps me out to understand some Stand-Up Paddleboarding basic.

    on Reply

    Larry - You are very welcome! Stand-Up Paddleboarding is one of my favorite activities to do at the cabin in the summer. And it is SO hard :) Definitely a good way to get moving in the summer! Hopefully you can incorporate some of these tips into your own practice!

on Reply

Need some info on how to transport this equipment :)

    on Reply

    Hi Trisha - yes, it can be tricky! The roof of the car seems to be the best way - I'm sure there are articles you can find on this! But make sure to strap them down tight!

on Reply

Nice beginners guide, Chris. I'd also recommend an inflatable for most people as they're far more convenient and pretty much indestructible. One thing that I would add to the "SUP Gear" section of your guide is a leash — this is an incredibly important (and super affordable) accessory that can and does save lives. The last thing you want is to be separated from your board far offshore.

on Reply

I suffer from joint pains and paddleboarding has really helped me stay active and fresh without straining my joints. I have been following your strength exercises and they have really helped me :)

on Reply

I like your suggestions for SUP exercises! Can you suggest anything for people with lower back pain? I like the idea of paddle boarding but am afraid the prolonged standing will aggravate my lower back. I'm looking for new ways to exercise that won't be too harsh on my back. Thanks!

    on Reply

    Hi Haley - we have several workouts/articles on exercises for a bad back. Check out the link below and of course as always, modify or skip exercises that don't suit you since everyone's pain is different!

(This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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