The Beginner’s Guide To Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Beginner Guides, Fitness

By: // May 24, 2019

If you’re new to stand-up paddleboarding—SUP for short—welcome. You’re in for a mild ride. But, we’re definitely not referring to the workout! We only say “mild” because although you use a surfboard-esque board, waves, white caps, and great white sharks won’t be common occurrences. Whew—you can breathe easier now! Skyrocketing in popularity since the early 2000s, SUP is an awesome form of aquatic exercise that all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. All you need is a calm body of water, a little bit of gear, and some basic technique. But lucky you, our Beginner’s Guide To Stand-Up Paddleboarding has that all covered and then some!

Health and Wellness Benefits Of SUP

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!

  1. Provides A Full-Body Workout: First, SUP 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!
  2. Improves Balance and Stability: Balance and stability tend to decrease as we age. Ironically, that’s just when we need it the most. SUP is virtually an entire balance workout from the moment you step on the board until the moment you get off.
  3. Gives You A Cardio Fix: Though it may not look like it from the photos, 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 provides both strength and cardio all in one.
  4. Low Impact: So running and jumping activites have their place, but sometimes you need to get away and provide your body with a low impact alternative. Paddleboarding is a way to workout without putting so much stress on your joints, especially knees, hips and lower back.
  5. Strengthens Core and Lower Back: Speaking of your lower back, SUP 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 fewer injuries and less back pain.
  6. Relieves Stress: Floating on water while enjoying the sunshine and outdoors is an excellent way to relieve stress and clear your head. Not only that, changing your workouts is important for the overall health of your body. One day a run, one day weight lifting, another day paddleboarding. Change is good!

Finding The Right Board

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!

SUP boards come in every shape, size, and color.

Let’s start with the biggest piece of the SUP puzzle, the board. Later on in the guide, we’ll share how to rent boards, but if you are looking to buy your own, there are a few different types to consider. However, SUP boards are expensive so be sure to buy your board from a paddleboard expert who can help you find the perfect fit for your body and your SUP goals. For most of you, fun and fitness are the main goals and not racing which requires a different shape and length board altogether. Medium-length boards (9’ to 12’) with a planing hull (vs a displacement hull) are great for all-around use on calm lakes and in small waves according to REI experts. Chris says, “My family owns three 11’ and one 10’ Hulakai boards. The 11’ is just a little more stable but seriously just a little.”

“We also 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 located in St. Paul, MN.” Flash forward a year, 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. “We have an electric pump, but we use the hand pump most often,” says Chris. “It takes about 10 minutes to blow up which is no problem. The inflatable board feels exactly like a normal SUP board. My family and friends literally can’t tell the difference. You can throw them in the back of your car no problem. If you are looking to purchase a board and be mobile – I recommend the inflatable.”

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!

This is an inflatable SUP board!

However, what the board boils down to is preference. 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 (hence the inflatable). Like we stated early, talking to a stand-up paddleboard expert is a wise choice. You can also call the experts at sites like Hulakai and Isle Surf and SUP to find the right board before you order.

Choosing Your Paddle Length

The paddle is used to propel the board through the water. A paddle too short or too long will stunt your ability to SUP with ease. A good rule of thumb is that your paddle should be 10-12 inches taller than you for racing, 8-10 inches taller than you for cruising on flat water, and 6-8 inches taller than you for surfing, according to Eastern Mountain Sports. 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 like this KIAOLA Aloha Paddle is a smart bet. Or just cut it to be a “happy medium” for the whole family.

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

SUP 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.

Proper Clothing: Depending on the weather or whether or not you plan on jumping in, your activewear can vary. You can wear just a swimsuit, a swimsuit and rash guard combo, or just workout clothes. For added sun protection, we love Athleta’s line of SPF-added swimwear. DO NOT have your phone in your pocket. We’ve seen it happen more than once that someone who claims never to fall, falls off the board with their phone along for the ride.

Sun Protection: Sun beating down on water is just asking for a sunburn. Stay safe with a 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.

Will I Fall Off?

Ahh, the question you’ve been dying to ask since you’ve started reading. Here’s the deal. Unlike a pool floatie, the boards are very sturdy. You can stand up, sit down, lie down, paddle from your knees, and even do yoga on the board without falling in. Okay, yoga might make you fall in, but you get the point. Trust us, it takes a little practice, and starting on your knees may help, but most folks get the hang in a few minutes. 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!

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!

You can always start on your knees if you’re having trouble standing up.

Perfect The Technique

We recommend taking a stand-up paddleboard lesson to learn the technique hands-on, or better yet, grab a friend who is a veteran. Nonetheless, here’s a basic form overview:

  • 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.
  • Always keeps 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!
  • Watch the video below to learn the correct way to hold the paddle.
  • You should keep 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

SUP Strength Exercises/Yoga Exercises

If you want to take your SUP 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, you can easily find a class at your local beach or lake!

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!

You can do all sorts of yoga poses on a SUP board!

Where To Get Your SUP On

You got the how-to, now you just need the locale. With the extreme popularity of this sport, your local lake or nearby body of water should have stand-up paddleboarding rentals and classes. Start by Googling to see what’s in your area. If you’re headed to a cabin, just like bike rentals, summer lake towns are now filled with SUP rentals. If you’re still struggling to find a SUP spot, swing by your local water sports store and ask the experts. They will guide you in the right direction!

SUP on, friends!

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on March 19, 2021 at 8:02 AM 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 January 20, 2021 at 6:08 PM 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 May 27, 2020 at 10:18 PM 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 August 18, 2020 at 10:17 AM 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 March 10, 2020 at 12:06 PM 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 August 14, 2019 at 5:37 AM 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 April 9, 2019 at 5:36 PM 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 April 17, 2019 at 4:22 PM 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 May 30, 2018 at 6:37 PM Reply

Need some info on how to transport this equipment :)

    on June 1, 2018 at 11:22 AM 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 January 23, 2018 at 5:38 AM 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 December 1, 2017 at 5:42 AM 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 May 15, 2017 at 8:23 PM 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 May 16, 2017 at 1:52 PM 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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