by: Marina Andriola
Stand Up Paddleboarding Essentials: What it is and How to Get Started
Standup paddling also known as sup has been around in its current modern form for less than a decade. Though a standup paddle board is not yet as recognizable as say, a bicycle, sup is definitely getting noticed.
Nearly every body of water, worldwide, has become a playground for standup paddlers.
A rapidly growing design and manufacturing industry has sprung up around this versatile new sport. Boards are now available in a huge range of sizes, styles and prices with specific boards designed for flatwater recreation, river, lake and ocean racing, fishing, long distance touring, yoga and for sup surfing.
Fueled only by the paddler, standup paddling offers an incredible cardio workout and helps relieve stress. The most often mentioned health benefit of this sport is the improvement to one’s core. With an easy learning curve, sup is an excellent choice for improving your overall fitness, no matter what shape you’re in now.
Enjoy the view as you forget that you are getting the best workout ever! Look down, below the surface, and you’ll see an amazing close-up view of underwater life. Look out, toward the horizon, and you’ll feel like an explorer of new lands, seeing things you could never view from land.
With knowledge of conditions and respect for local laws and precautions, sup is a safe activity for people of all ages, sizes and athletic ability. Many Olympians and professional athletes have jumped on board for a complete cross training workout that’s second to none.
Sup is a pastime the whole family will enjoy. An initial investment in gear will yield many years of low-cost enjoyment of the great outdoors.
Gear up and standup! Though your initial investment may seem large, you’ll be pleased to know that there are no significant ongoing costs, once your board and paddle package is assembled.
How To Choose A Standup Paddleboard
If you are a beginner, you’ve picked a great time to start. The selection of sup boards has never been better. Though many boards are designed for very specific purposes, there are just as many that will cover several activities.
In general, a wide board of 30 inches or greater should provide a good starting point for a beginner sup enthusiast.
Carbon vacuum-bagged boards are light, durable, responsive and expensive. While soft-top boards are usually heavy, durable, easy to learn on and inexpensive.
It can get very confusing. Your local sup shop is the recommended place to choose the best board for your standup paddling plan and budget. They have a passion for helping you choose the right gear and understand the local conditions. Their success depends on your success.
How To Choose A Standup Paddle
Like a canoe paddle, but longer, lighter, and with a peculiar bend right near the blade, the sup paddle is the second most expensive item you will need.
If you are buying your paddle from a local shop, they will help you determine how long the paddle shaft needs to be. Then they will saw off the excess factory length and attach the handle.
Just as boards have evolved, so have paddles. The general rule is that the paddle needs to be anywhere from 4 to 7 inches taller than you.
Lighter paddles are made from more expensive materials, but are well worth the extra investment as they greatly reduce the hand fatigue that occurs with heavier paddles.
Lifejacket or PFD: Personal Flotation Device
In some municipalities, standup paddleboards are classified as vessels. A PFD may be required whenever you’re paddling navigable water. Once avoided by many paddlers as cumbersome and unnecessary, these design concerns have been addressed by many companies that are now creating more comfortable waist belt PFDs.
Designed specifically for standup paddlers, they are comfortable, durable and meet the highest standards. Best advice is to check with your local lifeguard or Coast Guard on details regarding the required gear for paddling in your local waters.
Standup Paddleboard Leash
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of equipment is the leash, the thing that connects you to your board. For any paddler, this little item can mean the difference in life or death.
If you find yourself exhausted and far from shore, the leash will keep your board within your reach if you fall in. Even in a light breeze, your board will travel out of your reach in seconds.
ALWAYS wear a leash. In waves, the leash also protects others from being hit by your board.
Wetsuits Are An Essential Accessory For Some
In general, if you do not live in a tropical or semi-tropical environment, you’ll need some type of a wetsuit.
Again, seek out your local sup shop for advice. There are literally hundreds of right and wrong answers here, and your local shop will be able to better pinpoint your needs for this somewhat significant investment.
Wetsuits are a lot like tires, in that you wouldn’t want to put an old one on your car. If you have not tried on a wetsuit in a long time, you will be amazed at how stretchy, form fitting and downright comfy they have become.
Make sure the wetsuit you buy has enough room for bold shoulder moves. You know how it feels when your shoes or collar is too tight, right? ’Nuff said.
Gear To Get Your Gear To Water
Some boards are small enough to fit inside of your car. Most are not. Unless you are lucky enough to be walking distance to water, you will need racks, pads and webbing straps for the job of getting your board to the water. Just getting your board to the top of your car can be a challenging event, especially if your car is tall.
Loading and tying your board down securely is a skill that will take time to learn. You may be intimidated by this step, but eventually, like anything, you’ll soon learn the sequence that works best for you. Many webbing straps have cam locks; these are a good idea if your scouting knot skills are as unused as your old NordicTrack.
Let’s Go! Techniques And Tips
Don’t try loading your board on top of the car when you are distracted or rushed. Don’t attempt it without help if the wind is blowing a gale. Do wear low shoes with a good grip.
If you cannot get the board to the top of your vehicle in one motion, lean the board against your car on its tail, then pivot it in place onto the racks. If you can’t see the top of your car, invest in a well-made, lightweight, 2-step folding ladder. There are many YouTube videos that will guide you in securing your board to your vehicle like a pro.
Some people carry their boards on their heads, some under their arm. Master both of those methods and you can carry your board anywhere you need it to go.
Getting The Board To the Top Of Your Head
- Place your paddle on the ground.
- Place your board on the ground next to your paddle, fins up.
- Lift the nose of the board and get underneath the nose facing toward the tail.
- Grasping each side of the board at the rails, walk your hands up the board toward the center of the board.
- The mid point is right where the handle is.
- Place the top of your head right in the center, and slowly bring the board up so that it is resting on your head and is horizontal to the ground.
- Keep both hands on the rails, making slight adjustments until the board feels balanced.
- Once you feel that your board is balancing, squat down just deep enough, using one hand to grab your paddle off of the ground.
- Bring the paddle up to the board and carry both paddle and board to the water.
- Reverse this sequence to remove the board from your head.
How To Stand Up On A Paddleboard Your First Time Out
Seek out a body of water with no wind, waves or current for success. The water must also be deep enough to prevent you from hitting the bottom when you fall.
Be prepared to fall off your board, in fact we recommend you do it on purpose so you can get a feel for getting back on your board in the water. (As you gain experience, you will fall less often and more places will open up to you as potential paddle locations.)
- Walk out to water that’s about as deep as your knees.
- Rest your paddle across your board, just about a foot above the center, toward the nose.
- Facing forward, slowly place one knee on each side of the board, until your knees are straddling the board’s handle hole.
- Keep your knees comfortably spread—about a foot apart is good. Take note of where your knees are. Adjust until you feel balanced. At this point, you are assuming the “pony ride” position (as if you are giving a pony ride to a child).
- Place each hand across the shaft of your paddle, with your fingers spread wide, resting like two happy starfish, on the shaft with fingertips on the deck. Your hands should be directly in front of your knees.
- Pressing your fingertips on the deck, bring one foot up and place it exactly where your knee was. Your elbow on this side will straighten to allow room.
- Repeat on the other side and slowly stand up from a squat, bringing the paddle up with you as you stand. Use the paddle like a tightrope walker’s balancing stick.
- As soon as you feel comfortable, begin to straighten your back to completely upright. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your knees bent.
- When you feel ready, use your toes to inch worm your feet to the most comfortable position.
- Place the paddle blade in the water with the bent part facing forward. Think of it like a spoon. (It will look wrong that way, but it’s right.) Once your paddle is in the water, you will feel more stable. The paddle acts like a third leg, giving you more stability.
How to Move Around and Paddle Your Sup
- You’re upright on the board, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Bend your knees, using your legs as individual shock absorbers to even out any movement in the water’s surface.
- Eyes on the horizon, not on your feet.
- Head and shoulders erect; hips in line with your shoulders. Tuck that butt in!
- Start paddling! Forward momentum increases your stability.
Paddleboard Stroke Techniques
- Place one hand on the grip of your paddle and the other on the shaft. Keep your arms straight and think of your arms and your paddle shaft as an equal sided triangle.
- Remember that the bend in the paddle should be pointing behind you.
- The blade is like a forward facing spoon. It will look counterintuitive until you get used to it.
- Twist and rotate from your center, while “stacking” your shoulders as you paddle. When your torso is fully engaged in paddling, your abdominal muscles will be helping to carry the load. This is the core workout everyone talks about.
- Bury that blade until it is totally submerged. Then pull it toward the back, following the contour of your board, stopping at your feet. Lift and repeat or switch sides. Keep your momentum, it all works in harmony.
- 4 or 5 short strokes are more efficient than 2 extra long strokes. When learning your stroke, keep them fairly short. This will help you in keeping your board going forward in a straight line. When you paddle on the left, your right hand is on top. Reverse those positions when you switch sides, bringing your top hand across your body.
Turn it around, make some circles
- Paddle on the right side only, and your board will start to arc toward the left. Paddle on the left only, and you’ll start turning toward the right.
- Need to reverse direction even quicker? Paddle backwards on either side of the board.
- Intermediate paddlers can turn a board by lifting one foot, planting it further back on the board, and shifting their weight, putting pressure on that rear foot. This lifts the nose a bit out of the water. With a deliberate, sweeping, shallow stroke, the board will now turn quickly.
Falling into the water
Falling off your board is part of standup paddling. Once you fall in, you’re an official member of the tribe. Beginners often dread falling. Besides getting wet, there is little chance of getting hurt. These tips will help you fall safely.
- Make sure the water you are paddling in is at least shoulder deep. This insures that you won’t hit the bottom when you fall.
- Fall to the side of your board, not on your board.
- Don’t paddle close to other paddlers, surfers, boats, buoys, posts, bridges or docks. Falling on fixed or moving objects could cause injury or worse. Leave yourself room; it’s a big ocean!
- Get back to your board, and get on it. While lying down on your board, use your hands to paddle the board to your floating paddle. Once you retrieve your paddle, and you are ready, stand up again.