I spent the past summer working at a watersport rental company in Fenwick Island, Delaware where Standup Paddling is really just starting to become the new, exciting trend in watersports for everyday vacationers. Loads of people come in each day interested in the sport and oftentimes, intimidated by it. In the middle of the season we’d be sending anywhere between 50-200 new paddleboarders out onto the bay each day. No matter how detailed the instruction was that we gave before we sent them out, we saw some pretty common paddling mistakes from vacationing families who weren’t exactly hanging onto every little detail of our paddling demo. Many times the quality of a new paddler’s experience was based on his willingness (or lack thereof) to listen to the instructor’s advice.
I decided to poll my coworkers (many of whom are ACA Standup Paddle and/or ACA Kayak certified instructors) for their opinions of the most common beginner SUP mistakes that they saw day after day. I combined their observations with my own so that we might compile a list to help newbie Standup Paddlers get a head start before they head out on their first paddleboard excursions. So before you get out on your brand new SUP board for the first time ever, be sure to read over the top 5 most common beginner SUP mistakes so that you can avoid making them too:
5.) Staring down at the board.
Whenever we are learning something new, whether it’s learning to walk, learning a new dance, or learning to SUP, we have a tendency to want to look down at our feet to make sure that they are actually doing what they are supposed to do. Doing so on a SUP board can make it more difficult to maintain balance, because the board is not going to stay still on top of the water. In order to feel more stable when first learning to stand up, relax your legs, feel the board with your feet, and choose a spot off on the horizon to set your gaze. Doing so will give you a still spot to focus on as you are training your SUP legs.
4.) Standing backwards on the board.
This one seems silly but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you aren’t paying attention. SUP boards vary in shape and size, but most recreational rental boards are long and oval-shaped. Some boards have bungees on the front of the board for holding your things; many boards have writing on the front end; most boards have a deck traction pad towards the back end of the board; but if all else fails, the end with the ankle strap on the top and the fin on the bottom is the stern, or the back, of the board. Stand in the middle of the board by the center handle and face toward the bow, or the front of the board.
3.) Paddling downwind first.
This one is a doozy of a mistake, because doing so would mean an easy, breezy first half of your paddling experience, followed by a stressful and challenging second half. It is also easy to inadvertently drift downwind when you are not paying attention. Always be sure to point your board into the wind first so that once your upper body is tired from all of that paddling, you can turn around and have the wind help blow you back to where you started.
2.) Holding the paddle backwards.
Another easy mistake to make, as the right way to hold a paddle is actually counter-intuitive. SUP paddles are designed so that when holding it straight up and down, the blade will be bent slightly in one direction. The blade of the paddle should be pointed towards the front of the board, so as to create lift in your stroke to help your board glide across the top of the water.
1.) Choosing a windy day to try SUP for the first time.
Standup Paddling is one of those sports for which the weather conditions matter a whole lot. The wind and water surface conditions are especially important to consider. On a calm day with light winds, it can be pretty easy to get the hang of. On a breezy day, it can easily create quite a frustrating experience. Standing upright on the board makes you much less aerodynamic than if you were seated in a kayak, so on a windy day your body creates a lot of wind resistance which can make paddling upwind very challenging. Windy conditions also create more chop on the surface of the water which can make learning to balance yourself on the board very difficult. In order to ensure a positive first time on your board, be sure to choose a calm and peaceful day out on the water.
And then of course one of my dear coworkers, who tends to prefer kayaking, says that the biggest mistake a new paddler can make is “STANDING on a SUP instead of SITTING in a kayak.” We at Standup Journal would have to disagree, (and we hope you do too), but I guess everyone is entitled to his own opinion.