If you are considering paddleboarding, you may be struggling for a starting point. What type of board do you need? Where can you paddleboard? How do you use your paddle and stay balanced? These are reasonable questions and good things to ask as a beginner.
We understand that it can be daunting venturing into a new activity. Therefore, we have created an extensive beginners guide to paddleboarding. This includes basic explanations, info on boards and accessories, and tips on how to paddleboard. After reading this guide, you should have a firm grasp on the basics and be ready to start your paddleboarding adventures!
Chapter 1 – The Basics
Let’s start with the basics. As the saying goes, you can’t run before you can walk! In the first section of our beginners guide to paddleboarding, we look at its definition and important terminology.
In paddleboarding, the rider sits, kneels, or stands on a paddleboard. They then use a paddle to propel themselves through the water.
It has similarities to surfing, in that both activities require a board. However, the key difference is the paddle. In surfing, surfers must wait for an appropriate swell of water to propel themselves. Whereas in paddleboarding, the rider has full control of their movement using the paddle. They can also paddle in still water or waves.
People also paddleboard for many reasons. Some of the common types of paddleboarding are listed below:
- Sightseeing paddleboarding.
- Recreational paddleboarding.
- White water paddleboarding.
- Competitive paddleboarding.
- Paddleboard fishing.
- Paddleboard yoga.
As you can see, it is a diverse activity. You could paddleboard simply to see a new location – like a lake or a beautiful river. Alternatively, you could paddleboard for excitement and to challenge yourself – on a white water course, for example.
Paddleboarding Terminology – Know Your Lingo
Now you understand what paddleboarding is, lets learn some basic terminology. These phrases aren’t vital. However, they will give you a greater understanding of the board, the paddle, and paddleboarding in general:
- Blade: The lower section of the paddle, used to propel yourself.
- Bottom: The underside of the board i.e. the part facing the water.
- Bungee: An attachment system using elastic cords and rings for storage.
- D-Ring: A metal ring attachment secured to the board.
- Deck: The topside of the board i.e. the part facing the sky.
- Drag: A negative force in the water that causes you to slow down.
- Fin: A vital attachment that provides lateral traction for the board.
- Leash: An accessory that attaches the board to your ankle.
- Nose: The front end of the paddleboard (usually tapered to a point).
- Planing: When the board glides over water, as opposed to through it.
- Rails: The sides of your board which have an impact on stability and balance.
- Stroke: The action you use with your paddle to propel yourself forward.
- SUP: Stand Up Paddleboarding.
- Tail: The rear end of the paddleboard.
Chapter 2 – Paddleboard Equipment
For this section of the beginners guide to paddleboarding, we discuss equipment. This includes the board, the paddle, and accessories:
The Different Types of Paddleboard
It is important to understand the different types of paddleboard. Not every type of board is suitable for beginners. Also, there is a key design difference in solid boards and inflatables.
Hardboard vs Inflatable
The two main paddleboard designs are hardboard and inflatable. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Hardboards are solid and often made from fibreglass. As a result, they typically move faster through the water. Also, hardboards are generally preferred for competitive paddleboarding, and for tackling tougher water conditions. This is because they have greater pull through the water. On the downside, these boards are much less portable and difficult to carry.
Inflatable boards are made from durable materials and cross stitching. You inflate these boards using a hand or foot pump. This obviously takes more time to set up. However, they are much easier to carry. You can easily carry an inflatable board in a small bag and they are not particularly heavy. Inflatable paddleboards are generally better for beginners. Also, they are more suitable for holidays and those who want to site-see whilst paddleboarding.
Surf, All Around, Flatwater, and Race
Aside from inflatable or hardboard, there are also four main board shapes. These are surf, all around, flatwater, and race. Each have slight differences and it is important to understand them.
Surf paddleboards are generally shorter. Also, they typically have a narrow tail and nose. Their larger curve means they can catch waves easier. If you want a little more excitement, this could be a great choice. Remember, however, this board design is the least stable.
The best place to start for beginners is the all-around paddleboard. As you would expect, this has a balanced design. They perform well in any water condition. Also, they offer the greatest stability. Whilst they may not be particularly fast, they are great for learning the sport.
Flatwater paddleboards are brilliant for long-distance journeys. This is because they have a pointed nose that cuts through water easier. Also, their design is typically narrower. The downside is that because they are narrow, they do not perform great in waves and choppy waters.
Finally, we have the racing board. These boards are usually longer and narrower than flatwater boards. These are only advised for experienced paddleboarders. This is because they offer the least stability as a compromise for pure speed.
The Different Types of Paddle
Aside from the board, the paddle is the second most important item. The paddle is what you will use to propel your board through the water.
Unlike traditional kayak paddles, paddleboard paddles have one blade. This means that you must alternate strokes and switch sides when using the paddle. With a kayak paddle, you simply use either blade on alternate strokes.
The paddleboard paddle typically has three components. A blade, a handle, and a shaft. The shaft is a pole that connects the handle to the blade. The handle is what you hold for grip and to use the paddle. Finally, the blade is what you plunge into the water to create motion.
In terms of the different types of paddles, the designs vary little. The main differences are the different materials used, and the overall size. Ideally, you want a lightweight paddle that is durable, but easy to use. It would also be beneficial to buy an adjustable paddle. These are paddles that have adjustable length shafts and can be used by various size people.
Common Accessories and Attachments for Paddleboarding
Once you have your paddleboard, there are a host of other potential accessories you can buy. It should be noted that these are not essential. However, they can improve your paddleboarding experience. Common accessories include:
- A paddle.
- Bungee cords.
- Attachment points.
- A PFD (Personal Flotation Device).
- SUP Leash
- Carry Bag
We have discussed the types of paddle above. A paddle is the only essential accessory. You can simply paddle using your arms. Like a swimming stroke. However, this takes much more effort. Also, a paddle offers greater control. We advise investing in a quality adjustable paddle!
Next we have the bungee cords. Many SUP paddleboards will have a few bungee straps as standard. However, there is no harm in having extra.
A bungee cord setup includes a D-ring, and an elastic bungee cord. The D-ring is attached to your board to provide a secure connection. The bungee strap is then linked through the D-ring. You interlink several of these together to form a simple storage solution. Due to the elasticity, you can then secure items underneath the cords! Having several bungee cord rigs will give you greater flexibility for your paddleboard storage.
Paddleboards can open up a whole new world of possibilities. They are not just items for water sports. You can also buy a range of attachment points. These can extend their functionality and allow you to undertake other ventures with your paddleboard.
For example, many people buy an action camera mount. Today, you can buy some incredible waterproof action cameras. For example, the GoPro HERO8 Black is a brilliant choice. It can record full 4K HD video and has some cool features. A camera mount will have a base that you glue to your paddleboard. It also has an arm an mount that the camera is secured too. This is a great way to document your adventures or even start a YouTube channel!
Another popular mount is the fishing rod holder. Many people love to take their paddleboard out and enjoy a day of fishing. It can be tricky, however, to hold or balance your rod. This is why the fishing rod attachment is so useful. It works in a similar manner to the camera mount but has a holder where your rod can balance whilst casting.
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
A PFD or lifejacket is often important but is also circumstantial. If you are a strong swimmer, for example, you may not need one. Alternatively, if you are practicing in shallow, calm waters, a PFD will just get in the way.
However, safety is important when using your paddleboard. Any water sport can be potentially dangerous and life-threatening. All it takes is a simple change in current and you can be in trick waters. In these instances, a PFD could prove invaluable. Also, in some areas, a personal flotation device is a legal requirement when using a paddleboard.
One of the issues with paddleboarding, is what happens when you fall off! As you learn, you will inevitably fall off your board – its only natural. You then have to struggle in the water and try to find your board again. If you are in choppy waters, it can easily move away from where you fell off.
This is where a leash is beneficial. An SUP leash has three components. First, it has the ankle cuff. This is usually a Velcro cuff that you attach to your ankle. Next, it has a coiled cord. This can stretch and keeps you attach to the board. Finally, it has the board attachment. This is typically a cord that can be linked through a D-ring.
With a leash attached, your board will always be close by. The stretchy cord material gives you flexibility too. Therefore, if you fall off, you will stay attached to your board, without becoming tangled or causing injury.
Lastly, you could invest in a carry bag. There are two types of bag to consider. A carry bag to store your inflatable paddleboard in. And a waterproof storage bag to carry essentials on your adventures.
Most paddleboards come with a carry bag for storage. When the board is fully deflated, it can easily fit in a bag so you can carry it without issue. There may also be a separate carry bag for your pump and accessories.
You may also want to buy a waterproof storage bag or a deck bag. There are many deck bags designs like the Lixada SUP Deck Bag. These will attach to your board via the D-rings, or suction cups. If you are planning on a longer trip, a bag like this can prove invaluable. You can use it to store small snacks and water, or sun cream, for example.
Chapter 3 – How to Paddleboard
For this section of our beginners guide to paddleboarding, we will discuss the activity itself. It may look relatively simple. All you need to do is climb on the board and paddle, right? Yes, in principle. However, there are many techniques and things to remember which we look at below.
Firstly, it is important to know the different paddleboard stances. There are three options – standing, sitting, or kneeling. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.
Standing is possibly the most common stance, hence the term SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding). When standing, your feet should be placed parallel. Also, you should be positioned centrally on the board to improve balance. Your knees should also be slightly bent, and your back straight.
When paddling, you should also keep your shoulders upright. It is also important to look at the horizon and where you are going. Don’t look at your feet! If you look down at your feet, you can easily lose balance. If at any time you feel unstable, you can always drop slowly to your knees to help regain balance.
The standing stance requires the greatest control and balance. It is also the toughest physically. However, if you can master SUP then you can count yourself as a paddleboarding pro. Standing also gives you the greatest vantage point when sightseeing.
For those leisurely excursions, you may simply want to sit and paddle. This is perfectly fine! Sitting on a paddleboard is essentially like sitting in a kayak, without the raised sides. As with standing, you would sit in a central position to maintain balance. Also, your legs should ideally be stretched out flat on the deck – this gives you the most room to manoeuvre your paddle.
When sitting, your center of gravity is lowered. Also, remember that your view is also lower. As a result, you may not be able to see as far along your paddleboarding route.
Many people actually kneel on their paddleboard. This is an interesting method, but it obviously puts greater strain on your knees. If you suffer from any knee issue, or bruise easily, we advise against kneeling.
Kneeling is a great option to regain your balance without sitting down completely. You can simply drop to your knees slowly and regain your balance. When ready, you could then stand up again.
Basic Paddle Strokes
So how do you use your paddle? This is one of the easiest parts to learn. However, there are still some important strokes and techniques to learn. The following are the three main paddleboarding strokes:
- Forward stroke
- Backward stroke (reverse)
- Sweeping stroke (turning)
The first stoke to learn is the forward stroke. As you may guess, this is used to move your board forward. The basic process is to reach forward with your paddle, push the blade into the water, pull the blade backwards until it is level with your ankle, and then out of the water.
To paddle straight, you must alternate your strokes – left then right. If you always paddle on one side, you will eventually paddle in a circle! Alternate your strokes approximately every 2-3 strokes. However, you can judge the need to alternate as you start moving. Also, when changing sides, always swap hands. This is much quicker than trying to bend your hands around to paddle on the other side.
The backward stroke is essentially the same as the forward. Follow the same motion but reach backwards with your paddle and push it into the water behind you and then bring it forward. This stroke is used to slow your paddleboard down. It can also be used to turn your paddleboard.
There is also the sweep stroke. This is primarily used to turn your board whilst it is still moving. The basic premise of this stroke is that you must sweep the opposite side of which you want to turn. For example, to turn left, you must perform the stroke on the right-hand side of the board.
For this stroke, reach forward and place your blade fully into the water near the nose. Pull it away and backwards in a large sweeping arc towards the tail of your board. You can also rotate your torso to add additional momentum to the turn.
Launching Your Paddleboard
The first part of paddleboarding is the launch. This is when you get on the board and start moving. We advise not attaching the fin until you are in deeper waters – it can easily break or get damaged if you drag the board through shallows.
To start, we advise carrying the board until the water is deep – this will help protect it. Next, connect your ankle to your board leash. To mount the board, first push yourself up using your arms, and hop onto it onto your knees. From there you can then get comfortable and start your journey. Some people will simply hop onto their board in a standing position – we only recommend this if you have great balance and are comfortable doing so!
Chapter 4 – Where and When to Paddleboard
Its now time to look at when and where you can paddleboard. This is one of the main benefits of this activity. You can literally paddleboard wherever there is water. The world is packed full of amazing paddleboarding locations. Also, paddleboarding gives you the chance to explore, and travel where a boat may not be able to.
Great Paddleboarding Locations
So where do you take your paddleboard first? For beginners, we advise staying local until you build your confidence. For example, maybe there is a local reservoir or water sports venue. Go somewhere you can learn at your own pace. Also, for beginners, learning in calm water conditions is also advised.
As you become confident, you can look at traveling further afield. The UK has some amazing paddleboarding locations that you can find in our guide here. Notable locations include Loch Lomond, the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads, and Lough Corrib. We are lucky to have diverse and breath-taking scenery in the UK. This will make your initial paddleboarding adventures that much more memorable.
For the more adventurous, you can travel abroad and visit some of the best paddleboarding hotspots in the world. Throughout the world, paddleboarding is becoming incredibly popular. You can find various paddleboarding communities. Also, many coastal locations have surfing and paddleboarding equipment for hire.
Some of the most popular spots include Lake Tahoe in California, Sunset Beach in Hawaii, Santa Cruz, and The Florida Keys. For your next adventure, you could venture somewhere outside the UK to experience paddleboarding in a whole new setting.
The Best Times to Paddleboard
The great thing about paddleboarding, is that you can do it at any time. Its not really a seasonal activity. However, different seasons and times present different challenges. The best time to paddleboard, is whenever you are available!
It is possible to paddleboard in every season. Summer and spring present warmer temperatures and often calmer waters. This makes for more pleasant paddleboarding conditions. Also, during higher temperatures, you can forgo a wetsuit and work on your tan! Oftentimes, bodies of water and coastal regions are busier during these seasons, however.
Winter and Autumn present a different paddleboarding experience. As temperatures drop, a wetsuit is all but necessary. Water temperatures can plummet. Also, some areas may be impassable due to ice! However, you get to experience a dramatic change in the landscapes. Moreover, you will find paddleboarding locations much quieter.
Time of day
Mornings are some of the best times to paddleboard. The sun is rising, waters are relatively calm, and there is a lack of other people. Getting up early in the morning to paddleboard in the glorious sun is quite an experience.
Alternatively, paddleboarding at mid-day gives the best temperatures and sunshine. If you want a leisurely paddleboarding session, starting at lunchtime is a great idea. Finally, paddleboarding at sunset is also a special experience. You can witness the changing colors of the sky. Also, you can see the amazing reflections of the sun on the water as it dips below the horizon.
Lastly, the water conditions can impact your paddleboarding experience. It is possible to paddleboard in both calm and choppy waters. However, these present two completely different experiences. They also require different skill and confidence levels.
Paddleboarding in calm waters is the easiest. For beginners, you should learn in calm waters. In these conditions, it is much easier to paddle. Also, you will find it easier to balance on your board and learn the basics.
Paddleboarding in rougher waters offers a greater challenge. If you are confident in your paddleboarding, you can easily tackle difficult water conditions. In choppy waters, you must work harder to paddle. This is especially true if you are paddling against the current. Also, it requires greater balance and stability. This is because waves could capsize your paddleboard.
As a guideline, we advise only paddleboarding in water conditions you are comfortable with.
Beginners Guide to Paddleboarding – Closing Thoughts
We hope you have benefited from this guide. Paddleboarding is a fantastic activity. It provides many opportunities and benefits. For example, it allows you to explore the world from a different perspective. Also, it is great for your fitness and well-being as you are gaining valuable exercise. It can also be a group activity that you share with friends and family, and create fantastic memories from!