Learning to ride a stand up paddle board requires effort and training. There’s more to it than simply hopping on and paddling off into the sunset with your dog in tow. Have a look at the our SUP intro guide to view different paddle boarding style.

You want to have fun on your board, burn lots of calories and explore… or maybe you just want a big floaty device to lie on and tan — whatever ‘floats your SUP’.

If you want to spend more time on your board and less time in the water, it’s important to set yourself up for success! This learn to SUP guide will help you pick the right board, stand up on your first day and learn how to use your core when paddling.

But as anyone who’s ever tried to hop on a board for the first time can tell you, it isn’t easy!

Sometimes you need a little help to avoid looking spazzy. Taking a stand up paddle board lesson can supplement this guide and reduce your SUP learning curve.

So here are 3 in-depth tips that can get you on your board and on your way to nonstop fun…and, hopefully, dry.

#1. Choosing The Right Board, Paddle + Water

Stand up paddle boards come in all shapes and sizes…like a few other things I can think of…what?! I mean narrow, wide, pointed nose, round nose, single fin, triple fin…what were you thinking? Check our guide to choosing the right inflatable paddle board to help you refine your choice. Every board has its own weight capacity.

For your first rental, I recommend a board that is 30+ inches wide and 11+ feet long — it will offer the most stability.

If you’re buying a board, you want to make sure you get the right one to fit your lifestyle, athletic ability and what you’ll mostly be using the board for — calm water only, touring, fishing, etc.

REI has a great article, with graphics, on choosing the right board for your skill level and recreational use.

Paddle board paddle length
The right SUP paddle length

And don’t neglect your SUP paddle. It plays an important role in your paddling efficiency. I recommend getting a good, adjustable and lightweight paddle — carbon fibre is my pick. It’s tempting to skimp and choose the cheapest, but try not to.

A good paddle will provide stiffness and durability. And if you don’t get an adjustable one, make sure the shop you buy it from helps fit it and cuts it to size.

Your paddle length should be roughly 8″ to 10″ taller than you because the blade is below the surface of the water when you’re on your board…seriously, some people forget this part when they buy a paddle and measure it from the ground. Don’t be one of those people.

#. 2 Getting On Your Board For The First Time

I’ll admit, watching first-timers board their boards is good entertainment. I’m not a sadist…it’s funny! Of course, as long as no one is hurt and the person who fell is having fun.

I recommend not taking yourself too seriously because you will fall at some point — even if you are successful on your first try. Learning to SUP will take you some tries.

When you first get on, make sure the fins are at the back — behind you. Also, make sure your board is far enough in the water that the fins won’t drag on the bottom when you get on.

I recommend starting on your knees…unless you’re a super-jock with impeccable balance, then, by all means, go straight to your feet.

If you got a nice, big stable board you should be able to climb onto your knees with ease. Make sure both knees are facing forward, and you’re in the middle of the board. If it looks like the nose is dipping, shuffle back…and if the back is dipping, shuffle forward. You want your board flat on the water.

Stay low and on your knees until you feel comfortable. Once you’re comfortable paddling on your knees, slowly stand. Your feet should be parallel and facing forward — it’s not a sideways surfboard stance. Keep your knees slightly bent, your back straight and look ahead…NOT DOWN!

Try to relax and breathe. For a visual on how to stand up and maintain your balance, check out this video…

And if you fall…don’t panic! You’re attached to a big floatation device 🙂

#. 3 Use Your Core To Paddle

It’s tempting to assume paddling is all arms. You might be inclined to hold your paddle like a broomstick and sweep it through the water.

But, it’s actually a full body movement — this is how you get a six pack and keep your arms from noodling out on you when learning to SUP.

Hold your paddle with one hand on the middle shaft and the other on the top of the handle. Hold your arms out so your elbows are at 90 degrees. Your top arm will maintain the 90 degree angle, and your bottom arm will be straight during paddling.

Keep the paddle vertical the whole time and remember to bend your knees for maximum reach and to engage your core (this will develop that 6 pack I mentioned above. You’re welcome). It’ll look like you’re doing mini squats on your board…it’s an incredible full body workout!

You’ll burn lots of calories…yeah…more ice cream and beer.

Here’s a great video on learning to engage your core…

And remember to switch sides!


Most importantly, HAVE FUN! It takes time and practice to get good at paddle boarding. You won’t be rocking 5 foot waves your third time out nor doing headstands on your board, but it’s good to have #goals.

Take your time to get used to the instability. You’ll notice your balance improve with each ride. Your core will get stronger and you’ll feel more comfortable staying out longer and exploring farther from shore.

Happy SUP’ing!

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