Beginner Basics & Techniques
Stand up paddling (SUP) is fast becoming one of the most popular water sports around. And considering how easy it to pick it up, it is no wonder too, for all SUP requires is a paddle, a board, and lots of water.
But as with every new sport, there are some basic skills and techniques you require before you can get the most out of your SUP experience. This guide aims to give you the fundamentals of SUP so that you’re well prepared to jump right into the action when it is time for you to paddle.
- Stand up paddle board
- Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
- Swimsuit or clothes you wouldn’t mind getting wet
- Leash to tether you to your board
Transporting Your Board
Most boards have a handle built in. To pick it up, lean the board on the long edge, reach for the handle facing away from you (located around the middle of the board) and tuck the board under one arm. Carry the paddle with your free hand. Stand up paddle boards really catch the wind, so be sure to note the direction the wind is coming from and how hard it is blowing.
For longer distances—or if your board does not have a handle—carry your paddle board on your head. To get it up there, first stand the board on its short end with the deck (top of the board) facing you. Grasp the sides of the board with both hands and walk under it so that your head is around the middle of the board. Stand upright with the board balanced overhead while still holding it by its sides. Bend down to pick up your paddle when you have centred yourself.
SUP Techniques On The Water
Yes, there is a trick to even this. If you’re new to the SUP, we advise you practice standing on your board on flat, calm water free of obstacles like swimmers and buoys.
- Stand beside the board in shallow water and lie your paddle across the deck. The paddle grip should rest on the edge of the board while the blade should rest on the water.
- Hold the board by the sides, with one hand also holding the paddle grip.
- Climb onto the board and into a kneeling position just behind the middle of the board.
- From a kneeling position, get a feel of the board. The nose shouldn’t pop up out of the water. Neither should the tail dig in. Keeping your hands on either side of the board may help stabilise it.
- Once you’re ready, stand up on the board one foot at a time, placing your feet where your knees were. Having someone help hold the board steady might help you get the hang of standing upright.
These tips will help you balance upright on your board:
Your feet should stand parallel to each other, be spaced your hip’s-width apart, and be centred between the edges of your board. Avoid standing too close to the sides.
- Keep your toes pointed forward, your knees slightly bent, and your back straight.
- Balance with your hips—not your upper body.
- Keep your head and shoulders steady and upright, and shift your weight by moving your hips.
- Your gaze should be level at the horizon. Avoid staring at your feet.
- Much like bicycling, the faster you go, the more stable your stance.
Once you’re comfortable balancing on your board, it’s time to set off. And now the real run begins! To start, we’ll look at how to paddle forward:
- If you’re paddling on the right side of the board, have your right hand hold the paddle shaft and your left hand grip the top. Switch hands when you paddle on the left side.
- With your arms straight, twist from your torso as you paddle. Think of it as paddling with your torso rather than your arms. Since you have more strength in your abdominal muscles than in your arms, this will make paddling much easier.
- Plant the paddle by pushing down on the paddle grip with your top hand. Make sure the blade digs all the way under the surface, then pull it back to your ankle and out of the water.
- Start with short strokes that are close alongside the board.
- To go in a reasonably straight line, paddle about 4 or 5 strokes on one side, then switch to the other. Remember to reverse hand positions each time!
Now that you can travel in a straight line, it is time to learn how to turn. There are 3 main ways:
- Sidestroke: Simply paddle on one side until the nose turns in the direction you want to go. Want to turn right? Paddle on the left. Headed left? Paddle on the right. Your board will make a long arcing turn.
- Backpaddle: A faster way to turn or reverse direction is to drag the paddle in the water or paddle backwards on either side of the board.
- Sweep stroke: Plant your paddle into the water towards the front of the board and take a long sweeping stroke away from the board and towards the tail. Your board will turn to the opposite side of the stroke. Be careful not to lose your balance!
Other tips for turning:
- Stepping back on the board and looking over your shoulder to the direction of your turn helps in making a turn.
- Another turn that works well, especially in surf, is to paddle on your dominant side (i.e., if you’re right-handed, put your left foot forward and paddle on your right side). Really bend your knees and put more weight on your back foot. This will allow the board to pivot and turn quickly.
When You Fall
And you will fall. Stand up paddle boarding is relatively easy to pick up, but do expect to take the occasional plunge every now and then. Just make sure to always:
- Fall to the side, so that you land in the water instead of onto your board. Falling onto your board will hurt, so you’d best try to avoid in order to prevent injury.
- If you get separated from your paddle and your board, get your board first, then paddle with your hands to retrieve the paddle.
And that’s all you’ll need to know before taking to the water with you board and paddle. Hopefully, this helped prepare you for your merry excursion ahead. Bon voyage!