How Hard is Paddle Boarding? (Difficult But Doable)


How Hard is Paddle Boarding

Beaches and lakes everywhere are dotted with people on paddle boards these days. It’s a sport growing in popularity in many countries around the globe. And why not, because paddle boarding doesn’t look that hard; you stand on a flat board and paddle.

I mean, how difficult can it be, right?

How hard is paddle boarding? Stand up paddle boarding is not very hard if you have the proper equipment, the right sized paddle board for your weight and the correct SUP paddle length for your height. Then simply learn the right techniques to paddle safely and effectively and practice, practice, practice.

But like any sport, you must be at least somewhat physically fit to be successful. Though, trust me, I’m not in “Thor” shape and the only reason I had a tough time starting out is my paddle board wouldn’t hold my weight—I was too heavy for the board’s weight rating.

Which stresses the point that you must have the proper equipment. However, it’s not quite as easy as putting the board in the water, standing on it, and paddling.

This article will help you figure out how to choose the correct board for your needs and help remove some of the difficulty of learning to paddle your SUP safely and successfully. 

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How to Paddle Board

While paddle boarding is not overly difficult, there are certain techniques used to make it possible. From getting onto the board to how to hold the paddle, everything needs to be done a certain way. We’re going to go through it step by step with some helpful tips to make sure you get it right. 

Paddle boarding basics you’ll need to learn include:

  • Getting on the board
  • Correctly holding the paddle
  • Balancing on the board
  • How to rise to standing position
  • The proper stance
  • Falling safely
  • Common mistakes beginners make

For your first few lessons, choose a calm lake or pond with a sandy bottom that allows you to wade out. Be sure the area is free of rocks and debris, so you do not get hurt when you fall. Take a friend or family member along, in case you run into trouble. 

Getting Started

  • Place board on water at least as deep as the fin depth (deck up and fin down)
  • Fasten the leash around your ankle
  • Stand at the back of the board and gently push it forward to get a feel for its movement

How to get on a Stand Up Paddle board

  • Stand to the side of the board so you are between the board and the shore
  • Wade out until water is about knee deep or a little less
  • Place the paddle across the board perpendicularly
  • Place the hand closest to the board on the deck
  • Place the knee closest to the board on the deck
  • Lift your other knee out of the water and onto the deck 
  • Raise your torso until you are in a kneeling position

Paddle Kneeling First

Your first few paddle boarding trips should be done from a kneeling position. Because your center of gravity is closer to the surface of the water, you’re less likely to fall. This practice will help you get used to the movement of the board and allow you to learn to shift your weight when needed.

How to Kneel and Paddle on a Paddle Board

  • Pick up the paddle and hold onto one side of board
  • Once you’re steady, place both hands on the paddle
  • One hand should be toward the top and the other about midway down the paddle
  • Place the blade of the paddle in the water at a 45° angle in front of body
  • Gently, but firmly, pull the blade back until it’s even with body
  • Avoid putting the blade too deep in the water
  • Practice slightly shifting your weight from side to side to get a feel for the balance
  • If you feel like the board is tipping too much, use the paddle in the water to help you stabilize

How to Stand up on a SUP Board

Once you’re comfortable kneeling and paddling, you can rise to a standing position.

Shift from Kneeling to Standing on a SUP

  • Place your paddle across the board
  • Place your hands in front of you so you’re on all fours like a crawling baby
  • Grasp the paddle handle in one hand
  • Bring one knee forward 
  • Bring the other knee forward
  • Look straight ahead, not down
  • Use your core muscles and your hands to push body into standing position, still looking forward
  • Stand straight up
  • Avoid stooping or bending forward to try to balance 
  • Use paddle blade on deck to help achieve balance, if needed

Okay, the reality is, you probably fell off the board the first time you tried this. Only one way to get better; kneel back on the board and try again.

Which brings us to…

How to Safely Fall Off Your Board

You’re going to fall, just plan on it, especially during your first few attempts to stand up. The best advice is to stay calm and try to fall safely.

  • Do NOT fall onto the board
  • Try to turn your body away from the board as you fall
  • Try not to go head-first into the water
  • Don’t panic. Hopefully, you’ve got a life vest on.
  • If you can’t pull yourself back onto the board, you will need to swim your board back to shallow water to get back on it.

Where and How to Stand on a Paddle Board

One of the most important things to master is using the correct stance and posture. This will center your weight on the board, making you more stable and able to get the smoothest ride. 

How to stand on a paddle board? Put your feet equal distance from the sides of board; shoulder width apart or a little farther. Your spine should be erect, no stooping or bending forward. Your body should be centered on the SUP board so the nose and tail of board are on top of the water.

Holding the Paddle Correctly

Many beginners place their hands too close together on the paddle shaft or turn the paddle the wrong direction.

Here is how to hold a SUP paddle correctly:

  • Grasp the top of the handle with one hand
  • Place the other hand about halfway down the shaft
  • The angle of the blade should point to the front of the paddle board
  • Place the paddle blade into the water in front of your body at 45° angle
  • Pull back in one smooth movement, keeping blade in water
  • Do not extend back beyond your body
  • Switch sides by placing top hand directly below hand that was halfway down
  • Then use other hand to grasp the top of the handle as you swing paddle across front of body

Related Article: How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle

How to Ride a Paddle Board

To master paddle boarding, you need to be able to paddle in all directions; forward, backward, and change directions. You never know when an obstacle might appear in your path, or the wind might blow you off course.  Being able to steer your paddle board with your paddle is the only way you have to control your SUP.

  • Paddling forward – alternate strokes from side to side, pulling from front to back
  • Paddling backward – turn your paddle around and stroke from back to front
  • Turning left – make more strokes on the right side of the paddle board which will turn the nose to the left. Or paddle backward on the left hand side of the board.
  • Turning right – make more strokes on the left side of the paddle board which will turn the board to the right. Or paddle backward on the right hand side of the board.
  • Stopping – stop paddling and allow yourself to glide to a stop or alternate paddling backward on both sides of the board.
  • Slow down – drag the paddle in the water or stop paddling and glide

Common Mistakes Beginners Make

Here are some common beginner paddle boarder mistakes that make it harder to stand up paddle board.

  • Paddle held backward – You should hold the blade angle to the front of the board.
  • Too much or too little paddle movement – Begin at 45° in front of body and pull back to your ankle.
  • Paddle blade too deep or too shallow – Majority of the blade should be submerged
  • Incorrect stance leads to bad balance – Your feet should be shoulder width or slightly farther apart.
  • Leaning forward leads to bad balance – Stand up straight and look ahead, not down.
  • Falling and getting hurt – Always fall into the water, not onto the board.
  • Hard to find balance – Center your weight on the board
  • Standing up with board not moving in water – Always have board moving forward before standing.
  • Fall and lose the board – Always wear an ankle leash.
  • Board is difficult to move forward – Choose correct size board for your weight

Not All Paddle Boards are the Same

Paddle boards come in many different widths and lengths. While you might think it is just a matter of choosing the one that you like most or which one is cheapest, you need to pay attention to several things before you purchase a board.  

Before purchasing a board, consider these things:

  • Your weight
  • Your height
  • Your experience level 

Also, think about where you plan to use the board and what type of paddle board you need. Do you intend to stick to calm water lakes or do you plan to take your board to the beach?

The key to getting the right board is to figure out how much weight a paddle board can hold.

Different Boards for Different Water Types

Like vehicles, paddle boards come in different models for different purposes.  As the sport of paddle board has grown, so have the variety of boards available. Lake boards differ from race boards. Inflatable boards are becoming more popular, but they might not fit the needs of everybody.

To choose which board is right for you, consider how you’ll use it.

  • Surf paddle boards – For ocean/waves; shorter, point on each end, underside slightly curved
  • Flatwater paddle board – For lakes/calm water; wider, flat bottom, pointed front
  • Race paddle board – Competition use; long, very narrow, point on each end
  • All around paddle board – All water types; best for beginner, rounded ends, wide body, flat bottom
  • Inflatable paddle board – For lakes/calm water; portable, better for lightweight individuals
  • Multipurpose boards – Double as kayak and paddle board with detachable seat and footholds

Matching Your Board to Your Body

When shopping for a paddle board, you need to take a close look at yourself.  

Paddle board manufacturers rate boards based on weight limits. Basically, the more surface area the paddle board has, the more weight it can carry. So, a heavier person will need a longer and wider board than a lightweight person. Use this SUP length chart for a quick reference.

    Board length  Weight range of rider
  9’ <50 pounds
9’ to 10’ 6”50-125 pounds
10’6” to 11’6”125-150 pounds
11’6” to 12’6”150-225
12’6” +225+

While this chart is a general guideline, be sure to read the manufacturer’s weight recommendations. Also, keep in mind that some manufacturers tend to give a high weight rating because the board will handle that amount of weight, not because that is the ideal weight for the board.

Don’t forget to include the weight of your life vest, your paddle, any snacks or drinks, and any pets you may intend to carry.

Related Article: How much weight can a paddle board hold?

Board Width Makes it Easier

Not only is board length an important factor, but board width must be matched to your experience and your needs. Standard paddle board widths range from 30” up to 36”. 

Wider boards will be more stable and are better for beginners. These boards are also recommended for heavier individuals or those who are less physically fit. There is a downside to a wider board though. 

However, because of the surface tension of the board on the water, it will require more effort to paddle one of these boards than a narrower, lighter board.

Surface tension refers to the amount of force it takes an object to remain on top of the water instead of being pulled under. A large object, such as a paddle board, requires more surface tension to float than a small object, like a bug.  

Narrow boards are smaller and more lightweight, resulting in less surface tension. This makes the board easier to propel through the water. These boards generally travel faster but are also less stable than wider boards.

Choosing Paddle Length Based on Your Height

Paddle board paddle length is based on the height of the individual. Paddle length is measured from the top of the handle to the bottom edge of the blade. A good general rule is to choose a paddle that is 6 inches longer than your height. This will give you the minimum length paddle for your height.

A paddle that’s too short will cause you to stoop or lean while paddling. One that’s too long will be difficult to maneuver and might cause you to fall.

        Height of riderRecommended paddle length
<4 feet51-54 inches
4’0”-4’6”54-62 inches
4’6”-5’0’62-68 inches
5’-5’6”68-74 inches
5’6”-6’0”74-80 inches
6’-6’6”80-88 inches

Paddle blades are the part of the paddle that goes into the water and moves through the water. Wider blades will move more water than taller, narrower blades.

Most beginners do well with a generic, multi-purpose blade. People who get into specialized paddle boarding may require a different size and width of blade, depending on the activity in which they are participating.

Related Article: How long should a paddle board paddle be?

Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

Before you paddle board, you must have the proper personal floatation device.  Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the bright orange, foam lifejacket with the white string ties that you wore as a kid. While those life vests are still available, there are many more, less conspicuous options available today. 

PFDs are required on most bodies of water on any moving craft.  That includes a paddle board. Not only is it required, it can save your life if you fall.

Low profile PFDs such as paddling vests, and inflatable Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) will protect you without hindering your movement.

  • Paddling PFD – popular with paddle boarders and kayakers, zip front or clips, padded foam in front and plenty of room in the armpits so you can paddle freely.
  • Inflatable PFD – hollow fabric straps worn like suspenders, inflate with CO2 cartridge when you hit the water. Not ideal for paddle boarding as you’ll be going in and out of the water often.

While inflatable vest PFDs least hinder your movement, they are generally not recommended for beginners who might panic when falling into the water and not be able to activate them. 

The best PFD for a beginner is the padded foam vest PFD which guarantees buoyancy immediately. It’s also designed for freedom of movement so you can paddle easily without the PFD getting in the way and chafing under your arms.

Foam vest PFD Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available at most stores
  • Bright colors easily spotted
  • Easy to use
  • Always reliable

Cons

  • Bulky and hinder movement
  • Add body heat
  • Affect tanning
  • Hard to fit full busted women

When choosing your PFD, be honest about your weight and chest size. Life vests are designed based on weight and fit.  Choose one that fits snugly without being too tight. Read the manufacturer’s label to determine the maximum weight recommendation for the PFD.

Remember, no matter how good your PFD is it won’t help you if you’re not wearing it.

Helpful Tips for an Easier Ride

Beyond the basics, these tips will prepare you for a great paddle boarding experience. 

  • Practice paddling while standing on an elevated surface in your backyard.
  • Do exercises to strengthen your core and leg muscles.
  • Don’t purchase a paddle board based on price. Find the correct size for your height and weight.
  • Make sure your paddle is neither too short nor too long.
  • Go barefoot rather than wearing flip flops or water shoes.
  • Try on several PFDs to find the one most comfortable for your body and frame.
  • Try a paddle board rental before you rush out and buy one.
  • Take lessons if they are available.
  • Join a group or club. You will learn where to go and they will help you be successful.

Paddle Boarding Difficulty Summary

Stand up paddle boarding isn’t hard if you have the proper equipment and training. But while it may look effortless, it’s actually a sport that requires some degree of physical fitness.

Strong, fit individuals will find it easier than those who are very overweight and out of shape. No matter what your physical condition is, you need to purchase the best paddle board and paddle for your weight, height, and experience level.

Spend time learning the basic movements. Practice as often as you can until you have mastered getting on and off your board in shallow and deep water. Once you learn how, you will have many enjoyable hours on the water.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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