‘SUP? How to Stand Up Paddle Board

‘SUP? How to Stand Up Paddle Board

Bethany Johnson headshotPosted by Bethany Johnson, guest blogger

Paddleboarding may look easy, but it’s a real balancing act (literally) when you first get started. You or your kids may be tempted to try it sometime soon—whether it’s on family vacation, summer camp, or a spontaneous weekend getaway to a local nature spot. When that day comes, there’s more to the stand up paddle board than meets the eye. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.


Before renting gear and jumping in, take some time to watch others on a paddle board, especially when they start from the shore. How far apart are their feet? Are their knees bent? What part of the body moves the most? The least? We’ll get into those, but by observing, you can see what it takes to stay balanced.

Another way to prepare is to spend a few minutes on a balance board, also known as a “wobble” board, so you don’t have to get wet to find your stance.

Woman paddle boarding with space needle in backgroundMounting Up

To get on your board, wade into thigh-deep water with the board next to you. Place your paddle on the board lengthwise, while steadying the board with both hands. To mount up, lift your knee onto the board like you would with a surfboard. As you lift your second leg onto the board, push off. In the same way riding a bike requires forward momentum, balancing is easier when you are moving. Be sure to check for people, boats and other boarders in your path before you push off.

At this point, stay on your knees while you establish direction. Kneeling in still water is easier to start from. From this pose, grip your paddle with one hand on the side, another cupping the top. Now call up your boating skills, and stroke the water from front to back. You may be surprised by how easily the paddle propels you forward.

Standing Up

Once you’ve gotten comfortable rowing from the kneeling position, you’re ready to stand up. Remember that momentum is a stabilizing force, so gather a little speed before you plant your feet.

With one hand on each side of the board, slowly move to a crouching position, and place your feet where you had your knees. Once your knees are in the air, straddle the handle in the middle, and rise.

If you prepared on the balance board earlier, some brief staggering is nothing new. With other board sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing, the body is perpendicular to the path of travel. But with a stand up paddle board, you’re facing the direction you’re headed in. This means the board can wobble from side-to-side, rather than front to back.

Don’t Go ‘Overboard’

Before paddling, take a look around you. Assess environmental hazards and consider how to keep others safe as well. For example, remember that one paddle yields just one direction; stroke on the other side of the board frequently so that you don’t drift into your partner’s path if you’re out with the family.

And as they say, don’t look down! There’s a tendency to watch your feet when paddling, but keeping your focus ahead of you will improve your balance tremendously.


Safety is of utmost importance to be sure you have a great time. The US Coast Guard has determined that a stand up paddle board is a vessel, just like a canoe or kayak. So if you’re in an area of the water not designated for swimming, surfing, or bathing, you must have a personal flotation device (PFD) and a whistle, as well as a light for visibility during darker times of the day.

Consider the size of your board as well. On the market for one? Different lengths cater to different heights of users, and longer or wider boards often do well for those who are just learning the ropes. More surface area is obviously preferable in the event of an accident that requires taking a seat. Boards can reach over 12 feet in length.

Up a Creek

And you know what? You may fall a few times. But for every splash, you’ll stay standing that much longer. So choose a body of water which is calm, sparsely populated, and deeper than four feet. Mind the fin beneath the back of your board as well; it may scrape against shallow ground, and collect seaweed if you’re not careful.

The learning curve for the stand up paddle board is pretty quick, but don’t be intimidated if you’re not a master in an hour. Of all the tips out there, the best is to simply try it.

Planning to learn how to paddleboard? Tweet a photo of your first day on the water to @TomsofMaine. We look forward to cheering you on!

Image source: Flickr