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17 Paddleboarding Tips for Beginners

by Emily Hessney LynchMar 21, 2023
17 Paddleboarding Tips for Beginners

Paddleboarding is an exhilarating activity that can give even the most experienced water lovers a new rush. My first time paddleboarding—aside from being a huge thrill—offered me a new perspective on a lake I already knew well, as I saw it standing at full height for the first time. My husband loves the sport too because it engages your legs as you try to stay balanced. Whether you need a refresher or are hopping on a board for the first time, these paddleboarding tips will help you feel ready to get out on the water.

What Is Paddleboarding?

Paddleboarding, also called SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), is a great way to move your whole body while enjoying the water. These completely flat boards differ from kayaks and canoes in that you’re able to stand or kneel to paddle. Paddleboarding can be a relaxing way to enjoy nature, and you can also combine it with activities like yoga for a unique workout. Once you have some experience, you can even bring a passenger along, like a dog or child!

Where Can I Paddleboard?

Paddleboarding is fun on lots of different bodies of water, including oceans, lakes, bays, and rivers. Many businesses offer paddleboard rentals and lessons, which are a great entrypoint to learn the sport.

woman paddleboarding while sitting on board

Paddleboarding Tips for Your Adventure

1. Choose a Calm Body of Water and Check Conditions

Avoid choppy water, windy days, or heavy boat traffic. This will make it easier to learn to balance and maneuver your board without obstacles.

2. Select the Right Launch Place

Find a sandy beach or shallow spot where you can wade into the water when launching your board.

3. Keep It Manageable

Don’t be too aggressive with your first outing! Plan for no more than an hour. The last thing you want is to be too tired to paddle back.

4. Face Forward

Sounds obvious, but this is trickier than you’d expect. Beginner boards are often very round, so it can be hard to tell which end is the nose and which is the tail. Before getting in the water, check where the fins are. Fins go at the back of the board, which help keep the board straight as you paddle.

5. Go Knees First

Starting on your knees is a great way to get a feel for the board while keeping your center of gravity low. Start from a kneeling position and practice that way to get comfortable.

6. Ease Into Standing Up

Don’t rush when standing for the first time. Move one foot at a time and place them where your knees were when kneeling. Slowly but surely, raise your chest while keeping your knees bent. When your chest is vertical, extend your legs until you’re fully standing. Voila! You did it.

7. Don’t Get Stiff

Balancing on your board is more difficult if you’re stiff. Keep your knees slightly bent and shift your weight by moving your hips. You should feel loose and fluid on your board. 

8. Grip It Real Good

When paddling on the right of your board, your left hand should hold the T-grip at the top of the paddle. When you switch to the left side of the board, your right hand should hold the grip, with your left hand a few feet down the shaft.

9. Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon

Staring at your feet will only mess with your balance. Keep your gaze level at the horizon.

10. Use Your Core

I was a rower in high school, and everyone assumed it gave me strong arms—when really, rowing is all about legs. Paddleboarding is similarly deceiving. You might assume it’s all arms, but paddling actually requires a strong core. If you only use your arms, you’ll tire quickly. Always use your core when paddling—you’ll get more power that way.

11. Long Strokes Are Best

Beginners often jab their paddle into the water in a choppy, pokey approach that isn’t very effective. Instead, reach out in front of you, plant the blade in the water, and slowly pull the blade back toward your feet. Using your core and upper body will help make sure these long, straight strokes are as powerful as possible.

12. Learn to Turn

Need to slow down, stop, or turn around? Reach behind you and place the paddle in the water near the back of your board. Twist from your torso and pull the blade forward. Doing this on the right side of your board will turn you to the right, and vice versa.

13. It’s Okay to Fall

When you’re just getting started, you’re bound to fall sometimes. Learn to fall safely. If you feel yourself losing your balance, try to aim yourself into the water. Landing in the water is less likely to cause an injury than falling onto your board. Do your best to hang onto your paddle when you fall. If you lose it, climb onto your board first, then paddle with your hands to retrieve the paddle.

To get back on the board, swim up to it in the center and grab the handle in the middle. Allow your legs to float up to the surface, then kick them while pulling yourself up by the handle. It might take some effort, but you should be able to slide back onto the board.

man sitting on paddleboard with oar

Tips for Paddleboarding Gear

14. Sun Protection Is a Must

Always apply plenty of sunscreen before you head out on the water. Because UV rays reflect off the water’s surface, you’ll get more sun exposure. Reapply as needed. You’ll also want sunglasses or a sun hat for eye protection, and perhaps a sun shirt for an extra layer of UV protection.

15. Don’t Forget a Lifejacket

Even if you’re a fantastic swimmer, bring a floatation device to be safe.

16. Dry Bags Are Your Friend

These are perfect for storing keys, snacks, your phone, sunscreen, a water bottle, and any other essentials in a secure, dry place.

17. Wear a Swimsuit You Can Move In

Paddleboarding is very active, so opt for a swimsuit that’s comfortable and easy to move in.

Now that you’re equipped with these paddleboarding tips, you’re ready to get out on the water. Plan your next lake getaway now and book a Campspot on

Emily Hessney Lynch is a small business owner, reader, and writer. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and their three rescue dogs. They love getting outside year-round and enjoy paddle boarding, hiking, and snowshoeing. You can follow her on Instagram at @servemethesky.

Image credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Zadvornov, Adobe Stock – Halfpoint, Adobe Stock – Halfpoint