You picked up paddle boarding as a new hobby, but can you stand up paddle board just anywhere? Paddle boarding is a versatile sport that is enjoyed by all ages on several different types of waterways.
Although weather conditions can influence your trip, you can stand up paddle board on any body of water. Rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans are the most common locations for paddle boarding. However, more people are using paddle boards at whitewater locations, icy ravines, and indoor pools.
Like kayaking, paddle boarding can be slow and meditative or fast-paced and intense. Although many enjoy paddling on calm water, more people are trying adventurous locations like river rapids, breaking waves of the ocean, wetlands, and harbors. Paddle boarders can practice on any body of water, but if you’re a beginner, it’s best to try calm spots first before you attempt a whitewater trip.
Best time of year to paddle board
You can enjoy watersports any time of the year, but the summer, at least in the northern hemisphere, is the best season to use your paddle board. Unless you’re in the mountains, you probably won’t need a wet suit during the summer season. Fans of the sun’s rays enjoy paddle boarding in the summer heat for exercise, relaxation, and tanning.
If you want to continue year-round, check out What to Wear to Paddle Board in the Winter. Basically any scuba or snorkeling wetsuit will work. Thickness and type will depend on air and water temperatures, wind, and your own tolerance for cold weather. Check out our wetsuit buyer’s guide for more.
Where Can You Stand UP Paddle Board?
As the fastest growing water sport (source Forbes) stand up paddle boarding is expanding to bodies of water that once seemed reckless to visit. Frosty river whitewater, swampy wetland areas, and pounding ocean waves are now the new domain of paddle boarders. The following list displays possible locations for your next stand up paddle board (SUP) excursion.
- Oceans (sound)
- Oceans (beach)
- River rapids
- Large indoor pools
Paddleboarding in Lakes
If you’re new to paddle boarding, the lake is an ideal location to practice your balance and techniques. Calm water allows you to work on balancing exercises and techniques such as turning, stopping, and bailing out.
If you’re using a solid board rather than an inflatable one, you should practice how to fall off your board correctly. The lake is the perfect place to work on bailing out. When you lose balance, aim your body towards the water to avoid hitting the board.
Touring, also known as recreational paddling, is a relaxing way to spend a day on the lake with your paddle board. You can paddle at your own pace, or you can join up with other people on a massive paddle board to experience a group adventure.
One form of paddle boarding that has gained popularity in the last ten years is SUP yoga. Yoga enthusiasts use wide boards to practice yoga while they drift across the lake. Balancing exercises are a large part of yoga, and combining paddle boarding with yoga seems like a good fit. Learn more and see our yoga board recommendations.
Paddleboarding in Ocean Sounds
Although it is a little choppier than lake water, the sound is also an excellent location for rookie paddle boarders. The sound side of the ocean is much calmer than the beach side, but you’ll have to contend with the wakes from motorboats and jet skis.
There is usually more traffic in the sound or bay, and you have to learn how to navigate the busy areas while maintaining your balance. However, most bays are so large that you’ll have plenty of room to practice techniques.
You can take a long tour around the bay that will provide hours of physical activity. Besides avoiding the boats and skiers, you may come into contact with one of the greatest hazards in the sound.
Jellyfish are not abundant year-round in the sound, but sometimes they populate the bays in large numbers. If there is an infestation of jellyfish, you should choose to paddle board another day. Although a paddle board travels on top of the water, it will not protect you from marine life like a boat, canoe, or kayak.
Paddleboarding in Ocean Surf and breakers
The beach side of the ocean provides adventurous paddle boarders with a more significant challenge. The breaking waves offer a stark contrast to the calmer waters of the sound. If you’re an experienced paddle boarder, you may want to try SUP surfing.
Although paddle boards are used on several types of waterways, surfers used paddle boards before anyone else. Most surfers use a narrow board with fins to maneuver through the raging ocean.
Since you’re continuously standing up, you can see the upcoming waves easier than traditional surfers. The long paddle also helps surfers cut through the waves on the way to deeper water.
You can attempt SUP surfing as a beginner, but you may want to focus on practicing on smaller waves closer to the beach. One advantage of the highly buoyant paddle boards is their ability to function on smaller waves.
Typically, traditional surfers stay in deeper water and don’t ride the small breaking waves near the beach, but as a paddle boarder, you can ride any wave and still enjoy it.
Paddleboarding in Ponds
Like lakes, ponds are ideal locations for recreational boarders. Although they are smaller than most lakes, ponds are an excellent place for rookies and experienced boarders looking for a relaxing trip.
Before you paddle board in small ponds or intricate wetlands, learn what types of wildlife inhabit the area.
Paddleboarding in Rivers
Rivers are popular destinations for paddle boarders, but some sections may not be suitable for beginners. If you’re inexperienced, you should find out where the river’s current increases and becomes rapids.
Can You Paddleboard in River Rapids?
Whitewater trips are the ultimate adventure for paddle boarders who are incredibly competent in their balancing skills. Like SUP surfing, whitewater boarders use a smaller, narrower board for increased maneuverability.
Braving the rapids on a paddle board requires a substantial amount of skill and added protection. In addition to a lifejacket, you’ll need a helmet and a wetsuit. Even in the summer, mountain water is frigid. A wetsuit (see our buyer’s guide here) will protect you from hypothermia and an uncomfortable fall into the river.
Whitewater trips, especially the sections designated as extraordinarily difficult, should not be attempted by beginners. However, most rivers have long stretches of slow-moving water that are ideal for recreational boarders.
My home state of West Virginia has some of the best whitewater rivers in the world. The Gauley, Cheat and New Rivers are world class whitewater travel destinations that offer rafting, kayaking and paddle boarding experiences. Read more at WV Tourism.
Can You Paddleboard in Harbors
Not every harbor is ideal for paddle boarding, but the smaller harbors with less traffic are perfect for SUP. Try to avoid busy areas that have a significant amount of commercial fishing vessels entering and leaving port.
One advantage of harbor boarding is the restricted speed limit for powered boats. Nearly every harbor requires boats coming or going to use a cruising speed that doesn’t produce immense wakes. Before you paddle board at a harbor area, check with the authorities to make sure they allow the boards in the area.
Can You Paddleboard in Indoor Pools
A large pool is a great place to practice with your paddle board, but make sure the owners allow the boards in the pool. Public pools sometimes restrict large flotation devices, but university pools and private owners are more likely to accept paddle boards.
If you don’t own the pool, be sure to clean your board before throwing it in the pool. Residue from the ocean, pond, or river can affect the pool’s levels, and you don’t want to force an irritated owner to add chemicals after you leave. Wear a helmet since falling over could result in contact with the pool’s concrete edges. Stay away from the edge if you can.
Can You Stand Up Paddle Board on Canals?
Canals are a great place to paddle board, but in some areas, you may need permission before using a board. For instance, in some canals in England, you’ll need a license to paddle board in the canal. You can buy a daily pass or a monthly permit.
In some of the small islands off the coast of the United States, you won’t need a license, but you may need permission from the city or town.
In Marco Island, Florida, vacationers, and residents paddle board in the canals. Although it is a rare occurrence, some Marco residents warn paddle boarders to be on the lookout for alligators in the canals. Some argue that alligators will not stay long in saltwater, but it’s a good idea to be aware of the possible danger.
Sharks are also present in the saltwater canals. Attacks are extremely rare, but paddle boards can attract sharks. We discuss why that is and the true risks in this post.
The biggest danger to paddle boarders in narrow canals is boaters. Even a small wake can topple you over. Boats can give you a large clearance in the ocean, on lakes and in large rivers, but not in narrow canals. Stick to the no wake zone canals just like mentioned in the harbor section above.
Paddle boarding is quickly becoming a welcome alternative to canoeing or kayaking. Standing while you paddle gives you an unobstructed view of the water and the scenic beauty surrounding it. If you want a meditative trip, you can SUP on the calmer waters of lakes, rivers, ponds, or bays.
For the adrenaline enthusiasts, you can try SUP surfing or whitewater boarding. Whatever your passion, you can find a body of water that suits you. Read our advice on taking lessons if you aren’t sure about getting started. Depending on your choice of location, swapping to a different fin setup may be advisable. Read my guide on different fin types and how to swap them out.
So choose your body of water, get out there, stay safe and have fun!