Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Paddle Board?

It is possible to paddleboard without being able to swim. My husband and this site’s owner can’t swim much at all. Yet he paddleboards, scuba dives, snorkels, and jumps off of cliffs into lakes. The key is learning how to float.

You do not need to know how to swim to paddleboard. However, you will always need a life jacket and a paddleboard leash. You should practice getting back on the board after a fall in controlled settings before trying more advanced paddle boarding.

If you can’t master climbing back into the board, limit your activities to areas near shorelines and/or always have a companion, either on your board or their own.

Read on to learn all you need to know about this fun and exciting sport, then please continue reading.

How much Water Can a Non-Swimmer be in, to Learn to Paddle Board?

 As a novice you are going to fall into the water, it is a natural part of learning to stand up Paddleboard so if you are concerned about learning in deep water, let’s take look at the pros and cons of learning to paddleboard in various depths of water.

Under 3 feet of water is too shallow

This is way too shallow; you may feel safe being only above ankle-deep in water, but remember, the fin of your paddleboard is between 6” & 8” tall and so will quickly get damaged as soon as any weight is placed on the board. Also, this can be the easiest way to chip your plastic, epoxy or carbon paddleboard, or puncture your Inflatable stand up paddleboard.

The greater danger with this depth is how you land when you fall. You could twist your ankle when trying to land upright, or hit your body or head on the bottom of the water when landing on your side. There is just not enough water to break your fall.

In deeper water, there is no chance of the board hitting the bottom. But when you try and land upright you will find yourself having to reach down to touch the ground beneath. When you land on your side, you may still reach the bottom, but as long as you have a life jacket on, you will be fine and back on your feet, and your paddleboard in no time.

3-5 feet depths of water prevent paddle board damage, but you’ll have to get back to the board and mount it

Now the water will be roughly above your torso height now, this is where elements of swimming could start to make a play. Attempting to fall upright is not possible anymore the water is too deep to reach off the board. If you attempt this, you can only remain upright by purposely falling/jumping in the water remaining upright, and waiting to feel the ground and stand up as soon a possible.

If you fall on your side (by far the safest way to fall in the water) again you will still not hit the ground and in both cases will need to paddle your hands a little to get your body upright before you stand up. This ‘paddling the hands’ I just mentioned, is an element of swimming.

Paddle board photo of person falling off with board in the air, taken from camera on the board

6 feet and deeper are the best for avoiding injuries and board damage

Swimming skills would be advisable in any waters over 5 feet, but definitely in waters deeper than 6 feet deep. To keep your head above water you may need to ‘tread water’, (treading water is a technique of kicking your feet and pushing downwards with your hands to elevate your body so to keep your body in an upright motion and your head above water)

The Best Location for a Non-swimmer to learn to Stand Up Paddle Board

The best and safest solution would be to learn to stand up paddleboard in shallow still waters, between the depth of 20” and ideally no more than 30” of water. This could be a controlled environment like a natural or man-made lagoon.

A shallow lagoon will hold many benefits to learning over any other body of water. It’s shallow enough to stand after a fall and get back on your board, yet calm enough to stand-up paddleboard. There may be lifeguards overlooking the lagoon and you may find paddle board instruction available.

What is the Safest method to learn to Paddle Board if you Can Not Swim?

  1. Wear a life jacket and always use your leash.
  2. Stay in calm waters near shore and have a buddy.
  3. Get lessons from a qualified instructor.

I think the safest way for a non-swimmer to learn to Paddleboard would be to use a lagoon where the water is still and only thigh-high. So, in the case that you fall off the paddleboard into the water. You don’t need to swim at all. Also, you can easily get back on the paddleboard to give it another go. Do wear a Life Jacket at all times while out on the water with no exceptions.

Photo of people learning to paddle board on their knees at a beach shoreline

Do I Have to Wear a Life Jacket while Paddle Boarding, if I cannot Swim?

Yes, Stand-up paddleboarders are required to wear a life jacket when hiring a board or taking SUP lessons in most countries. But it is not the law to do so. Even so, it does make great sense to wear one, especially if you cannot swim. If you are not offered a life jacket when given your paddleboard. It would be advised to request one before going out on to the water.

There are a lot of water activities like snorkeling, scuba and paddle boarding that you can do without being a good swimmer. Even experienced snorkelers will often use life jackets or other flotation devices as we’ve discussed for backup safety.

What Do You Need to Wear to Learn to Paddle Boarding?

When paddleboarding, it is important to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature

  • Swim suit, wet suit and a Life jacket for cold waters
  • Swim suit and a life jacket for mild waters
  • Swim suit, life jacket and sun cream in warm waters and sunny days
  • Water shoes or sandals if desired

What is the Best Stand-Up Paddle Board for Beginners?

The best paddle boards for beginners should be sized between 9’ and 11’ long dependent on weight, and more importantly between 30” and 34” wide. This width is what gives you stability. Inflatable boards are generally more stable as they sit directly on top of the water.

At the same time, you do not want to spend too much on your first board, as the odds are, it won’t be long before you have mastered the art of standing up on a paddle board and want to purchase a narrower and therefore faster paddle board.

I have written a Complete beginner’s Introduction on How to Paddle board, check it out. If you’d like to start with an inexpensive board to help decide whether you enjoy the activity, this post discusses inexpensive boards with a few examples. Costco paddle boards are another inexpensive option.

Final thoughts

Stand up paddle boarding is an awesome sport and can be learnt by people who cannot yet swim. But be safe and do wear a life jacket at all times when near, on or in the water, and start off in shallow water, but not so shallow that you damage your paddle board fin (20” or less). You may want to consider taking lessons at first.

Also, not too deep either, that you cannot touch the ground or hop back onto your paddle board. It is at the end of the day up to each and every individual one of you, to decide your capabilities. But be realistic and smart.

There are many activities that don’t require you to be a good swimmer to still enjoy. You can scuba dive and snorkel without being able to swim, just like paddle boarding. Now, off you go to partake in this exhilarating recreational activity. Just remember – be smart, be safe! Good luck and have fun!