How to Paddle board: The Complete Beginner’s Introduction

What is the best way for a beginner to learn how to ride a paddleboard? Paddleboard riding is one of the fastest-growing outdoor sports. If you live near any body of water, chances are you have seen people paddleboarding. Paddleboarding definitely looks fun, but it’s a little scary too. How hard is it to stand on a paddleboard?

So, how to paddleboard? I have the complete beginner’s introduction. It is easy to learn if you are willing to try a little. Follow these steps to have a great time on a paddleboard.

  • Wear safety gear. Paddleboarding is a safe sport, but it never hurts to put on a lifejacket and an ankle leash to keep your board close.
  • Stand up. If you can stand on the ground, you can stand on the paddleboard.
  • Start paddling. Keep the paddle logo facing the front, dip the paddle in the water and pull.
  • Gear up! If you have fun trying out the paddleboard, there are lots of options for choosing a paddleboard and gear. Getting the right stuff can make a big difference in your experience.

If you would like to know more about these steps, read on! Each part of paddleboarding can be broken down into smaller steps….how to stand, how to adjust the paddle and start moving, safety tips, and plenty of details about how to choose a board and other equipment.

How to Stand on a Paddleboard

Is it hard to stand up on a paddleboard? Not very hard. If you can stand on dry land, you can stand on a paddleboard. Paddleboards are designed to be stable with a person standing on top. To stand on a paddleboard, just relax and stand up. To make the most of your first paddleboard attempt, follow these tips:

  • Choose smooth water. For your first paddleboard attempt, choose a small lake or pond that doesn’t have much boat traffic. Early morning and late evening are good times because the water will be still and flat.
  • Put your board in shallow water. Place your board, nose forward, in water that is about knee-deep. This will let the board float, but provide you with firm footing to climb on.
  • Find the middle. Paddleboards have a carry handle in the middle of the board. This handle marks the center of balance for the board. You need to stand directly over this handle for the best balance.
  • Climb on. Stand next to the board in the water, grab an edge, and get up on the board on your hands and knees.
  • Find your balance. Raise your upper body while still kneeling. This will help you find the center of balance on the board and feel more comfortable on the board. You can even paddle a little while kneeling to get  feel for it.
  • Grab the edges. Use your hands to hold the edges of the board to keep yourself stable.
  • On your feet. While holding the edges of the board, pick up one knee, bring that leg forward, and put your foot where your knee was. Do the same with the other knee.
  • Wait a bit. While you are on your feet, but still holding the edges of the board, pause for a moment. Get comfortable with this balance point before standing.
  • Stand up! Now that your feet are on the board, carefully stand up.
  • Stay balanced. Keep your feet parallel and facing the front of the board. Keep your body centered over your feed.
  • Don’t look down. Just like in the movies, you will fall if you look down. Keep your eyes on the horizon to help your body maintain a sense of equilibrium

Learn to Fall

Now that you have mastered standing on the board, it’s time to learn how to fall. Even the most experienced paddleboarders fall from time to time. It’s OK. The water is there to catch you. Falling off a paddleboard is no more dangerous than jumping into a pool. When you fall, aim to hit the water and not the board. Water is soft; paddleboards aren’t.

Keep a good grip on your paddle if you can. It will be easier to get started again if you don’t have to chase your paddle down. If you do lose the paddle, don’t worry. You can get it again once you are back on the board. Just use your hands to propel the board to the paddle.

Once you are in the water, swim yourself back to the board. Grab the carry handle and let your legs float behind you. Pull the handle and kick with your legs to get your body back up on the board. Once your body is up, you can get into a kneeling position and stand from there.

Don’t curl your legs under the board. If you grab the board, curl your legs under, and kick, you will just flip the board over. Your legs should be behind you to make climbing up easy.

Paddling

Most paddleboard paddles (Amazon) are adjustable. To set the paddle at the correct height, hold one arm up over your head. Adjust the paddle so that the t-handle of the paddle is at the level of your wrist. Hold the paddle with one hand on top of the t-handle and the other hand in the middle of the shaft. Turn the paddle so that the logo on the blade faces forward.

Hold your top arm out with the elbow slightly bent. Angle your bottom arm and dip the blade of the paddle into the water. Pull back with the lower arm and push forward and down with the top arm to push the paddle through the water. Alternate sides occasionally to track straight.

To turn the paddleboard, dip the paddle into the water and stroke backwards. This will cause the board to turn toward that side. Keep up the backwards strokes until the board has come around enough.

Paddleboarding Safety

Done right, paddleboarding is a fun and safe activity. Before you head out on the water, make sure you have the correct safety equipment. Everything you need can be found at a local shop or at the Amazon links below.

  • Personal flotation device. If you are wearing a PFD, falling into the water is no big deal. If you aren’t wearing one, it can be tough to get back to your board safely. Paddle board life vests need a little more freedom of movement than standard life jackets. WaterOutfitters carries a great men’s line and premium women’s line of specialty PFD’s.
  • Wear a leash. Paddleboards come with ankle leashes that attach your leg to the board. When you fall off, the board won’t float off and leave you. It is quick and easy to get back to the board using the leash.
  • Cover up. Water reflects sunlight, so you are getting a double dose when you paddleboard. Make sure to wear adequate clothing and use sunscreen to keep from getting fried while you paddle.
  • Bring a friend. It is much easier to learn paddleboarding if you can bring a friend who already knows how. However, even if your friend is also a novice, it is safer to have someone on hand to assist if you have trouble.
  • Keep it smooth. While you are learning to paddleboard, choose bodies of water with smooth surfaces and little traffic. Avoid high winds, big waves, and water with lots of boats.

Watch the Wind

Wind is a big factor in paddleboarding, especially for beginners. When you are standing on a paddleboard, your body acts like a sail. It is easy to go with the wind, but hard to go against it. If the wind is pushing you out away from the shore, don’t go too far. Save plenty of energy for the return trip against the wind.

If paddling against the wind is too much, you need to reduce the area your body presents to the wind. Dropping to your knees is a helpful technique. You can still paddle, but the wind won’t push too hard. If kneeling doesn’t help, lay down on your stomach and paddle with your hands. It is slow, but it’s faster than fighting the wind.

Try Before You Buy

If you are interested in paddleboarding, but not sure you want to make a commitment, you can try before you buy. Paddleboard rentals are available at many lakes and beaches. You can rent a board, spend an afternoon on the water, and find out whether you like boarding without breaking the bank. Or you can start with an inexpensive board to get started. We have some recommendations here.

Types of Paddleboard

Once you are ready to take the plunge and buy a paddleboard, you will find a wide array of boards. It can seem intimidating at first, but you really only need to make four choices when buying a paddleboard: hull type, construction, weight capacity, and dimensions. Think about how you want to use the board, and the choices are easy.

Do you want to travel far, or just take short trips? Will you be in rough water like high surf or whitewater? Do you plan to stick to calm waters? Do you see a future in specialized activities like racing, fishing, or yoga? Keep your answers in mind as you shop for a paddleboard. If you need more info, we cover paddle board yoga and how to set up a paddle board for fishing on this site.

Hull Type

There are two types of paddleboard hull, planing hulls, and displacement hulls. Planing hulls are made to ride on top of the water. These hulls are flat and wide with a round nose and a flat bottom. Planing hulls are very stable yet turn easily. Planing hulls are good choices for leisure paddling, surfing, whitewater boarding, and yoga.

Displacement hulls ride lower in the water. Displacement hulls have a pointed nose, or bow, like a canoe or a kayak. These hulls glide through the water easily and travel faster than planing hulls. Displacement hulls also track straighter than planing hulls. Displacement hulls are good for fitness paddling, racing, touring, camping, and other long-distance activities.

Paddleboard Construction

Paddleboards are made with two different construction methods. Solid hull boards are made with a foam core wrapped in a tough skin. Inflatable boards use a vinyl exterior that is pumped full of air to make them float.

Solid Paddleboards

Solid boards are usually made with fiberglass and epoxy, although carbon fiber and wood exteriors are also available. Solid paddleboards travel faster and smoother than inflatable boards. These boards are also available in many different sizes, so you can fit the board to your style. They are also the most stable type of board.

The downside of solid boards is the size. Since they are long and rigid, solid paddleboards can be difficult to transport and store. If you don’t have a big garage and a vehicle that can transport along paddleboard, avoid solid boards.

Inflatable Paddleboards

Inflatable boards are great if you have limited storage space or transportation options. They can be deflated and kept in a bag when not in use. Inflatable boards are also a good choice if you must hike some distance from your vehicle to the water.

Inflatable paddleboards are the best choice for whitewater boarding. They will handle the bumping and jostling of submerged rocks much better than solid boards. Inflatable boards are also good for paddleboard yoga. The softer surface makes it more comfortable to pose than when doing yoga on a solid board.

Volume and Capacity

The volume of the paddleboard, usually given in litres, tells you how much weight it can support. Choose a board that can handle not only your weight but also the weight of any gear you intend to bring. Planing hull boards are very forgiving if you are under the weight limit. Planing hulls handle the same way no matter what. They sit on top of the water unless the board is overloaded.

Displacement boards are a different story. They are designed to ride at a certain height in the water. Too little weight and the board floats high, making it difficult to control. Too much weight and the board will ride low in the water, making it drag and feel slow.

Board Length

Paddleboards are classified as short, medium, and long. Shortboards are less than ten feet long. Medium boards are ten to twelve feet long, while longboards are longer than twelve and a half feet.

Shortboards are very manoeuvrable, making them good for surfing and whitewater paddling. Shortboards are also best for kids; most boards built for kids are eight feet long.

Medium boards are the best all-around choice. These boards are good for recreational and fitness paddling, fishing, and even yoga. Medium boards offer a good balance of speed and manoeuvrability.

Longboards are best for speed and long-distance paddling. Most long paddleboards are displacement hulls. The combination of a longboard and displacement hull means the paddleboards really move, and they track straight.

Board length also correlates with height. Taller paddlers usually feel comfortable on a longer board, while short riders prefer shorter boards. However, fitting board length to height isn’t a critical factor.

Board Width

Although not as important as board length and type, you should also give some thought to the width of your paddleboard. Paddleboards come in widths from 25 to 36 inches. Wider boards are more stable and can carry more weight, making them the preferred choice for camping, fishing, touring, and yoga. Narrow boards are faster and more manoeuvrable. Choose a narrow board for surfing, whitewater paddling, or racing.

You should also match the width of the board to your body and your ability level. Broad-shouldered or tall paddlers need a wide board, while smaller paddlers need a narrower board. Beginners often feel more comfortable on a wide, stable platform. Experienced paddlers may opt for a narrower paddleboard that is easier to turn and steer.

Paddleboard with Passengers-Kids and Dogs

Paddleboards have enough deck space to accommodate small passengers. Kids and dogs can (and do) ride paddleboards with adults. If you want to bring along a passenger, make sure to calculate their weight into the capacity of the board you buy. Get them safety equipment, including a flotation device (Amazon even sells PFDs for dogs.) and make sure to bring snacks and drinks.

Dress for Success

If you are just heading out for a short paddle around a still lake, a bathing suit and t-shirt are fine to wear. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen, though. Sunlight reflecting off the water makes any water sport a higher risk for sunburn.

If you are taking longer trips, you may want some specialized clothing for paddleboarding. Wearing a long-sleeved rash guard will protect you from sunburn and any scrapes you might get in the water. Specialized water shoes  will dry quickly and help you get good traction on the board. Board shorts give you a little protection from the sun and provide pockets for keys and cash.

For longer trips, lightweight fishing trousers are nice to have. These trousers dry quickly and stand up to the rigours of a day on the water, and they also keep your legs protected from the sun. If you are going to be on the water all day, the extra sunblock from the pants makes a real difference.

If you live in a cooler climate, or you want to paddleboard outside of summer, invest in a wetsuit. A wetsuit will keep you toasty warm in cool water and chilly weather. Wetsuits extend the paddling season into spring and fall.

Other Equipment

Besides your paddleboard, paddle, and safety gear, you may want to consider some other gear to start paddleboarding. Consider a paddle leash to keep track of your paddle. In my experience a paddle never gets away from you as quickly as the board can, so make sure you have your leash to your board, as once your back on your board it easier to retrieve your paddle. If you are transporting camping gear or fishing from your paddleboard, consider cargo net tie-downs and paddle board bungee straps to keep gear in place.

If you choose a solid paddleboard, you need a way to transport it. You can buy car racks to hold your board or get padding to keep the board (and your car) from getting scratched up. You will also need tie-downs to hold the board in place on your car. You may even want a premium bag to hold your solid board.

Paddleboard Fishing

If you are doing a lot of fishing, check out a fishing-specific paddleboard. These boards are usually wider than most paddleboards for extra stability while casting and reeling in fish. Fishing paddleboards also have extra tiedowns for gear, and many come with built-in rod holders. Paddleboards for fishing also have a high weight capacity to accommodate all of your gear and even a cooler.

If you are interested in fishing from a paddleboard, look for a long board with a displacement hull. These boards are easy to move fast, so you can get to where the fish are biting without wearing yourself out. Either kind of board construction can be good for fishing. Solid boards are fast and sturdy. Inflatable boards can handle submerged rocks and trees that make good fish cover.

Dick’s Sporting Goods sells this fishing-specific board, the Aquaglide Blackfoot 11’ in a stable 36” width with a 450 capacity. Equip it with our following recommended fishing gear, and head out.

Paddleboard Yoga

Check out our full paddle board yoga article

Another popular paddleboard activity is paddleboard yoga. If you don’t do either, this can be an intimidating idea. Yoga fans often say, “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” Paddleboarders swear that, if you can stand up, you can paddle. If you can stand and breathe at the same time, you can do paddleboard yoga.

If you are interested in paddleboard yoga, look for a medium-length inflatable board with a planing design. Medium length boards offer a good balance between manoeuvrability and stability. Inflatable boards have a softer surface that makes yoga poses more comfortable. Planing boards are very stable to aid with balance while you are posing.

Where to Paddleboard

Paddleboards work on just about anybody of water. If you are just starting out, you will want calm, smooth water. Once you get comfortable on the board, the sky (or maybe the horizon) is the limit! Paddleboarders ride on all kinds of water, including whitewater and the ocean. You can take your board to any local body of water and have a great time.

If you are going to ride rough waters, like whitewater rapids or ocean surf, look for a short board with a planing hull. These boards allow you the maximum agility to keep the paddleboard pointed the right way. Surfers prefer solid body construction for a faster ride, while whitewater paddleboards are inflatable to handle the inevitable rocks.

If you are boarding on big lakes or the open ocean, look for a long paddleboard with a displacement hull. These boards make covering miles a breeze. The displacement hull also tracks straight so it is easier to keep to your heading. When you buy a board for open water, make sure to include the weight of a cooler with snacks and drinks in your board buying decision.

If you have access to lots of different waters, or you are not sure where you will use the board most, start with a medium-length board with a planing hull. These boards have a balance of speed, stability, and agility that makes them adequate for just about any location.

Transporting Your Paddleboard

Since solid-body paddleboards are ten to twelve feet long, you will need a roof rack to transport it. If your car doesn’t have a roof rack already, purchase a padded rack that straps to the roof of your car. It will protect both your board and your car from scratches. If your car has a built-in roof rack, you should still buy some roof rack pads to protect your board from scratches.

If you get an inflatable board, you will have a much easier time transporting it. Most inflatable paddleboards come with a bag to hold the board. If your board doesn’t come with a bag, here’s a nice one on Amazon. You will also need to have an air pump to fill the paddleboard. If you are near your car, 12V electric air pumps like that one from Amazon are handy. If you must hike to get your board into the water, check out a hand air pump on Amazon.

Paddleboard Storage

Storing your paddleboard is a similar story to transporting it. If you have an inflatable board, just bag it and stow it (make sure it’s completely dry first). If you have a solid-body board, you will need a long space to stash the board. To keep your board out of the way, single-board, multi-board, and ceiling hoist racks are available on Amazon and your local shop.

Fitness for Paddleboarding

Paddleboarding is a great full-body workout, and a great way to get fit. It’s not always convenient to hit the water for a workout, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. If you want to stay in shape for paddleboarding when you can’t hit the water, focus on these areas:

  • Core strength. Paddling requires lots of strength in your midsection to power the paddle through the water. Planks, side planks, and sit-ups are all good exercises to keep your core strong for paddling.
  • Push and pull. One arm pushes the top of the paddle forward while the other pulls it back, then you switch hands and do it again. Paddling takes lots of pushing and pulling strength to keep going. The old gym class favourites are best for this: push-ups and pull-ups. If you can’t do a pull-up, try an under bar row.
  • Leg strength. Your legs have to hold you up and connect you to the board while you paddle. Squats are an excellent way to develop leg strength for paddling.
  • Balance and back strength. Paddleboarding takes good balance and strength in your back and rear end. The single-leg Romanian deadlift is an odd-looking exercise, but nothing builds balance and power from your backside faster.

Paddleboard History

While various people around the world have stood on boards and paddled into the water for thousands of years, the current sport of paddleboarding stems from Hawaiian surfers in the 1960s. These surfers would stand on their surfboards and paddle out into the ocean to get a better view of the surf. On days when the waves were too small, these surfers would just paddle their surfboards.

From  Hawaii, the idea of standing on a surfboard and paddling moved to California. In the early 2000s, stand-up paddleboarding became a sport in its own right, and manufacturers started building boards designed for stand-up paddling.

Eventually, the sport diversified into the branches we see today like whitewater boarding, long-distance paddleboarding, paddleboard fishing, and paddleboard yoga. If you feel you need professional lessons after reading this, be sure to read about my first paddle boarding lesson and what I learned.

Final thoughts

Like a lot of watersports we cover on this site, paddle boarding is an equipment oriented activity. But you can also start slow and work your way into the hobby at your own pace. Renting is a good idea at first, use the tips above to get started.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable, check out our posts on paddle board surfing, paddle board yoga and fishing from your paddle board. When you’re ready to get more serious, grab your best choice of boards and the needed accessories, and head to the water for great fun and relaxation.


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Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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