Even if you’ve never tried it, many of you have probably seen stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, over the past few years—it’s one of the fastest growing outdoor activities. Between 2012 and 2015 participation rose an average of 26 percent, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2016 annual report.
With the warm weather being here, now’s a great time to give SUP a shot; it’s a wonderful way to get outside and simultaneously squeeze in some training. You’d be amazed how physical SUP can be—you can really engage your entire body to row your board.
If you don’t live near an ocean, don’t sweat it; most people who SUP will never use it to ride a wave. It’s just as fun and effective on a lake or river. So rent, buy, or borrow a board and then use the tips below to learn how to paddle board.
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding for Beginners
Use the correct size board. You want to have enough foam underneath your feet that you’re not wobbling with every stroke. A board that’s 10 feet 6 inches in length, or longer, would be great for beginners. This will diminish the stress of falling and get you to focus on your stroke, intensity, and beautiful surroundings.
Pick the right length paddle. Let’s assume you’re going to be doing some flat-water paddling. The easiest way to find the best paddle is to stand with the paddle in front of you, blade touching the ground, and reach your arm up over your head. The handle of the paddle should reach your palm. If you are going to go surfing, then you’ll need a shorter paddle to speed up your cadence.
Practice your paddle stroke. No one is expecting you to go out there and join the US Olympic team, but learning to paddle efficiently will help you paddle longer while using less energy and having more fun. A proper paddling stroke can also help fend off back pain. Ask an instructor for help when you pick up your board or watch a tutorial online.
Here’s one thing I know for sure: The straighter you can keep both arms—and just twist the head of your paddle out of the water then back to start again—the better. Think about pulling your body to the paddle. Once the stroke is parallel to your leg and foot the stroke is done; begin again. Often times you will see people bending their arms or paddling way behind their bodies as a continuation of the stroke, which isn’t necessary.
Look ahead. When you feel ready to stand up on the board, get a little speed (the same as you would to start pedaling a bike), and look where you want to go. People tend to want to look down at their feet, but this can give you a mean case of the wobbles. Depending on your board, stand at about the middle of the board, or, if it has a handle, right around the top of that, in a parallel stance—not too wide or too narrow, but about a little more than shoulder-width apart.
Be mindful of your breathing. Don’t hold your breath. Inhale and exhale as you normally would, trying to keep your breathing steady and even.
Pack rations. Going a long distance? These boards are big and have room to accommodate extra supplies, so bring a small cooler or fill a waterproof bag with snacks and secure it straight to your board. If you have a waterproof music player, bring that too. There’s nothing like paddling in nature to a great soundtrack.
Have fun. Don’t worry about looking silly. Like my husband, Laird, always says: “It’s like a bike for the water.” Who doesn’t enjoy riding a bike?
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