I’ve grown to love SUP for so many reasons.
Firstly, it has such a calming effect on me. When I am out on the water with the sun in my face and the salt in my hair, I am truly happy. My worries disappear, I feel like I can solve the problems of the world (ha-ha), and I gain a fresh perspective on life.
Secondly, it’s a great workout. My core and my glutes know they have been worked the next day, and that’s without the hundreds of sit ups normally needed. My calf muscles and lower back also get some serious toning and strengthening – all part of the wonderful effect of stand up paddle boarding.
In this beginner's guide, we'll talk about the importance of lessons, we'll help you on your way to choosing your first SUP board and paddle, and we'll share some quick SUP tips for beginners that are sure to help you up on your feet.
So, how do you start stand up paddle boarding?
I always recommend learning the SUP basics by booking a lesson — and please do this before outlaying your hard-earned money on a brand new board!
During you first lesson(s), they will teach you the basics of SUP: how to stand up; how to position yourself properly; how to use the paddle correctly and adjust it for your height – and they’ll help you work out what size board you should be using. Most places also offer a “buy a lesson and save on a board” type deal: a great way to save money down the track if you immediately take to stand up paddling and are serious about getting your own SUP gear.
If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person and want to jump in all guns blazing, I suggest you go to a good SUP / surf shop and get advice to find the right-size board based on your height and weight. After all, what might be a good board for your friend might be totally wrong for you! While you are there, it’s important to consider your financial situation, preference of board (see next part), and how you plan to transport your new SUP to and from the water.
What type of stand up paddle board is right for me?
Now I’m opening a can of worms! There are three main types of stand up paddle board: inflatable, cruise / flat water, or surf. Each have their uses and pros and cons, and each come with a different price tag.
Inflatable stand up paddle boards are easy to inflate at the beach, take up less room in the garage, pack down into a backpack, and are usually lighter than other board types. But, they have their drawbacks too: they are not as rigid as fibreglass boards, they are not as manoeuvrable on the water, and they have been known to suffer “sinkage” in the middle, especially with heavier riders (although I believe that with correct inflation, this is less of an issue). Inflatables are best for riders who prefer lakes and gentle rivers, for travelling and touring, or for those summer stand up paddlers who would like to SUP more, but generally only get out during holidays.
Cruise / flat water SUPs are usually made from fibreglass, and are available in both soft and hard top models. They tend to be heavier than iSUP’s and are longer and wider than surf models, designed to offer a smooth, stable ride in calm conditions. Of course, they don’t require inflation, but they do require a bit of muscle to transport around if, like me, you’re a short-statured, non-muscly woman! Also, they don’t like being knocked around; your fibreglass board will need a bit more TLC than an iSUP. ‘Soft top’ flat water SUPs are usually mostly fibreglass with a soft outer shell, perfect for when kids are going to be using the board too (it won’t hurt as much when they fall off!). You will need to figure out how you will transport the board – a set of roof racks and tie downs is a must. Adult boards start at around the 10-foot mark, so you will also need to consider where you are going to store it.
Surf SUPs are shorter and lighter than flat water models. They're suitable for experienced riders, designed for catching waves, making fast turns on the way in to the beach.
What about paddles?
The only real limit is your bank balance. Alloy, fibreglass, and carbon fibre; fixed or adjustable sizes – the choice is seemingly endless. My advice is to get the best paddle you can afford. I have an adjustable carbon fibre paddle because I am short but hubby is tall. Carbon fibre is super lightweight, allowing for the fact that I’m not the strongest paddler. The guys at the SUP shop will be able to help you choose a paddle that is the right length and weight for you.
So, now you have the SUP board and paddle, where to next?
The beauty of owning a SUP is that any waterway becomes your playground! As a beginner, I recommend a gentle lake for your first outing; somewhere quiet and flat, with minimal wave action. If you’ve had a lesson or two, you’ll know how to stand on your board…the hardest part will be walking the board to the water’s edge and taking off!
Some quick tips for SUP beginner success
Remember to relax, and look at the horizon to get your balance.
Position your body in the centre of the board, with your feet shoulder-width apart for stability.
Shoulders should be relaxed and centred, with your knees slightly bent.
Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body (this also helps stop the shaking of the board).
A smooth, gentle paddling action will see you gliding over the water, and it won’t be long before you are feeling on top of the world.
And one final word of advice: it’s a good idea to practice falling off your board and getting back on in deep water so that when you try your hand at paddling in rougher conditions or on a small surf break, you’ll be able to jump back on no stress.
Good luck and enjoy your time on the water!