2020 Stand-Up Paddleboarding Guide for Beginners

Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, can seem intimidating in the beginning. The sway of the board itself can be unnerving, not to mention the rush of the first shift from knees to feet. Once you’ve mastered standing, though, it’s worth the effort. So we created this stand-up paddleboarding guide so you can enjoy a new, full-body workout and appreciate the beauty of nature from a new vantage point.

Our stand-up paddleboarding guide for beginners prepares you to avoid common mistakes and start feeling comfortable sooner. With improper technique or lack of direction, it’s easy to become frustrated, which is why we’re here to help. We’ll let you know what to keep in mind for the best and safest venture, along with a step-by-step tutorial to get you off your knees and up onto your feet quickly and confidently. Plus, we included a few stand-up paddleboarding guide pro tips so you can blend in easier with the long-time boarders.

Stand-up paddleboarding victorious on ocean

What You Will Need to Follow Our 2020 Stand-Up Paddleboarding Guide

In order to even get out on the water, you’ll need the right equipment, so we’ve created a handy checklist to accompany our stand-up paddleboarding guide.

Stand-Up Paddle Board

Obviously, you’ll need a board – you don’t need a stand-up paddleboarding guide to tell you that – but there are a few different designs made for specific activities. As a beginner, you’ll want an all-around SUP. All-around SUPs can be made of several materials, but the key is that they’re efficient in a variety of conditions. Thick and wide, they work well on the choppy ocean, smooth lakes, and possibly even for yoga or surfing. Recently, inflatable SUPs have become popular for beginners because they are super easy to store, don’t damage easily, and conveniently lift you higher above the water.


Paddles vary in material and construction, but the guidelines for choosing the right size generally stays the same. Standing tall, lift one arm straight up. You’ll want a paddle that hits right about your wrist. The only slight variation from this would be picking for smooth rides versus waves. Gliding on flat water, you’ll want a slightly longer paddle, whereas shorter is better for the surf.

Flotation Device

Before heading out, be sure to check Life Vest Safety Laws and glance over the World Paddle Association page for up-to-date info. If your chosen paddle location is outside of surf or swim-designated area, it’s no longer considered a recreational activity and your SUP is now a vessel according to the United States Coast Guard. In this case, you must carry with you an approved Personal Flotation Device, or PFD. Adults technically don’t have to wear these at all times, they just need to have them with them. Children must be wearing approved devices for the entire outing.

Proper Clothing

Paddling apparel depends entirely on your comfort level. In warmer waters and seasons, many people like to wear their usual swimsuit, maybe opting for boardshorts or a shirt to protect their skin from the sun. If you’re going out in cooler weather, particularly chilly waters, you’ll want to don a wetsuit or drysuit.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding Guide Step by Step Instructions

Step One: Basic Techniques to Start

When starting out, place your board in calm, shallow water, just deep enough to not scrape the fins against the bottom with your weight. Grip a side with each hand as you work your way onto the board and ease into a kneeling position. A wider and larger board is best for starting off, as it can make balancing easier.

Step Two: How to Stand Up on Your SUP

While kneeling, hold the outer edges of the board with both hands for stability, then swap one leg at a time from knee to foot. Stay in a semi-crouched position for this – you’re finding your balance. Both feet should be equal distances from the edges, underneath your shoulders and facing forward towards the nose of the board. Most boards make it fairly obvious which side is the front, but if you’re unsure, check the bottom of the board for the backend fins before you head out.

Once you’ve gained a secure low stance, stand slowly, bringing your chest up first while keeping the knees bent. This will keep you from accidentally pitching forward onto your board. Once your upper half is good, you can gradually extend through your legs.

Step Three: How to Stay Balanced on Your SUP

Feet on Stand-up paddleboard in water

Keep your legs slightly bent so you can respond to the shifting water with your hips and core. Never lock your knees. Feet stay pointed to the front, while your upper body stays up and straight. Keep your head up. Looking down puts about seven pounds of weight forward that your core is fighting to stabilize. If nerves automatically prompt you to look down at your board, a great reminder from many stand-up paddle boarding guides is to look towards the horizon.

Step Four: How to Hold Your Paddle

Holding the paddle incorrectly is common, even for those of us who aren’t new to paddleboarding. It may seem counterintuitive, but flip the inwardly-bent side of the blade away from you, rather than scooping water back like a shovel. Firmly hold the t-grip with the opposite hand to the side of the board you’re paddling on. So, if you’re paddling on the left side of the board, you’re gripping the top with your right hand, held at a ninety-degree angle. Slide the other hand down the shaft until it reaches a ninety-degree angle as well.

Step Five: How to Get Back On your SUP

At some point, you’re going to fall off. Don’t be embarrassed; everyone falls into the water sometimes. The trick is getting back on in the middle of a breezy lake without the help of the shore bottom to push off of.

You’ll want to position yourself close to the middle of the board to grip the center handle. Allow your legs to float up naturally with the water, then use them to propel you forward as you pull your weight onto the board, sliding onto it much like a seal. Now you’re ready to get into a kneeling position again and use the same techniques to stand up that we used before.

Step Six: Stand-Up Paddleboard Strokes

Different directions mean changing up paddle strokes. Solid forward strokes, alternating sides of the SUP and the hand on the T-grip, will move you forward. Remember to switch sides frequently to continue on a straight course. Focusing too much on one side will skew your direction.

The reverse stroke is the opposite and aids in slowing momentum, turning and stopping. The sweep stroke will move you around far more gradually than a reverse stroke but is effective whether you have forward momentum or not.

Step Seven: Forward Stroke

While standing, dip the paddle head itself about two feet forward into the water, lowering the blade entirely beneath the surface. Bring the paddle back vertically through the water until it’s aligned with your ankle, then lift up and forward again. Focus on pushing the top of the paddle instead of pulling with the lower arm. The more vertical the paddle stays, the easier it will be to keep going straight. Concentrate on putting your whole body into it and using your torso to push the paddle through, instead of just relying on arms and shoulders. This will save your arms and joints and a lot of grief in the end, which is why we provide stand-up paddleboarding guides in the first place.

Step Eight: Reverse Stroke

To stop or turn quickly, plunge the paddle down into the water, close to the back of the board, ensuring the paddle blade is entirely under, and try to hold it in place. Once again, try to emphasize using your core instead of straining against the water with your arms. Simply maintain the same arm position as your body twists and holds. Execute the reverse stroke on the same side as the direction you want to turn.

Step Nine: Sweep Stroke

Sweep strokes are slightly harder on your arms and shoulder, so really put your body into it for easier paddling. Depending on what side you’re paddling on, angle your shoulder forward and lean into it, using your bent knees to brace. Then sweep the water away from the SUP with large arcs, submerging the blade from the front of the board all the way to the back. This stroke will turn you in the opposite direction from the side you’re paddling on. If you’re paddling on the right, the sweep stroke will turn you to the left.

Bonus Tips to Stay Safe and Look Like a Pro

We have a few extra tips to help you on your SUP learning journey and make it appear as though you’re already a SUP aficionado.

1. Use a leash.

For safety reasons, it’s important to attach an ankle leash that maintains your connection to the board. Losing your board in windy weather, surf or even an odd current can make it nearly impossible to catch up to it again. Assure your own safety and always use a leash to reclaim your SUP easily.

2. Fall properly.

As we mentioned before, you’re going to fall, and not just once. Knowing how to properly fall is another important safety measure. Always angle yourself to either side, so you’re not falling on your board. Don’t hesitate because you think you’ll look better if you don’t get wet. You’ll get wet at some point, and if you try to break your fall on the board to stay dry, there’s a higher likelihood of serious injury. Water is forgiving—SUPs, less so.

3. Pick the perfect Day to Start

Actually plan your first SUP outing. Choose your location and date wisely. Go on a sunnier day that isn’t windy, make sure the body of water isn’t too large and there isn’t too much traffic otherwise. You don’t want to be dodging boats or having the wind constantly push you the wrong way on your first trek.

4. Learn the Lingo

Lookup phrases and SUP definitions in advance. It’ll make it easier if you’re asking someone else for advice or help, and it’ll ensure everything in our stand-up paddleboarding guide makes sense.

Stand Up paddleboarding in mountains on lake

Stand-up Paddleboarding Guide | Final Thoughts

Your first time out there, go with a friend. Even with a flotation device and a handy stand-uppaddleboarding guide, accidents happen. You want to be sure someone is there with you just in case. A buddy can also be a source of encouragement for your new skill. Not only do they provide support, but their laughter can help make the rough moments more amusing and less frustrating. Most importantly, keep your sense of humor. Breathe deep, keep trying, and don’t let setbacks get to you.

All these suggestions should help you stay safe and look like a pro faster. Did these tips help? Let us know what you think of our stand-up paddleboarding guide by posting a comment, and if you liked it, share it!

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