July 28, 2020

The Pau Hana SUP School bringS you the beginners guide to stand up paddle boarding


Welcome to the beginners guide to SUP! We are stoked you made it here and want to dive into the wonderful world of paddle boarding. Here we touch on the basics of SUP and getting out on the water safely.

What is SUP?

SUP stands for stand-up paddleboarding. Stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii as an off-branch of surfing, where surfers would use a paddle and stand on the board to move through the water to catch waves with more speed. SUP has come a long way in the last few years and is now an accessible sport for anyone to get involved in and the different disciplines range from flat water paddleboarding to SUP yoga, touring, racing and fishing. Paddleboarding is growing in popularity and is a sport that is not only a full-body workout but can give you incredible access to the outdoors, including places that are only accessible by water.

blowing up an inflatable stand up paddle board in california

Is paddle boarding hard?

Paddleboarding is an entry-level water sport that everyone can participate in and there really is no better time to get started than now. There are a wide range of products on the market and lots of SUP clubs and paddleboard instructors around offering lessons and advice. Although lessons are a great way to get acquainted with your board and learn the basics they aren’t necessary and with some quick tips you can be out enjoying the freedom that paddleboarding has to offer.

How to choose the right paddleboard for me?

Choosing the right paddleboard requires some knowledge and it is best if you can go to a local dealer or do a bit of research online so you know what board is sized correctly for you. A paddleboard that is best suited for a beginner is an all-around designed board; these generally have a planning hull, are around 10’-12’ long, and will be more stable. All-around boards come in both inflatable or hard construction, so working out where you will be most likely to be using your board and what storage facilities you have can decide what the best option for you is. Inflatable boards are great for taking on holidays, putting in the trunk of your car, whereas hard construction boards will have to be strapped to the roof to transport. As a beginner, you will want to choose a board to accommodate your weight. Most manufacturers state the volume and capacity of a board on their website, so scope these out before making a purchase.

What gear do I need to get on the water?

  • A paddleboard – You won't get far in the world of stand-up without aboard!
  • A paddle - A SUP paddle is different from that of a kayak or canoe paddle. It is designed with a long shaft and has a T-grip at the top and a tear-drop-shaped blade at the bottom. Most paddles are adjustable in length so you can change them to the desired length for the paddler.
  • A PFD - or personal floatation device. In the United States, it is required that you wear a PFD while paddleboarding unless you are surfing. And in general, it is a good habit to wear one regardless of the laws. There is a wide range of PFD’s on the market and we recommend shopping around for one that is comfortable and does not restrict your paddling.
  • A paddleboard leash - Leashes are intended to keep your board close by if you happen to fall off. It is easy for your board to get pushed away from you when you fall and if the conditions are windy or the current is strong you could find yourself separated a long way from your board in seconds. A paddleboard leash is longer than a surfboard leash and they are usually coiled to avoid excess cord dragging in the water. Take a look at the Pau Hana 10’ Coiled Leash.
  • The right clothes - Paddleboarding is a water sport and like most water sports you are going to get wet. Choose your clothes based on the weather and conditions and expect to get wet. If you are paddling in cold water you could opt for a wetsuit or a drysuit. In warmer conditions, shorts and a t-shirt may be sufficient. Don’t forget your sunglasses or sunscreen if it’s a sunny day as UV rays intensify when you are out on the water!

Now we have covered what SUP is and what you’ll need to get started, let's look at the basic paddling techniques.

The forward stroke

Some people may want to get used to paddling their SUP kneeling down before they attempt to stand. Others may want to dive straight in and learn to paddle while standing immediately.

To start paddling standing up you’ll want to position yourself over the center of the board, most paddle boards have a center handle you can use as a reference. You want your feet to be shoulder-width apart and your knees to remain soft. It doesn’t matter which side of the board you put a stroke in, find whichever side is most comfortable. Grip the T-piece with one hand and wrap the other around the shaft at a comfortable width apart from each other. With your knees still soft, reach forwards with the paddle with your torso remaining in line with the board. Place the paddle blade in the water so the blade is fully submerged and pull the paddle towards your body keeping the paddle as horizontal as possible. The stroke ends when the blade is in line with your body. Lift the paddle out of the water and reach forwards to perform the next stroke.

If you find the board starts to veer off to the opposite side that you are paddling on, try keeping the stoke of the blade as close to the rail of the board as possible. You will want to change sides every so often to prevent arm fatigue and you can use this to counter the direction of spin.

Turning the board

You can turn the board by making a sweeping arch, pushing the paddle away from the board in a sweeping C-shaped stroke. This will force the board in the opposite direction the stroke was made on causing the board to turn. Experiment with this stroke both forwards and backward to get used to how the board performs with the different techniques.

Backwards paddling

From time to time you might want to use a backward stroke such as when you are docking the board or avoiding objects in the water. To perform a backward stroke simply place the blade in the water level with your hip and push your lowest hand away from your body.



Getting back on your board when you fall

More than likely when you are learning to balance on your paddleboard and start developing your skills, you are going to fall off at some point. Falling off is nothing to panic about, it happens to the best of us and is normal when starting out. The main point is to keep calm as flapping about won’t help you to get back on easily. Find the center point of your board, most paddle boards have a center handle you can use as a reference. You can use the center handle or stretch your arms as far over the board as possible, this will distribute your weight more evenly and is less likely to cause the board to flip. Pull your body, face towards the board, onto the board enough so the board is stable in the water. From here you can swing your legs up and over the deck of the paddleboard. Now your body is on the paddleboard, you can get to your knees. From a kneeling position, place your paddle at a 90º angle to the board with your hands pressing it to the deck, this acts as extra stability and prevents you from tipping the board too much on one side. Keep the paddle pressed to the deck as you release your feet from a kneeling position and plant them one at a time on the board. keeping the knees soft, you can carefully stand up keeping your balance, and engaging your core muscles.

Happy Paddling!



Jen Chrimes is a marketing and design professional that has worked with the outdoor industry for over 9 years. She is also a professional kayaker and avid outdoor enthusiast who loves sharing her knowledge and passion through her work. You can find more about Jen and her work at

Jen Chrimes Professional White Water kayaker

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