A Beginner’s Guide to Standup Paddleboarding (SUP)

This article is an extension of my previous post on “A Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking.” The motivation to pick this activity is the same as kayaking. To get more on the water and add another enjoyable physical activity.

Standup paddleboarding, often called SUP, is a fantastic way to explore the water, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors. Whether on a calm lake, a meandering river, or even catching some waves in the ocean, standup paddleboarding offers a versatile and enjoyable experience for people of all ages and fitness levels. If you’re new to the world of SUP, this beginner’s guide will help you get started on your paddleboarding journey.

Where to begin and how to gain access to a SUP?

When you start, you may not want to buy a SUP. SUPs, even though they have a smaller footprint than kayaks, are also of multiple types, can be expensive, need storage space, and make arrangements to transport them to water. All these take some planning and investment. You also do not know if you would like it or want to continue it as a long-term hobby. If you are in Maryland or most states in the USA, you can rent SUPs during the boating season, usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, before heading out on your own on a rented SUP, I recommend first taking lessons in a group setting. It’s safer and will set you on the right path to explore further. Group classes are fun and have a low entry bar. Everyone is in the same boat (data joke) and motivates each other. Various outdoorsy organizations, such as REI, conduct classes frequently throughout the year or as weather permits.

I started standup paddleboarding and kayaking by participating in classes organized by REI. The classes were conveniently located near my home, the instructors were terrific, and the REI provided all the necessary equipment, including a SUP, personal floatation device (PFD; life jacket), and accessories like dry bags for phones, car keys, etc. Lessons were long enough to get some practice time on the water but not overwhelming or physically straining. I did two classes, one for SUP and the second for kayaking, and my group comprised people from a wide age and fitness range.

NOTE: These courses and tours will cost you some money, and I know for us Indians, especially those living in a foreign country, one of our primary goals is to save money. However, I encourage you to fork out a little money and gain these experiences while you still can, and trust me, it will be worth it. Do not wait for a friend who might give you a free lesson on a rental one day; those opportunities are hard to come by and are nothing compared to REI or similar classes.


Before hitting the water, you’ll need to gather the essential equipment:

  • Paddleboard: Choose a stable and beginner-friendly board. Wider and longer boards are generally more stable, making them ideal for beginners.
  • Paddle: Ensure you have a correctly sized paddle that suits your height.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Safety first! Always wear a PFD when paddleboarding, especially if you’re not a confident swimmer.
  • Leash: A leash connects you to your board, preventing it from drifting away if you fall.

NOTE: REI provides all the essential equipment if you join one of their classes. Most rental facilities also provide at least the PFD with the paddleboard. I have had experience of not getting a leash with a few rentals. If you are a beginner, it’s crucial to have a leash.

Choosing the Right Location

Selecting the right location is crucial for a positive SUP experience. As a beginner, opt for calm, flatwater areas like:

  • Lakes
  • Slow-moving rivers
  • Ponds
  • Sheltered bays

Avoid strong currents, heavy boat traffic, and rough waves until you’ve gained more experience.

Safety Precautions

Safety should be your top priority. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Check the weather forecast and wind conditions before heading out.
  • Wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing, considering weather and water temperature.
  • Familiarize yourself with local regulations and waterway rules.
  • Let someone know your paddleboarding plans and estimated return time.
  • Practice falling and remounting your board in a controlled environment.

Still not ready to buy a SUP, but you want to continue

Even after doing the “learn to standup paddleboard” class and a couple of rentals, if you are still unsure if you should buy your SUP for financial, storage, or any other reasons – similar to me – but you still want to continue. Invest in water shoes, a life jacket, and clothing for water activities. In 2023, I was planning to buy an inflatable standup paddle board and kayak hybrid that I could easily store and transport in my Honda Civic, but for several reasons, I could not. So I decided to buy a life jacket that fit me well and had more features than the ones you get when you rent a boat. Those rental ones are basic and soaked in other people’s sweat, which I find gross, even for a few hours. In addition to my life jacket, I also own a pair of water shoesboater’s gloves, a long-sleeved hooded shirt, a bucket hat, and a pair of convertible pants for my water activities.

Clean gear that fits you well makes the activity more efficient and comfortable. You could spend more time thinking about and practicing your paddling skills than the gross rental life jacket, etc. It also makes you feel more invested in your hobby and will help you to sustain it longer.

Some other accessories that I find helpful are a dry bag to keep my car keys, wallet, snack, bandana, and a phone cover with floatation to carry my phone around my neck to take photos. I like the flotation feature because a typical waterproof case can protect your phone from water, but it will sink if you drop it in the lake.

So, you want to take the plunge and buy a SUP

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) has gained popularity over the years, leading to various paddle boards designed to suit different activities and conditions. Here are some of the main types of standup paddle boards:

  1. All-Around/Touring Boards: These are versatile boards suitable for various conditions, making them great for beginners. They’re stable, maneuverable, and can be used on calm water, small waves, and light touring.
  2. Surf SUPs: Explicitly designed for surfing, these boards are shorter and more maneuverable. They are often narrower and have a rocker (upward curve) in the nose and tail, allowing them to handle waves effectively.
  3. Flatwater/Race Boards: These boards are long and narrow, built for speed and efficiency on flat water. They have a pointed nose and a displacement hull design that helps them slice through the water more smoothly.
  4. Inflatable SUPs (iSUPs): These boards are made from durable, lightweight materials that can be inflated and deflated. They are great for portability and storage. Inflatable SUPs come in various styles, including all-around, touring, and racing.
  5. Yoga/Fitness SUPs: These boards are wide, stable, and designed with a soft top for comfort. They provide a stable platform for practicing yoga, fitness routines, and other on-water exercises.
  6. Fishing SUPs: These boards have features like extra stability, attachment points for fishing gear, and storage compartments. They’re designed for anglers who want to combine SUP with fishing.
  7. Whitewater SUPs: Built to handle river currents and rapids, whitewater SUPs are typically shorter, wider, and more robust to withstand the challenges of fast-moving water.
  8. Wind SUPs: These boards can attach a sail, allowing you to use wind power for propulsion. They’re designed for those who want to combine paddleboarding with windsurfing.
  9. Cruiser/Touring SUPs: Similar to touring boards, these SUPs are designed for longer-distance paddling and exploration. They often have additional attachment points for gear and are optimized for stability and tracking.
  10. Kids’ SUPs: Smaller, lighter boards designed for children. They provide a safe and fun introduction to paddleboarding for younger enthusiasts.
  11. Multi-Person SUPs: These oversized boards are designed to accommodate more than one paddler. They’re great for family outings or group activities.

When choosing a standup paddleboard, consider your skill level, the type of water you’ll be using it on (calm lakes, rivers, ocean waves), and the activities you want to engage in (touring, surfing, fitness, etc.). Board size, shape, volume, and construction materials are important factors. Testing different types of SUPs or seeking advice from experienced paddleboarders before purchasing is a good idea.

Features of a typical SUP

A typical standup paddleboard (SUP) comprises various components and features contributing to its design, performance, and functionality. Here are the key features you’ll find on most SUPs:

  1. Deck Pad: The deck pad is the cushioned area where you stand at the top of the board. It provides traction, comfort, and grip, helping you maintain balance and control.
  2. Carry Handle: A sturdy handle located in the center of the board makes it easier to carry the SUP to and from the water. Some boards may have multiple handles for different carrying options.
  3. Tie-Down Points: These are attachment points on the board’s surface where you can secure gear, such as a dry bag, cooler, or fishing equipment, using bungee cords or straps.
  4. Leash Attachment: A leash attachment point is typically located at the back of the board, allowing you to secure the leash to your ankle or calf. This prevents the board from drifting away if you fall off.
  5. Fin System: SUPs have fins that help with stability, tracking (maintaining a straight line), and maneuverability. The number and configuration of fins vary; some boards have a single center fin, while others have multiple fins.
  6. Nose and Tail: The board’s front (nose) and back (tail) have different shapes and designs depending on the board’s intended use. For example, surf SUPs have a more pointed nose for better wave performance, while touring boards have a rounder nose for better stability and tracking.
  7. Rails: Rails are the edges of the board that come into contact with the water. They can be soft or hard, rounded or sharp, and affect the board’s stability and maneuverability in different conditions.
  8. Volume and Thickness: The volume and thickness of a board affect its buoyancy and stability. Boards with more volume are more stable but can be slower, while boards with less volume are more maneuverable.
  9. Construction Material: SUPs can be made from various materials, including foam, fiberglass, epoxy, carbon fiber, and inflatable PVC. Each material has its weight, durability, performance, and cost characteristics.
  10. Deck Bungee System: Some boards, especially touring and all-around models, have a deck bungee system that provides additional storage space on the front of the board. This is useful for securing items like a life jacket or a dry bag.
  11. Rocker: The rocker refers to the curvature of the board from nose to tail. More rocker makes the board more maneuverable, while less rocker enhances speed and tracking.
  12. Tail Shape: Different tail shapes, such as square, pintail, or swallowtail, impact the board’s turning ability and stability.
  13. Vent Plug: Inflatable SUPs and some hard boards have a vent plug that allows air to escape and prevent damage from temperature changes or pressure.
  14. Graphics and Design: SUPs come in various colors, patterns, and graphics. While this doesn’t affect performance, it can add personalization and style to your board.

Remember that the specific features of an SUP can vary based on the type of board, manufacturer, and intended use. Choosing a board that suits your skill level, preferred activities, and the conditions you’ll be paddling in is essential.

Basic SUP Techniques

Board Positioning

  • Stand beside your board in shallow water.
  • Place your paddle across the board, with one hand on the grip and the other on the blade.
  • Step onto the board, keeping your weight centered and knees slightly bent for balance.

Paddling Techniques

  • To move forward, dip the paddle into the water, pushing it back behind you while keeping your arms straight.
  • Twist your torso to paddle more efficiently, engaging your core muscles.
  • To steer, paddle on one side or the other.

Maintaining Balance

  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart for stability.
  • Look ahead and focus on a point to help maintain balance.
  • As a beginner, starting on your knees is okay until you feel confident standing up.

Tips for Success

  • Start with a Lesson: Taking a beginner’s paddleboarding lesson can provide you with valuable guidance and safety tips from experienced instructors.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Don’t get discouraged if you wobble or fall initially. Paddleboarding is all about balance and takes time to master.
  • Explore and Enjoy: Once you’ve gained confidence, explore different waterways and enjoy the scenic beauty around you. SUP is not just a workout; it’s a way to connect with nature.
  • Respect the Environment: Always leave no trace and respect the environment you’re paddling in. Avoid disturbing wildlife and dispose of trash properly.


Standup paddleboarding is an accessible and enjoyable water activity for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. You can confidently embark on your SUP journey with the right equipment, knowledge, and a safety-first attitude. Remember to have fun, take in the beauty of your surroundings, and enjoy the tranquility of gliding across the water on your paddleboard. Happy paddling!

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