How to Ride a Paddleboard

how to ride a paddleboard

Learning how to ride a paddle board doesn’t have to be difficult.  With a little bit of practice you can have a safe outing on the water and get a full day of exercise while you’re at it!


Before you learn how to use your stand up paddle board you need to actually get it to the water.

There’s many ways to get your paddle board to your destination.  If you own a rigid board and live far away from the water you’ll have to carry the board on your roof.  There’s many safe ways to do this which will require some kind of a rack system.

Considering the risks of a board getting damaged or somebody getting hurt by a board flying off your roof, the few hundred bucks you spend on a roof rack is trivial.

If you are fortunate enough to live within walking distance of a body of water you can merely carry your board using it’s handy-dandy center handle.

Woman Carrying Paddle Board

Any more than a few minutes walk and you’ll definitely want to utilize a board cart.

Trust me, a 35-pound board gets really heavy after a few hundred yards of travel by foot!  The weight is only one of the problems… it’s more that you are off balance when carrying the paddle board.

This is true because you only can carry a board on one side of your body.

Once you get the the water you are ready to have some fun!

So what do you need to paddle boarding?

Essential SUP Gear

There really is an endless assortment of paddle boarding gear you can bring on your outings.  As a beginner, we recommend the following essentials:

  • Paddle
  • Ankle Leash
  • Life Jacket
  • Drinking Water

I think it’s rather obvious but you’ll definitely need a paddle.  It’s worth mentioning however because there have been times in which I was so focused on other accessories that I’ve almost forgot the darn paddle!

Later on I’ll show you how to use the paddle efficiently so you get the most out of your strokes.

An ankle leash is a very important safety item, especially if you are going out into large bodies of water.  I’m an expert rider, and a very strong swimmer and I still wear my leash. The reason is I am experienced and know just how easily the paddle board can get away from me.

Wind can kick up in a matter of seconds and if your board is headed down wind without you on it, it can be impossible to catch up to it.  I would hate to be in a situation with off shore winds, fall off the board and not be able to catch the board. You could quite literally lose your board, or worse yet your life!

Wear a leash – always.

Since we are on the topic of safety and stuff…

You really should be wearing a life jacket or one of those fancy-schmancy flotation belts.  I won’t belabor the point, but it just makes good sense.

If you got dizzy or disoriented you’ll be glad you were wearing a coast guard approved PFD (personal floatation device).

PFD’s are designed to keep even an unconscious person upright in the water so they are not breathing in water.

Don’t forget to bring some drinking water with you.  Exercising in warm weather, out on the water in which there is no shade to be found will leave you very thirsty.  You’ll be having so much fun, it’s easy to lose track of your hydration needs.

Don’t get dehydrated. Pack some drinking water.

I usually use the front straps on my board to hold my water bottle.  If I’m paddling in rough conditions, I’ll put my water in a dry-bag and but the entire bag underneath the front tie-down straps.

Getting to a Standing Position

It’s essential that you know how to go from swimming around your paddle board to an upright, standing position on your board.  Many beginners overlook this basic skill because they simply step onto their board while near the shoreline.
Don’t overlook the standing up skill.

No matter how good your balance is, you will end up in the water at some point.  I have accidentally fallen into off my paddle board watching birds, looking at the sky, punching through boat wakes, getting swamped by waves… you name it.!

I have been paddle boarding for years yet I still have accidents.  Don’t even get me started about paddling with our dog. He dumps me off the board with no warning.

Practice getting into a standing position in deep water.

Follow These Paddle Board Instructions for Getting Back to a Standing Position:

  1. Swim over to the side of your paddle board and hold on
  2. Grab a hold of the rails; one hand on each rail works great
  3. Use your legs to kick while pushing yourself up and onto the board with your arms
  4. One on the SUP get into a kneeling position
  5. Carefully step up into a standing position


Here’s a video showing you how:


It’s worth noting that if the board is moving, it is more stable.  This is good to know if the buoyancy of the board is less than desired.  Paddle a bit once in kneeling position to gain a bit of speed and your board will rock less when you transition to a standing position!

I mention this only because many you will be sharing boards or be riding in rough waters where getting to a standing position can be really difficult without that forward momentum.

This is like riding a bicycle.  Is it easier to balance on a bike while standing still or moving forward?  Moving forward of course! Same thing with a paddle board.

When I ride my wife’s board, I’m way overweight for your paddle board so paddling before standing is very much a necessity.

Paddling and Steering

Once you are safely standing upright it’s time to go cruising! It’s worth learning some basic stand up paddle board techniques to help you get to your destinations.

The first thing you need to get right is how to hold the paddle correctly.  You’ll notice that the blade of the paddle is not flat. In fact, the blade had a subtle scoop to it resembling a spoon shape.  This spoon-like shape is designed to maximize the scooping power of the paddle!
Remember to use the paddle in the direction you would “spoon” the water!

Holding the paddle is something you’ll want to experiment with.  Depending on the length of the paddle and what type of paddle board your riding will determine the distance between your hand grips.

While paddling your body should not be excessively hunched over or else this will lead to back pain.

Under calm water and calm weather conditions, most people padde about 3 strokes per side before switching to the other side.  If you encounter side winds or currents you might need to make adjustments to this.

As with all water sports, you have to be able to adapt your techniques to better suit the conditions.

How to Steer Your Paddle Board: Left Turns

Paddling on the right of your SUP will propel you forward but will also put you on coarse to make a large left turn.  This is why it’s usually necessary to switch sides with paddling!

When paddling bend your knees and reach forward as far as you can without losing comfort or balance.  This will yield the most from your efforts. Pull the paddle alongside your body and past your stance until the paddle naturally leaves the water.

There is a natural arc-like motion to paddling.  Think of a large circle being drawn into the water with the paddle’s blade at the circumference and the center of the circle being your shoulder.

If you need to turn sharp, without propelling forward you can alternate paddles sides and directions.  This will turn your board in place from the center almost like a top!

To turn in place do this:

  1. Paddle on your right pulling. (normally propels you forward)
  2. Switch to the left for push or drag the paddle. (normally propels you backward)
  3. Repeat 1-2

How to Steer Your Paddle Board: Left Turns

As long as you have the same paddle power for each stroke and don’t delay, your paddle board will turn in place!  This is very useful when you need to complete a 180 degree turn and don’t want to carve out a giant turn to do so.

I bet you’re getting the hang of this now!

Paddle Board Riding Summary

Safety really does come first when riding your paddle board.  Remember to keep an eye on the weather and always tell loved ones where you going and what time they should expect you back.

Leashes and Life Jackets are a must.  In fact, most states in the U.S. require the use of life jackets on users of a watercraft… even non-motorized watercraft such as paddle boards.  Law or not, your life is at stake here.

Make sure you pack some water for your paddling adventures.  When you’re working out on the water the sun is very strong and you’ll get dehydrated much faster.

Practice getting on and off of your board somewhere where the water is deep but safe… as in not too far from safety.  You must be able to get back to a standing position from in the water. Practice, practice practice. When you are tired or panicing this will be harder to do.

Remember that you can perform long drawn out turns simply by paddling on a single side of the your paddle board.  But you can also make sharper turns by introducing a reverse stroke to the other side of your board.

You can learn how to ride a paddle board, as long as you take the time to practice and experiment with the movements.  Just do all this practicing somewhere safe and when the weather is calm!

Happy paddling folks!