Stand up paddleboard (Also known as SUP), is a summer activity many look forward to. It’s a time to play out on the water and explore the outdoors – not to mention, it’s a serious full-body workout. However, you probably won’t realize you’re getting a head-to-toe workout due to the excitement and mood-boosting effect that paddling has on your mind as you paddle your way around rivers, lakes, or ponds.

Beyond the exercise element, you’re given a neat vantage point when standing on the board, making it possible to view what’s under the water or out on the horizon.

Now, for those who have never tried SUP, it might seem a bit intimidating, especially if you’re not used to water-based activities. Rest assured, with a good instructor and the proper equipment, you’ll be hooked in no time! “SUP is much easier to learn than many people think – Most people are up and moving around in less than a half hour,” says Chris Strout, owner and head instructor of Acadia SUP in Bar Harbor, ME.

With his 22 years of experience teaching and guiding paddle sports, he guides us in everything SUP; From how to stand up on the board to safety tips. Let’s paddle!

Female holding a paddleboard and paddle while wearing a wetsuit

What You’ll Need to Stand-Up Paddleboard

“The great part about SUP is that you don’t need a ton of equipment,” explains Strout. For the most basic set up here’s what you’ll need:

  • A paddle
  • A safety leash
  • A US Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD) with a whistle.

If you’re doing something more extended, Strout recommends you have a dry bag (waterproof) with some extra gear, a snack, and a way to communicate with the outside world (think: cell phone in a waterproof pouch or a VHF radio in a life jacket pocket).

What to Wear

Dress for the temperature of the water, not the air. “What you wear is going to be entirely dependent on the conditions and season you paddle in,” explains Strout.

For example, “For warmer water on a sunny day, it may be enough to wear your favorite swimsuit and coat up on plenty of sunscreen.” he says. “For cooler water, you may want to opt for warmer synthetic layers, a wetsuit, and a nice pair of neoprene booties for your feet.”

All-in-all, proper attire is important. If you have any questions, you can contact your local SUP headquarters and ask a qualified guide.

Beginner stand up paddleboarder strapping the paddleboard to her ankle
Loner Nguyen

Strout’s Step-by-Step Stand-Up Paddleboard Instructions for Beginners

For beginners, Strout recommends starting on your knees. “A paddleboard can easily be paddled either sitting or kneeling and it’s the best way to get a feel for the balance of the board and get comfortable with your paddle and maneuvering the board before attempting to stand up,” he says.

Start on Your Knees

  1. Once on your knees, center yourself with your knees on either side of the board carrying handle to make sure the board is trimmed correctly from front to back and side to side.
  2. While on your knees, take a few minutes to make sure you can control your board.
  3. Ask yourself, can you turn around effectively, can you steer left and right, can you paddle the board in a straight line? This all may seem pretty basic but can quickly be left by the wayside once you stand up and are focused on your balance.

Stand Up

  1. Once you are ready to stand up the key is to relax. First, remember that falling in the water does happen sometimes and that’s okay. In fact, it’s part of the fun and may help you loosen up.
  2. The key to standing is to look forward. Looking down at your feet will make it more challenging.
  3. Shift your body so you are on your hands and knees with your belly button over the handle.
  4. Place your paddle across the board in front of you so you can grab it as you stand up.
  5. Moving one foot at a time, place your first foot flat on the board wide of the middle handle.
  6. Keep looking forward and place your other foot up wide on the other side of the carry handle.
  7. It’s now a simple squat-up. Stay flat-footed and keep your rear end lower than your chest as you grab your paddle and slowly stand up.
  8. You want to keep your knees bent, hips loose, and your body centered on the board. Don’t lean forward and stay on both your heels and the balls of your feet.

Time to Paddle

  1. After standing up, as soon as possible, take some paddle strokes. It’s like the third leg of a tripod and will help you balance and gain some momentum. It is going to feel shaky at first. That’s normal.
  2. Remember, don’t look down. As you gain confidence, start taking some more aggressive strokes, and rock your board from side to side to test its stability.

Look! Your Stand up paddleboarding!

How to Better Your Paddle Strokes

  • To better your paddle strokes keep them vertical and paddle with straight arms bending at your waist to move the paddle. This will engage your core rather than fatigue your arms.
Man falling off a stand up paddleboard
Andrey Aboltin

Here’s What to Do If You Fall into the Water

If you do fall in, Strout encourages you to try and relax. It’s water, so the good thing about that is the landing is pretty soft. “You want to fall away from your board flat into the water,” says Strout.

Here is where wearing a leash comes in handy. Since the leash is attached to your ankle, you can’t go far away from your board.

  1. Swim up to the side of your board and place your paddle across the board out of the way.
  2. Put one hand in the area of the center handle and your other hand on the board behind the handle.
  3. Kick your legs back and think it of like getting out from the side of a swimming pool.
  4. In one motion kick and push so you end up on the deck of the board on your belly.
  5. Then swing your legs back onto the board and work your way back to your knees and then to your feet.

Strout’s Stand Up Paddleboard Safety Tips (Safety First, Fun Second)

  • Always wear a leash and a PFD—it’s the law that you have a PFD on your board. If you don’t like wearing one, consider invest in an inflatable waist belt style. They are unobtrusive and still keep you safe (and legal) on the water.
  • Be mindful of the wind and other conditions on the water.
  • Be conservative when starting out.
  • Check the forecast, tides, or other information, and always let someone know where you are going and what time you intend to be back.
  • Paddle into the wind first or stay in sheltered areas along the shoreline. If you get tired you can always let the wind blow you back to your point of origin.
  • “One of the best ways to progress and start off right is to take a lesson from your local outfitter,” says Strout, and now is the perfect season (and time) to get out on the water and paddle your way to fun!