Stand up paddle boarding: The basics

2nd March 2022 Elena Manighetti

Stand up paddle boarding: The basics

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is a fantastic way to slowly and quietly explore our waterways and oceans, while also getting a full-body workout. Most people can learn how to stand up paddle board in one session. 

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can get out there and go at your own pace, as long as the conditions are calm. Just like with kayaking, there is no rush; simply enjoy gliding through the water and taking in your surroundings.

Standing on the paddle board gives you a unique vantage point - you can see what’s under the board, such as corals and fish, as well as the horizon. Bring a friend or family member to share the relaxing experience.

How to dress for going stand up paddle boarding

For your first paddle, rent a SUP, leash, and paddle from a rental shop. Bring your own personal floatation device (PDF), safety whistle, and light for safety.

While out paddling, you’ll want to wear:

  • A rash guard

  • Board shorts or a swimsuit

  • A wide-brimmed hat

  • Sunglasses

  • Sunscreen

  • Optional: sandals.

In colder climes, you’ll need to wear a wetsuit with neoprene shoes. It’s important that you are comfortable while on the board, so you can focus on balancing and paddling.

For a more extended SUP safety gear checklist, check out this article.


Deckee’s top tips for your first SUP session

To make your first outing successful, we recommend:

  • Take one beginner lesson to learn the basics

  • Go out only on a sunny, windless day

  • Find a sloped beach to get into the water

  • Pick a calm body of water with no boats and buoys around

  • Bring a friend to keep an eye on each other

  • If there’s a breeze, paddle against the wind first, before you get tired

  • Don’t stay out for longer than an hour.

On your very first outing, it’s important that you take it easy. Get used to standing on the SUP and learn the strokes in a safe spot. You can always go back out after a break, if you feel like it. Don’t over do it, or you may not want to jump on a SUP again.

How to stand up on a SUP

The first few times you get on a SUP, take things extra slow. If you don’t feel in balance, re-start the move you were about to make. 


Here’s how to stand up on a SUP:

  1. Launch the SUP

  2. Take it to knee-deep water and stand next to the centre point

  3. Hold the board by the edges and climb on it

  4. Kneel on the board while making sure you’re not drifting towards the shore

  5. Position yourself above the carry handle

  6. Stabilise the board with your body weight and grab the sides

  7. Raise your chest

  8. Stand up while moving one foot at a time

  9. Your feet need to end up where your knees were.

Standing and staying balanced on an inflatable SUP is more difficult, as it’s not as dense as a hard SUP. So for your first go, it’s best to opt for a hard board.

Where to stand on a SUP and how to stay balanced

The most stable spot is the middle point. Place your feet just behind the carry handle, in line with your hips, in a parallel position.

Bend your knees slightly, while keeping your toes pointed forward and your back straight. Look ahead and keep your head and shoulders upright. 


How to hold a SUP paddle

Turn the paddle so the blade is angled forward from the shaft. Place one hand on the T-grip and one hand lower down on the shaft. Raise the paddle above your head and bring your elbows to a 90-degree angle. The hand that grips the shaft should be the same as the side you’re paddling on. 

So, for example, if you're paddling on the right hand side of the SUP, your right hand should be on the shaft, while your left hand should be on the T-grip.

Basic SUP strokes

As a beginner you just need to learn three strokes. These will allow you to paddle forward and backwards, slow down, and turn.

The forward stroke

This is the stroke that will allow you to move forward.

  1. Dip the paddle in the water, about 1m (2ft) forward

  2. Move the paddle back through the water until it reaches your ankle

  3. Lift the paddle out of the water.

To go in a straight line, alternate strokes on both sides of the board. Three to four strokes per side are an efficient way to move.

Here are some tips to achieve the perfect forward stroke:

  • The paddle needs to be fully immersed in the water

  • Keep your arms straight and twist your torso to move the paddle

  • Push the paddle with the hand on the T-grip

  • Keep the paddle as vertical as possible.


The reverse stroke

To slow down, stop, or turn, use the reverse stroke.

  1. Place the paddle in the water, near the tail of the board

  2. Move the paddle through the water until it reaches the front of the board.

If you paddle on the right, your board’s nose will turn to the left. If you paddle on the left, your board’s nose will turn to the right. It takes quite a few strokes to slow down and turn the board using the reverse stroke.

For the perfect reverse stroke, follow the same tips we gave you for the forward stroke.

The sweep stroke

You can use the sweep stroke to quickly turn.

  1. Rotate your shoulders so one of them comes forward

  2. Place the paddle about  about 1m (2ft) forward and submerge the blade

  3. Sweep the paddle away from the board in an arching motion with your knees bent

  4. Move the paddle from the nose to the tail of the board using your torso.

If you do a sweep stroke on the right, the board will turn to the left. If you do a sweep stroke on the left, the board will turn to the right.

Falling off and getting back on a SUP

Falling off happens to all stand up paddle boarders, especially if there’s a wake you didn’t notice. Getting wet is totally OK and it’s important you get confident getting back on board in deeper water.


If you feel you’re about to fall, 

  • grip the paddle so you don’t lose it 

  • aim to fall to the side of the board, into the water, to avoid injury. 

The get back on the board:

  1. Swim up to the centre of the SUP

  2. Grab the carry handle with one hand

  3. Place the paddle on the board, in the centre

  4. Allow your legs to float up behind you and then slide yourself onto the board

  5. Kneel to rest or prepare to stand up again. Stand up paddle boarding is a fun, easy-to-get-into sport. Renting a SUP is not very expensive and you can quickly pick the basics back up at the start of the summer. Remember to wear a PFD, safety whistle, and light for your own safety.

Download the Deckee app from the App Store or Google Play for free. Look up points of interest on the map, check the marine weather forecast, and more.

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