Paddleboarding is an incredible sport that can take you on magnificent journey’s that cannot be done by foot. From exploring mangroves in Brazil, canals in Holland, lochs in Scotland or lakes in Canada, there are many different bodies of water that you can enjoy paddleboard on.
The biggest body of water is of course the ocean, which can deliver a huge variety of conditions that are very different to any lake or inland water way. The possibility of more exciting and challenging paddle boarding adventures is what draws people to the ocean.
However, to enjoy paddleboarding on the ocean you should have a good understanding of basic techniques and the elements you must consider to stay safe.
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Is it hard to paddle board on the ocean?
The conditions will determine how hard it is to paddleboard on the ocean. If there is no swell, no wind and it’s a beautiful warm day, paddleboarding on the ocean will be easy and a lot of fun. These are perfect conditions for you to try paddleboarding on the ocean for the first time.
These conditions do happen and a typical summer morning in the UK can fit this description. However, the weather can change throughout the day which can make paddleboarding on the ocean difficult and unsafe.
If an onshore or cross shore wind picks up, it will get choppy and harder to balance. If there is a strong offshore wind the water will look flat, but there is a possibility you can get blown out to sea.
There is a psychological element to get over when paddle boarding on the ocean too. Looking out to the horizon and seeing no land can be intimidating and bring some fear to anyone with little ocean experience.
‘What if I drift out to sea and never come back’ is often a phrase said, or a least thought about when paddleboarding on the ocean for the first time.
This is a great question to ask, because this person is thinking about their safety. With some knowledge of how the ocean, wind and waves work, you can be confident of paddleboarding on the ocean.
What to consider when paddleboarding on the ocean
Any inland water system will not have tides, but you will probably have to deal with them, especially if you are in the UK, and have a basic understanding of how they work before paddleboarding on the ocean.
Tides are the rise and fall of the earth’s sea.
There is around 6 hrs and 12 mins between high tide and low tide. This means the time of high tide and low tide will change every day.
The water moves fastest at mid tide (3 hours after high or low tide), which can potentially be the most unsafe tide state to paddleboard in.
All beaches have a different topography and the tide height will affect the water state and how waves break. At my local spot on Hayling Island, the steep shingle at high tide creates waves that dump right on the beach. If there is any swell or wind, it can make it impossible to launch and there is the potential I could break my equipment or hurt myself.
There may be good and bad times to paddleboard on the ocean in a very tidal area. Before you head out talk to locals or any nearby surf shop, they will be able to tell you if there are any dangers.
Read more about tides in our blog – Best tide for paddleboarding.
Another feature of the ocean, compared to lakes or canals, is the height and intensity of swell, waves and chop.
Some very large lakes have been known to produce small waves, but there is nothing like the power of waves created on the ocean.
Waves create a very different kind of paddleboarding experience, and if you have had enough practice and with the right equipment, you can ride these waves.
Beginners and those still learning the ropes will want to avoid paddle boarding in waves until they are able to use smaller boards and turn effectively on flat water.
Magicseaweed is a great website to check the swell in your area.
Most inland waters will be protected by trees, buildings or even mountains, which means the wind will never get really strong and cause safety issues. If anything does go wrong, the worst case scenario is you will blow into one corner of the lake.
The wind on the ocean becomes a completely different animal, and if not accounted for the wind will almost always ruin a paddleboard.
Any wind over 12mph can bring choppy or wavy conditions, which makes it very hard to balance and increases your chances of falling off.
An offshore wind (wind that is blowing out to sea) is the wind direction that can be very dangerous. It may appear to be light and gentle close to the shore, but paddle out any distance and the offshore wind can be a lot stronger and it will always be pushing you away from the beach and safety.
You might like to read our blog ‘safe wind for paddleboarding in the UK‘.
Other water users
Finally, it’s important to be aware of all the other vessels that use the ocean.
From sailing boats and swimmers, to jet skis and supertankers, there are many potential hazards that can cause you, or others, harm.
You should have a basic understanding of rights of way when paddleboarding on the ocean. Knowing who has priority when a sailing boat or superyacht is coming towards you will help your decision making to ensure everyone stays safe.
Apart from small powerboats, assume you, as a paddleboarder, have no right of way for any other vessel on the ocean. These rules are based on who has the most maneuverability, as a shipping tanker, sailing boat or fishing boat may not be able to change direction as quickly as you.
For swimmers, keep a safe distance that if you fall off the board will not hit them and cause any injuries.
When dealing with all water users, use your common sense and never assume that the person steering the other vessel knows any rights of way rules.
How to paddle board on the ocean
If it’s your first time paddleboarding, only go out on the ocean if you are with an instructor or someone with experience. It’s much easier to learn how to stand up on a paddleboard on completely flat water, which will give you confidence and the skills needed to then progress to the ocean.
Once you are ready to hit the beach and go paddleboard, here are 9 steps to consider.
- Check the forecast
With your new knowledge of wind, tide and swell, check the forecasts to plan when the best time is to go paddleboarding on the ocean.
When is the best time to paddleboard on the ocean? If it’s your first time, you’d want to find a day with calm and stable weather, under 10mph winds, no swell and go at around high or low tide.
- Go with a friend
Safety in numbers is always key when doing an adventure sport like paddleboarding. Going with a friend when paddleboarding is a lot more enjoyable and if one of you has any issues, the other can help out.
If you aren’t able to find someone to paddleboard with, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and how long you plan to be.
- Use appropriate equipment
Make sure all your gear is seaworthy and you are wearing the appropriate clothing for paddleboarding.
Can you use an inflatable paddleboard in the ocean? Of course you can, but avoid going out in waves or wind over 10mph. Inflatable paddle boards tend to be thicker than hard boards, which creates more windage and the possibility of you being blown around. The inflatable board will also feel wobbly and more unstable if there is any chop.
If you are planning to venture out and explore the coastline, take a mobile phone in a small drybag. It’s not necessary to take a phone if you’re planning on surfing or staying close to where you launched.
- Plan your route so the wind and/or tide will help you get back
This tip may be the difference between you coming back with a smile on your face or looking exhausted and fed up.
You know what the wind is forecast to do throughout the day, so plan your route from the shore so that the wind can push you back to where you started.
- Find the best and safest place to enter the water
Before jumping in the water, have a look down the beach and make sure you are getting in at the safest place. If there are waves or rocks nearby, scan your eyes along the beach as there may be an easier place to launch.
Get your bearings and look around the area for any indicators, such as a building, flag or trees, that help make sure you come back to where you started. It’s easier than you think to lose track of where you came from, especially on beaches that are 2 or 3 miles long.
- Attach leach at waters edge
When paddleboarding on the ocean, walk with the board under your arm until you get to the water’s edge. Now is the time to put on your leach.
The leach is the most important piece of safety equipment when paddleboarding on the ocean, because it keeps you attached to a large buoyancy device, your board. As the wind, tide and waves are much stronger on the ocean, your board could easily drift off and it would be impossible for you to swim fast enough to catch up with it.
- Hold the board so the waves hit your body first
You’ve attached your leach and ready to start paddleboarding! Heading out when there are waves can be tricky and much harder work compared to paddleboarding on a lake.
The key thing to remember here is to always make sure your body hits the wave first, then the board. If it’s the other way round, the board can get picked up by the wave and it will probably hit you, or another water user.
As long as the board is facing into the waves, you can jump on once you are thigh to waist deep.
- Paddle straight into the waves
If there are breaking waves, your first goal is to get beyond them as quickly as possible.
There are 3 different techniques to getting beyond the breaking waves without getting knocked off every time. All require you to keep the board facing into the waves at all times
Kneeling on the board will be the easiest method of getting out from the beach. Keeping low on the board increases your stability and you don’t have to worry about balance. Paddling the same as you would standing up, power through the waves and only once your beyond them, stand up.
Standing up and paddling through the waves is for the more advanced paddleboarder. The advantage of standing up is you can paddle a lot quicker, but of course it will be harder to balance.
Prone like surfing is the final technique, sometimes done by advanced paddleboarders on very small waves boards. With the paddle under your body, lie down on the board, facing forward, and paddle with your arms.
- If its choppy and your struggling to balance, go back to kneeling
The hardest thing about paddleboarding on the ocean is keeping your balance in the choppy or wavy conditions.
To stand up, try getting some speed first by paddling on your knees, this helps steady the board. Once you’re standing, keep your head up and look where you want to go.
If balance is still an issue and you keep falling off, there is no harm in going back to kneeling and even heading back to shore it’s too difficult.
There are many things to consider when paddleboarding on the ocean. Eventually, they all become natural and you’ll run through a checklist in your head every time you go out.
Remember, the most important thing is to have fun! There is no point getting really frustrated if the conditions aren’t good enough and it’s too choppy on the ocean, there will always be another day.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.