Learning the right technique when starting a new sport will give you a great foundation for success. But paddleboarding is a sport that seems to be so simple, all you have to do is stand up and away you go, right?
Of course, if it was that simple you wouldn’t see so many people kneeling when they try paddle boarding for the first time.
From paddle height, body stance to stroke technique, there are several steps for learning how to stand up paddleboard. If you can grasp the right technique early on, your progression for more advanced turns and wave riding will be quicker.
Maybe you have just bought a paddleboard, or looking to rent one from a local shop and just want to get on the water.
If this is your first-time paddle boarding, the conditions you try it in will make a huge difference to your success of standing up. You are looking for perfectly flat water, no wind, ideally no current (tides) and warm weather.
Before getting paddleboarding ask yourself if I was to fall off, how cold would I get? If you are already shivering on the shore, chances are you’re not wearing the right clothing for paddleboarding. If the water is cold you should at least be wearing a wetsuit and boots to keep you warm. A buoyancy aid should be worn if you’re not a confident swimmer.
You should also be using a beginner style board, which can be inflatable or hard. These boards are designed to be very wide, which makes balancing on them as easy as possible. If you are using an inflatable board, be sure to inflate it to the manufacturer’s PSI to make it rigid and sturdy.
These steps below are for people who have never tried paddleboarding before or had a go but couldn’t quite stand up.
Table of Contents
How do you stand up on a paddleboard?
1. Get familiar with your equipment
Before jumping on top of the paddleboard and having a go, make sure you fully understand the equipment.
Knowing which way you have to face, and where the front of the board is will save you a lot of time falling off when getting to grips with this sport.
Generally speaking, the front of the paddleboard will be pointier and the back will be more rounded or squared off.
The back of the board is where the leash will be attached. This is a key indicator you are facing the wrong way if you can see the leash in front of you when paddleboarding.
Finally, the back of the board is where the fin is so if you are unsure you can look underneath the board.
Next up is the paddle. It’s not uncommon for beginner paddleboarders to use the wrong side of the paddle. There is a handle at the top so we don’t mean upside down, rather which way the blade should face in the water.
Have a good look at the paddle on land. You will notice the blade does not face straight down but is angled quite clearly in one direction. When you are paddleboarding, the tip of the blade should be tilted forward.
There are other indicators on a paddle to tell you which way round it goes. If one side is a lot smoother than the other, the rougher side should be facing forward. Also, manufacturers tend to put their logo on one side of the paddle, so you can quickly glance at it to see which way round the paddle should go.
2. Adjust paddle length
After getting familiar with the equipment, you need to make sure the paddle is the right height.
Beginner paddles will be adjustable, so they can be used for different height people. Standing upright, with your thumb and little finger outstretched (shaka hand-sign), place your thumb on your head and where your little finger reaches is how long the paddle should be.
Most paddles have some kind of clip mechanism whereby releasing the clip will allow you to adjust the height of the paddle. After the clip has been released, pull the two sections apart until they are at the perfect height for you. Once you are happy with the new length of the paddle, lock the clips back in again and you are good to go!
3. Attach leash and head into the water
Before you grab your board and get your feet wet, you must remember to attach the leash to your ankle.
The leash is the most important safety device you will use when paddleboarding. The leash connects you to a very big float – the board! If anything goes wrong, you always have your board to hold onto, as long as you have attached yourself to it.
Which ankle the leash goes on doesn’t really matter if you are learning for the first time. It’s only when you want to start surfing on the paddleboard, or are trying more advanced ‘step-back turns is when having your leash on the correct ankle makes a difference.
For those wanting to try paddle surfing, the leash always goes on your back foot when you are in the surfer stance position.
After you have attached the leash, you are now ready to enter the water.
Your paddleboard is likely to have a handle right in the middle, which is there to help you carry the board. With the board in one hand and paddle in the other, walk straight into the water.
Keep carrying the board until you are knee-deep or at least deep enough so the fin does not scrape along the seabed.
If you are going out where waves are breaking, keep the board pointing directly into the wave.
4. Practice paddling and turning on your knees
Before trying to stand up on the paddleboard, it’s best to get a feel of paddling and the board on your knees. This way you don’t have to worry about balance, and you can focus on what happens when you try a paddle stroke and try to turn around.
With the paddle in one hand, climb on the board and attempt to get your knees where the handle is, which indicates where the middle is. Your knees need to be either side of the handle and body weight central.
After you are comfortable with your position on the board, grab the paddle with one hand on the grip at the top, and the other around halfway down.
Now is the time to start paddling!
- Reach forward with the paddle so that it is near the front of the board
- Enter paddle into the water
- Pull the paddle back towards you, keep it submerged the whole time
- Once the paddle is in line with your board, release it from the water
- Try to keep your head up, looking where you want to go
Try to paddle out for 10 strokes, then attempt to turn around and come back from where you started.
Remember, the goal here is to get comfortable paddling and getting an understanding of how to turn around.
To practice your first turn, reach the paddle to the front of the board, but instead of bringing the paddle parallel down the board to go in a straight line, push the blade away from the board. You’ll notice the front of the board will start to move in the opposite direction.
5. Paddle hard to get the board moving
Once you have practised on your knees for 5 minutes and are confident paddling around, you are now ready to stand up!
Before you begin, have a look around to make sure you haven’t drifted away too far from where you started. If you have travelled a little too far for comfort, you can always paddle on your knees back to nearer where you started from.
To start standing up on a paddleboard, it’s always more stable if your board is moving.
We can liken this to riding a bike. It’s always easier to balance on a bike when you have some forward momentum. Try to balance on a bike when you aren’t even moving and it’s almost impossible.
So, before you try to stand up, gain some forward momentum by paddling forward whilst still on your knees.
If there is some chop or waves, aim the board directly into the waves and paddle straight towards them.
6. With knuckles on the board helping you balance, get to your feet
The paddle will already be in both hands, as you have just used it to get some speed on the board.
Move your top hand, which was on the grip to the paddle shaft, and now place your knuckles on the board, about a foot or 2 in front of your knees.
Having your hands here will help you with balance whilst you are getting to your feet.
Once you are set in this position, try standing up.
There are two main tips to help you get upright and balanced straight away.
The first is aim to place your feet exactly where your knees were.
The second tip is to keep your head and eyes looking out to the horizon. This technique will help maintain a good body posture whilst you are trying to stand up
7. Stand upright, knees slightly bent and keep your head looking forward
Hooray! You made it to your feet.
Now with a slight adjustment of your body, you can get into the perfect stance to start paddling.
Aim to have your body upright and central on the board. You’ll notice if your feet or body position is slightly off to one side, it makes it hard to balance.
Your knees should be bent slightly and your ankles lose.
As soon as most people stand up on a paddleboard for the first time, their body freezes and goes stiff as a plank. Don’t worry, this will probably happen to you too. It’s an odd feeling standing up on water and takes some getting used to.
Try to breathe and stay relaxed. This will make balancing on the board so much easier and you can roll with any bit of chop or wave that hits the board.
Finally, keep your chest up and your head looking out to the horizon. It’s very common for people to stare at their feet at this point. As soon as you do this, your body folds in on itself and you are now not tensing your core muscles, which you need for balance.
8. Paddle forward again, but standing up this time
You are now in the correct body position, ready to start paddling.
Get a hold of the paddle grip once again with your top hand.
Using the same technique when you were on your knees, reach towards the nose of the board with the paddle, enter the blade into the water and pull it back parallel to the board until it gets in line with your feet. At this point, lift the paddle out the water, back to the front of the board and do it all again.
The most common mistake beginners make at this point is not full submerging the paddle into the water when trying to get going. They kind of tickle the surface of the water with the blade and get no real forward momentum. At the same time, they do not engage their stomach or back muscles, which creates the power to move forward.
You will notice that balance becomes less of an issue once you start moving forward and having the resistance of the paddle fighting against the water. The paddle starts to become a tool to help you balance and you will soon rely on it if you get a bit wobbly.
Try to do 5 strokes on one side of the board, then switch the paddle to the other side and do 5 strokes on that side. When you swap paddle sides, you will also need to swap your hands over so that your other hand is now at the top of the paddle.
9. Try to turn
Before heading out beyond the horizon, you need to make sure you can turn around to come back to dry land.
There are many techniques for turning, and you should do the one that worked for you when you were kneeling on the board. At this point, do not worry about whether your technique is perfect, just being able to turn the board is a huge achievement for a beginner paddleboarder.
Turning also takes a little patience, especially if there is any wind. So take your time, think about what is happening and eventually, you will figure out how to turn around.
Like all the other steps, keeping your head looking to where you want to go will massively increase your chances of success and help with balance.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable, unbalanced or worried that you can’t turn around, go back to kneeling on the board and you can be confident you can make it back to shore.
10. Exit the water
Congratulations, you’ve managed to stand up on a paddleboard.
The hardest part of standing up for the first time is over. Now you are ready to come back to dry land and celebrate your success.
When you are heading back to the beach, keep an eye out for any swimmers that you may accidentally hit with your paddle or board.
Once you get between shoulder and waist-deep, go back to kneeling again then carry on paddling until you get shallow enough to get off the board.
It looks a lot more graceful and elegant to get off the board from kneeling, rather than jumping straight off the board, twisting your ankle in the shallows and getting hit by an oncoming wave.
After getting off the board, lift it by the handle and walk back onto the beach with pride.
Read our blog about paddleboarding on the ocean if you don’t have a lake or harbour near you to practice standing up.
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.