Paddle boarding is one of the easiest and most relaxing water sports in the industry for beginners – and becoming a proficient paddle boarder is well within your grasp! So, the short answer to ‘is paddle boarding hard’ is no, not at all. But you do need to be aware of suitable conditions and equipment that will make it easier for you to learn.
Anyone can learn how to paddle board within hours, and it’s up to the individual how extreme they choose to play. Some people enjoy taking their board out on a calm lake and splashing around with their kids, others practice paddle board yoga in the calm dawn of Hawaii, and others train for ultra-marathons and whitewater paddle boarding.
All you need to get started is an appropriate board for beginners, calm water, and a readiness for fun. Keep in mind that falling off and getting wet is all a part of the learning process, because the more you try to avoid this the more likely it is to happen!
Of course, before you jump on that board, it’s wise to take the proper steps to ensure your first experience is manageable and fun. As with all water sports, a slow start is essential to building the foundation for a competent paddle boarding career.
Diving into a professional-level scenario with strong surf and a brisk wind will only result in failure and discouragement, and a bad first experience may serve as a turn-off and leave you disappointed, thinking it’s not for you.
Instead, taking your board out on a calm lake with little wind is the best place to kick-start paddle boarding and is the perfect environment for mastering the basics with confidence.
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Wh paddle boarding hard?
There are several factors that could make your first paddle boarding experience hard, and are mostly avoidable.
Bad weather conditions
Make sure to avoid turbulent water conditions with rough surf, strong wind and tides. These conditions may be a good match later on when you’ve built up technique and confidence but it will be a turn-off in the early stages.
Strong winds and rough water will make it very hard to learn how to stand up on a paddleboard with confidence.
In addition to the conditions, using a board that is not suitable for your ability will make paddle boarding hard and very frustrating. If you are a beginner, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to learn on a race or surf paddle board.
Impression that its just for water experts
Some paddle boarders choose to train seriously for surfing, white water boarding, and extreme events such as marathons that are designed to test strength and endurance. These high-intensity sports may be responsible for creating a false impression about the difficulties of paddle boarding, but in truth illustrate how versatile the sport actually is.
Fear of water
Most importantly, paddle boarding is the most fun when you accept that you may fall off and get wet – it’s the nature of the beast! But some people have a fear of water, or what lies beneath, and this fear causes them to be very tense which makes it almost impossible to balance.
How to Make Paddle Boarding Easy
Go in light winds and flat water
As discussed, one major requirement when beginning to paddle board is choosing a calm, flat body of water. You are likely to find hard conditions paddleboarding on the ocean, whereas lakes usually present the easiest conditions for paddle boarding as they’re free of tides, rips or currents.
However, temperature and weather are still variables which could make or break your experience, so be sure to make a habit of checking the weather forecast before planning to go out on the water.
It’s also advisable to ask locals who are often on the water in that location about the typical conditions and what to look out for. Try a local surf, windsurf or paddle board shop for in-depth advice and tips.
Have a lesson
Paddle boarding lessons are a great way to get started, as you will learn the foundations correctly which will speed up your learning process. It’s amazing what little tips you will learn during the lesson and the instructor will always be able to improve your technique.
If lessons are out the question, go out paddle boarding with an experienced friend who can give you tips as you set afloat for the first time. And I promise you, after an hour or two of practice and some well-timed tips, you’ll be an able and competent paddle boarder.
Use a wide and stable board
Be sure to choose a wide, stable board at first, as they are the easiest to balance on. Beginner paddle boards, in general, are much more stable than surfboards and are specially designed make it as easy a possible.
Get comfortable falling off
The first step of paddle boarding, which lays the groundwork for the entire sport is becoming comfortable balancing on the board. The idea of actually standing on a floating board that shifts at every breeze or half-movement may seem daunting, but with care and repetition, our muscles are designed to adapt quickly to movement and change. Think of sailors who spend months on an ever-shifting deck: they earn their ‘sea legs’ and are able to walk on the rolling deck as if it’s the sidewalk.
Learn how to balance on a board
For maximum balancing prowess, slightly bend your knees to absorb any shift in movement. Make sure your feet are planted firmly apart, under your shoulders to create a firm foundation. Lean slightly forward to absorb the momentum as you submerge your paddle and drive it through the water to propel the board forward.
There are some great tactics to help with balancing on your paddle board. For instance, the more momentum and speed you gain, the easier it will be to balance (think riding a bike).
Make sure to stand in the correct place on the board, not too far forward, and don’t look down at the water lapping below you! Instead, pick a focal point directly ahead, aim towards it and keep your eyes on the goal. You’ll be surprised at how soon you’ll be gliding over the water.
Don’t paddle long distances for your first few sessions
Finally, don’t over commit or scare yourself by paddling too far from shore for your first few sessions. Understanding how tides and wind can work with you will help you plan your session, but until then, stay close to the beach.
If you aren’t familiar with checking the wind forecast or seeing weather come in, you can very easily get into trouble if the wind picks up and you have to battle hard to make it back to shore. Having a bad experience early on is a sure way to put you off paddleboarding ever again.
Some paddle boarders choose to train seriously for surfing and extreme events such as marathons that are designed to test strength and endurance. These high-intensity sports may be responsible for creating a false impression about the difficulties of paddle boarding, but in truth illustrate how versatile the sport actually is.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of paddle boarding, it’s totally up to you how far and how quickly to progress within the sport. Make sure to give it a few tries before moving to the next level, as a strong foundation is the best predictor of future success.
Is SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boarding) Harder Than Surfing?
The quick answer is: no. Paddle boarding is much easier than surfing, for several reasons.
Firstly, paddle boarding requires a basic level of balance, limited reaction to movement, minimal reflexes and usually takes place on calm, flat water. Surfing, on the other hand, calls for advanced balancing skills, a high level of coordination and reflexive action, and takes place in considerable waves. In addition, surfers must be able to read waves and determine the exact moment at which to pop up into a standing position on the board.
When examined closely, however, this is a complex question. Surfing is tough to master from the word go, so learning how to surf will always be harder than learning how to paddle board. However, some paddle boarding options require a level of skill and difficulty comparable to surfing. Indeed, some even use paddle boards to surf. Paddle boarders can also practise yoga, go fishing, and paddle long distances over bodies of water.
In the end, surfing and paddle boarding vary widely as one is an extremely specific and exacting sport, while the other is versatile and is easily mastered by amateurs. However, both are excellent ways to get that workout in on the water with the benefit of fresh air and the surrounds of nature.
For more, read our blog answering the question ‘is surfing hard’?.
If you’re looking for the encouragement you need to get that paddle board out on the water, go for it! After just a few hours, you’ll feel like a natural paddle boarder and, after the amazing workout, might even consider cancelling your gym subscription.
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.