Water Sports

First Time Paddleboarding? Read These 5 Tips

Ever dreamed of walking on water? Stand-up paddleboarding may be as close as you’ll ever come.

The sport, which originated among surfers and combines a surfboard with a paddle. It’s fun, easy to learn and offers a challenging, different kind of workout that’s good for your core.

Plenty of local outdoor outfitters like REI provide tips and instructional videos on gear and techniques. Here at Actively Northwest, we think the best way to learn anything is to get out there and try it for yourself!

Here are five tips to help make your first paddleboarding experience good one:

1. Start in calm, warm water.

Many newbies master the sport straightaway. There’s no shame in sitting or kneeling on the board until you feel comfortable standing. Return to that position to stay on your board if a boat passes by and creates a wake. It can take a little time to find balance. Make it easier on yourself by starting in calm conditions. “In choppy water, it’s hard to relax when learning,” said John Meyer of Northwest Outdoor Center (NWOC). “It’s best to start out in smooth water to get your skills down before attempting rougher conditions.”

2. Use a stable board with a paddle properly sized for you.

Wherever you rent your equipment, staff members will outfit you with an appropriately-sized board and paddle, based on your height and skill level. In Seattle, if you want to begin with lake paddling, rent boards from businesses like NWOC or Agua Verde; for the Puget Sound, visit Surf Ballard or Salmon Bay Paddle. If you’re in the Portland area, try Portland Kayak Company.

3. Kneel on the board when getting on and off.

To begin, climb onto the board in a kneeling position, just behind the board’s center. While kneeling, get a feel for the board’s balance point, usually with knees or feet on either side of the handle. Here’s a good tip: the nose of your board shouldn’t pop up out of the water and the tail shouldn’t dig in. Grasping either side of the board with your hands will help stabilize it.

Once you feel stable, start to rise to a standing position. Just take it slow — one foot at a time, with your feet about hip-width distance apart. As you get up, lay your paddle across the board just in front of you. Keep a hand (or two!) on it and bring it up with you when you rise up. If you feel uncertain or nervous, have a friend wade out into knee-deep water to stabilize your board while you practice standing.

4.  Review basic instruction on how to hold and use the paddle.

For a powerful, efficient stroke, NWOC’s Meyer suggests stacking your hands, one over the other, and using a short, vertical stroke that starts out in front as far as you can reach and ends around your toes. “I’ve found that leaving my top arm straight and rotating slightly through the stroke transfers lots of power in a short stroke,” he said.

5. Wear a personal flotation device (PFD), and leash the board to your ankle.

Chances are you’ll stay dry on your first attempt, but you never know. Be prepared should you find yourself taking an unexpected dip. If you’re wearing a PFD, it will help you relax and truly relish the (nearly) walking on water experience.

Just in case you take a quick dunk, wear quick-drying clothes. You can wear water shoes or go barefoot. Secure shoes under the bands on the board. Keys, phones, and sandwiches should go in a dry bag and get clipped to your board.

Happy paddling!