Mistakes Beginner Standup Paddlers Make (and How to Fix Them)

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We all started as beginners — even though some paddlers look and act as if they were conceived on a SUP, birthed on a SUP, and raised on a SUP. In this post, we’ll cover the top mistakes we see beginner standup paddlers make and share tips on exactly how to fix them.

Riding the wrong board

If your board is too narrow or too small, it will be very challenging to balance on while you standup paddleboard. As a beginner, you’ll want a standup paddleboard that’s long and wide. While these are typically slower than more specialized standup paddleboards, a larger board will be stable enough for you to perfect your paddle technique and build up your strength before moving to something more narrow or smaller.

When you first start out, make sure your standup paddleboard is at least 10 feet long and 30 inches wide. Both inflatable standup paddleboards and hard paddleboards work well for beginners. A board with a round nose is typically more stable than a narrow touring board.

Holding the paddle backwards

Intuition tells us that the standup paddle should be held with the angled part facing away from us, like a scoop. However, you should hold the paddle with the angle pointing towards you. This helps pull your board forward, not down.

Wasting money on a bad paddle

When beginners talk about buying their first set of standup paddleboard gear, they often focus solely on the board. They’ll buy a $1000 board and skimp on a paddle, thinking that they’re being savvy. In reality, a bad paddle will be uncomfortable because it’s too heavy or the wrong size. As you get better at standup paddleboarding, you’ll end up buying a new paddle anyways and the resale value on a bad paddle is next to nothing.

If your paddle sinks, make sure you attach a float to it when you’re first learning — losing a paddle is also truly a waste of money.

Standing too far back (or forward) on the board

Standup paddling is all about balance. If you’re too far back, the nose of the SUP might lift and you’ll be slower. If you’re too far forward, you’ll be digging the nose into the water. Either way, you want to plant your feet in the middle of the board (likely around where the handle is). Keep your feet parallel to one another and have a small bend in the knees. The nose of the board should be flush on the water or slightly above. If it’s sticking up or getting buried in the water, you’re not in the middle of the board.

Paddling in dangerous conditions

Before you venture out on a paddleboard excursion, you need to have a strong understanding of what the weather and sea conditions will be like. Standup paddling in the ocean is much different than paddling in a lake where the water is flat and the shoreline is accessible. In the ocean, you’ll contend with currents, tides, wind, the sun, and waves whenever you paddle out.

If you see standup paddlers catching waves in the surf, don’t assume that you can easily do the same. Check the wind forecast and only paddle if the wind is onshore (blowing from the ocean to land) or very mild (less than 5 knots). Ask the lifeguard if there are any currents you should know about. The best standup paddling conditions for beginners are flatwater (like a lagoon, river, lake, or bay), little to no wind, and plenty of shoreline to come back to.

Paddle close to the shoreline instead of out on the open water, where conditions are often more dangerous.

Read: SUP Safety Tips you Need to Know

Starting a paddle session downwind

When you paddle downwind, standup paddling might seem like the easiest sport ever and you’ll be able to go a long distance very quickly. However, many beginners often underestimate just how challenging it can be to paddle upwind — especially at the end of a session when your entire body tends to be exhausted.

Start your session paddling into the wind. Then, at the halfway point, turn around and cruise back to your starting point with ease.

Falling incorrectly

Say what? There’s a wrong way to fall? Yep! When you fall, try to jump away from your board and act more like a cannonball or starfish than diver or pencil so that you don’t hit the bottom. When you surface, cover your head with your hands and feel around for your board or any other obstacles. Slow movements are best.



What mistakes have you made as a beginner standup paddler?