In the beginning…learning to stand up paddle board

Words: Tez Plavenieks

Stand up paddle boarding is one of the easiest watersports/boardsports/paddlesports to pick up – fact! To excel though takes time, effort, dedication and perseverance – those already initiated will spend hours perfecting their art.

But what about starting? How do you begin your SUP journey?

Beginning SUP

Things to think about
Before you go tearing off into the sunset there are a few considerations to have in mind before starting your stand up adventures.

If you’re stepping to SUP from another watery discipline then you’ll probably have some idea of how weather and water conditions affect your time afloat. For the completely green newbie it’s worth taking time to understand your environment where you plan on taking those first strokes.

Diving in head first without being aware of dangers is a recipe for disaster. There’s no harm in trying SUP by yourself but fools rush in.

If you want to learn quickly and progress rapidly the best advice is to get some coaching. Being taught by a qualified professional will see new paddlers up to speed quick as a flash. Going it solo can take far longer and lead to increased frustrations.

The adventurous may consider ‘back to school’ a load of piffle and we hear all too often the phrase: ‘that looks easy, what’s to teach?’ If nothing else, some initial coaching is the most efficient way of developing technique from the off. It’s a lot harder to undo bad habits and re-educate yourself later down the line.

In the UK we’re fortunate enough to have not one, but two dedicated teaching programmes on offer – the BSUPA and ASI respectively. Seek out an accredited school (there’s a list on our website) with professionally qualified teaching staff.

The kit
Modern stand up paddle boarding gear can seem like a minefield at first. Most brands produce a mind boggling array of equipment that’s hard to fathom.

Your first two bits of gear are going to be a board and paddle – simple. Hiring could be the best option to start with, to make sure you’re keen to stick at it. After a while though you’ll need your own kit.

An all round recreational SUP around 10ft, with generous thickness and volume, is the way to go. The main thing when buying your first board is to not go too specialist. Instead hand over your readies for a stable platform that allows you to build on fundamental skills.

Ideally you want something durable and resistant to wear and tear – stay away from exotic constructions until later in your career. You don’t necessarily have to go down the hard board route either. Inflatables, these days, are perfectly adequate for beginners and intermediates – in fact some experienced paddles use iSUPs in a variety of performance paddling scenarios. There are benefits with each type – some paddlers prefer hard types while others choose the inflatable route.

iSUPs offer built in natural cushioning and, of course, allow for easy storage and transport due to their foldable nature. Hard boards meanwhile can feel more planted under foot, without the slight ‘give’ of an inflatable. As you progress, hard boards will offer a tad more performance.

Beginning SUP

Without a paddle, SUP wouldn’t be the same. Your propulsion tool is arguably more important than the board you ride. Of course, you need a platform to stand on, but slightly more emphasis should be given to your ‘engine’. Paddles of all shapes, sizes and materials are available – some costing more cashola than your board. You don’t need to go daft but purchasing the best you can buy is good advice. If you’re struggling with the idea of cutting down your shaft (which you invariably have to do on fixed models) then you could consider an adjustable. This is especially useful if more than one of you is going to be using it or you’re on a tight budget.

Leash, apparel and other bits
It’s important when out paddling that you have your board attached securely – after all, this is your main source of flotation. SUP specific leashes are available that have been produced with the extra weight of your sled in mind. Out of the two types – coiled or straight – the straight version is fine for initial forays into the sport. In time you may want both in your kit box.

Unfortunately the UK isn’t blessed with a tropical climate and therefore you’ll need to consider your paddling attire carefully. In most instances a wetsuit will be the garment of choice. If you’re considering paddling through the off season then a good winter wetty will be key. Bear in mind, however, that during summer months you’ll overheat and therefore something less thick will also be required.

Neoprene booties, gloves and hood/hat should also be considered – particularly during winter. Staying heated is the key to happy paddling and hypothermia should never be underestimated. In time you may develop the confidence to paddle in only boardshorts and rash vest.

Beginning SUP

More than one way…
As much as spangly SUP specific kit is available for aspiring paddlers to choose from, there’s more than one way to skin a cat – so the saying goes.

People have been known to start their SUP journey using any old craft they can lay their hands on. Battered 80s windsurf boards, rubbish spent kayaks and homemade odds and ends have all been used.

While these modes of transport will never match dedicated bits of kit, it’s no issue to start. In particular, if you’re looking to get your kids into SUP the emphasis should be on fun – even if that means falling in and splashing about. Pressure to perform only has adverse and negative effects. The more of a laugh the whole process is the better.

Moving on up
Having mastered the basics of stand up there’s a whole diverse bunch of areas you can offshoot into. You may fancy racing or it could be waves calling. River SUP is growing increasingly popular or perhaps it’s none of the above – maybe you’re happy just floating about.

Whatever type of SUP you ultimately plump for is down to you as an individual – the main thing is have fun while enjoying the outdoors and being on the water.

At the coal face
I had never heard of paddle boards before my boyfriend Julian presented to me his latest online acquisition – a Red Paddle 10.8ft SUP. At first it was a total mystery and I didn’t know what to expect, but off we went to our local lake to try it out.

I imagine like most beginners my main concern was staying on the board – the first few minutes were spent entirely on my knees. Now, since I grew up on a boat I like to think water should be my natural habitat, so not standing proud simply wouldn’t do! I soon transitioned to standing, doing short paddles and performing simple turns.

It was fun, but I soon tired. I wasn’t relaxing enough, my legs were all rigid and my muscles quickly began to ache. I knew what to expect for my second go however, and the next session felt much better. Without fear holding me back I now felt confident enough to cross the lake – a distance of 1,200m. Despite the wind picking up and a bit of chop at half distance, I managed it without even a wobble – and enjoyed a good workout too. Seems like a great way to get fit.

Beginning SUP

I now can’t wait to SUP some more
I have since researched SUP techniques online, and Julian is set to get a second board – we are already planning to tackle some gentle surf at the coast. What I love about SUP is its versatility – what other watercraft is at home on both a lake and in waves, but rolls up into a backpack?

Tips from the top Top
tips for the burgeoning stand up paddler:

  1. Start your SUP journey on sheltered flat water.
  2. Avoid hazardous conditions such as big surf.
  3. Learn to SUP on a big, wide and stable board.
  4. Use an adjustable paddle at the start if you can.
  5. Paddle with others.
  6. Be safe – if in doubt, don’t go out.
  7. Get some coaching.
  8. Join a SUP club.
  9. Research as much about SUP as you can.
  10. Smile – this is fun!

Emily Price gives us her experience of learning to SUP:
Emily Price
Age: 22
Location: Powys
Local SUP spot: Lake Bala and Borth
Average paddling duration: Two hours
Sup goal: To surf my first waves!

Thanks to Julian Hatton, Emily Price, Sam Ross and Luke Green at Red Paddle Co for helping out with this article.

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