Learn to Stand Up Paddle

SUP Body Positioning

When starting out the path of learning to stand up paddle board, you first want to find the center of the board and position your feet in a parallel stance about shoulder width apart around the center point of the board. You’ll want your knees to be bended slightly. You can practice rocking the board side to side by moving you weight. This is the counter-balancing motion that you need to learn to balance. It takes about 30 minutes to find your balance and to get the muscle memory. It feels really tipsy at first, but in no time you’ll be very comfortable and able to take small waves from all directions without falling.

Stand Up Paddling

For gripping the paddle, you’re opposite hand (left hand if paddling on the right side of the board) should be on the top paddle handle, and your inside hand should be palm facing in on the shaft of the paddle. You want long strokes to maximize efficiency, reaching as far forward as you can before darting the paddle into the water. As you pull the paddle back, you want to work it with the core of your body. Your arms should be fairly straight through-out the process. When you pull the paddle out of the water at the end of your stroke, you sort of drop you top hand towards the opposite side of the board and bring the paddle thru the air flatly to minimize wind resistance. The paddle should cut thru the air like a knife. You’ll see beginners doing this incorrectly and fighting against the wind with their paddle. The windier it is, the more you can feel the difference here. The paddle will be a straight shaft with a paddle that angles forward. You want the angle going forward, so the paddle has the ability to bend and recoil as you paddle it from front to back. Very frequently, beginners mistakenly paddle with the paddle angling backwards.

Alternating your Standup Paddle Stroke

Unless you’ve got a racing dedicated board (that typically have very pronounced V hulls), you’ll notice the direction of the board change with every stroke. By the time you’ve done five strokes on the right side of the board you’ll notice the direction you’re now heading is 15 degrees to the left. As such, you want to switch to the other side and do five strokes there. You alternate back and forth. Additionally, it helps minimize this if you lean out towards the side you are paddling on. Also, different boards track differently based on the different shapes of their bottom.

Turning a Stand Up Paddle Board

If you just keep paddling on one side of the board you will follow a slow, rounded turning radius on most stand up paddle boards (with dedicated racing boards the exception). This is how most beginners turn. It’s slow and inefficient. Once you feel comfortable with your balance, you can make very quick turns by just walking back on your board. Position your outside foot (outside to the turn, but closest to the paddling side) back as far as you can in a sort of open parallel stance. You want to dig in the tail of the board and lift the front of the board while you are paddling and this allows you to easily swing the board around as you take short paddle strokes. Once you’re around the turn, just walk back forward to the standard parallel stance in the middle of the board.

Balancing while Stand Up Paddle Surfing

There is a lot more going on in stand up paddle surfing than in flat water paddling. Even once you negotiate thru the whitewater and crashing waves to a safer area outside the breaking waves, there is still a constant swell you’re trying to balance against. This makes it all the more difficult to just keep your balance, especially if you’re never even done flat water stand up paddle boarding before. I learned in the waves. The balance issue is compounded by the fact that you never really know what level is as everything is moving. A good trick is to fight the urge to look down at your feet while you’re trying to balance and instead focus on the horizon or the beach. That’s your level. Forget your feet. They will take care of themselves if you concentrate on the true level, the horizon. As a side note, this is also how you keep from getting seasick on a boat.

Picking a Path Thru the Whitewater

One of the most challenging elements of stand up paddle surfing is just getting thru the whitewater and crashing waves. Before you can even think about how you’re going to catch a wave, you actually have to get out into position beyond the breaking waves. Having a huge board makes this all the more difficult. It’s best to just watch the waves for a bit before you venture out. Look to see if there is an area that the waves are consistently peaking at (the farthest out, and most central place it breaks). Typically the wave peaks in one spot and then breaks out towards the “shoulder” and then sort of dwindles out. You definitely want to head out in the shoulder area, not right in the heart of the wave break. You do this both because it makes getting out easier, and you’ll get in the way of other surfers if you try to go out on the inside of a wave.

Navigating Closed-out Areas

In many areas the waves kind of all break or close-out at once. On a stand up paddle board, and as a beginner, this will probably be your proving ground as the “good surf spots” will be crowded and no place for a beginner. You pose a danger to others there. In those “close out” surf areas you just pick the least bad spot to go out. Inevitably, you’ll get caught on the inside at times in the whitewater and crashing waves. As waves typically come in sets, it’s best to just wait out the set in the whitewater and then head for the shoulder to go out. It’s somewhat bad surfing etiquette (in a crowded spot) to cut across the whitewater during a set as you tend to get in the way of incoming surfers. In the waves and whitewater, it’s perfectly okay (and recommended at times) to paddle on your knees and choke up on the paddle and make quick short strokes when you have a chance to get out. This is not the time to lollygag around. The point is to get out as quickly as you can, while you can. You can rest once you’re outside the breaking waves. Fortunately, a stand up paddle boarder can paddle at three times the speed of a prone surfer so you can cover ground quicker. It’s slower when you’re on your knees, but it’s still very nice to have a paddle.

Catching Waves on a Standup Paddle Board

Catching waves is all about positioning. As a stand up paddle surfer with a huge board you’ve got a natural wave catching advantage over surfers, both short boarders and long boarders. Note that surfing etiquette dictates you don’t use this advantage to abuse other surfers and hog waves . These massive SUPs can catch pretty much any wave and they can catch them early. Thus you’ll want to be positioned farther out than surfers. Ideally, you want to catch the wave as close to the peak as possible, then ride the wave out the shoulder. Then when you get off the wave, you simply paddle straight out (in the outer shoulder area) past the breaking waves and then paddle back over towards the peak. It’s kind of a triangle rotation. As you’re scouting for waves, it’s best to be sort of perpendicular to the incoming wave direction and also well outside of where they will likely break. Once you spot a good wave, start turning towards shore and paddling to get momentum towards the beach (which helps the wave catch you). Paddle pretty ferociously right as the wave meets you, and then as the wave starts to take you on it’s own you want to jump from your parallel stance to a wide surfing stance (so you’re doing a 90 degree jump turn of your body on the board). And you’re on your way in. Depending on the size of the waves and the drop-in, you want to adjust your angle so you don’t go straight in (and down the wave). The idea is to turn out towards the shoulder and ride alongside the break, not straight at the beach which will result in a dangerous nose dive in larger waves that have a "drop-in". On small waves and close-outs, it doesn’t really matter.

I’d highly recommend taking stand up paddle surfing lessons if you plan on getting into the waves. It’s always wise to go out with a buddy whenever in the waves.