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January 11, 2022 11 min read

Paddle Boarding Mistakes

Man paddle boarding on a river using GILI komodo

Stand up paddle boarding is an amazing recreational sport that gets us out in mother nature, exercising our full body and reconnecting with our inner selves and loved ones.

Paddle boarding may sound easy, you just get on a board, stand up, and paddle, right? Well, no. There is a lot more to paddle boarding than it seems, and you’re probably making some SUPing mistakes without even knowing it.

To help you out, we are here to debunk the most common paddle boarding mistakes and provide you with an idea of how NOT to paddle board. 

Feet Positioning

One of the most important things when it comes to paddle boarding is balance. A common mistake that a lot of beginner paddlers make is standing too far forward on the board. 

The fins at the tail end of your board act as rudders and allow the board to turn in a desired direction or travel in a straight line. By standing too far forward on the board, the fins will be out of the water, making it harder to control the direction of your SUP. 

A good indicator of where your feet should be placed on the board's deck pad is the center carry handle. Most SUPs have a carry handle to help with transportation and when you paddle on your board, your feet should be slightly behind this handle. If the carry handle isn’t visible when you look down, you need to take a step back. 

Another mistake related to foot placement is standing too close to the rails (edges) of the board. If one foot is closer to the rail, for example, your weight isn’t evenly distributed and you’ll likely tip to one side. 

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, just behind the carry handle, and make sure both feet are evenly spaced from the rail. 

Not Gripping the Top of the Paddle

The more leverage you have, the more you’ll get out of your paddle stroke. Gripping your hand on the top t-bar grip of your paddle provides the best control and leverage when paddling through the water. 

The hand you place at the top of the paddle should be on the opposite side from the side you’re paddling on. For example, if you’re paddling on the right side of the board, your left hand should be at the top, and vice versa.

Having Your Arms Too Close Together

Carrying on from gripping the T-bar at the top of the handle, you should also place your second hand comfortably down the paddle shaft. 

The best way to find the correct width between your two arms is by placing your paddle on the top of your head, putting one hand on the t-bar grip and the other placed down the shaft so your elbows are at 90-degree angle.

Having your arms too close together or too far apart will make paddling difficult and you won’t be getting the most out of your stroke. 

The paddle length should be your height plus roughly 10 inches. 

Not Having the Right Paddle Stroke

Man and a woman paddle boarding using a GILI inflatable paddle board

Having an efficient paddle stroke technique makes the world of difference when you are paddle boarding. 

There are three main strokes that, once mastered, will have you paddling freely and effectively through the water. 

Forward Stroke

The forward stroke is the most important paddle stroke of all, and this is the stroke you’ll mainly be using while out on your board.

When facing forward, rotate your shoulders and your hips, reach forward and hold the paddle over the surface of the water. Place the blade fully in the water with it angled forward and glide the blade towards you. Take the blade out of the water and repeat this process. 

Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke helps to turn your board in whatever direction you want to paddle in. 

Place the paddle in the water close to the board's tail. With the blade fully submerged in the water, hold your arms straight and move the blade forward. Repeat this process until your board is heading in your desired direction. 

The side you perform the stroke on is the way the nose of your board will move. If you want to go left, execute the reverse stroke on the left side of your board. If you want to go right, then reverse stroke on the right side of your board. 

Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke is another method you can use to turn your board. With your knees slightly bent and your arms lowered, place your paddle in the water with the blade perpendicular to the board. 

In a half-circle motion, sweep your paddle away from your board, starting at the nose and ending at the tail. You can also perform a reverse sweep and follow the same steps, but start at the end of the board and sweep towards the nose. 

An efficient paddle technique will leave you gliding through the water, using up less energy and having a more pleasant paddle boarding experience. 

If you’d like more information on how to paddle board effectively, you can check out our How to Paddle Board Beginner's Guide

Using Your Arms to Pull the Paddle

Now, it may seem like all the muscle work required to paddle would come from your arms, but this isn’t actually the case. 

A proper paddling technique requires you to engage your core and leg muscles to pull yourself through the water. They will be your driving force and most of your energy should be focused on them, not your arms. 

Your Paddle Blade Facing the Wrong Way

Correct way of holding a paddle while paddle boarding

Believe it or not, SUP paddles have a right way and a wrong way. 

The paddle’s blade is made at an angle, and this angle should always be faced away from you to provide optimal speed and tracking.

If you paddle with the angle faced towards you, you’re slowed down by drag from pulling water up in a scooping motion. Most paddles have finger grips on their t-bars to indicate which way the paddle should be held. 

Looking Down at Your Feet

We’ve mentioned before that balance is key when paddle boarding and if you don’t want to take a dip in the water, it is important to always look up. 

Balancing on the board can be tricky at first, and although looking down is our natural instinct, it will probably end up with you in the water. 

A trick to remember if you’re having trouble balancing is to focus on something on the shoreline. When you’ve chosen an object, paddle towards it and keep your eyes on it at all times. 

Not Checking the Weather Forecast

Whenever you’re going near water for whatever reason, it is important to check the weather forecast to make sure you won’t be paddling in dangerous weather conditions. Luckily for us, modern technology can give us accurate and constant weather updates straight to our cell phones so we can make a quick and informed decision on whether it is safe to paddle!

Strong Winds

Paddle boards, especially inflatable paddle boards, can be pushed around in strong winds, making it dangerous to head out on the water.

Strong winds can also result in big waves which, for beginner paddlers, would be impossible to tackle and could end up in an unenjoyable and dangerous paddling experience.

Storms

It’s a well-known fact that water and electricity don’t go well together and being out on the water in the middle of a storm is a disaster waiting to happen. 

If a storm is scheduled for your chosen day on the water, it’s probably best to play it safe and paddle board another day. 

Sun

On the complete other end of the spectrum is the beginner mistake of paddle boarding when it’s too hot. 

The sun is at its hottest from 10 am - 2 pm and you should try your best to avoid paddling during these times. When the temperature is too hot, you could suffer from heat stroke, sunburn, and dehydration, all of which are significantly more common in the summer months. 

Going Out With the Wrong Gear

Blue and sand color GILI inflatable paddle board

Being completely prepared for your paddle boarding trip is just as important as mastering your specific paddling style. 

A lot of things need to be considered before heading out, like the type of paddling you want to do, the environment in which you’re paddling in, and the safety precautions you need to take.

Board Type

Different types of boards are used for different things and ensuring you have the right type of board for your skill level and the activity you want to do, can make a huge difference. 

Beginner paddlers will want an all-around board with a wide deck as they are the most stable and are perfect for recreational activities. Experienced paddlers who want a faster, more agile board, would better be suited to a dedicated touring or racing board.

For sports such as fishing and SUP yoga, wide deck boards provide the most space to perform yoga moves and to carry additional fishing gear. 

For more information on which board would suit you, check out 3 Different Types of Paddle Boards and How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board

Safety Precautions

Each and every paddle boarder should take safety precautions before heading out on the water. It is crucial to wear a well-fitted life jacket when paddle boarding as it can save your life if something were to happen.

If you’re paddling alone, a whistle is another simple but great tool that can attract the attention of others if you need help.

Packing water is another safety precaution that can really make a difference while out on your SUP. Having a bottle, or two of water can prevent dehydration and possibly save your life in an emergency. 

Clothing

Wearing the wrong clothing can make or break your paddle boarding trip and being too cold, or sunburnt to a crisp can really put a downer on your mood. 

The summer months call for UPF 50+ clothing, a sun hat, and sunglasses to protect against sunburn and sun damage. 

During the winter months, investing in a high-quality wetsuit that is suited to the water temperature you plan on paddling in will keep you warm while also allowing you to paddle 365 days a year. 

In need of a SUP gear checklist? We’ve covered all the essentials in our article Stand Up Paddle Boarding Gear.

Paddling in Busy Areas

A group of paddle boarder paddling on a river using GILI boards

For beginner paddlers, paddling on flat water is important to build up your confidence and keep you stable on the board. Paddling too close to other people, especially other beginners can create ripples in the water that could potentially knock you off your board. 

If you want to step it up a notch and ride waves, find a quiet break with few surfers. Surfers hate paddleboarders that hog the waves, so it’s better to stay clear and find somewhere less crowded. 

We’ve covered how to choose a good SUP location in our blog article What Makes a Paddle Board Location Great. Give it a read to get a better idea of where you should be paddling! 

Keeping Your Board in the Sun

Storing or leaving your stand up paddle board in the sun for long periods of time is a big no-no. 

Leaving your board in the sun can cause delamination which is when the EPS foam core in a hard board becomes unstable and separates from the shell. In an inflatable board, the heat can cause the air inside to expand and bust the seams. 

If you don’t want to pay a professional to fix your board (if it even is fixable!) then it is best to keep it out of the sun and store it in a cool, dry place like a garage or under a deck. 

For more storage and paddle boarding tips, head over to How to Store a Paddle Board the Right Way.

Not Using a Paddle Board Leash

Man paddle boarding while not wearing a leash on a GILI meno

A paddle leash is there to keep your board from floating away from you if you fall in. Sure, this is handy if you fall safely into the water and you’re just trying to retrieve your board, but in situations when you’re lost or tired, your board acts as a life-saving device and you don’t want that floating away from you.

A coil paddle leash like the GILI 8’ Paddle Board Coiled Ankle Leash is compact, lightweight, and even has a hidden key pocket. 

Not Inflating Your Board to Its Recommended PSI

An inflatable paddle board has a recommended PSI that you should pay close attention to. Not inflating your board correctly will mean the board can lose its rigidity and be harder to paddle on. On the other hand, if you inflate your board too much, the pressure inside can cause the board to pop. 

The GILI 12V Electric iSUP Paddle Board Pump allows you to choose your desired PSI. Once you press the button, the pump will inflate your board with the perfect amount of air. 

Paddling in Water That is Less Than Knee Deep

A possible beginner mistake is paddling in water that is less than knee-deep. When you first start paddling it is good to practice in shallow waters until you get the hang of it, but paddling in waters that are less than knee deep can cause a problem for your fins.

Your fins are roughly 8-10 inches long and can easily get damaged if they hit a rock or the ground. Additionally, if they do catch on to something, it will cause your board to halt to a stop and could fling you off the deck. 

Not Checking your Weight Restriction Before Paddling 

Paddle boards can hold up to a certain weight and if the total weight on the board exceeds this, your board will ride low in the water, making it difficult to paddle and steer.

Before heading out for the day, it is best to combine your weight and the weight of any passengers or gear you’ll have on board with you, ensuring this total is under the board's maximum weight capacity. 

Overcrowding the Board

Paddle boards are large pieces of kit, but that doesn’t mean you can fit your whole family on one singular board. 

Overcrowding the board goes hand in hand with reaching the weight capacity. Having too many people or too many things on your paddle board can cause the board to ride low and the limited space will make it difficult to paddle. 

Ideally, yourself and one other adult, child, or dog can fit comfortably on the board without jeopardizing your valuable paddling space. 

Not Practicing Fall Safety

Two woman falling on the side of a board GILI komodo

Falling is inevitable and at some point, it is bound to happen to you. Practicing fall safety is crucial to preventing injuries when you fall in the water. 

If you find yourself unstable and it's likely that you’re going to fall off your board, you should always fall to the side. Falling off the side of the board will land you directly in the water and you won’t bang into the deck of your SUP. 

Important tips: Try not to fall on your paddle, and don’t ever dive head first because you never know how deep the water is. 

FAQ’S

🏆 How do I stop my paddle board?

Stopping your paddle board is a simple process where you use the reverse stroke to bring your board to a stop. 

To perform the reverse stroke, place your paddle in the water close to the tail of your board. When the blade is fully submerged, keep your arms straight and move the blade forward. 

The reverse stroke can also be used when you want to change direction so you may end up turning slightly to the side that your paddle is on. 


👍 How do you paddle board for beginners?

Learning to paddle board is fairly easy and people of all ages can learn the sport in little to no time at all. Here are some simple steps to get you out on your board, enjoying the sport of stand up paddle boarding. 

Step one: Carry your board by it’s carry handle into water that is slightly above knee level. Slowly get onto the paddle board by placing your paddle across the board and climbing onto your knees. (You should be kneeling slightly behind the carry handle)

Step two: Practice paddling on your knees until you feel confident enough to stand. Move one foot at a time and place your feet where your knees once were. From there, slowly rise up into a squat until you’re standing.

Step three: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your knees slightly bent, and begin paddling. 

We’ve gone into more detail in our blog post How to Paddle Board: Beginners Guide to SUP.


🏝️ How difficult is paddle boarding?

Low-impact basic recreational stand up paddle boarding is easy to learn and anyone can do it!

Admittedly, you are likely to fall off every now and then, but practice makes perfect and in no time you’ll be a pro.


❓ Do you need to be able to swim to paddle board?

Being able to swim is extremely important whenever you’re heading out on the water. The likelihood of you falling in the water is high and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Regardless of whether you can swim or not, every paddle boarder should always wear a PFD to help keep you safe while paddling.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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