January 03, 2020 7 min read

How hard is Paddle Boarding? Answered.

Stand up paddle boarding might look intimidating, but we promise that it’s not nearly as hard as it seems. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and walks of life are finding a passion for SUP every day. It only takes a few hours to get the hang of basic SUP skills. Unlike, say, surfing or wakeboarding, which may have taken several months of trial, error, and practice to learn.

Is Paddle Boarding Hard?

Here’s the deal: paddle boarding is not hard. Just about anyone with a board who is willing to learn can get a handle a SUP in no time. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly sporty, you’ll have no trouble figuring it out. You don’t even have to stand the whole time if you don’t want to! You can still have a blast sitting or kneeling on your paddle board.

As long as you start with the basics, on a beginner’s board in calm waters, you’ll be good to go. Once you learn the basics, there is a limitless array of SUP activities to dip your toes into. SUP can be as easy or challenging as you want it to be.

You should know:

  • Almost anyone can paddle board.
  • You can learn the basics of the sport within just a day or two. (Of course, becoming a true SUP expert takes more practice.)
  • It’s a piece of cake compared to other water sports like surfing and wakeboarding.
  • The sport is versatile, so you can adapt it to your experience levels as you improve over time.

How Hard is Paddle Boarding?

What Makes Paddle Boarding Awesome

The benefits of paddle boarding are tough to overstate. Here are just a few of the reasons we love it.

It’s A Great Workout

SUP is an epic full-body workout. Time spent on your SUP will improve your balance, strength, endurance, and your core. It’s like a CrossFit session, but better. And you’ll be having so much fun that you won’t even notice you’re exercising! SUP engages your back, legs, arms, and abs all at once, and you’ll get those benefits whether you’re a beginner or longtime pro.

On average, you’ll burn around 700 calories per hour on your board. And if you increase your speed and duration, you’ll burn even more. The more you SUP, the more fit you’ll be on and off the board.

It Relieves Stress

We all know by now that working out reduces stress, so it only makes sense that the exercise factor of SUP provides a mood-boosting endorphin rush. But there’s another stress-busting perk: SUP is also an excellent way to spend your day surrounded by nature. Spending time in the great outdoors has a fantastic effect on stress management. (And, if we’re being real, all that natural scenery is great Instagram fodder.)

It’s Just Plain Fun

How often do you get to do something just because it’s fun, instead of because you have to? Paddle boarding IS that thing. When you’re out on the water with family and friends, feeling the fresh air and sunshine on your face, it’s impossible not to smile.

What makes SUP an easy sport to learn?

Okay, we know what you’re thinking: SUP sounds so easy that it must be too good to be true. Nope! There are plenty of reasons that stand up paddle boarding is so easy to learn.

SUP is considered easy because it can be learned very quickly, and because you can change the conditions you SUP in to provide a more challenging experience. For example, you can take your board to calm waters on a wind-free day to practice beginner movies, while a more experienced friend can take his SUP to a choppy lake on a windy day for a bigger challenge.

The nature of paddle boards themselves contribute to the sport’s ease, thanks to their stability and how simple they are to maneuver. Stand up paddle boards are more stable than surfboards, and they don’t require you to master the timing of waves.

Paddle boarding with the Blue Angels

So, how hard is paddle boarding, exactly?

SUP Is Easier Than…

  • Wakeboarding
  • Surfing
  • Snowboarding
  • Washing The Dishes
  • Shoveling Snow
  • Learning to ride a bicycle

SUP Is Harder Than...

  • Scrolling Through Facebook
  • Sitting At Home In Sweatpants
  • Eating a gallon of ice cream straight from the bin

8 Paddle Boarding Tips To Make SUP Easier

SUP is pretty easy to pick up, but you can make it even more manageable with some simple tips. Avoid common beginner mistakes with these 8 simple tips for beginners.

1. Start With The Right Type Of Board

You’ll want to make sure you choose the right paddle board, and make sure your SUP is the right size. That means looking for the proper width, length, and weight capacity (for both you and any gear or friends on board.) Beginners do best with All Around SUPs, which are usually about 10’6”-11’6” long and 31”-35” wide. All Around SUPs offer excellent stability so you can practice your balance and technique without too much stress.

Choose the Right type of SUP

Before you hit the water, take a look at the board and familiarize yourself with which side is the nose and which is the tail. Beginner-friendly boards tend to have a larger nose and tail, as well as a wide deck. Familiarize with your SUP’s features - it’s bungee system, grab handles, and fin setup.

2. Choose A Calm, Flatwater Location

Beginners’ SUP is just like real estate: it’s all about location, location, location. Get started in a flatwater environment without much wind. Lakes are great places to begin, while you’ll want to save the ocean for more advanced adventures down the line.

Check the weather before paddling out, because you’ll want to avoid any storms on the horizon. Take a look at the day’s wind speeds too - SUP is best under 10 mph. Make sure you start your SUP session paddling against the wind so that you return with the wind - in case you’re fatigued. If you find yourself caught on windy waters before you feel confident handling it, lie flat on the board and paddle back to shore.

3. Understand How To Launch Your Board

To launch your SUP, walk into the water to about knee-level while carrying the board. Then, set your board on the surface of the water by your side. Make sure your board’s fins aren’t caught in any sand or rocks under the water’s surface. Kneel on your SUP with one leg, and push off.

Practice paddling on your knees until you feel fairly comfortable. When you feel comfortable paddling from a kneeling position, it’s time to learn how to stand up! Place your paddle on your SUP, perpendicular to you. Place your hands in front of you on the board. Step each foot, one at a time, onto the center of the board. Stand with your legs about shoulder width apart. Center your feet around your SUP’s center grab handle - this is your board’s center of mass.

4. Practice Balancing

Practicing your balance on your SUP makes for better technique and easier paddling. The sooner you master it, the sooner you can move on to more advanced SUP skills. Stay balanced by looking straight ahead while on your SUP - never down at your feet. Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent, and try not to lean too far forward. If you’re having a hard time, focus on an object ahead of you, either in the water or on the shore.

Practice Balancing Your Paddle Board

5. Conserve Your Energy

The less energy you use with each paddle stroke, the more fun you’ll have. The trick to staying energized all day is to paddle from your core, not your arms. If you paddle from your arms, you’ll burn out much faster. Keep paddling at a steady but manageable pace to create momentum that can carry you along with ease.

6. The Correct Way To Paddle Your SUP

Most people start out on their SUP using their paddle as if it’s an ice cream scooper. Don’t do that! Instead, paddle the right way by gliding the paddle’s shaft in the water behind you. For each stroke, make sure your paddle blade is fully submerged in the water, with the logo facing outward. If you need to turn your board, dip the paddle blade into the water and stroke backwards.

7. Make Safety #1

Safety first, always! For starters, this means knowing the right way to fall off your board - because you are going to fall at some point. Aim to fall away from your board rather than ontoit. This way, you’re less likely to damage the board - or yourself! Make sure you use a SUP leash, which will stop the board from going rogue and floating away from you.

Above all, stay alert. You’ll need to watch out for other paddlers, swimmers, divers, other small vessels, and all other matter of surprises that might turn up in the water. Keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll be in good shape.

8. Don’t Be Afraid To Have Fun

Fact: the more fun you’re having, the easier SUP gets. And you don’t have to be “good” at SUP to enjoy it. When you’re nervous, you’re more likely to stress yourself out and fall. Remember, everyone wipes out sometimes, and it’s no big deal. Each time you get back on the board, you’ll get a little bit better at SUP. As your technique improves, let yourself take some calculated risks, like moving from flat water to choppier water or trying a new-to-you waterway. Know your limits, but allow yourself to practice in new surroundings.

How To Make Paddling With Friends Easier

In SUP and in life, the golden rule is the same: the more, the merrier!

Paddle Boarding with Friends

Paddling With Friends

If you’re paddling with a friend onboard, be sure to communicate your movements very clearly with each other. Sync your balance by starting on your knees or sitting down, then slowly work your way up to standing up together on the board. It takes time to get into a rhythm on the board together, so be prepared for many laughs and falls along the way. Make sure only one person is paddling - it’s difficult to synchronize paddle strokes and can cause an injury.

Paddling With Pets

Before you bring your dog on the water, introduce him to the paddle board on land. Set it out in your home for a few days so he can get familiar with it, and train him to stay firmly on the board. Make sure your pet has a personal flotation device (PFD) that fits securely, so you can have fun - instead of worrying about your pup’s safety.

Summing Up

You’ll have to take our word for it: SUP is not nearly as hard as it looks. It is, however, every bit as exhilarating as looks. Take things one step at a time, and you’ll feel comfortable on your SUP before you know it. It’s like learning to ride a bike - just way easier.

Do you have any questions about how to master SUP? Let us know in the comments below!

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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