March 11, 2021 9 min read

So, you want to know the pros and cons of ocean vs lake paddle boarding? I mean everything there is to know to keep you safe and secure while on the water.

If you do, then this quick and easy-to-read guide is just what you need.

Let’s jump in. 

Paddle boarding is one of the most popular water sports pastimes all over the world. It’s a great way to exercise and experience incredible scenery. 

While many paddle boarders set off along urban rivers and winding water trails, the most common bodies of water everyone paddle boards are lakes and oceans. Whether you plan to paddle board on the sea or your favorite lake, there are some important considerations to take in before hitting the water.

There are many key differences between ocean and lake paddle boarding. Mainly because both environments are distinct in terms of their challenge, potential hazards, and entry strategies.

In this guide, we’ll go over the significant differences between the both, discover the best ways to stay safe, and show you how to stand up paddle board successfully in each environment.

We’ll also share with you the best stand up paddle boards, for oceans and lakes, plus some ideas for must-see paddle boarding locations.

Ocean vs Lake Paddle boarding: What’s the Difference?

ocean paddle boarding melasti beach bali

While open water paddling on the ocean or a lake can be fun, there are some key differences between them both. 

Here are some tips that will help you out while paddle boarding on lakes and oceans.

For starters, the ocean is much more unpredictable due to its larger size and stronger currents that can make it trickier for beginners to navigate. You also have to be more careful when paddle boarding on the ocean since the strength of the waves can change in an instant. For example, strong currents and tides can work for or against you by, kicking up sand and silt and making water murkier and harder to see through.

In contrast, lakes are relatively safe, with flat and calm waters, unless there’s stormy conditions or heavy wind. Lake paddling is ideal for less experienced paddlers or people who want to try SUP yoga.

Bottom line: stand up paddle boarding on a lake is a better choice if you’re a beginner.

How Dangerous is Paddle boarding?

Paddle boarding overall isn’t particularly dangerous, especially if you paddle board with a friend (or someone who has more experience. So long as you’re a strong swimmer, wear a PFD,  and choose a careful time and place to paddle board, you’ll be fine and have a great time! 

All in all, if safety is a concern, paddle boarding on a lake is a bit safer than paddle boarding on the ocean. Do yourself a favor, wear a life-jacket and paddle board with a friend. You’ll probably have more fun, too!

Paddle boarding on the Ocean

Now that we’ve gone over the main differences between ocean paddle boarding versus lake paddle boarding, let’s break down how you can paddle board on the surf.

Can You Use A Paddle Board in the Ocean?

Ocean paddle boarding ultimate guide

Absolutely! But you’ll need a high-quality epoxy or inflatable stand up paddle board with some specific features in order to do so safely.

Stability is crucial when it comes to navigating open waves, be sure to choose an iSUP with a wide deck that allows you to take a steady stance for better balance.

The shape of the board is also important. Opt for one of our touring boards as this deck type will grant you a better ride on the waves, thanks to its pointed nose (also known as a displacement hull that lets you glide effortlessly on top of most bodies of water. 

Strong swimmers will benefit from having the skill and experience of navigating changing conditions such as tides and currents, so ensure you’re comfortable swimming in rough water before heading out for an ocean paddle.

Safety First: Check the Tides and Currents

To start paddle boarding on the ocean, be sure to practice some safety checks, such as familiarizing yourself with your paddle boarding area’s high and low tides. Knowing the waxing and waning wave motions can help you to predict the ocean’s behavior and prepare yourself for tide changes.

Does Paddle Boarding Attract sharks?

Simply put, yes, paddle boarding can attract sharks. However, paddle boarding doesn’t make you more susceptible to shark attacks when compared to surfing, swimming, kayaking, or any other surface-level water activity. Although there are some incredibly rare instances where a paddle boarder may appear as food to a shark, a vast majority of the time sharks are either scared of the board or curious. 

Your best course of action if you should ever encounter a shark on a SUP is to refrain from making erratic movements, don’t attack the shark in an attempt to scare it off, and do your best to calmly paddle away.

How to Paddle board in the Ocean

Tips on paddle boarding in ocean

Your best bet, especially if you’re a beginner, is to find a calm day without too much wind to paddle board on the ocean. Try to find a beach that has a safe current and easy tide or wave conditions to ride. Bays are usually great spots for beginners.

You’ll also want to check on local weather conditions. Make sure there isn’t a storm front or heavy winds rolling in before heading out to the open water.

Next, make sure you have all the appropriate gear. You’ll need:

  • A wetsuit — particularly if you plan to paddle board in the Pacific Ocean
  • A life jacket — especially if you plan to stand up and fish
  • A leash for your SUP – this is a safety measure and can prevent you from losing your equipment and board if you fall off. One great example is the GILI 8’ Coiled Ankle Leash, which is comfortable and durable.
  • A whistle in case you need help

After getting your gear, find the safest SUP entry point in the bay or beach. The best way to launch is with your SUP board flat on the surface of the waves, pointing its nose forward. Double-check that your SUP’s leash is attached to your ankle before proceeding.

If the water is calm, walk into the surf. Wade out until you can’t stand any longer, then board your SUP when appropriate. As you get further out, the waves will become fewer but more dramatic.

If you’ve chosen your paddle boarding location correctly, you should be able to find relatively calm ocean waters a short distance from the shore, unless the weather starts to kick up.

On the flip side, if the water is rough, start by laying on top of your SUP like surfers do then paddle out to deeper water like you would on a regular surfboard. This is the best way to reach the open water quickly without getting knocked down by a wave. Keep in mind, heading out in choppy conditions is only recommended for strong swimmers and experienced paddle boarders, even then, you still need to be extra careful.

The Best Open Ocean SUP for Paddle Boarding

When it comes to ocean paddle boarding, you can’t do better than the Komodo SUP package. This versatile SUP is a one-of-a-kind board with a widened stance to give you extra stability: a great feature when you consider the typically chaotic wind and waves of the ocean surf.

It’s an excellent board for multiple riders due to its size, plus its surface is designed for exceptional traction (improving your safety) and it can hold up to 340 pounds.

While you’re on the ocean waves, don’t miss the opportunity to try your hand at SUP surfing too! The Komodo and Air stand out as the top paddle boards for SUP surfers. Both decks are perfectly suited to surfing, thanks to their shape and rigid deck. They actually feel like a hard board under your feet. Please note that you must be a formidable swimmer before attempting paddle board surfing.

The Best Places to Paddleboard in the Ocean

Best place to paddle board in ocean

Fortunately, the United States is full of awesome places to paddleboard on the ocean. You can head to any of the nation’s most scenic sea locations and you’ll find great paddle boarding waves.

Many people love paddling in:

  • San Diego — known for its iconic beaches
  • California — if you want more challenging waves and bracingly cold ocean temperatures
  • Seattle — for stark cliff sides and beautiful forests across the vista
  • Key West — if you’re in the mood for a more relaxed, touristy vibe

Not seeing your bucket-list beachside paddling spot? Check out our tips for the: 16 most epic places to paddleboard on the oceans of the United States’ coast.

Paddle Boarding on Lakes

Lake paddle boarding

As you can see, anyone can paddle board on the ocean with the right preparation. But paddling on a lake is even easier! Flatwater paddle boarding is easier due to its simplicity and the relative calmness that a lake can provide.

How to Paddleboard on Lakes

First, of all, it’s a good idea to check information on weather conditions. Some larger lakes actually have a tide, and you’ll want to avoid days with high winds. Try to find a calm launch spot without any sharp rocks or things that could hurt if you fall off.

Make sure you bring the same safety gear mentioned above. Even though lake paddle boarding is safer, it’s still important to be as safe as possible. Basically, always wear a life vest and tether your board to your ankle with a leash. Lastly, be careful if you’re planning on paddling in a spot with dangerous freshwater fish.

Entering the water of the lake is usually easier since you won’t have to contend with big waves crashing against you as you head out to the deeper depths.

The Best SUP for Paddle Boarding on a Lake

The Adventure SUP is the most suitable board for those who like to paddle board on a lake. It’s a perfect pick for outdoor enthusiasts who prefer the lakes, especially since it comes with a slightly wider stance to afford extra stability.

It’s super quick to inflate and has both front and rear bungees so you can stow extra gear and supplies for long expeditions in the wilderness. This paddle board is not only great on lakes but also for hiking around waterfront locations during the day.

The Best Places to Paddleboard on Lakes

Best place to paddle board in lake

Just like with paddle boarding on the ocean, there are lots of places to go paddling on a lake. . Check out these fabulous lake destinations:

  • Michigan — the Great Lakes combine the calm water of traditional lakes with the awesome, unending horizon of a traditional ocean.
  • Lake Tahoe — a popular paddling destination every summer.
  • Chicago a fun city, with lots to see, also on the Great Lakes. 
  • Houston — Texas can be a good pick as well, particularly if you’re in the mood for a calm lake and hot summers.
  • Colorado — Pocketed with natural beauty and lots of great lakes for SUP adventures.

USCG Regulations & State Laws

USCG Regulations on stand up paddle boarding

Although some may roll their eyes at rules & regulations for paddle boarding, they’re there for a reason; to help keep you and others around you safe. The USCG has determined that when operated outside of a bathing, swimming, or surfing area, paddle boards are considered “vessels” and must adhere to the following USCG regulations:

PFDs:

  • Each paddler aged 13 years or older must have a UCSG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V life jacket in “serviceable condition” that is an appropriate size & fit for the paddler.
  • A child under age 12 must wear a USCG-approved PFD.
  • Belt pouch-type inflatable PFDs must be worn on the paddler to satisfy the life jacket regulation.

Other Required Safety Gear:

  • A sound-producing device such as a whistle must be carried at all times in the event that the paddler must warn other boaters or vessels.
  • If you plan on paddling past sundown, you must bring a flashlight to warn other boaters or vessels.

Paddler Responsibilities:

  • Be sure to follow the Navigation Rules
  • If a boating accident or injury occurs, it must be reported to the local reporting authority, have it be the USCG or any other agency that has the delegated authority.

Final Suggestions:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings & watch out for other boats or vessels. Don’t be shy to let them know you’re there with a signaling device.
  • If you’re in a well-traveled waterway, wear brightly-colored PFDs and/or clothing to increase your visibility to other vessels.
  • SUP sober! Many boating accidents occur due to intoxication of either the paddler or the vessel operator; A sharp mind can save you from a dull driver.

With that said, the above is a summarized outline of the official rules & regulations. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Stand Up Paddlers in its entirety before heading out;  don’t forget that paddling on a SUP just about makes you the most vulnerable person on the water.

Wrapping Up

All in all, when it comes to ocean vs lake paddle boarding, it’s worth noting that both are fantastic and fun activities regardless of which one you choose.

Keep in mind; it’s best to paddle board on a relatively calm lake if you’re a beginner and not alone. No matter how experienced you are, you can’t beat the safety that comes in numbers.

And likewise, if you’re hitting the ocean, always remember that the currents and tides can be unpredictable, so just like the lakes, safety is paramount.

A high-quality all-around SUP will serve you well on oceans and lakes. Now, get on the water go have fun!

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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