How to stay safe on your stand up paddleboard

Beginners Start Here

If you’re completely new to paddleboarding, then please read this first. Firstly, congratulations on having made the decision to get into paddleboarding! It’s a truly fabulous activity, and also incredibly good for you. You’ve definitely made a good call.

Before you even start investing in any equipment, you’d be very well advised to get a lesson from an approved paddleboarding school. Teaching yourself is perfectly feasible – indeed the majority of people do teach themselves. However, they’re often very easy to spot as they tend to get a whole lot of basic stuff completely wrong! Plus which, any reputable SUP school will have nice easy beginner boards for you to take your first steps (literally and metaphorically) on, plus they’ll have all the right safety gear for you too. It’s definitely the safest way of doing things.

If you do have access to a lesson from a decent SUP school, they should be able to advise you on what size and style of board and paddle to go for.

If lessons aren’t an option or you’d just prefer to do it your own way, then check out this video, which will give you all the information that you’d get from a ‘live’ lesson. There’s a supporting article to the video here. Following the advice in this vid and article will make a huge difference to your experience. If you’re still finding it all a bit wobbly then this vid may well help too.

If you’d prefer to do your own research, then start with this article which explains the different board shapes and styles that are available. The most important aspect of board choice is getting the right size of board for your weight, and this article gives plenty of guidance on this most vital topic.

First and foremost

If you’re teaching yourself to paddleboard, using equipment you’ve bought or borrowed, then before you get out of your depth it’s really important to ensure that you can get back onto your board from a swimming position. If you’re already a windsurfer or surfer then you’ll be very familiar and comfortable with scrambling back onto a board, so paddleboarding should present you with no problems – although just bear in mind that most inflatable paddleboards are extremely thick, thus it’s considerably more of a climb up onto them than it is on a surfboard or windsurfer.

If you’re not coming from a boardsports background, then you may well find it quite a struggle to drag yourself out of the water and onto your board, particularly if you’re of a larger frame or no longer in the first flush of youth. So you really need to practice and ensure that you can overcome this, before you even think about paddling out into deeper water. (Again, this is why it’s so good to learn with an instructor, who will be able to help you through this process.)

Safety Equipment

Rather than having to work through all the information in this book right away, for your first couple of sessions your safety equipment options can be narrowed right down. Ideally, you’re going to be paddling on flat water with minimal current, so a coiled ankle/calf leash to keep you attached to the board, and a comfortable buoyancy aid will be ideal.

As for what to wear, if you think you’re going to be falling in then dress appropriately for getting wet. Don’t overdo it though – this is a mistake many beginners make. A full wetsuit is generally too much for active paddling, you’ll soon find yourself over-heating. If the water is so cold that a full wetsuit is necessary, it might be wise just to wait until it warms up a bit, if that is an option!

Buoyancy test

Again, just as with learning about getting onto the board before you get out of your depth, we’d strongly recommend getting to know your buoyancy aid before you actually need to rely on it following a fall. Walk out into waist deep water and lower yourself down, see how it floats you. Hopefully it feels comfortable and supports you well. However, if it instantly rises up to your ears as shown here, then either the straps are incorrectly set, not tight enough, or it simply doesn’t fit!

Likewise, if it tries to tip you over onto your back or front, then it may well not be an appropriate buoyancy aid for paddleboarding.

Once you’ve got it comfortable, have a go at climbing onto your board while wearing it. You may find that it makes it considerably harder to scramble onto the board so you need to modify your technique slightly. Or indeed, that it just isn’t an appropriate buoyancy aid for paddleboarding.

Choosing the Conditions

In case you want to get out there and start paddleboarding before you’ve had chance to read this book in full, again we can simplify it right down for your first few goes. Go for the most mellow conditions you can find! Find yourself some completely flat water, zero wind conditions, ideally in a sheltered enclosed stretch of water rather than the open sea, unless it really is incredibly benign conditions – without waves, swell, chop or bumps of any form, and no significant tidal currents running. This will greatly stack the odds in your favor. Bear in mind that the nicest conditions are often in the morning, because the breeze tends to build throughout the day so afternoons will generally be more windy. Although sometimes early evening can be really nice too, as long as you still have plenty of hours of daylight left!

Last thing – to repeat the point earlier, please don’t let the existence of this book put you off. Stand-up paddleboarding is actually an incredibly safe sport.  The number of accidents and incidents that occur is tiny compared to the number of paddleboarding sessions that happen around the world each year.  Statistically it’s a whole lot safer than DIY or gardening! But there’s never any harm in stacking the odds even more heavily in your favour, hence this book. The more you know, the greater the probability that you’ll not ever get into difficulties. You may well encounter situations, but you’ll know what to do, which prevents them becoming a problem. 

Once again, welcome to paddleboarding!