Beginner Series | Where to Start

Nothing beats a day on the water. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Beginner Series | Where to Start

See if this scenario sounds familiar.

You’ve finally decided to give the whole standup paddling thing a try. After spending years watching others, it’s time to experience firsthand what this whole craze is about. So you borrow a board and after spending an hour or two paddling, you’re hooked.

Standup paddling is going to be your next big sport. You’ll meet new friends, get in better shape, and then learn how to master new SUP disciplines like surfing, racing, or even whitewater if you’re feeling adventurous. The possibilities are endless.

But where do you go from there?

With so many different disciplines, board types, paddles, safety gear and accessories, that question can become very overwhelming. You don’t want to start out on the wrong equipment but with so many options, it’s easy to make a misstep during the infancy of your paddling career.

There’s nothing worse than trying to learn on equipment not suited to your style. This can lead to a steeper learning curve, more frustration or even giving up the sport prematurely. In the second installment of our new Beginner Series, we’ll give you a simple guide for selecting the right gear that will set you on the path to becoming a successful paddler.


While that sleek 12’6″ race board the pros are riding may seem like the ticket, you’re better off starting out on something a little more user friendly. While the pros make riding these boards look easy, we assure you that is not the case. Their narrow shape makes them fast in the water, but for those with less experience, it also leads to a very tippy ride.

Instead, we suggest you go for something a little wider. Try to find a board in the 11- or 12-foot range and at least 31 or 32 inches wide. While you may think you have mastered this board after only a few times, having a stable platform is key for building a strong foundation in regards to your technique. Bad habits are hard to break, but starting off on the right board makes those easier to avoid.

Not too many sports let you walk on water. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt Getty Images


Perhaps no item is more pertinent to learning good stroke form than a quality paddle. While beginners are often tempted to try and save some money in this department, that is a huge mistake. Cheaper paddles are usually made from aluminum and that is bad news for your stroke. While the extra weight–compared to the carbon fiber paddles–may not seem like a big deal in the board shop, very ounce becomes magnified when taking strokes on the water.

While adjustable paddles are good if you plan on sharing, it is better to purchase a fitted carbon fiber paddle that perfectly fits your height. The general rule of thumb is to extend your hand above you and comfortably be able to place your palm on the handle. Another lesser known tip for beginners is to get a paddle guard. This will save both your board and your paddle from damage caused by beginners hitting the rails with the paddle while paddling.


Often overlooked by new paddlers, purchasing safety gear is of paramount importance for beginners. It is when paddlers are beginning that they are most likely to fall and being properly equipped can be the difference between life or death.

Essential safety items to purchase include a leash, PFD and a wetsuit if you plan on paddling in colder waters. Finding the proper leash is a whole discussion in and of itself. It depends on a variety if factors including discipline, board size, and preference. Check out our most recent article for a more in-depth look at finding the right leash. When it comes to PFDs (personal flotation device), it’s most important to make sure they are Coast Guard approved and worn properly (waist belts worn in the front).

Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to get out on the water. Stay tuned for future installments of this series where we go over each SUP discipline, basic skills, fitness routines, and more.

with this in-depth guide.

of our Beginner Series.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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