Hawaiian Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tips for Beginners

Paddle boarding was born in Hawaii and, like its older sibling surfing, represents the quintessential Hawaiian ocean experience for many people. And if you’re headed to the Aloha State, you can’t miss the opportunity to jump on a board and see for yourself why stand up paddle boarding is such an incredibly popular sport.

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What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?

Stand Up Paddle Boarding (or Paddleboarding) is also known as SUP and came about in the 1960s when Hawaiian surfers began standing on their longboards and using outrigger canoe paddles to venture out for a better view of the surf. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s that the sport began to gain momentum.

SUP is a popular choice for Hawaiian visitors because it’s great fun; it has a relatively easy learning curve to get up and paddle; it offers a spectacular and close-up view of Hawaii’s enchanting marine life; and it is a safe activity for people of all ages, sizes, and athletic abilities.

That said, there are a few thing beginners should keep in mind before gearing up and standing up. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to have a safe, fun, and memorable paddling experience:

1. Choose the right gear.

You’ll want to consult with a professional paddle boarder or surf shop to get the gear that’s right for your height, weight, skill level, and budget to ensure you have a safe and comfortable experience. You’ll need a stand up paddle board, a paddle, and a board leash. You may also be required to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or carry other safety equipment. Check with the stand up paddle board professionals about this.

2. Make sure your board and paddle are facing the correct way.

Ok, this one can seem like a no brainer, but for many beginners it may not be immediately obvious which end is the nose of the board. You’ll also want to place the paddle blade forward and the bend behind you, which may seem counterintuitive at first.

3. Paddle with your core, not your arms.

Your core muscles are stronger than your arms; using force mainly from your core region will give you more power behind every stroke. Plus, you won’t get tired nearly as fast.

4. Learn the proper way to fall.

Because fall, you will! Falling goes with the territory, so think of your first fall as a rite of initiation. That said, make sure the water you are standing in is at least shoulder deep and clear of obstacles, so you won’t hit anything under the water. You’ll also want to fall away and to the side of your board. The last thing you need is to whack yourself on the board on the way onto the water. Don’t worry about losing your board, as it’ll be attached to your ankle with your leash.

5. Look at the horizon.

Nearly everyone feels unstable at first and tends to look down at the board and ocean surface; some for balance and some to look for fish, sea turtles, and other interesting creatures. Resist the temptation to do so, as looking out toward the horizon will raise your head, straighten your back, and more evenly distribute your weight over your feet. Translation: less chance of abruptly meeting the water.

6. Stay clear of other stand up paddlers.

The Pacific Ocean is one heck of a big puddle, so keep your distance from others. You don’t want to hit your board, or anyone else’s, for that matter.

7. Respect the waves and watch the wind.

Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature. If you’re a beginner, you need conditions that are ideal for beginners. Know the forecast before you get into the water and understand that winds can seemingly pick up or change directions out of nowhere, so stay vigilant and don’t get in over your head.

SUP is the perfect ocean adventure for all skill levels

SUP is the perfect ocean adventure for all skill levels

8. Don’t go too far off shore.

See above: “Don’t get in over your head.” As we mentioned, weather on the ocean can change at the drop of a hat. If that happens, you’ll want to stay relatively close to shore because increased wind speeds will only make it harder for you to paddle back.  

9. Don’t linger near the shoreline any longer than you have to. 

Now you’re confused. We just told you not to go too far out, right? Staying close to the shore for longer than is necessary places you at increased risk of a wave crashing into you. This shore break can send you and your board and paddle flying, putting you at great risk of injury. Therefore, put on your leash while safely on the beach, watch the wave patterns for a bit, and get into the water and past the shore break as quickly as possible. You can walk out or quickly paddle out on your knees. Once you’re in about 5-6 ft. of water, you can get your bearings.

The whole family can have fun on a Hawaiian paddle boarding adventure

The whole family can have fun on a Hawaiian paddle boarding adventure

10. Take a SUP lesson.

While trying new things on your own can be great, in this case, there really is no substitute for a SUP lesson. Not only will the SUP expert know exactly when and where to take you based on daily conditions and your skill level, they will be right beside you to show you proper form, technique, and to keep you as safe as possible. Plus, the best companies will guarantee you’ll be up and paddling on your first lesson. It doesn’t get any better than that!

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