Can You Teach Yourself to Paddle Board? (Easy 3-Step Guide!)

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is a rapidly growing sport that can be done practically anywhere, including bays, rivers, lakes, and oceans. To experience this joy for yourself, one of the first questions that comes to mind is whether or not teaching yourself through trial and error is a viable option.

You can teach yourself to paddle board. With basic instructions, you should be able to stand upright and paddle the board after having briefly taken the board out for the first time. Advanced techniques may require an instructor, but the basics are straightforward and easy to implement. 

Paddle boarding suits people of all ages, body types, and skill levels. It’s never too late to learn paddle boarding. Keep reading further to know how you could learn to paddle board within the quickest time frame possible, so that you can spend less time flailing around in the water and more time enjoying paddle boarding as it was meant to be done.

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself with Basic SUP Equipment 

To start off on the right note, you must have all the essential equipment handy and familiarize yourself with what each piece of equipment does. A basic checklist of the essential SUP equipment is provided below.

  • paddle board 
  • paddle
  • leash
  • board bag
  • personal floatation device

Paddle Board 

A paddle board could be made out of plastic, wood, carbon fiber, or aluminum. These lightweight construction materials help keep the paddle board afloat in the waters. The board comes in an assortment of different shapes and sizes. A general rule of thumb is to choose a board that is anywhere between six to ten inches taller than you. 

Since you are considering learning the sport, I assume you don’t own a board yet. The Thurso Surf Waterwalker is a remarkable paddle board for beginners if you’d like a recommendation to start off your search. If that recommendation doesn’t appeal to you, the Tower Adventurer 2 is a fine alternative.  


The paddle is a short pole that helps you set the paddle board in motion. The paddle is broken down further into distinct parts. These terms are extremely beneficial to know when learning how to paddle properly, as they can indicate where to specifically position your hands and and what parts of the paddle should be making contact with the water.

To make this learning process easier on you, I defined these terms below. 

  • Grip: the topmost part of the paddle
  • Shaft: the paddle’s handle, which is right below the grip and ends at the paddle’s throat
  • Throat: the portion of the shaft that extends into the blade
  • Shoulder: the area between the paddle’s throat and blade
  • Blade: the flat, wide end of the paddle for wading through water during paddling
  • Tip: the blade’s end.

The blade is typically bent slightly at an angle to facilitate increased forward reach when making a stroke. 

It is also important to note that the paddle should be taller than you. When you grab the paddle at the top when positioned vertically, your arms should be bending, not straight (source). When your hand is completely stretched, the paddle should not extend beyond your wrist. The paddle is equipped with a mechanism on top to extend its length and lock it in place. 


The leash ensures the board remains hooked on to your feet, at the ankle, by way of a Velcro strap. Leashes are available in multiple sizes. Generally, the leash should be slightly smaller than or of the same size as your board. The leash comes is a convenient failsafe to have if you happen to accidentally fall off the board.

Board Bag 

A board bag helps your paddle board remain in pristine condition for as long as possible. The majority of the blemishes you observe on a paddle board stemmed from incidents that occurred during transit or storage. The presence of a board bag helps protect against nicks caused by any sudden impact. This will extend the life of the paddle board by years and will save you a great deal of money in the long run.

Personal Floatation Device 

A personal floatation device, as the name suggests, is a device to help you stay afloat in the event that the leash slides off as you’re falling. Such a device is recommended if you are paddle boarding for the first time or beyond recreational use.

Learn Different Paddling Techniques 

There are some basic paddling techniques that you must implement when paddle boarding as an amateur. These techniques primarily revolve around using the paddle as the lever. Your bottom hand functions as the swivel point, while your top hand simultaneously steers the lever.

Paddling Forward

To paddle forward, follow these steps:

  • Keep your bottom hand straight and fairly still.
  • Pull your upper arm toward yourself.
  • Rotate your upper shoulder forward and lengthen your reach.
  • Place the paddle as forward as possible in the water and bury it in.
  • Instead of pulling the paddle to move ahead, try to pull yourself past the paddle.
  • To maintain a straight line, stroke on both sides of the board. Alternate between five to seven strokes on each side (source). Also, change your hand positioning while alternating for increased efficiency.

Forward Sweep Stroke 

The purpose of the forward sweep stroke is to initiate a turn or spin, which ultimately helps you to steer the board. Here are the fundamental steps involved in executing a forward sweep stroke:

  • To turn to your left, insert the paddle within the water on your right side while turning your torso to your left.
  • Do the exact opposite to turn to your right.
  • Keep your stance low while steering the board and twist and lean your upper body simultaneously.

Reverse Sweep Stroke 

The reverse sweep stroke is essentially the opposite of a forward sweep stroke. The process for this maneuver is outlined below: 

  • Turn to your right.
  • Position the paddle at the board’s tail.
  • Pull the paddle toward the board’s nose while moving your torso to your right.

The aforementioned steps would help spin the nose toward your right side. Bend your knees while trying a reverse sweep stroke. The more you keep your knees bent, the easier it will be to rotate the board. 

Step 3: Apply the Following Tips and Tricks 

As a novice paddle boarder, it is inevitable that you will make a few mistakes along the way. This is normal. However, to help accelerate the learning curve, I provided the following tips to reduce the number of potential errors you might make:

  • Always position your hands so that one hand is holding the paddle’s top and the other hand is clutching the shaft. Do not hold onto the shaft with both hands.
  • Your grip must be shoulder-width apart. If your hands are too closely positioned, you will not be able to power through your strokes and maximize your work output.
  • Don’t forget to put your back muscles to work too. If you’re going to paddle strictly with your arms, you will not be able to paddle effectively, which will tire you rather quickly. Your back muscles should be actively engaged as the blade is dipped completely into the water for the long stroke.
  • Be certain that your feet are widely spaced and are parallel to each other. Spread your shoulders out to maintain good posture and ensure that your toes are pointing toward the nose of the board.
  • Avoid taking on a “surf” stance. The surfing stance negates your maximum stroke power, even when paddling out on flat water. Not to mention that this stance also ups your chances of falling off the board.

Can You Paddle Board Seated?

Stand up paddle boarding is ideal if you’d like to explore the depths below because of the unique upright perspective that the sport offers. 

The board is primarily designed to function as a stand up water vessel, but you can also sit on the deck if you desperately need a break. If you are paddling for an extended time period, it may be advantageous to attach a seat to the board itself. There is an incredible selection of paddle board chair option available on the market. The MantaGlider Seat is the detachable paddle board seat that sticks out in my mind. 

It is even possible for you to rest on your knees and sit cross-legged while riding around. Sitting on a stationary board can be quite relaxing. However, if you are on the move or actively making turns, staying seated could make things unnecessarily difficult. Paddle boards are intentionally designed to be flatter and wider, which eases the burden of maintaining balance but takes away from maneuverability, especially when seated.


SUP is erupting in popularity as both an engaging water sport and a casual recreational activity (source). It has yet to reach mainstream status, but that status quo is set to change going forward. And the fact that paddle boards are now available as inflatables only adds to the sport’s overall appeal. If you are keen on learning how to paddle board, just know that you’re not alone.

Remember that is imperative you consider the activity as serious exercise. Do not dive in without the proper paddle boarding knowledge and necessary safety measures. If it is your very first session, make sure you tackle the calm waters first, perfect the fundamentals, and then head over to harsher conditions. Follow the steps listed above and you will already be ahead of your beginner compatriots!

Sources: 1 2 3 4

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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