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Two paddleboarders out on the water, both wearing wetsuits, paddling towards the camera

Paddleboarding for beginners: Top tips

If you’re after a fun way to exercise, or you’re searching for some peace and tranquillity out on the water, this beginner’s guide to paddleboarding is a great place to start.

In recent years, paddleboarding – also known as stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) – has seen a huge increase in popularity. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing watersports in the world right now.

If you’re a paddleboarding beginner, there are some things to learn that will make your trips out on the water both safer and more enjoyable. 

Why do people love paddleboarding?

People pick up paddleboarding for a number of reasons – here are just a few of them:

  • You use almost every single muscle in your body when you stand-up paddleboard, so it’s a great workout! It engages your core muscles, builds your abdominal strength, and tones your legs, back and shoulders.
  • Getting outside, breathing in the fresh air, and enjoying the calming water can be an incredibly relaxing and peaceful experience. 
  • It’s a fun way to spend time with your friends. And if you join a paddleboarding club, you’ll get to meet plenty of new people. 
  • It’s accessible too – in the UK and Ireland, you’re never too far from a waterway, whether that’s at the coast, or by a river or lake. 
  • It’s family-friendly, from children to grandparents and even the family pooch! 
A woman paddles out to sea, with a child sitting on the front of her board. They are both wearing lifejackets.

Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Paddleboarding can be enjoyed by the whole family

Is paddleboarding difficult?

Paddleboarding is a fairly low-intensity sport – it just requires a general level of fitness and the ability to balance. With proper instruction – and it’s very important to book a lesson – it doesn’t take long to become a paddleboarding pro. 

If I'm a beginner, do I need an inflatable or solid paddleboard?

Inflatable paddleboards are surprisingly sturdy and durable and can be easily deflated and stored away once you’re out of the water. They’re also easier on your body, as falling on a hard board can be painful!  Go Paddling has a guide to buying your first inflatable kayak. It’s important to pump up your board to the correct pressure recommended by the manufacturer – or else it will be hard to paddle.

Solid or hard paddleboards are more agile than inflatables and are often used for SUP surfing and racing. Although you don’t have to worry about blowing them up, they’re more difficult to store, heavier – and are often more expensive.

A man in a red and black wetsuit rolls up a deflated paddleboard

Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

One benefit of inflatable paddleboards? They’re easy to roll up and store away!

What kit do I need?

The correct leash

You’ll need to make sure your stand-up paddleboard has a leash, whether it’s an inflatable paddleboard or solid. That way, you won’t lose your board and you can use it to keep yourself afloat if you get into trouble.

Leashes that attach either to your ankle or calf often come supplied with the board. You can also buy a quick-release waist belt leash. Which leash you choose depends on where you paddle. For example, leg leashes are fine on the open sea or a lake where the water’s relatively still, but not if you’re paddling in flowing tidal waters such as estuaries.

RNLI Water Safety Adviser Nigel Muir, who coaches paddleboarding on the Thames, says: ‘Ankle leashes can become entangled around a buoy, boat, pontoon or jetty. A leash attached to a quick-release belt enables you to detach yourself from your board quickly in an emergency if you have to. For paddling in moving water, it’s an essential bit of kit.'

Get more information on choosing the right paddleboard leash for you with Go Paddling’s leash guide.

A buoyancy aid

Choose one that allows you plenty of movement so you can paddle freely. It will keep you afloat and help give you time to recover should you fall in – and the odds are, you will!

The right clothing

You’ll need to wear the right clothing for the season and conditions. In colder weather, you’ll want a wetsuit or drysuit. In the summer, you could wear a swimsuit – but remember, this won’t keep you warm if you fall in or if the wind picks up, so it’s worth packing warmer clothes in a drybag to take with you.

You should also bring sunscreen and a cap.  And don’t forget some spare clothes!

A means of calling for help

Bring a means of calling for help and keep it on your person. If it’s your phone, put it in a waterproof pouch. 

What do I need to know before I get started?

We want you to build your confidence and skill level so you can have a great time on the water. But before we get into paddleboarding tips, some absolute musts for safety are:

  • Wear the correct leash.
  • If you get into trouble, sit on your board with your legs either side of it. You can also put your paddle in the water to act as a brake. 
  • Carry a means of calling for help on your person and within easy reach – if it can't be reached, it's no help. Consider using the SafeTrx mobile phone app. It’s a free app which allows you to plan your trip and track your progress, alert your emergency contact, and gain quick access to the emergency services.
  • Try to choose a lifeguarded beach
  • Launch and recover your paddleboard between the black and white chequered flags.
  • Tell someone where you're going and what time you'll be back.
  • Check the weather forecast and tide times to make sure you’re going out at a safe time.
  • Avoid offshore winds – they can blow you out to sea and it’s an exhausting paddle to get back to shore.
  • Wear a buoyancy aid and suitable clothing for the forecasted conditions.
  • Try to paddle in a group, if possible.

And remember, if you get into trouble, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard if you’re at the coast, or the fire service if you’re inland.

Two paddleboarders, wearing wetsuits and buoyancy aids, paddling on the sea

Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Paddleboard in a group – it’s social and safer!

Paddleboarding tips

Before you hit the water, here are some tips you may want to consider: 

Book a lesson

You might be tempted to just buy a board and head out – but having a few training sessions under your belt can teach you techniques that’ll help build your water confidence and benefit your paddle sessions.

If you book an in-person session with a certified instructor, they’ll be able to teach you key paddleboarding skills, like how to properly grip and use your paddle, how to balance and turn your board, as well as how to stand-up paddleboard. They can also give you tips on the best places to paddle in your area.

Samantha Hughes, RNLI Water Safety Partner, says: ‘The best way to enhance your time on the water is to have a stand-up paddleboard lesson. You will learn useful techniques including tips to help you get back on the board. You’ll also develop your skills and knowledge of how to understand the environment such as wind and tidal information. This will set you up for future paddling.’

A man wearing a T-shirt, shorts and a buoyancy aid stands on a bright blue paddleboard, looking ahead

Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Don’t look down – keep your eye on the horizon

Look at the horizon

If you’re looking at your feet it can cause instability, so you’re more likely to lose balance and fall. You’ll also have a better awareness of what's going on around you and any potential hazards.

Practise getting on the board

It’s important to practise getting on your board. This will build confidence for the moment you least expect to take the plunge.

Perfect your paddleboarding stance

Go Paddling advise: ‘Stand or kneel as close to the middle of the board as possible.  Stand up straight, feet hip-width apart, put a slight bend in your knees, and engage your core. This is the perfect posture.’

Get more tips for your first time stand-up paddleboarding with Go Paddling.

A woman wearing a wetsuit walks into the sea with a blue bodyboard, with a leash attached to her ankle

Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Make sure your stand-up paddleboard has the correct leash for where you’re paddling

Where should I start paddleboarding?

While you’re getting to grips with the basics, it’s best to start on calm water such as a protected bay. This will help you get used to your board and develop your balance and technique. Remember, don’t paddleboard on your own, and if you’re heading to the coast, pick a lifeguarded beach

Before you head out

You’ve checked the weather and tides (and you know not to go out in an offshore wind), you’ve picked a lifeguarded beach, and you’re wearing all the right kit. What next?

Before you get in the water, give your equipment a thorough safety inspection. Make sure your leash is secured to the board, check your paddle for any signs of stress, and make sure your chosen form of communication is charged and secured on your person, within reach.

Got your paddleboard? Packed your buoyancy aid? Checked the wind direction? You’re off to a great start! Let us help you stay safe with the remaining essential advice you need.

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