SUP-ing for Newbies

So, you got a SUP board for Christmas?!

A man is walking towards the ocean holding a SUP board.

If you’re a beginner, you may have found that SUP-ing is not necessarily as easy as it looks!

Welcome to one of the fastest-growing recreational water activities in the world. Whilst stand-up paddling (SUP-ing) originated in Hawaii in the 1940-50s, it took another 50 years for everyone else to catch on. It’s not surprising that Australians have embraced SUP-ing, given we’re blessed with thousands of kilometres of coastline and abundant inland waterways to paddle about on. People continue to be drawn to the physical and emotional benefits of the sport – working on balance and core strength, while enjoying some water therapy.

However, if you’re a beginner, you may have found that it’s not necessarily as easy as it looks! My husband had expressed an interest in trying either kite boarding or SUP-ing. I decided that the latter was probably something we’d all be able to enjoy. I found a second-hand board for a reasonable price and a voucher for an introductory lesson. The lesson was a great idea, providing heaps of tips on set-up, technique, and safety that he was then able to pass on to us – and that I can now do so to you!

Allow me to share some of our family’s experience in SUP-ing over the last 7 years.

Before You Start…

A SUP board is sitting on a flat body of clear ocean water.

Before you jump on the board, there are a few things to establish…

Check the Weather

…and by that, I mean wind!

Less wind is better, so this decides if we SUP or not. Understanding how the wind will affect the body of water you plan to SUP on will determine how enjoyable your time is out there. Our favourite app is WillyWeather as you can see the forecast, plus real-time wind speed and direction.

For example, from the snapshot below, the wind is blowing offshore at our local Port Phillip Bay beach. This means it won’t be too choppy close to shore. I’ll find the paddle out super easy with the wind behind me, but once I turn around things will get interesting! For that reason, I’d probably think twice about SUP-ing in these conditions.

The impact that wind can have on SUP-ers has been reflected on the news too. Four teens on two inflatable SUPs set out from the Mornington Peninsula one evening and were swept by strong offshore winds more than 20km across the bay (and the shipping channel), washing up on the Bellarine Peninsula at about 2 o’clock in the morning. They were incredibly lucky to walk away from that!

Note that iSUPs are more affected by wind and choppy waters than the heavier, hard-board type.

The wind is blowing offshore at Port Phillip Bay beach, which means it won’t be too choppy close to shore.

Gather Your Equipment

OK – so the weather is perfect and you’re raring to go! You’ve obviously got the board and paddle, which is a good start, but…

Make sure there’s a leg leash, and use it. You want to stay attached to that board!

Sun protection and safety is a must! Consider a PFD (lifejacket or vest) as well. It’s a good idea to check the regulations in your state or territory, regarding SUPs.

A man is SUP-ing in the shallows of a beach.

Stay attached to that board!

I always take my phone in a small dry sack, as I like to take photos. I also have a strap to secure my sunnies in case I fall in.

Before you jump on the board, check the paddle is at the correct height for you too. Stand on the shore holding it upright next to you, then reach up and rest your hand on the top of the paddle at the wrist. Your arm should be straight – if it’s not, the paddle needs to be longer. On the other hand, if you cannot rest your wrist on the top, it needs to be shorter.

Right – now you’re ready to go!

On the Water

A child is standing on a SUP board in the shallows of the ocean, holding a paddle.

Once you’ve gained good momentum, stand up straight.

Launch Procedure

  1. Walk the board out deep enough for the fin to clear the bottom.
  2. Hold the paddle with two hands flat across the board (roughly in the middle) as you kneel behind it.
  3. Remain kneeling as you begin to paddle (remember, the paddle has a front and back). You can stay like this for as long as you like while getting used to the board.
  4. Once you’re feeling good and have gained good momentum, stand up straight.
A child is standing on a SUP board, holding a paddle. An adult is nearby, watching.

If there is some wind – paddle into it!

Making Way

  1. Your body should be facing forward, head tall. We tend to lean forward when feeling unsteady, so switch on that core or you’ll end up with a sore back!
  2. You checked the wind direction when you arrived at the beach, right? Good. If there is some wind – paddle into it! You’ll appreciate the tailwind on the return journey. Stick close to shore while you’re still learning.
  3. With each stroke, bend into the knees like you’re doing a half-squat. This should be a whole-body workout, not just your arms!
  4. There are three basic ways to change direction:
    • Slow Turn – just keep paddling on one side only
    • The Sweep – make a wide-arching paddle stroke (think of a rainbow shape)
    • The Back Paddle – this allows for a sharper turn by alternating the back paddle stroke with a front stroke on the opposite side
  5. Like anything you want to learn, YouTube has a plethora of technique tutorials!
  6. Chances are, you will fall in – that’s all part of the fun! Your board won’t go far because it’s attached to you. Climb back on, and repeat.
A woman is SUP-ing in the rain, on the ocean.

Once you find your balance, you’ll be paddling like a pro in no time!

But What If…

  1. The wind changes suddenly? Drop to your knees and paddle back. You’ll act less like a sail when you’re positioned lower.
  2. There’s boat wake? As above, drop to your knees if you feel wobbly.
  3. You’re tired? Sit or lie down, and just enjoy floating around for a bit.

Once you find your balance, you’ll be paddling like a pro in no time! We have had so much fun with our SUP boards at many beaches around Victoria: Point Leo, Inverloch, Walkerville, Wilsons Prom, Phillip Island, Anglesea, and Apollo Bay to name a few.

SUP-ing really is a wonderful way to connect with Mother Nature – but just remember, she can be quite changeable! Be aware of your environment as you SUP off into the sunset!

A man is SUP-ing on the ocean at sunset. The sky is a vivid red and golden light melts on to the water's glassy surface.

SUP-ing really is a wonderful way to connect with Mother Nature.

Thinking of giving SUP-ing a go? Let us know in the comments!