Jacob Little

The dos and don’ts of paddleboarding

The dos and don'ts of paddleboarding
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Searches for paddleboarding locations across the country have risen hugely over the last 18 months, with the global market for paddle boards now estimated to be worth around £7 billion. Stand Up Paddleboarding, also known as SUP, is a popular way to easily and cheaply get out on to the water, without having to purchase a huge amount of equipment or carry racks, as you would for kayaking, for example. Paddleboarding is suitable for both exploring the coastline or paddling around the lochs and lakes of the UK, making it an extremely versatile way of providing you with freedom and ability to gain your sea legs on a small budget.

What type of paddleboard do I need?

If you’re thinking of giving it a go, spend a little bit of time discussing what kind of paddling you’d like to do with your local outdoor or coastal adventure company – they’re usually more than happy to help and will guide you through the process of choosing the right board – often taking you out on taster sessions and guidance trips to teach you the basics. Adventure companies up and down the country are also experts on their local area, so it’s also worth picking their brains on local spots, interesting locations and adventurous trips once you get a little more proficient. For most people, inflatable, all-round paddleboards are the best option and you’ve probably come across them at your local lake or beach. They come with their own pump and roll up in compact bags so you can put them in the boot of the car easily. Touring SUPs tend to be longer and narrower for easier movement through the water for longer trips, yoga SUPs have larger, grippier pads on the surface of the board and surf SUPs are more akin to traditional surfboards and feel less ‘floaty’ on flat sea but come into their own in terms of manoeuvrability when riding the waves. Again, discuss these options with your local adventure centre and they’ll happily point you in the right direction.

You’ll also need to think about sizing your board and paddle, as this will make a big difference to how comfortable and easy it is to make progress on the water. Your paddle especially should be customised to your arm length, your paddleboard’s size and what kind of paddling you’re intending to do. Spend a bit of time trying a few sizing options out – most are adjustable and are easy to set to the right length once you’ve had a bit of practise out on the water.

How to stand on a SUP

The next thing to do is to learn how to successfully stand. You’ll fall in a few times no doubt, but the joy of a paddleboard is that they’re extremely easy to get back on as they’re so buoyant. Always try for the first few times in clear, calm waters and start in a kneeling position, taking a few strokes to get your balance on the board, retain momentum and get an understanding of your centre of gravity and how little movements affect the balance of the board. When you’re ready, stand up one leg at a time, with your feet about a shoulder’s width apart as close to the middle of the board as you can. Once you’re up, the key is not to be too rigid, which takes practise, but it helps if you can bend your knees a little bit and keep your core straight. It’s easier to do this on longer boards – practice makes perfect!

Once you’re away, you’ll be keen to start exploring, but there are still some basics to remember, from both an enjoyment and a safety perspective.

Write your name and number on your paddleboard

The RNLI have recently reported a number of false alarms around the coast of the UK, where searches have been undertaken for supposedly missing people when their boards have been found floating out to sea. If you write your number on your board, you can be contacted to see if you’ve lost your board, and ensure it gets safely returned to you. It saves the charity’s time and effort and, in many cases, lost boards are just that – their owners safe and sound on the beach or cliffs above!

Check the tides and currents

It sounds simple but it’s so easy to get caught out. If you’re paddling on the ocean, check the tide times, the currents where you’re paddling and at what times the weather or conditions might change – sites like Magicseaweed are increasingly accurate.

Use a waterproof or dry bag

Many inflatable paddleboards have ties or elastic straps you can use to attach belongings to – especially useful if you’re paddling for long distances or for much of the day. Remember water and sun cream, and if you’re taking spare clothes or jackets, a good dry bag or waterproof bag is a must. If you’re taking your phone with you to take pictures, also be sure to pack a waterproof pouch.

Be aware of wind conditions

Even if you’re on a small lake the wind can really get up when you’re out there, so check wind speed and direction carefully. Remember that when you’re standing on a board, your body can act as a big sail, so the wind will have a big impact on where you go – often without you having much control over the matter! A headwind will have a strong effect and if you’re paddling into the wind, it will be a lot more difficult and you’ll get far more tired.

Technique takes time

Holding the paddle correctly is one of the best things you can do to make your life easier on the water. An incorrectly held or positioned paddle can make you lose your balance. Try holding the paddle with the curve towards you and gently submerge the paddle in the water – the fewer splashes the better! Standing up straight is important as is keeping your hands nicely spaced to ensure maximum effect from each stroke. Face where you want to go and keeping your head looking in front of you. Much like any sport when you’re in motion, if you look down, that’s where you’ll end up!