Is paddle boarding hard? Or is paddle boarding easy?
Well, no, it’s not. Paddle boarding is generally among the most accessible water sports to get into, but it’s not effortless, either. It depends. And as with any other type of on-the-water activity, having the right equipment and learning the proper techniques makes all the difference.
If you’re looking for a new, fun, outdoor hobby, paddle boarding might be it. Continue scrolling to see if it’s time to get yourself a paddleboard!
How Difficult Is Paddle Boarding?
You hop onto the board and start paddling. Seriously, how difficult could that be, right?
Well, I’m afraid things aren’t that simple. It still requires some level of physical fitness to be good at it. No one expects you to be in the best shape of your life or anything – but it sure helps to be fit.
Don’t let that intimidate you, though. The truth is that out of all the water sports I’ve tried – and believe me, there were MANY – stand up paddle boarding turned out to be one of the easiest to get the hang of, period.
Oh, and another thing:
It doesn’t cost a freaking fortune to get started.
I mean, sure, that’s highly subjective, but if I were to compare the costs of getting into kayaking – which involves a kayak, a paddle, and a PFD, at the very least – to the costs of starting out with paddle boarding, you’d spend a lot less. And I’m sure your wallet will be thrilled about it.
Anyway, back to the main topic – how hard is paddle boarding, really?
Well, as with kayaking, people seem to forget that paddling is a full-body workout. Your core, back, and leg muscles work overtime to keep you balanced. And your upper body? Well, you know the drill:
Paddle to the left, paddle to the right, rinse and repeat.
Of course, it all depends on the pace and the length of each paddling session, but repeating this pattern of motions is bound to burn some calories because it works your core muscles, strength, balance, and endurance. Seriously, you can burn 300 to 400 calories an hour at a relaxed pace.
But at the same time, stand up paddle boarding is still considered easy because people of pretty much all shapes and sizes, ages, and fitness levels can give it a go – and enjoy it with a minimum amount of effort.
Talk about having your cake and eating it, too, huh?
It All Depends On The Type Of Paddle Boarding You Do
Of course, I should add that the answer to the whole “Is paddleboarding hard?” discussion relies heavily on the type of paddle boarding you’re talking about here.
That brings me to my next point:
Paddle boarding comes in quite a few distinct “flavors,” ranging from recreational paddle boarding to surfing and – get this – actual paddleboard yoga. Yup, you read that last bit right.
Here’s how that looks in action:
I’ll do a deep dive into all these different types of paddle boards another time – but here’s a quick overview:
- Recreational paddle boarding
- Paddle board touring
- Paddle board racing
- Paddle board surfing
- Paddle board yoga/fitness
- Whitewater paddle boarding
So, I guess you could say that paddle boarding is generally as hard – or as easy – as you choose to make it.
Is Paddle Boarding Harder Than Kayaking?
At the risk of making some paddle boarding enthusiasts out there mad at me, stand-up paddle boarding is way easier than kayaking. It doesn’t seem like that to an outsider due to the whole sitting versus standing up thing – but looks, my friend, can be deceiving.
Then again, one could argue that these two are entirely different sports – which is true. So, it doesn’t make sense to compare apples and oranges here, huh?
But if I were to compare the two, I would say that kayaking is generally harder. And yes, there are more than a few facts that can back up that claim:
- Getting in and out of a kayak is much trickier to learn
- Recovering from a capsize requires a complex series of maneuvers with a kayak
- Transporting kayaks is a much bigger hassle due to their size and weight
- Kayaking is generally more physically demanding
- Paddle boarding burns fewer calories than kayaking, when paddling at the same pace and effort
- Kayakers are at a higher risk of repetitive motion injuries
I could go on – but you get the idea.
How To Make Paddle Boarding Easy – What All Beginners Need To Know
I’ve hopefully proved that paddle boarding genuinely isn’t that hard. But there are still ways to make it even easier.
Here are some paddle boarding tips that will guarantee a much smoother experience!
Choose The Right Paddle Board
If you’ve ever had to choose any sort of watercraft, you probably know the feeling of being overwhelmed by the options. Paddle boards are no different, as they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials.
And while there are a lot of great paddle boards on the market, not every board is right for every person. It’s important to consider how and where you plan to use your paddle board before making a purchase, as this will help you narrow down the options and choose the right board for you.
Do you want to paddleboard on flat water or in the surf? If you’re planning on doing mostly flat-water paddling (lakes, canals, rivers), then you’ll want a different type of board than if you’re planning on hitting the waves.
And remember that although the fundamental structure and components of a paddle board are comparable, each is built for a distinct purpose. But as a general rule – wider and shorter for stability, and longer and narrower for speed. Of course, it’s not that simple, but that would be the fundamentals.
The length and width of a SUP board plays a huge role in how it will “behave” on the water. Standard paddle boards are between 30 and 36 inches wide; the wider you go, the more stable – and, thus, beginner-friendly – the SUP will be.
That said, don’t forget about the board’s capacity. SUPs can generally hold 200 to 300 pounds on average – which will suit the average paddle boarder. Although, of course, some can have an even higher load capacity, going up to 500 pounds – so even the largest of paddle boarders shouldn’t have much trouble finding a suitable SUP.
As with kayaks, it’s important not to exceed the recommended weight limits – ever.
Lastly, I always recommend buying from a well-established brand. There are a lot of great paddle board brands out there, but some are better than others. Do your research, read reviews, and buy from a company that you trust.
Some of my favorites brands include Red, BIC Sport, BlueFin, BOTE and ISLE.
Choose The Correct Type & Size Of Paddle
You know what I always say about kayak paddles – they’re your weapon of choice and your primary means of propulsion.
And, well, the same applies to paddles used for paddle boarding.
Of course, there’s a difference between a paddle you’d use for a kayak and one you’d use for a paddleboard. For one, you won’t be using a double-bladed paddle.
Shape-wise, a SUP paddle blade can be either teardrop-shaped and rectangular, with the latter being gentler on the paddler – and, thus, more beginner-friendly of the two.
As for the materials, you generally have the same standard options – plastic, aluminum (for the shaft), fiberglass, and Carbon fiber – although some SUP paddles can be made of wood.
How do you choose a suitable paddle for you, though?
As with any other type of paddle, the general rule is to find one that works for your body – and by “body,” I mostly mean height.
Since the whole idea is that you’ll be standing up on the board, you have to have a paddle that can enter the water deep enough to keep you going, right?
So, choosing the right length of the paddle – measured from the edge of the blade to the top of the handle – should be your primary concern. The general rule of thumb is to get a paddle that is at least six inches longer than you are tall; that would be the minimum length you should aim for here.
Take A Lesson – Build A Solid Foundation
Okay, I’ve said this several times already, but learning how to paddleboard is incredibly easy. In fact, you could probably get the hang of the basics in a day or two.
I’d say that the most challenging bit is managing to stand up on the board. Getting your balance “just right” can be tricky. But once you get the balancing part right, everything else will pretty much come naturally.
That said, I do recommend taking a lesson or two – especially if you don’t have any experience with paddling sports. It’ll help you master the basics, including:
- How to hold your paddle
- How to do a forward stroke
- How to do a reverse stroke
- How to do a sweep stroke
You could probably figure out most of these on your own, with a bit of trial and error.
But your paddle stroke technique will likely be less than ideal – and you’ll end up zig-zagging all over the place. And that means that your performance – and the efficiency of each stroke – would suffer.
So, try to squeeze in a few lessons if possible.
Plus, it’ll help you get the hang of getting onto a paddleboard in the first place and going from a kneeling position to a standing position – hopefully, without tipping over.
Oh, and one more thing – learn how to fall safely and recover after capsizing. I mean, it’s not going to be as dramatic as flipping over a kayak, but it doesn’t hurt to learn how to get back on your board from the water after tipping over.
If you are a beginner try and practice paddling in shallow water. That way if you do fall off you won’t end up too far from the board.
And finally, have some fun! Paddle boarding is a really enjoyable activity, so make sure to take the time to enjoy your surroundings and relax while enjoying a good workout.
Mind Your Fitness Level
You don’t have to be insanely fit or strong to paddleboard; just about anyone willing to learn can do it. Most of it is a matter of technique rather than strength, anyway.
But as with any other physical activity, you should at least be in good general health. Oh, and being a strong swimmer doesn’t hurt, either.
And while you don’t need to be a pro-athlete level of fit, one thing you will require here is proper balance. Paddle boarding doesn’t work if your stability and balance are off – which is why I highly recommend taking the time to work on improving your core strength and balance.
You can practice on dry land before hitting the waters with your SUP. Also, start paddling from a kneeling position until you get more comfortable; take your time and work your way up to paddle boarding standing up.
There’s no need to rush it. Remember to keep your body facing straight ahead, legs shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and your back straight while you paddle – as it will help with maintaining your balance.
Location, Location, Location – Paddle To Your Ability
Finally, it’s time to talk about location. Now, this is mostly a general piece of advice – something I would say to any paddler out there – but that doesn’t make it any less important:
Choose a location that suits your current abilities and skill level.
Or, in other words, don’t make this any harder – or more dangerous – than it needs to be.
If you’re new to this whole thing, calm conditions with sheltered, flat water – such as lakes – will be a safe bet. You should generally avoid any bodies of water that will force you to fight or ride waves, strong currents, or winds for the time being. So SUP surfing or whitewater paddling might not be the ideal choice for an inexperienced paddle boarder.
Here are a few additional considerations when it comes to choosing the right location:
- How far will you have to carry your board and paddle from the car to the put-in spot?
- Do you have both your put-in and take-out spots picked out?
- Do you have an alternative route?
- Is it possible to scout the area for any hazards, such as low-head dams?
- Are there places along your route where you can stop and take a break if needed?
If you need assistance finding great places to paddle board near you, check out our free interface map.
Paddle Boarding Safety 101 – Is Paddle Boarding Safe?
So, is paddle boarding dangerous?
The answer, I’m afraid, is similar to the one about how hard paddleboarding is – it depends. You see, as with any on-the-water activity, there are some inherent risks you must keep in mind. But it isn’t any more dangerous than kayaking – if that makes any difference to you.
With that said, as long you behave responsibly, use common sense, prepare for it, and have the right equipment, I’m confident that safety shouldn’t be a concern.
Paddle boarding generally doesn’t call for a lot of additional equipment, which is great news. All you really need is a SUP and a paddle. But when it comes to safety, there are a few items you’ll have to add to that list.
Here’s what you’ll need to stay safe on the water:
- Gloves – Do you like blisters and calluses? Yeah, I figured you’d say “No.” So, allow me to introduce you to this wonderful little invention called the paddling glove. It protects the hands from cuts, frostbite, blisters, and all that, while also ensuring a better grip on your paddle.
- Wetsuit – What you wear depends on the conditions, sure – but I generally recommend wearing a neoprene wetsuit for some protection. It’s not like you don’t have options; wetsuits range from thinner “spring suits” suitable for warmer climates to full-body suits that are a must in colder weather.
- Drysuit – Okay, if you insist on paddle boarding in near-freezing temperatures, then a wetsuit won’t cut it. You should consider upgrading to a dry suit if the temperatures fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. These suits get major bonus points for keeping you dry!
- PFD – A personal flotation device – or life jacket – is a must whenever you’re near or in the water, period. Just be sure to get one that’s designed with paddlers in mind; a PFD should never mess with your range of motion.
- Helmet – Some might argue that a paddling helmet is overkill for a casual paddle – but if we’re here to discuss safety, then yes, you’re going to need one. It doesn’t have to be an all-out, full-face helmet you’d use for whitewater kayaking, but a basic one is essential in my book.
Additional Safety Tips
Again, paddle boarding safety is generally about common sense, responsible behavior, planning, and having the right equipment.
But you know me – I always have a few additional tips for you:
- Check your equipment before setting out – Making sure that all your equipment is in good condition, working correctly, and ready for use is half the battle when it comes to personal safety. So, before you head out, go over everything, including your PFD and paddle board. Oh, and, if you’re using an inflatable SUP, don’t leave your home without a repair kit and a pump.
- Dress for the water, not the weather – That’s the number one rule of choosing suitable clothes as a paddler. You’re going to get wet; I can promise you that. So, make sure that your outfit is picked out with that in mind.
- Check the weather forecast – Paddle boarding on a sunny afternoon does sound lovely, doesn’t it? But if you’re hoping for a pleasant afternoon on the water, you better check if Mother Nature has other plans. A little bit of rain won’t be such a big deal. However, you want to avoid any strong winds or near-freezing temperatures.
- Check tide times – Do you intend on paddle boarding in coastal waters? Then be sure to check tide predictions for the area and assess water levels and tidal currents before you head out.
- Wear a PFD – I cannot stress this one enough. Always – and I mean ALWAYS – wear a PFD when you’re on the water. For one, they’re generally required by law. But what is even more important here is that they could potentially save your life one day.
- Inform others about your plans – You probably don’t need to put together a float plan, especially if you’re going for a quick paddle on a nearby lake – but it does help to inform others about where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
- Avoid paddling alone – I’m all for spending some alone time on the water and enjoying the silence, but when it comes to safety, try not to head out alone. If you don’t have any paddle boarding buddies yet, don’t worry; you can join a local paddling group.
Myth Busters – Stand Up Paddle Boarding Edition
Before I wrap this whole thing up, I’d like to take a moment to discuss some common myths and misconceptions about paddle boarding. I’d hate for anyone to pass up on something so fun and easy just because someone convinced them that they can’t – or shouldn’t – do it.
So, let’s debunk a few myths, shall we?
- You must be fit and strong to paddleboard – I don’t know who told you this, but I’m here to tell you they were dead wrong. The beauty of paddle boarding is that it’s suitable for pretty much anyone – regardless of their age, body type, or physical fitness level. You don’t need superhuman strength to get the hang of it; the technique is what matters most.
- Women and children are too weak to paddleboard – Oh, boy, wait until my wife hears about this one. She took up paddle boarding not too long ago, and the last time I checked, she wasn’t some ripped, brawny guy. As for children – well, I’m pretty sure paddle boards for kids and teens wouldn’t be a thing if this claim about kids being “too weak” were true.
- You can’t paddleboard in the winter – Of course, you can – although I’m not a huge fan of freezing temperatures. But that’s a matter of preference. If we’re speaking facts, though, then yes, of course, you can go paddle boarding in the winter. Just be sure to layer up for the occasion; base layers, drysuit, gloves, socks, neoprene boots, a hat – the whole nine yards.
Summary: How Hard Is Paddle Boarding?
Getting started with stand up paddle boarding isn’t that hard.
It’s incredibly versatile; people of all ages, shapes, and sizes can do it – and it doesn’t take a lot of money, either. That’s one of the reasons why SUPs have grown in popularity so much in recent years.
Paddle boarding is an incredibly easy water sport to learn. But of course, getting started and actually mastering it are two very different things. But still, if you are looking for an alternative to kayaking or surfing, get out there and give paddle boarding a try.
You’ll love it!