How Hard is Paddle Boarding?

  • By: Adrian
  • Approximate reading time: 9 min.

Stand up paddle boarding, aka SUP, is a great water sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. But how hard is it to learn? Is it easy or difficult? How does it compare to other popular water sports?

In this article, I will hopefully answer all of those questions and more! I will also provide a few helpful tips for beginners on how to get started with SUP.

What is SUP?

how hard is paddle boarding? with a few one to one lessons you can be out on the water in no time
Taking a group SUP class can mean you’re competent after just a few lessons

Stand up paddle boarding is an emerging water sport that has quickly gained popularity in recent years. It is similar to surf boarding, but instead of riding a wave, paddle boarders use their own power to move through the water. 

SUP can be done on flat water such as lakes and rivers and even rough oceans. You just need to make sure you have the correct board for your height and weight.

Stay Safe

SUP is a great water sport for people of all ages and abilities. However, it is important to note that paddle boarding is not the same as swimming. Although you may be able to paddle board in shallow water, it is not recommended for deep water unless you are a very good swimmer.

In most places the law says you have to wear a personal flotation device and I would add a safety whistle to that.

Is SUP Easy?

SUP is an incredibly easy water sport to learn but it does take practice to be able to balance and stay upright on a paddle board.

A SUP beginner will almost certainly find themselves falling off their boards into the water during their first time on the water. However, with practice and perseverance, anyone can learn how to paddle board! Once you have mastered the basics, you can start exploring different techniques and tricks.

Remember that you don’t always have to stand up to paddle board though. If you’re a total beginner and you’re having trouble staying on your feet, you always have the option to paddle from your knees or use the prone paddling method.

Some boards even have special padding on the deck to make it more comfortable when kneeling.

In addition, stand up paddle boarding is not as difficult as surfing. 

Surf boarding has a much steeper learning curve and requires more balance and coordination than paddle boarding.

Different Boards 

Obviously, there’s never a one-size-fits-all. As it is with many sports, there are variations requiring different techniques, equipment, and experience levels. With paddle boarding, there are four main variations of the sport and each has its own style of board plus there’s the all rounder that tries to do a bit of everything and is firmly aimed at the beginner.

The All Rounder

The all rounder SUP is where every beginner should start. Most experienced paddlers start with an all rounder paddle board to learn on and then later purchase a specialist board if they decide to progress to a specific type of stand up paddle boarding. 

Many don’t (me included) and prefer the versatility of the all rounder. They’re great to learn on as most are at least 30″ wide (go for 31″), you can cruise on them, do a bit of touring, you can even try to surf a few waves on an all rounder. Not big waves mind, just shin slappers but it’s enough to give you a taste of what its like.

They aren’t the best board at any of the disciplines but they are good enough to give you a taste of each. After all, who wants to pay $1200 on a racing board just to find that actually, riding the waves look more fun?

The Paddle Board Tourer

A tourer board is designed to go fast and go straight so long distances can be covered. It’s a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery. You do need a bit of previous board experience and skill to do this as the tourer board is narrow and long so its a bad choice for a beginner.

SUP Racing

Paddle board racing is the second variation of the sport, and it requires more skill and experience than what we just talked about. This is because you need to be moving through the water at a faster pace, and you’ll need to use your entire body to paddle effectively.

The weight of the board and material of the paddle also come into play here. Heavier boards will be slower, and stiffer paddles will allow you to push through the water more effectively. 

In paddle board racing, you typically start off by kneeling on your board. You then use your arms to paddle forward, and once you get up to speed, you can start standing up. However, some paddle board races use no paddles at all and the racers use their arms to paddle while in the kneeling position. 

Both types of races require strength and endurance to move fast through the water. If you’re looking for a more challenging experience, this is the variation of paddle boarding you may want to aim for once you’ve learnt the basics.

Racing paddle boards are long and sleek to aid cutting through the water as fast as possible. This makes them less buoyant so it isn’t recommended to buy a racing board until you’ve learnt to SUP on an all rounder board or tourer.

SUP Surfing 

Paddle board surfing is arguably the most physically and technically challenging of all as it requires a great deal of balance, stamina, and technical know-how.

This isn’t something you can just pick up and learn in one day, though you might be able to stand and catch a wave or two after a day of intensive practice. It’s helpful to have experience with standard surf boarding because you’ll already have an idea of how it feels to ride a wave. 

Physically, SUP surfing is challenging because you have to paddle through waves and maintain your balance on the board at the same time. This can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. Your core muscles, arms, and legs will be constantly engaged, so a few hours on the water is a great way to burn calories and get a workout. 

If you’re looking for a water sport that is both physically and technically challenging, then this paddle board option is definitely for you. It’s not something that you can learn overnight, but with enough practice, you’ll be catching waves in no time.

SUP Yoga

SUP yoga is a fast growing pastime
SUP Yoga is a fast growing pastime

Many people take up paddle boarding to improve their wellbeing. Just about all paddlers have felt an inner peace and calmness when out on the water by themselves. It’s no surprise then that a whole new niche was formed around paddle boards for practising yoga.

A SUP Yoga board is large so as to allow you room for the various poses. 

While it isn’t something I have ever done, I have spoken to many who SUP Yoga and they tell me the water brings a new dimension to their workout.

Just about any paddle board center will now offer SUP Yoga lessons and the fee will include the use of a board so you can try it before committing to buying your own.

Getting Started with Paddle Boarding

If you are interested in learning how to paddle board, there are a few things you need to know before getting started. First, you need to find the correct board. You can either locate a rental shop or purchase a paddle board, but it is important to make sure you get the right size for your height and weight. 

As I’ve already said, the most popular stand up paddle boards to learn on are the ‘all rounder’ and they are usually between 10 and 11 feet in length. 

The heavier you are, the taller and wider you will want your board to be. If you’re concerned about balance, it’s also good to keep the width of the board in mind as well. Wider boards will be much more stable than narrow ones. More surface area means more stability. 

Also, the thickness of the board is important. Thicker boards are more durable, but they can be harder to paddle. These often have reinforced decks, making them thicker and heavier, but all the more stable. 

So if you know you don’t have good balance, it’s sometimes better to go with the bigger board. If you’re still unsure, ask the salesperson at the shop. They will be able to recommend a board for your specific height and weight.

Just remember that generally the bigger the board, the less well it will perform. It’s a trade off but as a beginner it is one worth taking. Going with a good quality all rounder will be easier to learn on so you will be less likely to give up. 

Don’t forget that you can paddle from your knees until you get your sea legs. This is a great option for those who aren’t yet comfortable standing and also for those who are getting tired from the standing position after paddling for a while. If you start to feel your legs getting wobbly, just get yourself in the kneeling position and paddle from there for a while. 

Once you have the right board, you need to find the right SUP paddle.

The SUP Paddle

Without a decent paddle stroke you won’t get very far so picking one out that is suitable for you is important. 

SUP Paddles come in various sizes, and they are designed with different uses in mind. But finding the right paddle size will make your whole experience much less challenging, and much more enjoyable. You also want to make sure the blade of the paddle is wide enough to give you good power with each stroke. 

If you’re just going out for a lazy paddle cruise with friends, you’re going to want a paddle that’s taller than you are. To find the right size paddle, stand it up next to you with the paddle-side (the part that goes in the water) on the ground, then raise your arm up over your head. 

The handle of the paddle should rest right around where the bend in your wrist is. If the paddle is adjustable, then adjust it so that it meets your wrist.

What to Wear

For beginners, it’s a good idea to dress appropriately. Wearing a personal flotation device is always a very good idea, especially if you are new to the sport and aren’t confident in the water. It may also be the law in your area.

Whether you’re an experienced paddle boarding veteran, or a complete beginner, falling in the water is inevitable, so it’s also a good idea to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet in (such as a bathing or wet suit). 

Where to Paddle Board

Finally, once you have your board and paddle, you need to find some water! The best place to start is in a calm body of water such as a lake, bay or river. It’s also a good idea to take some lessons from a local SUP center, instructor, or just a friend. They will be able to teach you the basics and help you get started. After that, it’s all up to you! 


A stand up paddle board is a great way to enjoy the water, whether you’re alone or with friends. SUP is also a great workout and can be very challenging if you want it to be. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been paddle boarding for years, there’s always something new to learn. So get out there and start exploring!


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