Paddleboarding 101: 13 Things Every New Paddleboarder Needs to Know

Have you ever wondered how those Baywatch-looking paddlers stay on their paddleboards and don’t fall off? 

Yeah, I used to wonder about that, too. Then we started paddleboarding and learned a lot about the sport. 

Now, we can stand, talk about the best boards for beginners, and stay safe on the water. 

We also know the best places to go and how to paddle with kids, pets, and those with mobility needs. 

I want to give a big shoutout to Ella Rand, a paddleboarding enthusiast and the co-owner of Outsiders USA in DeLand, Florida, who has shared much paddleboarding wisdom with me. Our first paddleboard outing was with her; and we’ve been hooked on the sport ever since. Without her, I wouldn’t be the paddleboarder I am today.

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Table of Contents

Paddleboarding – The History and Culture

Sometimes, we jump on a popular trend without considering its history and origins. I’ll be the first to admit that I just thought paddleboarding was cool and didn’t think much more about it, but I want to fix that and talk a little bit about the roots of paddleboarding.

Roots

Paddleboarding has been around for thousands of years, with roots in surfing by Polynesians and ancient Peruvian fishermen. These skilled boaters would stand on their boats just like the Gondoliers in Venice and Israeli fishermen.

Ancient cultures in Africa and South America used boards, canoes, and other floating vessels and used a long stick or spear to paddle. 

Modern paddleboarding has roots in Hawaii and remained a local sport until the early 2000s. By 2009, stand-up paddleboarding had become one of the fastest-growing water sports in the USA.

You can learn more about the history of paddleboarding here. 

Now that you know the history, let’s talk about modern-day paddleboarding.

How to Stand Up and Balance on a Paddleboard

You’ve probably seen every fail video of people attempting to stand on a paddleboard. I was convinced that would be me, but guess what? It’s possible to stand on your Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) on your first try (or a few tries after that!).

Simple Steps to Standing on Your SUP

  1. Get on your board.
  2. Start in a sitting position. 
  3. Kneel with wide knees. 
  4. Transition to a wide squat. 
  5. Make sure to look up.
  6. Stand slowly with your eyes up.
  7. It’s OK to feel wobbly.
  8. Start paddling.

Don’t feel like you have to stand for long periods. Just keep trying. There’s also nothing wrong with kneeling or sitting. Just get out there and paddle. 

Jessica Meinhofer owner of Walk and Paddle stands on her paddleboard at Callalisa Creek in New Smyrna Beach.
I managed to stand up. What you can’t see is how shaky I was.

Best Paddleboards for New Paddlers

Most new paddleboarders need help finding the right board. Should they purchase a hardboard or an inflatable (iSUP) one?

Hard Paddleboards

Hard boards are rigid and made of fiberglass and foam. They offer stability, speed, good maneuverability, and have a thin profile

Don’t let the word “speed” scare you if you are a new paddler. Your speed depends on your paddling. If you want to take it slow, paddle slower. 

Hard boards come in specific sizes and shapes for your needs. If you are starting, a wide board is a good choice.

You might decide against a hard board because they are heavy, bulky, and expensive. They take up a lot of storage space and can be hard to transport.

Also, if you fall off, you might hit your solid board, which could leave a nasty bruise. I fell off my Evolve paddleboard and hit my shoulder. It didn’t hurt when I fell, but I had an impressive bruise the next day that stayed with me for almost two weeks. In addition to our Evolve Good Buddy hardboard (10’4″ x 30″), we have a Movement Simple Cruiser (10’6″ x 32″). We have enjoyed using them, and they are great starter boards.

Inflatable Paddleboards

Inflatable boards are made of flexible PVC. They are portable, cheaper than hard boards, durable, and lightweight. iSUPs are easy to store, even in tight spaces. Although inflating takes time, an electric pump can make it easier and faster. 

If you fall off your board and hit it, it will hurt less than a hard board. And because iSUPs are soft, they can bend and stretch as needed. They are also slower, which can be a pro or a con, depending on your needs and experience. 

An unexpected negative of inflatables is that they can explode when fully inflated and left in the sun. If you are not in the water, let out air to prevent an explosion. 

Because the boards are less rigid, they can be harder to balance and slightly less stable, but this can be alleviated with a wider board.

We have a BOTE WULF Aero iSUP. It’s 10′4″ × 34″, and the extra width makes it a bit slower but super stable. 

Hard SUPsInflatable SUPs
ProsStable
Fast
Maneuverable
Lightweight
Portable
Inexpensive
ConsHeavy
Bulky
Expensive
Slow
Less Maneuverable
Must Inflate and Deflate
Read my ultimate paddleboard guide, where I and several other experts share the best boards.

A smiling man stands on a hard paddleboard on the St. Johns River in Orange City, Florida.
My hubby, Robert, on a hard paddleboard.

What Safety Precautions Should I Take?

Like other outdoor activities, paddling has its risks. However, there are precautions you can take that can help minimize injuries, both minor and severe. 

I have listed the safety precautions that are required in my home state, Florida. Please check the safety rules in your state and paddle locations. 

Legally-Required Safety Gear

Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Everyone who is paddling needs to have a PFD. It should fit snugly and be comfortable. I purchased one specifically for women. I tried on several at the store, wore them for some time, and moved around like I would on a SUP. If you can’t get to an actual store, Amazon has tons. Check out all these options for women.

Whistle. All paddlers need a whistle. They are inexpensive, small, and lightweight. I wear one attached to my PFD. 

Lights. If you paddle during low-light hours (dawn, dusk, night), you also need a flashlight or lantern that emits white light. While you can always have fun LED lights, this requirement is different. The white light is only displayed to approaching paddlers and boaters.

Leash. A leash will ensure that you and your board stay together if you fall off. There are different kinds, some attached to your ankle, others at your waist. I use a coiled ankle leash. Pick one that fits your budget and needs.

Someone sits and paddles on a paddleboard at Callalisa Creek in New Smyrna, Fl.
It’s me! I’m wearing my PFD and leash.

Beginner-Friendly Paddleboarding Locations

While every region has specific paddle locations that are safer for beginners, there are some general things to look for when selecting a spot.

As a beginner, I found it challenging to find places safe enough to go. We did plenty of scouting at nearby locations, asked questions on various forums, and asked Ella.

Lakes

If you are a new paddleboarder, paddling on a lake is a good choice. Lakes have minimal currents, so they can be an easy and calm paddling opportunity. 

Lakes vary. Make sure to research wherever you are going before you set out. Lakes are often popular for motorized boats. That can be stressful for paddlers. 

Remote lakes offer the most peaceful places to paddle, but they may be harder to get to. And if you run into problems, you might find it hard to get help because there won’t be anyone to wave down. 

We haven’t explored many lakes yet, mainly because we live in central Florida, home to many, many, many alligators. On the top of our list is Clearwater Lake in the Ocala National Forest.

Tidal Waters

Bodies of water affected by low and high tides are tidal waters. Researching the tides and launch points is essential when exploring tidal waters. 

Some of our early paddles were on the intercoastal waters in Florida because there were fewer alligators and more dolphins

However, we experienced high and low tides, heavy winds, and motorized boats. It was beautiful but stressful trying to outrun boats and fight the currents.

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, enjoys a soak in the refreshing pools formed during low tide at Disappearing Island in Ponce Inlet, Florida after a summer paddle.
Sometimes you just gotta take a quick dip after a hot paddle.

Dealing with Wildlife While Paddling

Being outdoors means natural beauty, including local wildlife. Not all SUP locations have the same wildlife, but there are general rules to follow when encountering them.

Give Them Space

As a general rule, stay 75 feet from most wildlife. Regarding bears, wolves, coyotes, alligators, and other predators, stay 300 feet away. 

The distance can be difficult to determine when on the water. Just move away from all wildlife and turn around if necessary.

Never Feed Wildlife

It’s dangerous to feed wildlife, even cute squirrels and raccoons. It can make them aggressive towards humans. If it is not their natural food and nutrition, it can lead to health problems.

Learn Specific Guidance for Your Region

While you might run into some of the same wildlife on the East Coast, folks from northern states may not know about alligators, crocodiles, or Florida cottonmouth. Learning about an area will help you prepare and minimize the possibility of people or wildlife getting hurt.

Although not specific to paddleboarding, here are some guidelines from the National Park Service

A manatee and her calf swim in the Blue Spring Run at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a manatee and her calf while paddling.

What to Wear While Paddleboarding

Technically, you can wear whatever you want when you paddle. I’ve seen people fully dressed in everyday clothes and others in thong bathing suits and everything between those extremes. However, I want to share some essential items.

Water Shoes

I don’t wear shoes while standing on my board, and I don’t recommend you do either. Water shoes have grip that will make proper foot placement difficult. 

However, everyone should wear shoes when they are off their board. The ground around launch points can have scratchy oyster shells, and boat ramps can be slippery and unforgiving. 

You can wear any shoes, but they will get wet and possibly damaged. Water shoes protect the bottom of your feet while letting water in and out of your shoes. 

The good news is that you can find plenty of budget-friendly ones anywhere. Mine were around $15.

Rashguard

Shaded paddles exist, but many are on open water with little shade. Unlike sunblock, rashguards protect you from the sun all day.  

Rashguards also offer additional protection from bug bites and jellyfish stings. They are quick to dry and safe for swimming and all-day wear. 

Ladies, you can wear rashguards over your bathing suits. Others have built-in bras, and you can wear them as stand-alone items.

Hat or Sunglasses

Since you will be on the water, all sunlight will reflect on the water and into your eyes. 

Sunglasses can help keep glare and extreme light from reaching your eyes, making it safer to see where you are going and improving the experience. 

A hat will help block sunlight from getting between your eyes and sunglasses.

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle takes a selfie on her paddleboard at Callalisa Creek wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and PFD.
Staying safe in the Florida sun on a hot, hot summer paddle.

Is Paddleboarding Hard?

Talk about a loaded question! The short answer is that paddleboarding is as hard or easy as you make it. 

We often get stuck in our heads about this one. We either make it seem like the easiest thing ever (and then are shocked when it’s not as easy as we thought), or more often, we build it up into something impossible

The Hard Stuff

It can be difficult to: 

  • transport hard boards
  • inflate and deflate iSUPs
  • predict weather conditions 
  • know your physical abilities

The Easy Stuff

Having a great attitude and being mentally flexible make the entire experience doable and enjoyable. Of course, that’s easy to say.

For a long time, I loved the idea of paddleboarding but hated doing it. Anxiety and fear gripped me. It was a process for me to overcome everything in my head. 

Logically, I knew I was doing everything possible to be safe, but my mind was just stuck in a loop. I worked hard, focusing on my spirituality and talking to a counselor.

Ella talks about the mental aspect of paddling, too. Check it out here

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, stands on a paddleboard and her son sits. They are paddling on the Blue Spring Run at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.
First paddle ever! Got to enjoy it with my oldest. I only stood for a little bit, but it was fantastic.

How Do I Paddle with Kids?

You can bring children of any age and swimming ability paddleboarding. It is a great way to bond and introduce them to wildlife, water sports, etc. I wish we had taken up paddleboarding when the kids were younger.

Sharing Your Paddleboard with a Child

Double-check the weight limit of your board and make sure you and your child are within it. Don’t forget to include anything you might be taking with you, such as coolers, dry bags, and other equipment.

PFDs

Your child must wear a PFD. Every state has laws about this. Florida requires anyone under the age of six to wear one. Some states require children under 13 to wear one. Whatever the law, always bring them and wear them as much as possible.

Have space for your child

Your child needs space on the board just for them. I typically have my kids at the front of the board. I have never gone out with them alone, so my husband usually has all the gear on his board. It can be tricky to fit everyone comfortably on a board, but you can do it. Practice a lot. You will find a rhythm and what works best for you.

Child on Their Own Paddleboard

Older children might want to paddle their own boards. Just make sure they know the safety rules for your area. Our son is a teenager, and he paddles in his kayak. Our tween daughter still rides with me or my husband on our paddleboards. 

Tethers

Consider having ropes to keep your boards together or be able to do so. It will help if your child gets tired or ends up on your board and you have to pull theirs along.

PFDs

I’m always going to recommend having a PFD handy if not on, and this is especially true for children. Make sure they are safe. Take into consideration their abilities and the law. 

A girl smiles towards the camera while sitting on a paddleboard at King's Landing in Apopka, Florida.
My youngest sitting on her dad’s paddleboard during our paddle at King’s Landing.

Can I Paddleboard with Pets?

Owners can bring their pets on their paddle adventures, regardless of size, age, or swimming ability. Most people paddle with dogs, but others bring cats and other pets. Before you go, verify that pets are allowed; not all paddling locations are pet-friendly. We are still working on getting our dog used to the paddleboard and haven’t taken her out yet. 

Pup flotation devices

Keep your furbabies safe with a life vest

Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that the vest should fit well, be brightly colored, and have a handle on the top.

Ella shared, “I have a doggie vest with extra flotation. It has a top handle. A life jacket with a handle on top makes it easy to help them get back on the board.”

To Leash or Not to Leash

Dogs must always be on a six-foot leash in public spaces. However, a leash can drag your pup off the board or attach to something. Taking it off and stowing it safely while paddling is recommended. 

As always, check the legal requirements at your paddle location to ensure you comply.

Is Paddleboarding Adaptable?

Yes. Everyone can enjoy paddleboarding, but you might need to make adaptations depending on your mobility needs.

Adaptable Paddling Tips

Larger, wider boards and tandem boards have enough room for one person, a person in a manual wheelchair, or seating equipment to assist those with mobility needs.

Adaptive equipment is pricey. Sometimes, an outdoor chair or beanbag are less expensive but can perform similarly.

Boards can also be outfitted with outriggers or stabilizer floats to keep the board stable and minimize the risk of falling.

For more information on adaptive paddleboarding, contact the Adaptive Freedom Foundation.

Thanks to the Adaptive Freedom Foundation, three individuals with varying mobility needs, including one individual who uses a wheelchair, are able to enjoy a day of paddleboarding.
Thank you to the Adaptive Freedom Foundation for your work and for providing this image.

How to Transport SUP Boards

Roof Racks – Hard SUPs

Roof racks are the most common way to transport hard SUPs. Some vehicles come with them, but if they don’t, you can purchase them. Traditional racks are plastic or aluminum and are expensive. We recently purchased this Thule SUP Taxi XT Surfboard Rack.

A cheaper option is something like the soft lockdown racks that Ella carries at her shop. She described them as “a padded strap system that wraps over the board(s) and ties inside the car.” She said, “You can put it on any car, even if they don’t have any racks on top.” We started out with the soft lockdown racks.

Truck Beds

Hard boards. Add padding on the tailgate to protect the boards and secure them. If the boards are long, attach a red flag on the end for other drivers. 

Inflatable boards. Because iSUPs are deflated, you can easily transport them in your truck bed inside their backpack. They don’t require any special gear. Secure them so they don’t fall out of the truck or get jostled.

Trailers – Hard SUPs

For Bikes. If you plan on biking to your location, you can get a trailer just for your bike that can carry up to three SUPs. Check out the MBB Paddleboard and Kayak Trailer

For SUVs, Vans, and RVs. A trailer might be the best choice for those who are unable to lift boards to the roof of their vehicle or who are transporting multiple hard paddleboards.

A black Subaru Forester with two paddleboards mounted on top.
Our trusted Subaru with our boards attached using soft lockdown racks.

How Paddling Impacts the Environment

As an outdoor enthusiast, I want us to enjoy nature while being responsible. I want my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and others to be able to enjoy themselves, and that means I need to make decisions that will preserve the world around me.

Erosion

While out paddling, it’s vital to avoid the following:

  • anchoring along sensitive shores 
  • damaging vegetation that keeps soil on the shoreline in place
  • launching from unapproved locations

Pollution

It’s so easy to lose items when paddling. Bungees on paddleboards are amazing. You can use them to secure dry bags, coolers, water shoes, and hats. 

The tricky part is retrieving your items, especially when you are on the water with waves and winds. 

When I lost my sunglasses on one of my paddles, I was horrified. Not only did they have sentimental value, but I was also damaging this beautiful natural place. 

Ella and I agree on the best ways to avoid unintentional pollution:

Threatening Wildlife

I already talked about how to interact with wildlife, but I need to mention it again. 

Out on the water, you get to have this magical moment with a creature you probably won’t see anywhere else. 

Every time I go out, I scout for animals. 

“Oh, is that a jellyfish?” 

“That’s a manatee!” 

We must remember that we are visiting their home and be respectful observers.

The Good

Paddling is good for the environment. There is no motor, which means no wake, protecting animals like the manatee. It also means no oil or gas spills or pollutants. 

Experiencing it up close helps paddlers appreciate nature and value conservation.

A pod of pelicans on the distant shore at Disappearing Island in Ponce Inlet, Florida.
A pod of pelicans on the shore at Disappearing Island.

Gear Tour!

If you are ready to get a detailed guide on what gear you need to start your paddles, I’ve got you covered. Check my post: Ready, Set, Paddle! Essential Gear to Jumpstart Your Paddleboarding Journey.

It lists everything that I have (or want to have) and why. I even share the gear that we purchased but no longer use. Hope it helps!

My Favorite Paddles

A two photo collage of Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, and her her husband on paddleboards on Florida waterways.
Don’t forget to pin me!

4 thoughts on “Paddleboarding 101: 13 Things Every New Paddleboarder Needs to Know”

  1. Congratulations on the launch of Walk and Paddle, Jessica! This is an amazing, deluxe article on paddleboarding that everyone interested in this activity should read. I enjoyed it very much and am inspired to get out on the water with our inflatable paddleboard. Thank you.

    Reply

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