Top Ten Tips for First Timers

You’ve seen people standup paddling as you sip your margarita at your waterfront restaurant table.  You‘ve said to yourself, “Hey that looks like fun.  I’d like to try that.”  If you’re finally going to try it for the first time, here are some tips:

  1. Do not take your maiden voyage on a SUP in the open ocean.  You should get your balance sorted out on calm water in a harbor or lake before you try to deal with the swells and waves in the open water.  After all, if you were going snow skiing for the first time, you would not go down the Black Diamond run.  I once took a buddy out paddling in the open ocean for his first time at Descanso Beach in Avalon, Catalina.  It was afternoon, and it was windy and choppy.  He fell off that board in every imaginable way.  He fell to his left.  He fell to his right.  He fell forward on his shoulder and rolled off the board.  He took two steps backward, and performed a back somersault off the back of the board.  The swells and chop were never going to let him get comfortable out there.  Try as I might, he has refused to go paddling with me ever since.  Maybe it has something to do with how hard I laughed at him that day.  I am convinced though that if we had gone paddling in Newport Harbor on a nice day for his first time, he’d be paddling all the time with me.
  2. Do not paddle on a short, thin board.  For your first time, go with a board that is at least 30” wide to make sure you can have a nice stable stance.  It would also help to use a board no shorter than 11 feet long.  The length will bring extra stability too.  If you get out there on a board that’s 9.5 feet long, and 26” wide, you will have problems balancing and spend more time in the water than on it.  And then you’ll think standup paddling is really hard, and it’s not.
  3. When you get out there, and get yourself upright, do your best to relax your feet and toes.  Keep your little piggies loose and happy.  Wiggle ‘em around, and shift your weight on your feet a little bit from time to time.  This will prevent foot cramps and keeping a nice loose athletic stance is better than gripping too hard. 
  4. Don’t look down so much.  Keep your eyes forward, and focused on where you’re going.  If you get focused on the water beneath you, you’ll be in it soon enough.
  5. When a boat wake or other wave comes at you, turn your board’s nose directly at it.  Take the wave head on and you’ll ride easily up and over it. 
  6. Pay attention to the wind and current before you start.  Don’t paddle with the wind on your way out.  If you do, you’ll be fighting the wind and/or current on the way back, and you’ll already be gassed.  If you paddle against the wind and current on the way out, you’ll have an easier time of it on the way back when you’re tired.  (Caveat: sometimes the current will shift on you so a little local knowledge is good, and of course, sometimes the wind and current are not going in the same direction).
  7. Don’t wear heavy and/or cotton clothing, for obvious reasons.
  8. Don’t paddle with your paddle backwards.  I see this mistake constantly.  The paddle’s blade has an angle in it.  When you put the blade in the water, the blade should be angled away from you, not toward you.  Paddling with the blade angled toward you deprives you of power, you’ll be slower, and worst of all, you’ll look like a kook. 
  9. Wear a leash.  If you fall in, it’s a good thing to be able to quickly retrieve the board if it starts getting away from you.  Have a PFD with you too!
  10. Paddle with a buddy.     

Get out there and have fun.

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