Paddleboarding for Beginners
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Paddle Boarding for Beginners

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There’s something about paddle boarding that seems to capture people’s imagination. It’s the one outdoor activity I hear people refer to more than any other when they’re saying “I really want to try that one day”. Maybe it’s the fact that it always looks like great fun. Or maybe it’s because we have thousands of miles of rivers, canals and coastline to explore. Or maybe it’s because it looks so easy. Whatever it is, if you’ve ever said “I want to try that one day” then this guide to paddle boarding for beginners is for you.

In this post, I’m going to give you all of the information you need to turn ‘one day’ into ‘today’. From which kind of board to choose, what to wear while paddling, how to find places to go, and who to go with, this guide to paddle boarding for beginners has got everything you need to know.

What is Paddle Boarding?

Paddle boarding – sometimes known as stand-up paddle boarding or SUPing – is essentially the act of standing or kneeling on a board and using a paddle to move around the water. The sport has been around much longer than you probably think, but its popularity has exploded over the last couple of decades. Modern-day paddle boarding has its roots in the surfer beaches of California, but the beauty of paddle boarding, and the key reason for its popularity, is that it can be done pretty much anywhere there is a body of water. Think of every ocean, lake, river and canal near to where you live and you can probably explore it by paddle board.

The great thing about paddle boarding is that there are very few barriers to stop you from giving it a go. The sport is loved by the old and the young and can be done by people of all fitness levels. And although we all dream of hot summer days on the water, as long as it is safe to do so, you can head out in any weather at all times of the year.

How to Choose a Paddle Board

Knowing where you plan to go paddle boarding and what kind of use your board will get will help you to choose your board. Generally speaking, paddle boards will fall into one of these categories:

The All-Rounder

If you’re just planning to have a leisurely paddle around on some flat water, then an all-rounder board is what you need. These boards are usually over 10 feet long, but are wide too, giving you stability on the water. Typically, an all-rounder is an obvious choice for a beginner.

The pay-off for the stability of an all-rounder is that the boards are a little bit slower than others. An all-rounder will have a rounder nose, giving stability in the water but creating more drag. If you’re tall or heavy, an all-rounder might be the best choice for you too, the added volume that this long and wide board has will help to keep you balanced and out of the water.

The Tourer

If you’re planning to cover long distances on your board, across lakes or down rivers, the tourer-style board might be a better option for you. Typically, the tourer is slightly narrower than an all-rounder, reducing the drag in the water and helping you to cover long distances quickly. And the board is likely to be longer too, usually between 12-14 feet. The longer board is harder to manoeuvre but will track better through the water, helping you to cover distances in straight lines.

Surf Sups

If you’re planning to spend all of your time in the ocean, then a surf-specific board is probably the best bet for you. These boards are usually a little bit shorter than your average board, to help with manoeuvrability in the waves, and the shape will be more like that of a surfboard, designed to be stable in choppy seas but quick in the waves.

The Racer

Racing boards are long and narrow, designed for one thing: speed. If you’re a complete beginner then you’re going to have a very hard time standing up on one of these. The narrow boards are not built for stability and you need to have mastered your centre of balance before you progress to this kind of board.

The Aquaplanet Pace

Personally, I use the Aquaplanet Pace board. It’s a bit of a crossover board, aimed at beginners who plan to progress towards touring once they find their feet.

Like a lot of SUPs, the Aquaplanet Pace came as a package with everything that you need. As well as the board, the package came with a paddle, a pump, an ankle leash, a drybag and a carry strap. And all of it fits nicely into the backpack that’s provided so that you can carry it all easily when you’re heading for the water.

I’ve been really impressed with the Aquaplanet Pace so far. The build quality is really obviously good and it feels like a premium product when it’s actually pretty budget-friendly. I’m 6,1” and a little bit heavier than I should be, and the board feels really stable to me and sits well in the water with me moving around on it.

In terms of an entry-level board that you can spend many hours exploring on, I’d really easily recommend this board and I’m very happy with mine.

Inflatable or Hard Board?

There are pros and cons to both inflatable paddle boards and hard ones, but really this is going to come down to the amount of use you plan on getting from your board and the amount of space you have for storage.

If you’re going to use your board every day, have the space to store a huge board, and have the means to transport the board on top of your car to your nearest ocean, lake or river, then a hard board is probably right for you.

For the rest of us, those who are only going to use the board sporadically throughout the course of a year and want to store the board in a cupboard or garage the rest of the time, an inflatable board is what you need.

Advances in technology over the last couple of decades have made inflatable boards pretty incredible anyway, and with the ease of storing and carrying an inflatable, it becomes an easy choice for most.

Safety First

I’m not here to lecture you like your dad here, but usually, when you see an advert for a paddle board, it’s all six-packs, tans and bikinis, not a safety feature in sight. If you’re a beginner when it comes to paddle boarding, you need to cover up that beach body with a PFD ( a personal flotation device).

You can go for the traditional life jacket style option. These are often the cheapest and most easily found, with decent options available on Amazon, at Decathlon or online from places like Aquaplanet. Or you can go for a safety belt style device. These are more expensive but are not as restrictive when paddling around.

Whichever option you go for, just make sure you go for one of them. It can all go wrong in a split second in a river, lake or ocean.

What to Wear For Paddle Boarding

What to wear for paddle boarding is a big question, but it’s one that gets asked a lot so I’ll attempt to give a simple answer to it.

In hot summer weather, a pair of board shorts and buoyancy aid have been enough for me for short trips down my local river. But for long days out on the board or days out on the ocean or on deep lakes, then a summer wetsuit might be a better option. For the summer months, something like a 3mm shorty would be perfect.

Heading into the cooler months of autumn and winter, a thicker, full-length wetsuit is your best bet. And if it’s really cold you can layer up on top of that wetsuit with a jacket and beanie.

Many people are confused about what to wear on their feet for paddle boarding. For the most part, being barefoot is absolutely fine. But if you’re out in cold weather or on particularly cold water then neoprene boots might be a good option.

Where to Go Paddle Boarding in the UK

We’re very fortunate, here in the UK, to have almost endless options for places to go paddle boarding. To start with, we have thousands of miles of coastline to explore, as well as the thousands of off-shore islands that make up the UK.

We have thousands of miles of rivers too, and no matter where you live in the UK, you don’t need to travel too far to find a river suitable for a bit of paddle boarding. And then there are the lakes. From the stunning waters of the Lake District to the remote lochs of Scotland, there are some incredible places to paddle around. And for the more experienced paddlers, there is the whole canal network to explore too, but I wouldn’t recommend that for beginners as you really wouldn’t want to fall in the canal too often.

Do You Need a License to Go Paddle Boarding?

For beginners who are new to paddle boarding, it can be a little bit confusing trying to understand where you can and can’t go on your board.

Managed waterways in the UK, such as some rivers and canals, require a licence to be able to paddle on them. This license can be purchased from the British Canoeing website and costs around £45 per year (2022). A portion of that license fee goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of those waterways.

The British Canoeing website has an interactive map, explaining exactly which rivers you can and can’t paddle on, and any stretches that are off-limits.

In the sea, a paddle board is classed as recreational beach gear, and as such there are certain maritime rules that apply, such as staying within 300m of the shore and not crossing port entrances. Maritime law is a bit of a minefield so if you’re planning on doing anything other than having a recreational paddle near the beach it is worth doing your research or speaking to the coastguard first.

For privately owned waters, such as reservoirs, it can often be difficult to understand what the rules are, and the easiest way to find out is usually via local paddle boarding groups or directly with the land owner. Some of these places may charge a fee for the day. My local reservoir charges £10 for the day, for example, and as terms of entry you have to first go and register your name and contact details with the relevant people so that they can keep track of who is paddling should anything go wrong.

Put simply, you can paddle in most places as long as you have the right license. And if you’re in doubt, there are dozens of Facebook groups full of paddle boarders from all over the UK, who are almost always willing to share their local information for the best places to go.

Paddleboarding for Beginners

Paddle Boarding for Beginners – Top Tips

So now you know what kind of board you need, what to wear while you’re out there and where to go for your first paddle. It’s time for a couple of quick tips to get you started.

Jump in the Water First

If you spend your whole time worrying about falling into the water, you are going to be stiff and tense while you’re trying to find your balance. Where you can, just jump into the water before you even start. Get in the river, lake or sea before you even begin and then that’s one less thing to think about. You’ll be far more relaxed and can focus on your balance and paddling without the fear of getting wet.

It’s Perfectly Acceptable to Stay on Your Knees for Your First Few Times

There is absolutely no pressure on you to stand up on your first time out with your board. Get to know your board and how it moves and responds in the water while kneeling down. Your lower centre of gravity will keep you much more stable and it’s actually really enjoyable to just wander around on your knees for a while. When you are used to your board, then it’s time to try and stand up, but it doesn’t matter if that’s on day one or day 10.

Book a Lesson or a Course

There are SUP schools popping up all over the country and if you’re nervous about your first attempt at paddle boarding then this could be money well spent for you. A good instructor will be there to show you basic techniques and can assist you getting back on your board when you inevitably fall in. You’ll feel much more confident after some time spent with who knows what they are doing.

Aquaplanet even offers a video course that you can download instantly and watch tutorials from their experts. This is a great way of getting some pro tips before you even head out.

Looking After Your Paddle Board

When you’ve spent a good chunk of your hard-earned money on a paddle board, you’re going to want to take care of it and make sure it lasts for many adventures to come. There are a few basic things you should do to prolong the life of your board.

Hose Down Your Board After Use

This one especially applies to those who are using their board in salt water, but it’s good practice to clean your board after every use. A quick hose down should be enough, but make sure you’re getting rid of any salt water or any mud that may start corroding the seams and glues that keep your board together.

Don’t Leave Your Board in the Sun

Inflatable boards do not like being left in the sun whilst inflated. There are plenty of horror stories in paddle boarding groups about boards going pop when they’ve been left out on the grass, on the roof of a car, or even in the back of a van when it’s a hot day. It’s pretty simple, keep your board in the shade, or deflate it straight away and you won’t put yourself at risk of this happening to you.

Deflate Your Board After Use

This one divides opinion. There are some people who leave their boards inflated all the time and haven’t had any problems, and there are those who have had problems from doing this. Most manufacturers will tell you to deflate your board when you’re not using it, so if it’s going to be days and weeks between uses, it’s far safer to deflate it and pack it away properly.

How to Find People to Go Paddle Boarding With

For beginners, it’s much safer and much more fun to go paddle boarding with a couple of friends. If you’re looking for people to go paddle boarding with then Facebook is a great option. Firstly, there are quite often local paddle sports clubs, so if you can’t find a paddle board specific group then try searching for local canoe and kayak groups and contacting them to see if paddle boarders are part of their group activities.

Aside from the localised groups, there are plenty of nationwide paddle board groups on Facebook too. Some of these groups are specifically for buying and selling equipment, but others are just for sharing great locations and telling others about the paddle board adventures that they’ve been on, and for arranging meet-ups for groups of paddle boarders.

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