How To Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Basics

How To Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Basics

A beginners introduction on how to stand up paddle board. Everything you need to know to get out and have fun on the water.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is popping up everywhere. It is a great sport that can be done on almost any body of water from the ocean to rivers to inland lakes. Learning how to stand up paddle board is simple and just takes a few minutes to catch on. We at Windward are fortunate to have a variety of locations to stand up paddle board in Chicago with our local option, Montrose Beach, just a couple miles away.

Paddling provides a great full body and core workout. Many athletes have used SUP as a cross training tool for other sports or simply taken it up as their primary sport. It doesn’t take a whole lot of experience or equipment to get started. Here is the low down on how to start walking on water in no time!

what you need

We go in to detail on picking out the perfect gear in other posts throughout our site but here is a quick list of the bare minimum that you will need to get out on the water:


Stand Up Paddleboard

An SUP board is kind of like a larger surfboard. This will be the largest investment and most thought should be put into this part. Choosing the right paddle board is based upon size and experience of the paddler. You will also need to take in to consideration where you will be using the board and how. Do you want to catch waves, recreational, race, touring,etc.


These can range in price greatly. Aluminum are usually the cheapest but also the heaviest. You can go all the way up to a carbon fiber paddle for the lightest paddle out there. For exact sizing and recommendations check out our article on stand up paddle technology.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

While not required everywhere, it is alway recommended to have a PFD when paddling. This can be either a regular life vest or a belt pack. In certain areas they are required and you can be ticketed without one.


In warm weather you can generally just get out there in a swimsuit and maybe a rash guard if you want some sun protection. If you are going to paddle in colder conditions you will want to look into wetsuits, booties, and other cold water protection.

Sun Protection

Out on the water you always want to have good sunscreen and sunglasses to protect you from UV rays. Turning into a lobster is never fun the next day.

How to Stand Up Paddle - Carry Your Board

getting your board to the water

The first step is getting your board to the beach or body of water. If you have an inflatable sup it is pretty easy since they come in bags with backpack straps. Two main options for standard boards are car roof racks or bike racks. Car racks can be removable or permanent. You want to use tie downs to secure the board to the rack. The bike racks are like mini trailers that attach to your bike. Makes it an easy way to get the board down to the water. 

carrying your board

There are two ways to carry your board, either using the handle or on your head. For short distances without much cross wind the handle is easiest.

  • Handle Carry: Lean the board on its rail or side. Stand on the bottom side of the board. Reach over and grab the handle. Use your free hand to carry your paddle. 
  • Head Carry: Stand the board on its tail with the top facing you and your paddle on the ground close to you. Grab the rails of the board. Walk yourself under the board so your head is in the center point of the board and balanced. You can now bend down and pick up the paddle to head to the water. 

A little practice and you’ll be getting your board down the beach in no time. The side carry is usually the easiest but you can get swept around in heavy wind gusts. If it’s a windy day, go with the head carry to save un-intentional strain your back.

Putting On Your Stand Up Paddle Leash

attaching your leash

A leash is important safety device in case you fall off of your board. It will keep the board from floating too far away from you and potentially into someone else. Especially helpful if you are in waves or there is a current. You attach one end of the leash to the tail of the board and the other around your ankle. Here 4 simple steps to properly attach your leash:

  • Slide the leash rope through the area at the tail of the board.
  • Velcro the rope to the leash so it is secure in the layers.
  • Attach the other end of the leash to your ankle or calf.
  • Be sure both ends are secure by giving a little tug on each end. 

Putting On Your Stand Up Paddle Fin

putting on your fin

All paddle boards require fins. Most boards come with a single or tri fin setup. Here are some simple steps to get the fins setup:

center fin

  • Put the board down bottom up.
  • Drop the washer into the fin box.
  • Line up the washer toward the front half of the fin box or where you want the front of your fin to sit.
  • Insert the fin. Slide the fin closer to the nose to help the ride track straighter or further back to turn easier. Most people put it center of the fin box.
  • When fin is in place line the washer up with where the screw goes in and twist it until it is snug. 

side bites

  • These are the two smaller fins that go on the outer rails:
  • There is a flat surface on each and you want this facing in. 
  • Put each fin in and tighten them with a fin key or allen wrench. 

How to Stand Up Paddle - Setting Stance

setting your stance

For some it helps to practice setting your stance on the beach before you get in the water. This way you are comfortable with the motion of getting up on your board. Here are some key points on setting stance on your SUP:

  • Your toes should be facing forward with your feet parallel and about hip to should width apart depending on the width of your board.
  • Be sure to not stand on the rails of your board.
  • A relaxed slight bend in your knees will help you stay balanced out there.
  • Stand with your head and shoulders upright with your eyes looking ahead and not down at your feet.
  • Forward movement of the board through the water will help increase your stability. 
  • Make minor adjustments if needed forward or backwards depending on how the board is riding. 

How To Stand Up on Your Stand Up Paddle Board

getting on your paddleboard

Now that you have the basic motion down to getting on your board we are ready to get in the water. It is always best to start in calm water if you are a beginner. Another thing to consider is the amount of boaters, buoys, and other paddlers in the area. You want to avoid as many obstacles as possible when you are starting out so you can put your full attention and focus on getting down the basic motions. Here are some steps to get on the board:

  • If in shallow water place the board face up so the fin is not draggin in the sand and rocks.
  • Walk the board out to around knee high water with the paddle laying across the deck of your board. 
  • Grip the rails (sides) of the board and pop onto the board in a kneeling position slightly behind the center of the board.
  • In the position you can get a feel for balancing on the board. You can feel the side to side and front to back balance point.
  • From the kneeling postion you can actually start paddling if you prefer to get comfortable with a lower center of gravity first.
  • Once you feel comfortable place your hands on the sides of the board and stand up at that balance point you felt.
  • You are now standing on your board and ready to start your stroke!

basic strokes

Now that you are up and balancing on your board it is time to get to paddling. This is not as challanging as most people think. Here are some basics to get you started:

How to Stand Up Paddle - Paddle Grip


You want one hand wrapped over the top of the paddle and the other gripping the shaft of the paddle. When paddling on the right side of the board your left hand will be on time and vice versa. 

How to Stand Up Paddle Board - Basic Stroke

the basic stroke

  • Keep your arms straight with just a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Maintain a straight back and bend at the knees to avoid injury. Do not hunch over.
  • Think of the power come from your core rather than upper body.
  • Extend the blade forward as far as comfortable and fully submerge the blade.
  • Only after it is full submerged pull the paddle back towards your feet.
  • The more straight up and the paddle is the more straight it will propel you.
  • Shorter strokes are best to start with when you are a beginner.
  • Do 3-4 strokes and then switch sides with your paddle. Reverse hand positions when doing this.

back paddle

The backwards paddle is a quick way to turn your board around. Simply reverse the direction of your stroke while still facing forward. This will create a 180 degree turn almost completely in place.

fall and recovery

How to Stand Up Paddle - Falling

As easy as it is to catch on to SUP, at some point you will loose your balance and fall off the board. As your skills develop you experience a lot less of this. Here are some pointers when you feel you are about to fall:

  • Always be aware of any objects around such as other paddlers, buoys, or other watercraft.
  • When you feel yourself loosing your balance and about to fall, give the board a little push away as you fall. Falling in the water is a lot better than falling into your board.
  • If the board is taken away in a current or wave always try to retrive the board before retrieving your paddle.
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