How To Paddle Board: An In-depth Guide
Paddle boarding isn't hard, but like most things it helps to have some pointers, so you don't look like a Kook or have a bad experience. The key to having a great time is having the right gear with you and learning to paddle correctly.
Follow along with guided videos by BOTE Ambassador Erin O'Malley as she explains basic paddling techniques and gives step-by-step instructions on how to stand up paddle board.
Before You Hit The Water
- Attach the center fin to the board. This process will be slightly different depending on if you have a Gatorshell or epoxy paddle board vs an Aero inflatable paddle board.
- Ensure Your Paddle is the Correct Height. To determine the correct paddle length for you, stand on flat ground, hold your right arm up above your head and outward at a 45-degree angle. This is roughly how long your paddle should be. Keep in mind that your paddle will be below you in the water as you paddle, so you may need to add an inch or two more than what feels comfortable on flat ground.
- For a multi-piece adjustable paddle, adjust to the correct length by sliding it to the correct height for you and moving the latch to the locked position.
- For a one-piece "cut to length" paddle, also known as a Fixed Length paddle, bring it to any of our stores and our associates will be happy to do this for you. Alternatively, you may cut the paddle yourself by following our step-by-step sizing and cutting guide.
- Connect your SUP Leash to an attachment point. Paddle boards feature a connection plug at the rear of the board, while inflatable paddle boards offer a D-ring attachment point at the rear of the board.
- Don't forget to attach the leash cuff to your person just before going into the water.
- Put on your Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or secure it to the board within reach by using the bungees
- Double-check that you have your paddle, any other gear, and necessary personal items with you.
Paddling 101: Getting on the Water
You will need to wade out into at least 12" of water before you start paddling. BOTE paddle board fins are 9", so allowing for 12" clearance ensures your fin won't get stuck on the bottom or caught on plants or debris.
Getting on the Board & Standing Up
- Position yourself next to your board at roughly the center, we recommend using the grab handle in the middle of the deck pad as a reference point.
- Mount the board by placing your knees on the deck at either side of the center handle, facing yourself forward. Make sure you're straddling the handle with your legs roughly shoulder width apart.
- We recommend new paddlers stay in this position and paddle around a little bit. This will help you get acquainted with paddle boarding while keeping a lower center of gravity. It is much easier to maintain balance while paddling from your knees.
- Ensure your paddle is facing the correct direction. All BOTE paddles feature a "BOTE Axe" logo on the shaft of your paddle just above the blade. Make sure this logo is facing forward while paddling.
- When you feel comfortable, it's time to stand up!
- To stand up, place your paddle down on the board with your hands on top of it so that the length is perpendicular to you. Use your hands to help keep yourself steady as you position your feet where your knees once were.
- Once you've got your feet underneath you, stand up with your paddle. Keeping your paddle blade in the water will help you maintain balance as you straighten your legs to stand.
Tips and Tricks
- Try not to bend forward or look directly downward into the water, this position is harder to maintain balance in.
- Keep your back straight, chest forward, and look at the horizon. Keeping good posture and your sight-line toward the horizon will help you maintain balance and keep you feeling more stable.
- If you experience a boat wake or chop, don't panic! Think of your legs as "shock absorbers" and let them handle the bumps by relaxing your feet and bending your knees to flow along with the movement of the board.
- If you get nervous or feel that you may fall in, bend your knees, squat, or drop fully to your knees to help stabilize yourself.
- Keep your paddle in the water when not actively paddling. This may not make sense at first, but think of it as an extension of you. Keeping it in the water will act as a stabilizer. Resting the surface area of the blade on the surface of the water will help you stay stable.
- If you're going to fall in, just let it happen! Sometimes going for an unexpected swim can be fun. Aside from that, attempting to fall directly onto your board could potentially cause harm to you or your board. Landing in the water will always be the softer and safer option.
Now Start Paddling
- With the BOTE Axe logo facing forward, position your hands on the paddle. When paddling on the right side of the board, your left hand should be at the top of the paddle, elbow slightly bent. Your right hand should be roughly midway down the shaft, arm almost straight. When paddling on the left side of the board, simply reverse your hand positions so that the right hand is at the top of the paddle and the left hand is on the shaft.
- This swapping back and forth will become easier over time. The movement will very quickly start to feel natural as you move through the water.
- Smoothly "plunge" the paddle into the water roughly 2-4 feet in front of you. As you move the paddle back, think more about pushing down, rather than pulling it back across the water's surface. The downward motion will thrust the paddle blade into the water, propelling you forward.
- Keep your paddle as perpendicular to the water as you can. Keeping the paddle straight like this will keep the board straighter as it moves, allowing for more strokes per side.
- Once the shaft is approximately in line with your foot, pull the paddle out of the water. Lift and move the paddle forward, plunging it into the water in front of you again. Repeat, repeat repeat.
- When the nose of your board begins to track off course, simply switch your grip on the paddle and repeat the same paddling motion on the opposite side of the board.
- Tip for those wanting to "up their paddling game": Rotate the blade 90 degrees while you lift and move the paddle forward for your next stroke. Rotate the blade back 90 degrees just before you plunge the paddle smoothly back into the water.
How to Turn
A basic turn is a simple movement that is easy to master. Paddle in reverse twice on the side of the board closest to the direction you wish to turn, then swap your paddle to the opposite side and paddle forward twice. If your board hasn't turned fully in the direction you want it to, simply repeat this until you're headed in your desired direction.
Once you've mastered a basic turn and feel comfortable balancing on your board, you can learn the more advanced buoy turn. This turn is also sometimes referred to as a "pivot turn" or a "step-back" turn. This maneuver is executed by stepping back on the board toward the tail in order to pop the nose out of the water, then using a sweeping motion with your paddle to turn swiftly in a large radius. This turn is especially efficient with displacement hulls.
- This movement starts by shifting your weight from the parallel stance to the surf stance on the centerline of the board, moving your weight back toward the tail. This will cause the nose to rise out of the water slightly
- Place your paddle into the water on the side of the board opposite to the direction you want to turn. Use a wide sweeping stroke, pulling your paddle all the way back toward the tail of the board. This will cause the board to rotate quickly and easily in the direction you wish to go. If your turn isn't complete in one stroke, simply repeat until you're facing the direction you wish to go.
- Once you've completed your turn, shift yourself back into the parallel stance and continue paddling like normal.
- A good way to practice this turn is to start on your knees. Shift your weight back toward the tail slightly by scooting back slightly on the board and perform the same wide steering strokes as you would if standing.
Returning to Shore
- Dropping to your knees when getting close to shore will help you easily step off the board as well as prevent you from losing balance should the hull or fins of the board drag along the bottom unexpectedly.
- Stand alongside the board and tilt it up on the rail (side of the board) with the deck pad and carry handle facing away from you. Grab the carry handle and lift. Carry the paddle in the opposite hand.
- Once you have the board securely ashore, you may set it down and attach a Travelink Sling to the attachment points on the rail of the board.
- Some board styles include paddle holders to allow for easier carrying as well.
At the end of the day, learning to paddle board isn't about being perfect, it's about having fun while you learn. In other words, don't worry if you don't do everything "correctly" the first time, BOTE Boards are built to be stable and fun. We want all BOTE owners to have great experiences on the water.